Located at the southernmost point of Italy's mainland (the toe of the boot), Calabria boasts some of the most pristine beaches and sun-drenched landscapes in the country. With more than 500 miles (800 km) of coastline surrounding Calabria, there is ample opportunity for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, and sailing, including the chance to dive amid centuries-old shipwrecks and ancient cities. Often referred to as "the land between two seas", Calabria is wrapped by both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts and offers idyllic beaches and picturesque coastal towns.
Beaches on the Tyrrhenian Coast feature spectacular rocky cliffs interspersed with untamed white sandy beaches; some with or some without lively beach stabilimenti, or private beach clubs with services.
The Ionian Coast has calmer seas than the Tyrrhenian Coast but just as impressive cliffs and stretches of sand. The Ionian Coast is also less developed and less crowded than its Tyrrhenian counterpart. The Ionian offers numerous historical and archaeological treats including the impressive Castello Aragonese, an Aragon fortress used to ward off attacks from the Ottoman Turks.
Before heading out to the Italian coast, read up on these tips for going to the beach in Italy. Most importantly, be sure to bring sunscreen as the sun of the Mezzogiorno can be brutal!
Pizzo (Tyrrhenian Coast)
Pizzo is famous for its Chiesa di Piedigrotta, a church completely carved out of the tufo rock near the beach. The town is also acclaimed for tartufo—an ice-cream treat made of chocolate and hazelnuts—that is celebrated with a festival here every August.
Capo Vaticano (Tyrrhenian Coast)
With its white sandy beaches and sparkling blue waters, Capo Vaticano is one of the most popular tourist destinations along the Tyrrhenian Coast. Set against dramatic rock formations and featuring secluded coves teeming with marine life, no wonder it's considered a great place to scuba dive and snorkel.
Tropea (Tyrrhenian Coast)
Tropea's unspoiled shores are consistently rated some of the cleanest in Italy. The quaint village is full of historical sites, shops, restaurants, and lodging in addition to its glorious turquoise-blue water and spectacular white sand beaches. On a clear day, you can see the Aeolian Islands and Stromboli in the distance.
Diamante (Tyrrhenian Coast)
Diamante is a fishing village known for its sloping cliffs lined with olive trees and its picturesque beaches. An annual Peperoncino Festival in September celebrates the spicy hot chili peppers featured in many traditional Calabrian dishes.
Scalea (Tyrrhenian Coast)
Scalea is another popular resort highlighted by its beaches (ranging from grey sand to rocky), as well as its charming city center. The area of Scalea lies within the territory of the old Greek coastal colonies of ancient Sybaris, and it is here that archaeologists have found many important prehistoric artifacts.
Palmi (Tyrrhenian Coast)
Along the Tyrrehenian Coast, you'll also find Palmi, the home of La Casa della Cultura Leonida Repaci with a collection of pottery and paintings and the Museo Calabrese di Etnografie e Folklore, a superb collection of Calabrian folklore items.
Monte Sant'Elia (Tyrrhenian Coast)
About three miles south of Palmi is the Monte Sant'Elia (the first peak of the Aspromonte Mountains). Its ridge is often referred to as "the balcony of the Tyrrhenian Sea," for from the summit you'll enjoy the best views of Sicily and the Calabrian Coast.
Scilla (Tyrrhenian Coast)
According to Homer's The Odyssey, Scilla's amazing cliffs were home to the six-headed sea monster Scylla who terrorized ships passing through. Local folklore says that the currents of the straits from the Aeolian Islands are still inhabited by mermaids. More tangible things to see in Scilla include a 17th-century castle, Castello Ruffo, which sits above the beaches, and a church with a renowned altar and 14 bronze sculptures of Jesus.
Praia a Mare (Tyrrhenian Coast)
Pebbled shores and nearby Dino Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its many underwater caves, are the main attractions of this lovely seaside town. Praia a Mare is the perfect location for watersports lovers who want to fill their days with scuba diving, parasailing and hiking the nearby national park trails. However, for those who wish to chill out with a good summer read with a cold drink in hand, the sandy beaches offer both free public access and private lidos, where you can rent umbrellas and sun loungers.
Soverato (Ionian Coast)
Sitting in the Gulf of Squillace, the coastal town of Soverato is a hub of activity. With many of the qualities of a modern city it can be quite crowded with tourists in the summer, but due to its wide, white sandy beaches sharing space with colorful fishing boats, and a plethora of full-service beach clubs, it can easily accommodate the crowds.
Siderno (Ionian Coast)
Siderno's long stretch of pebble and sand beach runs from Reggio Calabria to the cliffs at Isola di Capo Rizzuto. Featuring warm, crystalline waters perfect for swimming and fishing, it has a flower-lined promenade along the water's edge with plenty of green spaces to enjoy. Both free public and private beaches abound, and the fortified 16th-century village, believed to have been a Greek colony back in the 8th-6th centuries BC, draws travelers from all over the world.
Gerace (Ionian Coast)
For those who love medieval villages, Gerace is one of the best preserved in all of Italy. It's reputed to have been founded in the 9th century by refugees of nearby Locri (a great stop for those who love archaeological digs) looking to escape the pervasive danger of invading Saracens. Gerace's 11th-century cathedral is still the largest in Calabria, with three aisles separated by two rows of 13 columns taken from the original Byzantine nucleus of the structure in Locri.
Stilo (Ionian Coast)
Clamped on the side of a hill, Stilo features the impressive La Cattolica: a 10th century, brick-built Byzantine church with five tile-covered domes. The town is also marked by architecture from the Middle Ages and Baroque periods, but it's the beach that attracts summer visitors. The long stretches of sandy beaches are only minutes from the center of town.
Badolato (Ionian Coast)
Badolato is an 11th-century village built by Robert Guiscard. Much of the protective stone walls remain circling this town that overlooks the Ionian Sea. Badolato holds 13 separate churches, though only one is still open year-round for Mass.