Welcome back to our 48-hour weekend guides. Today we travel south to the Cilento coast, a portion of Campania that extends from the bottom of the Gulf of Salerno to the border of Basilicata. If you’re the kind of traveler who is OK with total absence of designer boutiques and yacht slips, you’ll find yourself in a part of southern Italy that has retained its authentic charm through low profile, yet is replete with historical and archeological destinations, wildly untamed nature and gorgeous beaches.
Ready for a dream weekend to discover the beauty of Cilento?
4pm – Check in to your hotel in Paestum
Drop your bags in your room and hit the archeological dig in the afternoon. That’s when all the tourists have gone and the light is better for capturing the beauty of the temples of Paestum. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most gorgeous cities of ancient Magna Graecia, and is located at the very north part of the Parco Nazionale del Cilento. Less than 1 hour’s drive from Salerno, and dating back to the 6th century BC, Paestum is home to some of the best preserved ancient Greek temples in the world.
Paestum is also known for the cluster of buffalo farms that produce Italy’s best mozzarella di bufala…
7:00 pm – Dinner at the Mozzarella farm
Caseificio Barlotti produces some of the area’s best organic mozzarella di bufala Campana DOP (Protected Designation of Origin status). On the farm is also a fine restaurant whose menu features locally grown seasonal produce, breads baked with heritage grains and, of course, mozzarella di bufala.
9:00 am – Hit the road
After breakfast and checking out of your room, drive down the curvy Strada Statale 267 that hugs the coast, stopping at historically intact and culturally unchanged small Cilentan villages. From the harbor at the foot of the old town Agropoli, for example, a footpath runs along the coastal road to a small secluded cove with a white sandy beach, “Baia di Trentova“. From here, on a clear day, you can see as far as Capri, Ischia and the Amalfi coast.
Noon – Lunch in Castellabate
The medieval fortress town of Castellabate is another must-visit Cilento destination. This other UNESCO World Heritage Site and its castle were variously controlled over the centuries by Normans, pirates, and the Saracens. The popular Italian blockbuster Benvenuti al Sud was entirely filmed on location in Catsellabate. Stop for a light lunch at Il Caicco located in the old town, on a terrace a thousand feet above the sea. Be sure to order grilled or fried alici di menaica, freshly caught anchovies.
Further down, Acciaroli has cinnamon-colored stone houses with blue-painted doors, and a harbor dotted with cafés where you could quite possibly be the only non-Italian speakers. Ernest Hemingway lived here in the Fifties, and he is said to have taken much inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea from the sun- and sea-chaffed Acciaroli fishermen and their menaica traditional handwoven nets.
5:00 pm – In the lap of Nature
As you continue further south along the coast, past Acciaroli, in the midst of Cilento’s impressive mountainous landscape is Casal Velino. Here, inland 5 km above the sea is an organic farm called I Moresani which produces extra virgin olive oil, wine and goat cheese, in addition to breeding pigs, chickens and cattle. The kitchen produces fruit preserves, pickled vegetables, and other gifts from the orchard. The family owned agriturismo offers accommodation and a fine rustic restaurant. Relax in your private garden, pour a glass of wine and sway in your hammock listening to the crickets lull you to sleep. PS: there’s a pool, too.
10:00 am – Seaside stroll
The sea water in Marina di Casal Velino down the hill is some of the cleanest in Italy, thanks to a number of marine reserves located along the coastline. The small seaside village has a picturesque harbor, a beautiful seaside promenade and a village square where Italian men will stop their card-playing to look as you stroll by.
Local eateries benefit from a staggering seafood catch. Unpolluted water plus strict fishing regulations equals a delicious, usually 100 percent organic selection of fresh seafood. Are you getting hungry?
Noon – Time for lunch
Refreshed from a walk on the beach, head back up to Casal Velino in time for lunch, where chef Franca Feola and her three daughters will welcome you and feed you wonderful local food at the delightful Locanda Le Tre Sorelle. Rooms and apartments available.
3:00 pm – Bye-bye, Cilento
The dream weekend has come to an end. Energized from the saline air and sated by the delightful local food, you can pack up your bags in the trunk of the car and make your way back north, either to drop off your vehicle at the train station in Agropoli, or head straight to the highway towards Salerno.
When to go
June and September are ideal for good weather and fewer crowds. August is the most busy month.
Naples is only a short train ride from Rome. From there, you can either rent a car for the two-hour drive south, or take another train which runs past Salerno to Agropoli.
Where to eat
Where to Stay
What films we’re watching (shot on location in Cilento)
Benvenuti al Sud
The Secret of Monte Cristo
Jason and the Argonauts
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.