From the 60s, the houses which make up the core of the old village were progressively abandoned, and the inhabitants began to build new buildings occupying the area near the coast. The tourist boom of the eighties resulted in the emergence of a large number of accommodation options and modern residential complexes. Today, Scalea is a renowned tourist destination that every summer attracts thousands of tourists worldwide. The crystal-clear sea and beautiful beaches, together with a rich offer of leisure activities as well as beach and water sports, have contributed to making Scalea a very popular holiday destination.
Along the coast we find the scogliera dell’Ajnella (Ajnella cliff), full of coves and small bays, while the beach stretches out for miles toward the south and is interrupted only by the imposing rock on which the Torre Talao stands, from which it is possible to admire both modern Scalea (buil at the end of the long beach), and the old town of Scalea, (perched on the promontory overlooking the entire coast).
The Riserva Statale Valle del Fiume Argentino (State Reserve for the Argentino River Valley) offers many outdoor activities in the woods, with hiking trails, mountain biking, horseback riding and more. Following the road, visitors will be greeted by the Museo del Peperoncino (Museum of Chilli Pepper); a tribute to the spice adored by Calabrians.
In Scalea, in addition to the sights linked to the coastline, it is worth dedicating a few hours to visit monuments and points of historical and artistic interest such as the Palazzo dei Principi, Torre Talao and the frescoed the ruins of the Basilian churches of the IX century.
Scalea's patron, whose festivities take place every year on 16 July, is the Beata Vergine del Carmelo (Blessed Virgin of Carmel), whose statue is kept in the Chiesa Madre di Santa Maria d'Episcopio, in the heart of the old town centre. Another solemn celebration is reserved in honour of the Madonna del Lauro, patron saint of sailors, whose statue is kept in the chapel of the same name located in the town’s centre.
Both processions feature the traditional “cinte votive”, special wooden frames on which candles are placed decorated with ribbons and the typical “infiorata”; floral paintings and sacred images drawn on the road's surface with colourful sawdust.
The Tower is the town's symbol and the rock on which it stands was once a small island whose caves were inhabited in prehistoric times. It was built in the sixteenth century, under the reign of Charles V, to defend the area from raids and was part of a sighting system along the entire coast to defend itself from the attacks of the Turks. From the terrace at the top of the tower incredible views can be seen of the entire long beach that goes from the cliff of the Ajnella until the island of Cirella.
According to Homer, the cliff of Torre Talao saw the passing of Aeneas and Ulysses and the Dragon, the companion of Ulysses, died near the tower.
The shrine was built in the XVIII century by local seamen and the inhabitants of Sorrento, to dissolve a vow made to the Madonna during a storm in which the crew from Campania promised to build a church in the point where the sea had washed them ashore safely.
Today the Virgin is celebrated with an impressive procession at sea and the local sailors symbolically re-live the arrival of the statue of the Madonna by sea. In its interior, the shrine boasts a statue in plaster, which depicts the Madonna with the child in her arms, to which was added a crown in silver, in sign of devotion.
Located in one of the squares of the old town centre with panoramic views, the Antiquarium is housed in the Torre Cimalonga (Cimalonga Tower), built during the period of Aragonese rule to defend one of the four entrance gates to the village. The small museum houses a permanent exhibition of archaeological finds arranged in glass display stands making use of the ancient slits through which cannons were fired, which explain the area's historical-archaeological development, from the Palaeolithic to the late Roman period, and the populating of the area of Scalea and the ancient city of Laos. On display are pottery and the rim of the flush goblet from the end of the VII-VI century B.C.; tableware painted black; terracotta discs with the depiction of a cupid in blocks; a beautiful decorative element in the shape of the head of Silenus and casts of some of bronze coins of the mint of Laos related to the Hellenic period.
It was built in the XIII century, probably on a defensive tower to one of the entrance gates to the village. It was the residence of various feudal lords and housed several famous figures of the past such as the writer Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina, the poet Pietro Metastasio and the philosopher Caloprese. The precious Baroque frescoes that decorate the ceiling of the main lounge belong to that period.
Currently, the building is owned by the Municipality and one of its halls houses the Municipal Library.
Known as the Chiesa di sopra (Church above), its bell tower stands on the top of the old town centre. Inside, it boasts various wooden statues of southern art, such as the painting of the Annunciation attributed to the school of Solimena and the seventeenth century canvas of the Circumcision by Paolo de Matteis. On the right side there is a marble chapel which features the statue of the Beata Vergine del Carmelo (Blessed Virgin of Carmel), the town's patron saint; while the Madonna del Carmine, dressed in the Carmelite style, with a golden crown on her head and a blanket of stars, reigns in the niche above the steps of the altar in polychrome inlay of eighteenth century Neapolitan art.
Also known as the Chiesa di sotto (Church below), it was probably built over a Byzantine chapel, extended and opened for worship during the XIV century. Behind the high altar there is an impressive oil painting from the XVII century depicting the Madonna del Carmine between St Nicola and St Charles Borromeo. A staircase to the right of the entrance leads down into the Cripta dell’Addolorata (Crypt of Our Lady of Sorrows), whose hall has a plaque that commemorates the burial of Scalea's philosopher, Gregorio Caloprese.
Typical of Byzantine architecture is the cross vault with three naves divided by eight low columns, with the walls embellished by frescoes. An altarpiece depicting St Anthony of Padua, perhaps of the Flemish school, can also be found here as well as various frescoes of the 1700s.
The cliff is a succession of majestic rocky walls, sharp rocks of an anthracite colour, solitary beaches and natural sea caves.
Rocks that deserve a mention are those that the old fishermen called Carusiello, that reminds us of a child’s little pottery piggy bank, and Lastrachiello , that due to its flattened shape resembled the floor of the entrance to a house.
Close to the shore during low tide, a rock emerges from the water known as Scoglio della Giumenta (Rock of the Giumenta), whose profile reminds us of the back of a horse.
The Grotta du Trasi e jesci (Enter and leave) is a natural tunnel that comes out on a beach in the shape of a thimble, called “A Jiditala”. The Grotta della Pecora owes its name to the great stalactite in the form of a sheep's head that dominates the entrance and inside the crystal-clear water fades in colours that constantly alternate.
The ruins of the ancient Norman Castle can be seen from the highest area of the old town centre but these cannot be visited. Built in the XI century by the Normans as a sign of power and domain on their feudal lands, it was enlarged by Roger I of Sicily toward 1060 and restored during various eras. Within its walls the Patto di Scalea (Covenant of Scalea) was signed, with which Robert Guiscard divided the Calabrian lands conquered with his brother Roger. Over the course of the centuries, the castle was permanently it was definitively abandoned by nobles who moved into the Palazzo dei Principi.
Today, only a few ruins remain of the Tower that stands at the top of the hill overlooking the old town centre, guarding the Castle. The Tower of Judah, which overlooked the entire coast, allowed easy communications with the castle and vice versa.
The origin of the name is linked to a legend relating to an episode of the many Saracen raids: due to a deception perpetrated to his detriment by a young and beautiful woman, accomplice of pirates, the guardian of the tower did not warn the Castle of the imminent Saracen landing which attacked Scalea, looting it violently. The traitor was tortured and hanged near the tower.
Fish is the star of Scalea’s cuisine, offered by the sea in great abundance and varieties. Groupers, sea bass, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and rosa marina (whitebait caviar also known as sardella or poor man's caviar) are the more widely caught. Scalea’s most typical dishes that must not be missed are “linguine al baccalà” (linguine with stockfish) and “spaghetti al ragù di tonno” (spaghetti with tuna sauce). Among its tasty main courses are “baccalà fritto con i peperoni secchi”, (fried cod fish with dried peppers), “pesce spada al limone” (swordfish with lemon) and “frittelle di neonata” (pancakes of whitebait fledgling) as well as stuffed pittas.
In addition to fish, the local cuisine also uses meat quite often, especially sheep and goat meat, that comes from the many local farms. Therefore, it is not surprising that typical starters include “fusilli con la carne di capra” (fusilli with goat meat), or the “capucelle” (heads of lamb or kid cooked with breadcrumbs).