Cilento is an area of the Campania region characterised by smooth hills covered with olive trees overlooking the blue Tyrrhenian sea. It is a magic crossroad between several traditions and cultures to be discovered.
The beautiful landscape of Cilento is crossed by wild creeks and dense chestnut trees woods, interrupted by villages sheltered on the rocks of its mountains, or by cities laying on its coasts.
The Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park is one of the gems of the area, together with the Certosa di Padula monastery and the archaeological sites of Paestum and Elea - Velia.
This beauties are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List since 1998.
The Cilento coast is less fancy than the Amalfi one, but still full of the typical Mediterranean charm.
You will admire picturesque villages bleached by the sun and beautiful as holiday destinations, such as Agropoli, Palinuro and Castellabate.
As per the beaches, Cilento is slightly superior than the Amalfi coast: isolated inlets alternate with long gold sand expanses.
The location was very appreciated also by Ernest Hemingway, in particular Acciaroli and its Church on the harbour, with its façade peeled by the sea, the sun and the wind.
Its beach is called “Cilento’s pearl”, thanks to the white sand which alternates with small pebbles lightening even more the colour of the sea.
The streets and squares are made of local stone and according to the traditional architecture, while the coffee places, bars and restaurants have more of a modern and energetic style.
Located at only 10 km south from Acciaroli is the picturesque town of Pioppi, with its
uncontaminated pebbles beach.
Another beautiful seashore is the one in Marina di Casal Velino, especially made for families, with a sand section to taste an ice-cream, bring the kids to the playground or rent a pedalo.
Proceeding towards south-east, we find Ascea - better known as the motherland of the philosophers Parmenides and Zenon from Elea – counting 5 kilometres of sand beach and ideal to stop for a bath.
The seaside of Marina di Ascea is located in the heart of the coast of the Cilento National Park.
It is a wide expanse of soft and golden sand, surrounded by beautiful olive trees, suitable for everyone thanks to its not very deep waters and its flat sea.
Approximately 5 km long, the beach ends with a small inlet delimited by a cliff, to fully enjoy the quiet and relax.
Moving on, there is the magnificent medieval city of Pisciotta and its coast, Marina di Pisciotta, with a charming seafront, delimiting a stones and pebbles shore with shadows of mallow, grey and ochre colour.
Marina di Camerota includes, among its beaches, Cala d’Arconte and Cala Bianca.
Cala d’Arconte has a golden and thin sand, is only 2 km far from Marina di Camerota and is situated between rocks cliffs, maritime pines and olive trees, with a very wide seafront.
The sea is crystal clear and deep, so not suitable for families with children.
Cala Bianca seaside has one of the most beautiful and cleanest seas in Italy and takes its name from the awesome beach section with a mix of white sand and small pebbles.
Surrounded by the Mediterranean scrub, it can be reached only in two ways:
1. By boat, from Marina di Camerota;
2. Taking a walk on an old path: from Pozzallo, crossing the wood, it takes only 20 minutes and it is really worth!
In addition to the sea beauty, it proudly holds other marvellous must-see, such as the ancient Greek temples in Paestum, the excursion paradise of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, and the monumental monastery Certosa San Lorenzo di Padula.
The majestic National Park, the second widest in Italy, covers the area from the tyrrhenian coast to the foot of the Campania and Basilicata regions mountains chains, the so called “Appennino”; and it keeps many traces of the human presence since the ancient times.
Flora includes approximately 1.800 different species, but also the local fauna is very diversified, as the Park hosts different environments and this allows the presence of precious species, like the pilgrim hawk.
It is frequent to see, on the top of the mountains, wolves, royal eagles, partridges and particular kinds of rabbits.
The naturalistic peculiarities and heterogeneity of Cilento area combined, across the centuries, with the legendary and mysterious atmosphere and a rich cultural history.
The Park hosts many art spots; the main ones are Paestum, Velia and the Certosa di Padula.
One of the most important monumental complex from Magna Graecia, the coastal areas of Southern Italy on the Tarentine Gulf that were extensively populated by Greek settlers, is Paestum.
Rediscovered at the end of the XVIII century, the whole site was not brought to light until the Fifties.
Not being crowded by tourists as other better known locations, the place is beautifully calm.
The best season to visit the temples is the spring, when they are surrounded by scarlet poppies.
Its founders, at the origins, named it Poseidonia – to honour Poseidon, god of the sea – but it was also a place to worship Hera and Athena.
Paestum is a mine of countless archaeological finds and decorative handcrafts; many of them are kept in the National Archaeological Museum.
The three doric temples, kept in perfect conditions as unique examples of the Magna Graecia architecture, are really astonishing:
1. Neptune’s temple (530 BC) is the biggest and most well-kept of the Paestum temples. Even though its common name, many experts state that it was originally dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera, sister and wife of Zeus;
2. Athena’s temple (500 BC) it is known also because dedicated to the goddess Ceres, and it was used as a Christian church during the Middle Age;
3. The Cathedral (540 BC) was originally Hera’s temple and it is the most ancient and survived monument. With its 9 transverse columns and 18 others on the sides, it is a gorgeous view.
Elea city, founded by the Greeks in the middle VI century BC, changed its name in Velia during the roman age.
You can take a walk through the suggestive ruins of this archaeologic complex, admiring the remains of the city walls, several towers, the imperial thermal baths, a Ionic temple, a theatre and part of the original Greek streets.
Porta Rosa (the pink door) is very valuable: it connected two neighbourhoods of the city with the viaduct leading on the top of the Acropolis.
This city has been declared UNESCO World Heritage for different reasons, such as its Eleatic School, a philosophic school of thought which included among its representatives Parmenides and Zeno, born in Velia.
Certosa di Padula is one of the biggest monasteries in South Europe, from 1306 and covering 250.000 square meters.
The best word to define it is “huge”: 320 rooms, 2500 meters of corridors, 300 columns, 500 doors, 550 windows, 13 courts, 100 chimneys, 52 staircases e 41 fountains.
To visit the entire church is almost impossible, so make sure not to miss the most charming spots, such as the wide central courtyard, the gorgeous library with wood panels and the frescos chapels.
Do not forget to take a look at the kitchen and its famous history: apparently it was here that, in 1534, was cooked the “1000 eggs omelette” for Charles the V and its army.
Unfortunately, the original pan is not visible: how big it must have been?
Inside the monastery it is also possible to admire the handcrafts collection in the Province Archaeological Museum of the West Lucania region.
Roscigno Vecchia is located in the heart of the national park, 28 km west of the city of Teggiano.
At the beginning of the XX century, unexpected landslides caused the escape of the population, even though the majority of the original stone houses are still standing, proving the resistance of the historical architecture.
Those building, like the church and the main square, are all spectral memories of a community which previously was flourishing.
The locals installed themselves permanently in Roscigno Nuovo (literally “the New”), today simply known as Roscigno.
Small curiosity: the only inhabitant of Roscigno Vecchia is called Giuseppe.
Those charming caves date back to prehistory: excavations reveal that they were inhabited 42.000 years ago, and this makes them the oldest known settlement in Europe.
Don’t forget a jacket and to wear comfortable shoes, as the paths are slippery and wet.
Even though it extends on 4.800 meters, only half of the complex is open to the public.
The tour of one hour winds through a path surrounded by incredible stalactites and stalagmites.
Fascinating colours games fall on the rocks shaped by nature.
The tour ends in a lunar cavernous landscape called “Bertarelli’s cave”.
Those caves are still populated by a few bats, so you will be asked not to take pictures with a flashlight to avoid scaring or blinding them.
Rediscovered in 1932, those caves have origins 35 millions of years ago.
Used by Greeks and Romans as worship sites, the caves are characterised by stalagmites and stalactites with long underground landscapes.
The first part of the tour is a boat ride along the river, to end just before the river fall and continue by foot for approximately 800 mt, surrounded by beautiful rocks complex and luminous crystals.
Located just at the south of Paestum, Agropoli is a lively summer location, pleasant and calm at the same time, a good starting point to explore the coast and the Cilento park.
The historical city centre is a captivating tangle of tight cobbles alleys with ancient churches and a castle with a breath-taking view.
Built by the Byzantines in the V century, the castle was reinforced by the Angevin period.
It went on being modified across the century and today only one part of the original wall is still existent.
To reach the castle through the historical centre it’s a nice walk until the bastions to enjoy the beautiful view on the coast and the city.
Approximately 14 km south from Agropoli is located the ex-fishermen village called Santa Maria di Castellabate.
Its golden sand beach is 4 km long and dominated by the fascinating structure of Perrotti Palace.
The city of Castellabate medievale, on the other hand, grasps on to the side of a mountain at 280 meters on the sea level, and it is one of the most captivating of the area.
The peak is marked by the wide Belvedere di San Costabile, a spot from which is possible to admire the astonishing panorama on the coast.
Near to this, you can see the defence walls of the Angel Castle, from XII century, former property of the abbot San Costabile Gentilcore.
The surrounding labyrinth of tight pedestrian streets is studded by ancient arches, small squares and the Belmonte Palace, an historic elegant residence.
The heart of the city is Piazza 10 Ottobre 1123 (“Square 10th of October 1123”) overlooking on Annunziata Valley.
Here the movie “Welcome to the South” was shot, but you won’t see the postal office as in it: in its place there is “La Piazzetta” (the little square), the local bar.
Continuing towards south from Castellabate, next stop is the nice marina of San Marco di Castellabate.
Once it was an important Greek and roman harbour, where tombs and other ruins were found, now exposed in the Paestum Museum.
The area between Santa Maria di Castellabate and San Marco is famours for the possibility of scuba-diving.
Even if it is known as the main coast location of Cilento area, Palinuro keeps its tourism level mostly on the economic side and keeps also its look of fisher-men village.
Situated in a picturesque bay protected by a promontory and with beautiful beaches, in august is crowded with local tourists.
Its Blue Cave, even not having the charm of its counterpart on Capri island, is equally beautiful.
It takes its name from the extraordinary effect produced by the sunlight seeping in from an underground passage at a depth of around 8 meters.
The best moment to visit it and enjoy those light games, due to the perfect position of the sun, is the afternoon.
The Buondormire (literally: the good sleep) beach in Palinuro is one of the most famous in the area, with its surreal landscape and the incredible sea colours: the water is transparent and emerald.
To reach it, you have almost every morning boats for tourists departing from Palinuro harbour, taking then the visitors back in the afternoon.
Another wonderful seaside is the one of the Natural Arch, also located in Palinuro, very evocative at sunset when the lights comes softly in from the window and the beach becomes a very special place.
This beach, location of many movies (such as the Argonauts, Hercules conquering Atlantis, Clash of the Titans), is a mix of rocks and sand.
Famous for its arch, from which it takes its name, it is also the starting point for the excursions to Capo Palinuro Caves.
Those are only a few places to visit in Cilento area, which is nice to explore also with an organised tour to make sure you don’t miss the main spots.
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