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Praia a Mare reminds me of the Italian seaside towns of my youth - simple yet enchanting. Many seaside towns in Italy have lost their innocence, that sense of good old-fashioned fun, Praia a Mare is NOT one of those.
The scent of jasmine, oranges and lemons perfumes the air, sapphire seas flecked with silver send spirits soaring - it's a coast you'll find hard to leave.
International tourism has yet to find this town in any sort of numbers. In July and August you'll find a sprinkling of visitors from Northern Europe, out of season it is likely to be just you. Even more surprisingly, few Northern Italians have discovered the town, most of the Italian tourists you'll meet are from Naples
There are some stunning attractions too, the natural ones tend to dominate and we'll get onto those in a moment but first there are some wonderful man made ones: top of the list is the church in a cave - the Santa Maria della Grotta (also called the Madonna della Grotta), then there is the 14th century Castello di Praia and a 16th century watch tower called the Torre di Fiuzzi.
The Madonna della Grotta is not the easiest to reach; however, if you are relatively fit, it is well worth the effort - the views and the sense of peace here are a balm for the soul. The towns festival, held in mid-August, is in honor of the Madonna della Grotta and the story is that a statue of the Madonna was found here in the 14th century; the church was then built to celebrate its discovery.
I recommend the months of May and September, both in terms of the weather and the fact that you'll have cheaper prices and fewer crowds.
In May, locals treat you more like a long lost friend come to visit rather than just another tourist; not that they don't have time for you in season, it's just that, out of season, it feels as if all that "missing" time in our busy lives elsewhere has been found. It seems to have all gone off to Praia. They have all the time in the world. They'd love to fill that time hearing your stories and sharing theirs.
We highly recommend the Hotel Garden, both as a place to stay and to eat. You can't beat the location, which is right on the beach. After a long day in the sun and sea nothing beats sitting down to dinner at the hotel's restaurant, a carafe of chilled white wine and their wonderful seafood pasta on the table in front of you - the perfect finale to a perfect day. You'll also want to try some of the local dishes too and the Hotel Garden's restaurant always offers a selection of local dishes.
Like to try traditional Calabrian cooking, in a family run trattoria? Then try lunch at Trattoria Ticciabbaca, where the welcome and the cooking is just like at casa di mamma. It's a little out of town so it is best to go by car.
What else to eat here in Calabria? Well, there's a fabulous local cheese called the Caciocavallo and a spicy salami called Nduja - the salami is a great pizza topping or makes great eating on a slice of local bread, washed down with some of the local Cirò red wine.
It might only be a little island but it has a whole lot of interesting things going on for such a small place. These are some of its charms:
So stunning, you really have to visit. The beach itself is gravelly but everything else is perfect and spectacular: the waters crystal clear and clean, scenery unbelievable and the sunsets, best viewed through the arch, totally romantic.
It takes a little bit of effort to get to the beach and the main path is a little hair-raising, personally, I wouldn't take it unless you are fairly fit, sure of foot and not scared of heights. I don't recommend the path if you are visiting with children - I've seen people walk it with children but, if the children get distracted or muck about, it is easy to slip over the edge. Also, there is a risk of rock slides on this path.
These then are the three ways to get there:
From Mirabella Beach: This is the dangerous and difficult path, it does afford spectacular views though, particularly from the stretch just before the arch and as you cross over the arch itself. To take this path park on the Bagno Marinella side (costs 4 Euros for the day) and then follow the footpath.
From Gabbiani Beach: A much easier option, you park at Gabbiani Beach (3 Euros per day), walk up the steps to Gabbiani Beach (which is a lovely beach too) and head south along the beach towards the arch. The walk is easy, with only a few small rocks to climb over at the end of Gabbiani Beach and then you are on Arco Magno Beach itself.
By Boat: It is really fabulous passing through the arch to get here. Boats leave from Praia a Mare and your hotel will happily organize a trip, otherwise ask one of the operators down by the Praia a Mare beach front.
This is the huge beach right in front of the town that seems to go on for ever. It is a mix of sand and gravel but not uncomfortable at all, the water is shallow too, making it perfect for young children.
There are pay sections all the way along, offering umbrellas, loungers, change-rooms and bathroom facilities etc. Not keen on paying? No worries, there are free sections between the pay areas, but without all the facilities.
You can get here by train from either Naples or Rome but I'd suggest renting a car, a car makes exploring of the coast and the inland areas far easier. Coming from the Amalfi Coast area? Then the drive down on the SS18 is a pleasant one, with the whole Cilento area and Maratea worth visiting on the way to Praia a Mare.