10 things to do and see in Cilento

A hospitable land of undeniable beauty, rich in exceptional historical and archaeological sites, green areas and coastlines overlooking one of the cleanest seas in Italy.

Cilento is a wonderful land in the province of Salerno that extends from Paestum to the border with Basilicata. Its coastal stretch that extends for more than 150 kilometers includes well-known places such as Paestum, Castellabate, Agropoli, Acciaroli, Marina di Camerota and Palinuro. Although known for the beauty and clarity of its waters, which for twelve consecutive years have been awarded the Blue Flag of the Fee, Cilento has a hinterland really rich in history and charm that many people do not know.

Here’s our top picks of  things to do and see in Cilento :

Punta Licosa

Punta Licosa, Cilento
Punta Licosa, Cilento

Punta Licosa is one of the most enchanting places in Cilento whose name is linked to the legend of the siren Leucosia (in Greek it means “white”), who died from a cliff on the coast for unrequited love, and her body took the shape of a rock, the island of Licosa in fact.

An uncontaminated pine forest and a crystal clear sea framed by coves of wild beauty make this site a small paradise for naturalists and divers. The very small pier and the Palazzo Granito, a hunting lodge with an eighteenth-century chapel, seal its charm giving wonderful postcard views. Recently declared a Protected Marine Area, Punta Licosa also boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy. The forest area, made up of Mediterranean scrub, has a tiny village on the slopes of Mount Licosa and an ancient fortress. In front of the promontory of Punta Licosa emerges the homonymous islet semi-deep in the fifth century BC. C. where there are ruins of walls and a lighthouse. In its waters, on the other hand, you can see the submerged remains of a Roman villa and a basin for the breeding of moray eels. Much of the territory of Punta Licosa is privately owned and therefore not completely accessible to the public.

Castellabate

Castellabate, Cilento
Castellabate, Cilento

Located on the top of a hill, Castellabate dominates its 5 seaside hamlets (Santa Maria, San Marco, Lago, Ogliastro Marina, Licosa).

Born around the Castle built in 1123 by Costabile Gentilcore, abbot of Cava Dei Tirreni, for the defense against pirates, Castellabate, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, preserves intact the charm of the medieval village. Its historic center, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is a network of narrow streets, short steps, widening, and extraordinary views, first of all, that of the Belvedere di San Costabile that runs along the walls of the fortress overlooking the Gulf of Salerno, Ischia, and Capri. Traces of the Middle Ages can also be found in the Basilica of Santa Maria de Gulia, now Assunta, (12th century) with its late Romanesque bell tower. Perfectly inserted in the urban structure, the eighteenth-century noble residences and chapels bear witness to the illustrious past of the hilly village, feud of the Sanseverino, Caracciolo, and other noble families. Also in the coastal hamlets, there are ancient noble buildings. Palazzo Belmonte (an ancient hunting lodge partly used as a hotel) and Villa Matarazzo mark the landscape of Santa Maria di Castellabate, an ancient fishing village and lively seaside resort that the cinematic clamor of Benvenuti al Sud brought to the fore (together with Castellabate). Palazzo de Angelis and Torretta, the fortified farm owned by the Granito family, are in the territory of San Marco di Castellabate, an ancient Roman settlement, now a small fishing village very popular in summer.

Paestum

Paestum, Cilento Italy
Paestum, Cilento Italy

The archaeological area of Paestum is one of the main archaeological sites in the world and is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city was founded in the Sele Plain (nicknamed the Plain of the Gods) by Greek settlers at the beginning of the 6th century BC under the name of Poseidonia, the city of Neptune.

It was later occupied by the Lucanians who renamed it Paistom, in 273 BC. Rome founded the Latin colony of Paestum with its thermal baths, forum, and amphitheater. In the 5th century A.D., Paestum assumed the status of the diocese and was later abandoned due to Saracen raids and the spread of marshes. Completely fallen into oblivion it will be necessary to wait until the middle of the 18th century to discover its remains. The ancient city is surrounded by about 5 km of walls, considered one of the best-preserved fortification systems of Magna Graecia, on which open the 4 main gates (Porta Aurea, Porta Giustizia, Porta Sirena and Porta Marina).

Inside there are three areas: two sacred (the northern and southern sanctuary) and a public one in the center (first Agora greca and then Foro Romano). In the two sanctuaries, you can admire three splendid examples of perfectly preserved Doric temple architecture, namely: the temple of Ceres, dedicated to Athena, the grandiose temple of Hera (improperly called basilica), consecrated to the goddess of fertility, and the temple of Neptune, perhaps sacred to Apollo. In the public area, there are buildings of the Greek age, such as the ekklesiasterion (assembly building) and the heroon (building consecrated to the founder of the city) and Roman buildings such as the forum surrounded by a Doric portico, the temple of peace, the amphitheater where the gladiator fights took place and, the residential quarters. It is also worth visiting the Archaeological Museum where the numerous finds found in the area are on display, including the famous paintings of the Tomb of the Diver, one of the few surviving examples of classical painting.

Elea – Velia

Elea-Velia archaeological site
Elea-Velia archaeological site

Velia, the ancient Elia (from the name of the local spring Hyele), was an important city of Magna Graecia founded around 540 B.C. by exiles from Focea on the top of a promontory.

In the 5th century. C. the city was known for its flourishing trade and, above all, for the Eleatic philosophical school founded by Parmenides and Zeno. In the Roman Age, it became a municipality with the name of Velia and experienced a period of great development until the progressive silting up of the two ports built by the mouths and the catastrophic floods decreed the end of its economic power (IV century A.D.). In the Middle Ages the town retreated to the acropolis where a castle with a watchtower (still visible) was built. During the seventeenth century, the city was gradually abandoned. The archaeological area of Velia, declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO, includes the three nuclei in which the ancient city was divided, namely the southern quarter, the northern quarter (connected by a road ending with two gates, Porta Marina Sud and Porta Marina Nord) and the acropolis. Inside the walls, there are some buildings from the Hellenistic and Imperial Age. Dating back to Roman times are the Terme Adrianee, a public building consisting of a three-armed cryptoporticus, perhaps the seat of the medical school, gymnasium, or sacellum of the imperial cult, the Masseria Cobellis, another public building on two levels with nymphaeum and pool. The Hellenistic period, on the other hand, includes a spa facility dating back to the 3rd century BC. C., the Agora consisting of a rectangular square bordered on three sides by porticoed walls and with a colonnaded front, the Sacred Well, perhaps dedicated to the god of love, and the famous Porta Rosa, the only example of a round arch of Magna Graecia that was in perfect condition and connected the northern and southern districts of the city. On the acropolis, the area where the public and religious life of the city took place, are preserved the remains of a theatre built in Roman times on the ruins of another older one, a temple, perhaps dedicated to Athena, partly destroyed by the great tower of the Norman castle.

Palinuro

Land of ancient myths and great beauty, Palinuro is an important tourist center of the Cilento coast. Extraordinary views, pristine waters, expanses of beaches, coves and sea caves attract admirers and lovers of nature and the sea.

To increase the charm of these places contributes the legend according to which Palinuro owes its name to the helmsman of Aeneas who fell into this sea and was killed by the locals when he reached the mainland. The main characteristic of this seaside resort is the promontory of Cape Palinuro with its 5-pointed shape overlooked by the lighthouse and the rocky walls falling sheer into the sea. Numerous are the caves that open along the rocky and jagged coast, of which the most famous and visited is the Grotta Azzurra so called because the sun rays that filter inside it create particular plays of light by virtue of which the water becomes an intense blue. Equally suggestive are: the Silver Grotto enlivened by the silvery reflections on the walls, the Monks’ Grotto where the stalactites look like monks praying, the Bones’ Grotto with its walls encrusted with human and animal bones of the Quaternary. Unlike the caves that can only be reached by boat, the beaches can also be reached on foot. Not to be missed are the beach of the fossil dunes in Saline, the beach of the Natural Arch, and the beach of Marinella.

Cilento National Park

The Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park includes a territory of about 180,000 hectares (it is the second-largest national park in Italy) bordered to the north by the Paestum plain, to the east by the Vallo di Diano, to the west and south by the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Park inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and elevated to a MaB (Man and Biosphere) Biosphere reserve, is considered a “sanctuary of nature” and “living landscape” as a rare crossroads of civilizations, natural species, and peoples. Magnificent result of the combined work of nature and man, the Park is characterized by the presence of coastal, mountain and valley environments, for the extraordinary richness of vegetation, for a high degree of biological diversity of the species and for the exceptional traces of history that from the Palaeolithic to the present day. Uncontaminated coastlines, rocky cliffs, ruggedly beautiful hills, paths, waterways, mysterious caves, increase the appeal of these territories, the ideal place for a regenerated journey in nature to the (re)discovery of a heritage of inestimable value.

Certosa di Padula

Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula is the largest monastic monument in southern Italy, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Work on its construction began in 1306 at the behest of Tommaso Sanseverino and continued until the end of the 18th century.

The happy era of the conventual citadel ended with the arrival of Napoleon who ordered the suppression of the Carthusian Order. Abandoned by the monks, the Charterhouse was plundered of all its treasures (1810-13). After returning for a short period, the monks left the complex for good in 1866. Forgotten for years and years, in 1960 restoration and recovery works began that brought this splendid structure back to the splendor it deserved. The complex occupies an area of over 50 thousand square meters. The plan, which is in the shape of a gridiron to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, follows the scheme of every other Carthusian monastery, divided into two large areas: the “low house”, i.e. the places of work where converts and laypeople carried out the activities useful to the community (granaries, stables, storerooms), and the “high house”, including the common areas, close to the church, (kitchen, refectory, chapter, and treasure room) and the area of strict enclosure organized around the cloister (monks’ cells, prior’s apartment, library, gardens). Of great beauty the church with the two choirs (one for the converts, the other for the fathers) and the high altar with mother-of-pearl inlays, the kitchen with the large hood of the central furnace, wonderful the large cloister that with its almost 15 thousand square meters of surface is among the largest in Europe. A spectacular elliptical staircase with a double ramp connects the two levels on which the cloister develops, that is the portico (below) with the cells of the fathers, and the windowed gallery used by the monks for the weekly walk (above).

Foods you should try in Cilento

If you have ever wondered where the much-praised “Mediterranean Diet” was born, now you have the answer: in Pioppi, in Cilento. It was here that the American doctor Ancel Keys studied the effects of the typical diet of Southern Italy and discovered its benefits, especially for the reduction of cardiovascular diseases.

Bread, pasta, rice, lots of fish, fruit, and vegetables, legumes and lots of good olive oil, in short, a rich and varied diet with few animal fats, help to live better and more. Even today these are the typical ingredients of the local cuisine: the protagonists of the dishes are blue fish, especially anchovies cooked in many ways (arrecanate, in a cake tin, special those stuffed with goat cheese), tuna, swordfish, sea bass and sea bream, groupers, products of the Regional Park and local gardens, eggplants, artichokes, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, many legumes (beans, lentils, chickling peas, broad beans, chickpeas). The ingredients often go well with pasta fusilli alla cilentana (meat sauce with different types of meat), lagane and chickpeas, fusilli with aubergine, the classic spaghetti with seafood replaced, in winter, by soups with legumes. Among the sweets, typical of Christmas are pasticelle and scauratielli, while in the rest of the year the taste and smell of lemon triumphs (delicacies, baba).

where to stay in Cilento

Cilento covers a vast area, ranging from seaside villages to mountain villages 30 km from the coast. This allows you to choose the accommodation according to the season and your desires: however, you must take this into account when planning your trips. Those who want to have a sea holiday, for example, will find many structures a few meters from the beach, but if you want to save a bit of money you will have to move in the hills and move every day. In Cilento, there are many small hotels, farmhouses, B&B, and apartments.