Let’s move on to the region of Calabria, and make our first stop a town at the bottom of Italy’s boot: Tropea.
an evocative mix of crumbling baroque buildings,
Piazzas that look like opera sets,
and views out to the volcanic island of Stromboli, that continuously bursts forth with glowing fireworks.
I visited Tropea a few springs ago, as a guest of In Italy Tours The company was created by Tania Pascuzzi, a charming Australian-Italian whose parents were born in Calabria, and then emigrated to Melbourne. Tania grew up around delicious Calabrian food, moved on to work for many years as a stylist in New York, and finally returned to her roots, making Tropea her home base.
This is an undertouristed area, which Tania has grown to know intimately. She has a great passion for the land and its people, and has been embraced by the natives over the many years she has lived and worked there. As for my experience: AMAZING. The Calabrese lived up to their reputation as being some of the kindest, liveliest folk you’ll ever meet in your travels, and with Tania guiding I was immediately embraced as family.
My Golden Day in Tropea began with breakfast on the rooftop of Il Residenza Barone . This is a luxury B&B, right in the historic center, that’s been stylishly renovated, with chic, airy rooms, elegantly run by Rosella and Roberto.
They’re also minced up into a spread called n’duja that’s delightfully sizzly or will have you choking and teary-eyed, depending on the intensity. You can try some at La Casetta del Piccantino, where you’ll meet Franco—probably wearing a corno–what we in Jersey used to call an “Italian horn” (hot red pepper shaped charm)-around his neck. Franco will generously offer you tastes of all varieties of n’duja and other delicious spreads.
You’ll find the most spirited Tropea character at Gelati Tonino…
This beloved-by-locals octogenarian is famous for his gelato, always inventing new flavors using what’s growing around there at the time–such as red onion gelato, garlic gelato, of course red pepper gelato…
It’s relaxing to pick up a panino somewhere and take a break at the beautiful beach, that’s voted every year as one of the best in Italy.
The dreamy day continues with a Cooking in Calabria class. During my visit, Tania took me to a hilltop cottage on the outskirts of Tropea, surrounded by a small vegetable garden and some fruit trees, where I cooked side-by-side with a local mamma and her husband–from appetizers to homemade pasta, and then we ate at a picnic table under the stars.
In 2012, Tania expanded and improved this concept, so now guests are driven to a glorious 3.5 acres of sprawling olive groves, flourishing vineyards and gardens in the rolling hills above Tropea. As Tania puts it: “You’ll enter as a guest and leave as part of the family after a day of cooking and feasting on made-from-scratch Calabrese cuisine with our hosts and dear friends, Peppe and Vera.”
Guests tour the gardens, finding an abundance of Tropea’s famous red onions, expansive olive groves, and lush vineyards–the olive oil you use for cooking and wine you drink is produced right on this farm.
The finale is an open air feast, insomma as Tania says, “Not only is this the ultimate food experience, it is a chance to be with authentic local people and experience the ‘dolce vita’ with them.”