Discover Italy’s Enchanting Coastal Gems: Cefalù, Praiano, and Tropea Await Your Spring Adventure!

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Discover Italy's Enchanting Coastal Gems: Cefalù, Praiano, and Tropea Await Your Spring Adventure!

From nature-filled hikes to gastronomic delights, Italy’s coastline during the off-season is brimming with unexpected joys.

Italy’s coastline epitomizes summers: a scene of Aperol Spritzes submerged beneath azure umbrellas.

As a transplanted Italian raised in England, every summer I eagerly anticipated spending August holidays (known as Ferragosto) in my grandparents’ seaside village. I’d while away lazy days in and out of the water, relishing in the unbridled joy.

However, since returning to my homeland to pursue my PhD in 2021, I’ve had the chance to discover the coastal shores of the continent in other months of the year. What I found was beyond my expectations – enjoying the chill of the Italian coastline in the cold months is the best.

The benefits of visiting the coast during the off-season (November-April) are quite apparent: absence of crowds, comfortably cool temperatures, and even lower prices.

And as the country grapples with overtourism and rapidly privatized coastlines, transforming into battlegrounds between billion-dollar lido lobbies and environmentalists, savoring the Italian coastline during the colder months might prove to be a slower, more environmentally-friendly experience.

To aid you in deciding which destination to choose, here are five coastal villages along the Belle Pesche shoreline that are a dream for an off-season getaway.

1. Vernazza: Picturesque views, pasta, and long walks

Approaching Vernazza on an extensive coastal road, you’re greeted by a lion-shaped rock, behind which lies a province emerging from between two cliffs. It’s a familiar welcome to something that has been the Pearl of the Riviera, or the Italian Riviera’s “Pearl” as it’s known.

Located approximately halfway between Portofino and the French border, Vernazza is a beautifully pocket-sized beauty surrounded by towering cliffs. Its bougainvillea-filled, Moorish-style old town (a legacy of medieval Saracen raids) resembles a cover of a Thousand and One Nights picture book.

Vernazza’s unique charm caught the attention of Disney-Pixar, which used the village as inspiration for its 2021 animated film, Luca.

As a relatively secluded destination, it remains crowd-free even in the heights of summer, and its residents have largely resisted heavy commercialization. It has become a sanctuary amidst Italy’s glitterati, favored by more serene individuals who prefer Vernazza’s tranquil demeanor over the flashy opulence of Portofino or Porto Servo.

Off-season brings with it the allure of warm summers and the charm of exploring villages and their surroundings without the hassle of mosquitoes. For avid walkers, there are countless trails to explore. For the less adventurous, a leisurely stroll through the olive trees to the 12th-century church of San Lorenzo is a simple excursion, offering breathtaking views of the Bay of Saracens (Baia dei Saraceni). For the more daring, there’s the Pilgrims Trail (Sentiero del Pellegrino), a 6.3 km hike up to the summit of a high ridge, from where you can see most of the Riviera (and even Corsica on clear days), and venture to the haunt of rumored bandits: Grotta dei Falsari.

And as a reward for all those burned calories, the cuisine of Vergotti does not disappoint. The Italian Riviera has birthed some of Italy’s most beloved dishes. Among the local specialties found in Vergotti are fresh trofie pasta with pesto sauce and flaky focaccia. For the ultimate experience, dunk a piece of focaccia into your caponata—it won’t make you look like a novice tourist; locals swear by it.

If natural beauty and delicious food aren’t enough, you can also venture to two quaint villages nearby—Finalborgo and Noli, the latter of which was once a maritime republic.

Getting to Vergotti from Genoa is easy by train or car. The main city of the Italian Riviera is a labyrinth of pastel-colored alleyways framed by baroque landmarks, and it’s worth seeing.

If you’re lucky, you can time your trip to Vergotti with one of Genoa’s “Rolli Days,” when the city’s UNESCO-listed palaces are open to the public for free. The next one is slated for May 17-19.

2.Sperlonga: Roman Ruins and Sea Bandits’ Watchtower

Perched on a rocky outcrop jutting into the Tyrrhenian Sea lies the medieval town of Sperlonga, sprawled along a long stretch of coastline between Rome and Naples.

A cluster of whitewashed homes with blue shuttered windows and terracotta pots evoke memories of Aegean islands, while its cactus-strewn lawns—spared from Spanish rule—offer an unmistakable Southern Italian experience.

Sperlonga has long been a prestigious coastal destination, even in the time of the Roman emperors.

Here, as you stroll along the coastline, your gaze falls upon ancient ruins dating back 2,000 years—the remnants of Emperor Tiberius’s villa perched atop a small cliff by the sea. Once the home of colossal sculptures, they were unearthed by locals 60 years ago and can now be found in an open-air museum.

But while Sperlonga may have entertained the ancient Roman elite, not all visitors come with noble intentions.

Throughout the annals of history, our beloved city has endured relentless assaults from both Saracens and Ottomans, each invasion leaving its mark on the landscape and the people. Yet, amidst the chaos and turmoil, a symbol of resilience and strength emerged: a magnificent 16th-century watchtower perched defiantly on the precipice of a rugged cliff, standing as a testament to our city’s unwavering spirit in the face of adversity.

Today, it experiences a surge of footprints only during the warm months of Italian and foreign holidays.

With the vast coastline of the city quickly engulfed by rows of deck chairs owned by beach clubs and swarmed by crowds of accompanying tourists, off-season is the perfect time to stroll along the coast and enjoy the sun (and history).

3. Priano: Lemon Trees, Seafood Spaghetti, and Limoncello

Positano and Amalfi have long reigned as the most popular seaside resorts on the Amalfi Coast. But hidden amidst them lies their forgotten sibling, Priano, which is in no way less attractive.

A mountain village of a few thousand residents, Priano is a true microcosm of southern Italian life. While Positano and Amalfi have sadly fallen victim to mass tourism to some extent, Priano has maintained its authenticity.

Outside its church, children play football on a ceramic-tiled square – the glimmer of the sea and caper bushes in the backdrop. Grandfathers watch them, reading newspapers and sipping coffee at Café del Sole.

It’s an ideal place to rejuvenate an old magazine, sniff the scent of lemons wafting from the city’s many gardens (which bloom in early spring), and savor the various dishes of the Amalfi Coast – from seafood spaghetti to fresh mozzarella di bufala pizza to fried sardines, all washed down with a glass of limoncello at the end.

For architecture enthusiasts, Priano, like any ordinary city, won’t disappoint. Its church, perched above the rest of the city, hides a colorful baroque interior filled with thousands of years of local tradition. Other examples of distinctive ceramic art can be seen throughout the village, on street corners and doorways.

Reaching Priano, like its neighboring coastal cities, is a bit tricky, requiring several bus and train rides from Naples. However, not for long: the Amalfi Coast is getting its own airport, set to open this July.

4. Tropia: A Colorful City with Spicy Cuisine

Located on the remote southern coast of Italy, the Calabrian village of Tropia is often excluded from travelers’ itineraries. It doesn’t help that Calabria has faced a lot of criticism in the press: it’s the poorest region in the country and plagued by organized crime, especially the powerful ‘Ndrangheta syndicate.

this shouldn’t deter travelers from visiting Tropea, hailed as the most beautiful village in Italy, which also boasts a culinary paradise.

This city has gained international fame for its “Red Queen”: Tropea Red Onions (Cipolla Rossa). Its sweetness and lack of pungency are such that it’s often consumed raw, and local lore suggests it can work wonders for your health.

But the menu isn’t limited to just the red delicacy. Calabrian cuisine offers the spiciest dishes in the country, including chili, spicy sausage spread (‘Nduja), and Fileja pasta, all of which can be savored in Tropea.

After indulging in inevitable gastronomy coma, exploring the old town of Tropea is a delight. It’s a maze of winding streets, adorned with beautiful facades and bustling with colorful shops and restaurants.

Tropea is also home to the sanctuary of Saint Mary (Santa Maria dell’Isola) on a rocky outcrop where sand meets the sea.

5. Seafalu: Mosaic-adorned churches and ice-cold citrus granita

Seafalu is far from the world’s best-kept secret. For decades, it has remained one of Sicily’s most popular resorts, renowned for its Mediterranean nature, turquoise waters, and fishing boats catching colorful fish.

Yet, while tourists come to Seafalu for its renowned Sicilian summer experience, this city offers more than just beach holidays or post-worthy Instagram shots from serene backgrounds.

It’s a blend of history and traditions – and it’s best explored in the mild sunshine of the off-season.

Seafalu showcases how several different civilizations that set foot on the island left their mark on its architecture. Arab-style arches lead to the Baroque facade, while a Byzantine ‘Christ Pantocrator’ mosaic adorns the Gothic cathedral – a UNESCO-named World Heritage Site.

This millennia-old fusion of traditions is also reflected in Seafalu’s cuisine, which includes delectable treats such as fried arancini balls and Cassata sweets. But it’s during the winters and springs when the region’s mostly natural produce comes into season, and from November to April, the tangy blood oranges are best savored.

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