Pizzo Calabria: Italy’s Secret Gelato Town

Pizzo Calabria

You know you’re onto a winner when you stumble upon a picture-perfect Italian hillside town that virtually no one else has heard of. A gorgeous Italian town that’s so famous for its gelato that it’s known in Italy as the ice-cream city. A town called Pizzo Calabria.

I’m going to let you into a secret. If you want to visit a part of Italy where you can experience la dolce vita without the crowds, then make your way down to the southern tip, to Calabria, the hidden gem that the rest of the world doesn’t know about.

Calabria is one of the least visited parts of Italy yet it’s every bit as beautiful as places like the Amalfi Coast, Tuscany and the Cinque Terre. It has a 500-mile coastline, with sandy beaches, a series of delightful towns and villages, and olive, orange and lemon trees growing on the hillsides.

The Costa degli Dei, the Coast of Gods, in the south west, is particularly attractive, with its white sandy beaches, turquoise sea and dramatic coastline. One of its prettiest towns is the delightful Pizzo Calabria where pastel-coloured houses tumble down the steep hillsides, their terracotta-tiled roofs gleaming in the sunshine.

Pizzo is picture-postcard pretty, like the villages on the Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast, but without the same crowds. Its historic centre is perched high up on a headland overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Walk down the narrow backstreets and you’ll lose yourself in a world of Italian charm, where Vespas are parked next to pink and canary-yellow walls with peeling paint and washing hangs down from the balconies above. It’s a world of arched doors and green shutters, of window boxes spilling over with brightly coloured flowers and the unmistakeable smell of chocolate wafting through the streets.

Yes, that’s right. The scent of roasted cocoa beans lingers in these charming lanes. Follow your nose to the main square where every one of the caffès serves Tartufo di Pizzo, the local speciality – a delicious chocolate truffle ice-cream.

This is the reason why Pizzo Calabria is known as the Città del Gelato, the ice-cream city. The Tartufo is shaped like a ball, filled with chocolate fudge sauce and dusted with sugar and cocoa powder.

Tartufo was invented in the 1950s when a local gelato maker was creating desserts for a feast and had no moulds left for his ice-cream. He shaped chocolate and hazelnut gelato into a ball with his hands and filled it with melted chocolate. It has been called one of the world’s greatest desserts and there are at least 20 gelaterias in the little town all serving it, both the chocolate truffle original and variations with lemon, white chocolate and pistachio.

The main square here is the classic Italian piazza. There’s no traffic so the tables spill out onto the paving stones, filled with Italians enjoying a gelato or a glass of Aperol Spritz or Prosecco at nearly half the price you’d expect to pay in Venice, Florence or Rome.

main square in pizzoWalk across to the terrace overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and you’ll spot a huge wire sculpture of a figure looking out to sea. This is one of rising star, Edoardo Tresoldi’s first sculptures, and it shows ‘The Collector of Winds’, a man looking across to the nearby Aeolian Islands and controlling the winds as told in the Greek myths.

Edward Tresoldi sculpture This is an area rich in Greek legends and mythology. The Greek king, Ulysses, is said to have stopped off in Pizzo, and the nearby town of Tropea (from the Greek, Tropheum), got its name for being the trophy city of Hercules after he and Ulysses saved the town from two giants.

Pizzo Calabria has its fair share of historical tales too. The 15th-century castle is called the Castello Murat because it’s where Napoleon’s brother-in-law and former King of Naples, Joachim Murat, was imprisoned with his men before being executed by firing squad in the castle in 1815.

castello murat pizzoThe rooms in the castle have been set up to look as they would have done during Murat’s imprisonment. You can see the dungeons where the soldiers were kept prisoner, Murat’s cell and the farewell letter he wrote to his wife and four sons before he was shot.

It doesn’t take long to walk around the various rooms. It’s an interesting visit and only costs a couple of Euros. Be sure to walk onto the terrace for the lovely views over the coast and the busy piazza.

If you have more time, head down to the sea where you’ll find a small harbour and a beach. A 15-minute walk along the coast will bring you to the Chiesetta di Piedigrotta, a cave chapel on the shore. It was created in the 17th century by sailors to thank God for saving them from a shipwreck. The interior of the chapel is filled with kitsch statues carved out of the rock by a local family in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This charming town is best savoured slowly. Give yourself time to soak in the atmosphere of the backstreets. Take a seat at one of the enticing-looking caffès, order a Tartufo and an Aperol Spritz and relax. You may never want to leave.

Back in the piazza, a wedding couple comes out of the church and walks slowly through the square, holding hands. People sitting in the caffès start clapping and shoppers stop what they’re doing to watch them walk across to the terrace for their wedding photos.

wedding couple in ItalyIt’s the perfect moment, la dolce vita in action. Welcome to Pizzo Calabria, where the real Italy is happening right in front of you.

There are direct flights from London to Lamezia Terme airport in Calabria with TUI. Return flights cost from £269 per person. Pizzo is only a 20-minute drive from the brand new TUI Magic Life Calabria resort.

Read our review of Tui Magic Life Calabria to find out what my 13-year-old and I thought of our first experience of an all-inclusive.

Want to know about more hidden gems in Europe? Take a look at:

The Gulf of Morbihan: Brittany’s Best-Kept Secret

Best Greek Islands to Escape the Crowds

and Hidden Gems in Paris.

Disclosure: We visited Pizzo on a press trip and our stay at TUI Magic Life Calabria was courtesy of TUI in exchange for coverage on my blog and social media. All opinions are, of course, entirely my own.

Pizzo Calabria, the picture-perfect hillside town that's famous for its gelato but still feels like a hidden gem. Find out why you must visit and try the tartufo (chocolate truffle ice-cream) #hiddengemsinitaly #pizzocalabria #pizzocalabro #bestgelatoinitaly #thingstodoincalabria #vacationinitaly #tartufotown



  1. 3rd August 2019 / 4:19 am

    I’d love to visit Pizzo Calabria! It looks so charming, and not as busy as the popular towns in Cinque Terre. I had Tartufo in Rome and loved it. I’d love to try it in this secret gelato town!

    • Clare Thomson
      18th August 2019 / 6:48 pm

      Pizzo is the most charming town, Bryna, exactly the sort of Italian place you dream of discovering. Having tartufo in the place where it was invented is a definite draw as well!

  2. 12th August 2019 / 8:19 am

    What a beautiful little town! You know they say if you see a bride, you will be lucky on this day! 🙂

    • Clare Thomson
      18th August 2019 / 6:50 pm

      I didn’t know that, Lori! We adored this gorgeous town – and the gelato.

    • Clare Thomson
      11th September 2019 / 8:34 pm

      Thanks so very much, Tanja. I get so much pleasure finding those special, secret places like this.

  3. 12th September 2019 / 9:12 am

    You had me at “ice-cream city” but it looks like an amazing place to visit. What a find! #farawayfiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:30 pm

      It was a fantastic find, Tara.

  4. 12th September 2019 / 9:22 am

    I’m salivating over that Tartufo

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:31 pm

      It was sooo delicious!

  5. 12th September 2019 / 9:37 am

    Love the idea of secret Italy. Calabria is definitely calling. Was the water warm for swimming at the beaches? And sandy – not rocky – that is just my style. Thanks for giving us the inside scoop of gelato! #FarawayFiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:34 pm

      The water was delightfully warm. We did swim but we spent more of our time in the water kayaking. Calabria was really lovely. There are quite a few more places along that coast I’d like to discover.

  6. 12th September 2019 / 10:58 am

    I have been to so little of Italy, but this looks incredibly enticing. Anywhere known as ice cream town, is a winner in my book. But this place oozes charm. Thank you very much for the introduction. #farawayfiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:32 pm

      It was the most charming place, Jenny. I do love discovering places that are more off the beaten path and the gelato made it even more special.

  7. 12th September 2019 / 12:20 pm

    I love southern Italy too. There’s lots to explore that’s still off the tourist radar. I love the sound of the tartufo – and plenty to do and see to burn the calories afterwards!

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:32 pm

      Yes, good food and a great place to wander around. It was definitely a win-win!

  8. 12th September 2019 / 3:01 pm

    I love those little Italian towns that are not flooded with tourists. Thanks for showing me another one to add to my list #Farawayfiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:35 pm

      These are my favourite kind of places to visit, Wendy. It was such a treat to find another one.

  9. 12th September 2019 / 6:09 pm

    I am sold! I was drooling at your ice-cream description. Italy is such a gem. If I were limited to only visiting one country again it would be hard not to choose Italy.

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:36 pm

      I especially love Southern Italy too. I find it a lot more laid-back and charming and there’s often less tourists there too, which is a bonus. And then, of course, there’s the gelato…

  10. 12th September 2019 / 6:51 pm

    You had me at gelato! But want a beautiful place. I can almost smell it! And what a treat too see the wedding party. I do love Italy! #farawayfiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:37 pm

      It was one of those places that smelt as good as they looked, that’s for sure. It was a really special Italian discovery.

  11. 12th September 2019 / 7:42 pm

    What a beautiful hidden gem. I felt a bit like this about Padua and Mantova, just not completely overrun – yet! x #farawayfiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:38 pm

      Now you’ve made me want to check out Padua and Mantova. I love the charming places that aren’t overrun with tourists.

  12. 13th September 2019 / 12:41 am

    How great to visit such a stunning place without all the tourist presence! I’m glad that the gelato maker ran out of molds and created something so unique and yummy looking! Would love to go have an experience like this. #FarawayFiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:39 pm

      It was an absolutely brilliant find, Ava. And isn’t it a lovely story about the creation of tartufo? It’s making me feel quite hungry actually.

  13. 13th September 2019 / 1:40 pm

    Did someone say “ice-cream city” I’m packing my bags. You really have found a wonderful little place in Pizzo Calabria and full of so much history. #farawayfile

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:40 pm

      Thanks Janis, it did feel like a special find. I always like a bit of history when I discover a new place. Add some charm and something yummy to eat and I’m sold!

  14. 13th September 2019 / 11:16 pm

    This is just fabulous Clare. What a gorgeous discovery, it looks exactly like the sort of place I love. I am definitely bookmarking this for a later date #farawayfiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:41 pm

      It was absolutely lovely, Angie, a very special place. There are more little places like this along the coast that make me want to spend a lot longer in the area next time.

  15. 14th September 2019 / 3:28 pm

    Gelato – I’m in!! 😀 #farawayfiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:41 pm

      Me too!

  16. 15th September 2019 / 1:06 pm

    I love this. It looks like my kind of town, not too pristine but carrying a few scars from history. And the ice cream capital of Italy – it must be a good place!

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:42 pm

      It’s amazing it’s not busier. I mean, who can resist a good gelato?

  17. 16th September 2019 / 10:42 am

    Did someone say gelato?! What a find – looks like a lovely peaceful place, and even better when not overflowing with crowds. I’ll add this spot to my ever growing Italy list… #FarawayFiles

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:43 pm

      It felt like a real find, Keri. I love these kind of charming Italian towns. I could have spent hours in that piazza ordering ice-cream and people watching.

  18. 16th September 2019 / 5:59 pm

    What a lovely find. I would love to visit this town, away from crowds and the ice creams. It’s such a charming place, I am already dreaming about it. You find such lovely places.We saw brides at Prague and in Brugge. It is such a lovely feeling.

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:44 pm

      Thanks so much, Usha. It is very satisfying when you find these little places that are oozing with charm and don’t have the accompanying crowds. It was good seeing the bride and groom too.

    • Clare Thomson
      19th September 2019 / 7:45 pm

      A special moment to crown an absolutely lovely visit.

  19. 24th September 2019 / 9:35 am

    I love Calabria! I haven’t made it to Pizzo though, it sounds lovely. What a fab trip!

    • Clare Thomson
      30th September 2019 / 5:57 pm

      I would so love to explore more of Calabria after this trip, Annabel. It was a great trip and Pizzo was utterly delightful.

    • Clare Thomson
      9th October 2019 / 5:41 pm

      You’re absolutely right, Catherine. I’m always trying to avoid the crowds – even in the most famous places! Calabria was well worth the visit. I’d like to return to that part of the coast and explore more of the towns and villages there.

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