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Holidays to Cilento will introduce you to one of Italy’s best kept secrets. Located on the west coast, one of the more remote parts of the Campania region, it’s around an hour’s drive from Naples. At the heart of the region is the vast Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, one of the biggest in Italy.
In a tousled landscape awash with colour, Cilento’s quieter roads, where even an elderly Cinquecento doesn’t look out of place, lead to Greek temples, Saracen towers and historic villages. You’ll find the welcome is warm, the trattorias serve the best of local cuisine, life is unhurried and there’s time for reflection.
Cilento, unlike some of its flashier neighbours is unpretentious but that’s its attraction. Shelley, Goethe and Hemmingway all found inspiration here. If you’re a couple looking for a sunshine holiday with a simple relaxed atmosphere in a region of outstanding beauty with mountains and beaches, sheltered coves and pastel harbours, then look no further than Cilento.
There are a number of excellent walking trails to explore on your Cilento holidays, some within the national park. The enticingly named Path of the Lovers, for example, starts at Ascea’s beach and climbs to the Torre del Telegrafo (watch tower) where you can enjoy a fantastic view over Cape Palinuro.
Padula’s 14th Century Certosa di San Lorenzo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 350 rooms, is one of Europe’s largest and most impressive Carthusian monasteries, or charterhouses. To make the most of your visit take one of the local tours.
In complete contrast to the magnificent Certosa is the equally splendid Valle delle Orchidee (Valley of the Orchids) in Sassano, a pretty little village in the national park. With over 100 varieties of orchids, which generally begin to bloom in April, the area is awash with colour. In addition to the orchids, the park as a whole is home to around 1,800 species of native plants. Every year in May Sassano holds the Festival of the Wild Orchid, with guided walks, food tastings and other cultural activities on offer.
With the ease and convenience of train travel in Italy why not take the opportunity to see more of Cilento’s attractions?
The archaeological site of Paestum, which lies within the national park, is one part of the ensemble listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This extraordinary site, originally Poseidonia, named in honour of Poseidon the Greek god of the sea, is home to three Doric temples, still in remarkably good condition. It’s a fascinating place and should be high on your itinerary.
Santa Maria di Castellabate, which lies on the Gulf of Salerno, is a great place to use as a base. You could spend the day on the beach or if you prefer to promenade, the small shop-filled corso is just the place. The waterfront and piazza are home to a small selection of bars and restaurants. Add the rugged hilly backdrop and the view across the Gulf and it is picture perfect.
The closest airport to Cilento is Naples (NAP), which is approximately 3 hours from Cilento. Direct flights to Naples airport (NAP) are available from Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Manchester and Newcastle and take approximately 2 hours 45 minutes.
Cilento is a summer destination and most hotels are open between May and October. July and August can become quite crowded, especially on the coast so the best time to go to avoid this is June and September, although the weather stays relatively warm for the whole season.
Many Cilento households still adhere to what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet, as much a matter of tradition and the culture of eating together, as it is cuisine. The Diet was recognised by UNESCO and has made it the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Common ingredients include extra virgin olive oil, pasta, pulses, traditional bread, olives, tomatoes and local vegetables. Together they make simple and nutritious meals which you will find throughout Cilento.
Lagane e ceci (Lasagne and chickpeas) is found in many parts of the region, however food historians have traced its origins to ancient Greece. Initially the dish was very basic and included just chickpeas eaten with lagane – simple strips of dough – made from water and flour cooked over hot stones. Today the dish has evolved and it’s not unusual to add tomatoes, celery, onion and occasionally some caciocavallo cheese.
Perhaps more than any other ingredient, Cilento is known for its buffalo mozzarella. Again, for the best results, restaurants tend to keep it simple. It works well with local tomatoes, a sprinkle of fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil. Together, with a little seasoning, they make a perfect Caprese salad. Alternatively, you could just layer the ingredients on a thick slice of newly baked bread.