Is San Nicola Arcella in Calabria Italy Worth Visiting? (By A Local)

Is San Nicola Arcella in Calabria Italy worth visiting?

Absolutely it is.  Most people have not heard of San Nicola Arcella, and many have never been to Calabria.  The southern region of Italy is beautiful and the least visited area by American tourists.

The village of San Nicola Arcella in Calabria is perched on a cliff over the sea.

Generally, tourists go to Naples and the Amalfi coast but not much further south.  If you want a true Italian experience, go to Calabria.  It is authentic – not touristy.  That is what we love about San Nicola Arcella.  A simple life with incredible scenery and delicious food.

View of the San Nicola Beach and town on top of the cliff.
Photo by Steve Knight

We always tell our friends, go to the major cities like Rome, Florence, and Milan to get your fill of tourist attractions.  When you are ready to relax, come to San Nicola Arcella in Calabria!

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Where is San Nicola Arcella in Calabria?

San Nicola is in northern Calabria very close to the border of Basilicata.  It is in the Cosenza region.

The village is perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  Behind the village are the Pollino mountains.  The view of the coastline is breathtaking.

View of the Calabria coastline to Basilicata.

During the summer season, Italians from the north come to San Nicola to enjoy the fresh air and the blue sea.  Many have vacation homes in the area.  We have a home, also, in I Delfini.

Our home in the I Delfini community in San Nicola.

The main roadway is the S18 which travels along the western coastline from north to south. During the summer months, the area gets busy especially on the weekends. Our little village is quite self-sufficient, so we do not have to go far for meals and shopping.

Things to Do in San Nicola Arcella

Even though we enjoy looking at the mountains and the sea, there are some things to do in the area.  The weather during the summer months is generally warm and dry.  I have found that in July, every day looks the same – sunshine and blue skies!  Perfect weather for enjoying the outdoors.

1. ArcoMagno

The ArcoMagno is a natural wonder.  It is a hidden gem that is renowned for its arch-shaped rock formation that gracefully spans the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. 

The ArcoMagno is a natural wonder along the Mediterranean Sea.

To get to it, there is a steep rocky path that must be climbed to access this beautiful cove.

Steep walking path to the ArcoMagno

And the views continue to be amazing as you cross over the cliff down into the cove.

amazing views of the cliffs and sea while walking to the ArcoMagno.

Once you get there (about a 15-minute walk), you are rewarded with amazing views.  The arched opening, sculpted by centuries of wind and waves, frames a picturesque view of the horizon beyond.  Surrounded by rugged cliffs, ArcoMagno has an air of tranquility and mystique.  It is well worth the hike.

View of the ArcoMagno from the water.
Water View – photo by Steve Knight

But we cheated and took a water taxi back to San Nicola beach. I could not bear going uphill again!

Note:  San Nicola is now charging a 3-euro fee to walk to the ArcoMagno from June to September.  The walking path is at the end of the free beach.  I would recommend wearing sturdy shoes – not flip-flops when navigating the path.


2. Torre Crawford

Along the Calabrian coastline, every town has a tower. In San Nicola, the 16th century Crawford Tower was an outpost to communicate to other towers along the coastline of approaching enemies.  The tower sits on a rugged cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  During the early 1900’s, American writer, Francis Marion Crawford lived in the tower and wrote several stories during his stay.

The Crawford Tower overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo by Steve Knight

It is our understanding that the Crawford Tower and gardens, now privately owned, are open for tours on Fridays during mid-July to mid-September from 5pm to 7:30pm.


3. Palazzo dei Principi Lanza di Trabia

The Palace of the Princes was built at the end of the 18th century overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  It was the summer palace for a noble family from Scalea, the Spinelli’s.

The Palace of the Princes is built in the baroque style in the late 1800's.

Built in the baroque style, with arches and an inner courtyard, the pink palace is currently being restored to its original charm.  Tours are available through the municipality of San Nicola Arcella.  Refer to the municipality website for details. 


4. Punto Panoramico

This Panoramic Point is also known as the Terrace.  This is where everyone goes to watch the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.

The Terrace is a meeting place in San Nicola to watch the sunset over the sea.
Photo by Steve Knight

The views of the coastline and the San Nicola beaches are amazing, especially with the lights at night.

View of the coastline at night from the Terrace.

During the evenings in the summer and on the weekends, the Terrace is very busy with everyone taking their evening stroll. It is a wonderful place to relax and admire the surrounding beauty.

The Terrace in San Nicola is the perfect place to watch the sunsets over the sea.
Photo by Steve Knight

5. Centro Storico

The Historic Center of San Nicola Arcella is charming.  The medieval village is home to less than 2,000 inhabitants.

The medieval San Nicola village has narrow alleys winding through the town.

The narrow alleyways wind through the town lined with stone buildings and homes.  We enjoy wandering through the historic center looking at the doorways, artwork and murals painted along the way. 

Painted murals in the historic center of the village.

The main plaza (piazza in Italian) in the village is lively in the evenings, especially on the weekends.  Every time I visit the plaza, I think it looks like Epcot with pastel colors and balconies with wrought iron railings.  It is magical.

The main plaza is the historic town center is lively at nights and on the weekends.

The annual Procession of the Madonna takes place on July 2nd.  The town puts up lights for the festival.  The statue of the Madonna is carried through the town, ending with a fireworks display. 

The annual Procession of the Madonna takes place on July 2nd in the historic center.

6. Chiesa di San Nicola da Tolentino

Every village in Calabria has a church to see. In San Nicola, the Church of San Nicola of Tolentino is the heart of the town. It was originally built in the 18th century in the baroque style.

The Church of San Nicola of Tolentino is the main church for San Nicola located in the town center.

This is the main church for San Nicola Arcella.  It is the centerpiece of the town and always looks beautiful in the evening.  The best way to visit the interior of the church is to attend daily services.


7. Galatea Minicrociere

A great way to see the Calabria and Basilicata coastlines is to take a Galatea Boat Tour.  The tour boats are located on the San Nicola beach in front of the Lido di San Nicola. 

The Galatea Boat Tours are a great way to see the Calabria and Basilicata coastlines.

They offer 2, 4 and 8-hour tours from San Nicola to the Policastro Bay with the most popular being the 2-hour tour of the ArcoMagno and Dino Island.  The 4-hour tour goes to the Port of Maratea in Basilicata with 45-minutes to walk around the Port.

To learn more and schedule a tour, contact Galatea Minicrociere directly.


8. San Nicola Beaches

The beaches are why so many people come to San Nicola, especially in the summer!  Our beaches are surrounded by cliffs from the Pollino Mountains.  The mountains touch the turquoise sea. 

The cliffs from the Pollino Mountains reach down to the sea.
Photo by Steve Knight

In this part of Calabria, the beaches are stone with black gravel and can get very hot during the summer months.  We always wear our flip-flops to the waters edge!!!!

On the beach are lidos.  Lidos are a private facility selling a sun bed (chaise lounge) and a beach umbrella.  Please keep in mind, there are public areas on the beach allowing you to bring your own chairs and umbrellas.

The lidos line the beach with sun beds and umbrellas.
Photo by Steve Knight

When you use a lido, you will have access to a toilet, shower, water toys (like floats) and a small eatery that serves drinks, coffee, ice cream and food for lunch.  The sun bed and umbrella belong to you for the day so you can come and go as you please.

August is the most popular month, and it is necessary to reserve your lido ahead of time.  The lidos are generally open from June to mid-September.

The Mediterranean Sea is clear and calm most of the time.  It is also very salty, so it is easy to float in the water.  Along the beach, paddle (pedal) boats are available for rent.  This is a fun way to explore the coastline on your own.


Where to Stay in San Nicola Arcella

San Nicola is a popular tourist destination in the summer and offers a range of accommodation options for visitors.  Below are a few recommendations.

HOTELS:

B&B’s:

My Trip Planning Resources

These are the companies that I use when planning our trips:

Flights: WayAway
Hotel Reservations: Booking.com or Hotels.com
Vacation Rentals: VRBO
Rental Cars: DiscoverCars.com
Train Tickets: Rail Europe
Tours: Viator, Get Your Guide and GuruWalk
Travel Insurance: VisitorsCoverage
Airport Lounge Access Program: Priority Pass

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Where to Eat in San Nicola Arcella

Every morning, when we wake up, the question is, “what are we going to eat today?”  In Calabria, the food is fresh and local.  Fresh fish and seafood are found in restaurants along the Calabria coast.  Pesce Spada (swordfish) is a very popular dish and will be served in most restaurants.

Pesce Spada is swordfish and it is served in all the restaurants along the Calabria coast.

The local pasta is fusilli which is about 3 inches long with a slight twist.  Spicy peppers are a regional staple and are in many sauces and meats.  Caciocavallo silano is a local cheese, which is semi-hard and can be enjoyed on its own or used in dishes.

An antipasto platter is a great way to start the meal. It will have a variety of local cheeses and meats, olives, grilled vegetables, potatoes, and jams with breads.

An antipasto platter is an ideal starter to any meal while visiting San Nicola Arcella in Calabria.

There are many restaurants, bars, and cafés in and around town which we love visiting.  Below are some of our favorites.

  • Caffè Le Mele – this is where we start our day with a freshly-made cornetto and café (known as espresso in the U.S.A.).
  • I Carnali – a very sleek and modern restaurant serving creative dishes with beautiful presentations.
  • Ristorante San Giorgio – a go-to place for a good meal and the staff speaks English.
  • Ristorante La Terrazza del Principe – a perfect place to enjoy a meal and watch the sunset over the Mediterranean.
  • Bar Crawford – the best bar in the area serving cocktails and bar foods.

These establishments are open year-round. Since this is a summer community, many of the other restaurants are open for the summer season and then close down.

FAQ: Is San Nicola Arcella in Calabria Worth Visiting?

The following are answers to some of the most asked questions about visiting San Nicola Arcella.

How do you get to San Nicola Arcella?

Ideally, you will need a car to get around in our area.  We fly into Rome, rent a car and drive to San Nicola.  The ride takes about 4 ½ hours.  If flying into Napoli or Lamezia, the drive will be 2 ½ hours.

If taking a train from Rome or Napoli, the stop is called Scalea S. Domenica Talao.  Trains from Rome will take about 5 hours, while 2 ½ hours from Napoli to Scalea.

Is Calabria the Amalfi Coast?

It is better than the Amalfi Coast.  Our beaches are wide, clean and beautiful.  The Calabria coast is easier to navigate than the Amalfi Coast and it is more economical.

How are the beaches in San Nicola Arcella?

The beach is stone and gravel, not sand. It is more volcanic due to its proximity to the mountains.

Where to watch a sunset in San Nicola Arcella?

The best place to watch the sunset is at the Punto Panoramico (the Terrace).  The view of the Calabria and Basilicata coastlines at sunset are stunning.

Do I need an International Driver’s License when driving in Calabria?

Yes, you do.  It is also known as an International Driving Permit, and it is mandatory in Italy.  You can obtain the permit in the U.S. at AAA.  It is good for the year from date-of-issue. 

Is travel insurance necessary when visiting Italy?

In today’s world, insurance is needed whether traveling domestically or internationally. There are comprehensive plans for global travel including options for additional medical coverage when traveling within Europe. Click here to learn more!

Final Thoughts: Is San Nicola Arcella in Calabria Worth Visiting?

Yes, San Nicola is worth visiting as well as all of Calabria.  This is a beautiful region in Italy that does not get enough attention from foreign tourists, especially from the U.S.A.

The landscape is breathtaking with the mountains and the sea.  It is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy a simpler life.  This region still takes the afternoon siesta which is hard for me to do but it makes sense.  When you go to a restaurant, the table is yours for the evening. 

Everything in San Nicola Arcella is about enjoying life and enjoying the moment!  Come south and explore for yourself.

If you would like assistance in planning your trip to San Nicola Arcella, Italy, we would be happy to help.  Please refer to our Travel Planning services for further information or send us an email.

If you want to explore more in Southern Italy, check out our following posts:

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