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There are few countries that offer up as much in the way of amazing food, beautiful scenery and romance as does…

Kenny and Claire enjoy an aperitivo by the large pine tree


Overlooking the clifftop town of Tropea, a former friary blends understated luxury with Calabria’s unique cuisine

friary-turned-hotel Villa Paola

The patron saint of Calabria, the 15th-century friar Francesco di Paola, is reputedly one of the first people to recognise the benefits of a simple, plant-based Mediterranean diet. He founded the Order of Minims to champion a minimalist lifestyle, and they built a monastery on a rocky promontory just outside the medieval clifftop town of Tropea. There, a group of his vegan followers dined frugally on produce they cultivated on the hillside terraces below. It’s an ethos that has been embraced by the exclusive Villa Paola hotel and its De’ Minimi restaurant that now graces the monastery’s atmospheric cloisters.

Stepping into the hotel’s citrus-tree-filled courtyard after a short transfer from Lamezia Terme airport is like slipping back in time, albeit with signs of more luxury than the ascetic friars would have known. We take in the stunning view of Tropea’s ancient townhouses, which seemingly grow organically from a cliff that juts into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Some observers regard this Costa degli Dei (the Coast of the Gods) as an undiscovered Amalfi. But the Tropeans will have none of that. Its beaches are better, sea a more translucent azure, and cuisine more adventurist – as we are about to find out.

After checking into our spacious cloister room (one of only 12) with views overlooking wildflower meadows, we are invited to sample the De’ Minimi restaurant’s ‘Streetissimi’ lunch menu. Behind the Anglo/Italian wordplay is an imaginative take on Calabrian street food that perfectly reflects the lean-but-flavour-forward style of the hotel.

Sitting beneath the Villa’s giant maritime pine tree, we are served a creative mix of shared plates: stuffed lestopitta, a taco-like Calabrian bread that is stuffed with creamy stracciatella cheese and shavings of octopus carpaccio; frisella rusks topped with silky anchovies, olives, chicory leaves and local mozzarella; and morzello, a classic Calabrian stew featuring veal heart and tripe in a rich tomato sauce. It’s also our first of many weekend encounters with Tropea’s world-famous red onions. Fresh from the Villa’s own fields, they add a purple caramel topping to a bright yellow frittata. It’s something to do with the composition of the sandy soil and the ancient variety of onion, we are told, that makes ‘Calabria’s red gold’ so unique. Raw, they are fragrant and luscious, with no hint of bitterness or acidity that stings your eyes. You can bite into one like an apple; you can serve them straight onto bruschetta; or, if you�

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