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.
Walk 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.
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.
The 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.
It’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:
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.