Cilento Coast – Historic villages
On the map of Italy, Cilento is where the buckle of the boot would be, if there were one. It is a region of woods thick with olives and chestnuts, small villages fringing on the Mediterranean, the smell of wild herbs and jasmine mixing with the smell of the sea. There are are medieval hill-top villages like Castellabate and golden beaches plus a wonderfully robust cuisine. This is where the flat bread 'focaccia' comes from, along with hearty meat sauces made from mutton and goat.
Cilento Coast – Velia
Velia is an ancient Greek town in Cilento which also fits the 'national treasure' description. Called Helea when it was founded by the Greeks around 540 BC, this was home to the great philosophers,Virgil and Cicero, and Velia is mentioned in their works.
Under the Romans its name was changed to Velia. Today the excavated town is laid out on the side of a hill scented with herbs. Cicero loved the thermal baths at Velia. The Romans liked them too and and some of them can still be seen, with many of their beautiful tiles intact.
There is also a medieval tower, impressive ruins, and a perfectly preserved arched gate from the 6th century BC, through which you reach the Rose Gate Road, a stone-cobbled path which leads you away from the ancient world into the modern. As you walk on these ancient stones you can feel the same air that Cicero felt and smell the same flowers, sniff wild herbs, and pass swathes of wild corn dotted with scarlet poppies.
Cilento Coast – Paestum
One of the biggest draws in the region is the ancient site of Paestum, founded by the Greeks in the sixth century BC and colonized by the Romans in 273 BC. There are three fabulous golden-stone temples which look hardly touched by time. This was the first important city of the Greek period.
Paestum survived the centuries because of the unpredictability of nature. Around the 5th century AD the city was abandoned because of severe flooding and it became a mosquito-ridden swamp. Malaria decimated the population and by the 9th century the city was abandoned and gradually was taken over by thick forest.
It seems incredible that it took about nine hundred years for its glory to be revealed when a road was built through the area. It probably would not have survived the centuries had it not been for the preservative qualities of the swamp that covered it for so long. It is now classified as a World Heritage Site.
Castellabate is a beautiful pearl set in Cilento. The town is among the most enchanting towns of the Cilento region, preserved from international mass tourism. Situated between Paestum and Velia, Castellabate is one of the most important beach centers along the Cilento coast, also rich in many historical and cultural places.
Geographically wide, it consists of five areas: Castellabate medieval centre, Santa Maria (where the Municipal building is located), San Marco, Ogliastro Marino and Lago. At the foot of the medieval village of Castellabate (recognized as part of the Unesco World Heritage), in an enchanting gulf between Punta Licosa and Punta Tresino (a natural sea park), you can find alternatively long golden sandy beaches and beautiful sea cliffs that make Santa Maria an ideal tourist place.
The charming Mediterranean vegetation and the brilliant sea of Licosa island complete the striking picture of the Cilento coast.
The thousand-year history of this beautiful hidden corner, good weather with warm temperatures, mixed colors between the sea and the countryside and the flavors of the Cilento cuisine are all together perfect and fundamental ingredients to choose Castellabate as an ideal place for vacations and relaxation.
Pioppi-Museo Del Mare
The small and rather beautiful seaside village of Pioppi welcomes visitors to tell a tale of well-being: that of Ancel Keys and the Mediterranean Diet. It is here that the American researcher from Minnesota University lived for about forty years, carrying out fundamental studies on human nutrition and sharing the typical Cilento lifestyle. The dietary model in which Prof. Keys, discovered remarkable healthy giving properties is the one traditionally followed in the Cilento area.
The Mediterranean Diet society and the local institutions were the driving forces behind this Museum dedicated to him and housed in the seventeenth century Palazzo Vinciprova, which in compliance with the wishes of Ancel Keys, also hosted one of the first international cardiology congresses, held in1970.
The museum is also home to the Ancel Keys library, donated by him to the municipality of Pollica. A quick glance at the titles, which range from "Greek Cooking" to "The Roman Cookery Book" by Apicius, is enough to give the visitor an idea of the immense importance that the American scientist placed upon classic civilization and culture. The creation of the Museum was made possible thanks to an intense commitment to research and collection of documentation, some of which has yet to be published outside the United States.
The Calstelcivita Grottoes are at the foot of the Alburni Mountains, about 30 Km from Paestum. The Grottoes of Castelcivita takes the visitor on a fantastic underground walk with some parts of it that look like scenes from a fairytale. The Grottoes are characterized by several spaces rich in stalactites and stalagmites, wells, bottleneck, chasing and crossing tunnels that fall into scary chasms where the nightmarish and the beautiful are mixed together creating a magic scene, a result of the wash made by the underground streams on the carbonated rocks.
The extraordinary formation of the stalactites and stalagmites has given names to some of the galleries, for example the Crocodile Hall, the lemon Room and the Cathedral. One of the most interesting is The Bertarelli Cavern, which is a wide-open space covered in orderly thread like stalactites, which form a pagoda shape. The fantastic path is well lit and long about 1700 mt (1 mile) in its entirety.
Goethe was here
Goethe travelled through Cilento, then a land of swamps and the uncontested territory of wild buffalo, brought to the region centuries ago, possibly by the Romans. Today the buffalo are still here and their milk is used to make the best mozzarella in Italy.
The Cilento area is a good base for those who look for places less trodden, yet within easy reach of places offering a whiff of the wider world of tourism, like Naples and Salerno.