This article is about one of Italy’s BEST kept secrets. I am almost afraid to write about it as I don’t want too many people knowing about it and spoiling its barely touched sea and land!! Having lived in the region of Campania for the past year, I am constantly stunned by the natural beauty this region offers, with its glorious islands of Capri and Ischia and the dizzying charm of the Amalfi Coast. We found more. Looking at the map of our region, we saw this giant green spot called Parco Nazionale del Cilento. It’s the biggest protected natural reserve in all of Italy including both mountains and marine reserves. But nearly every non-European tourist I speak to, NEVER ventures to southern Italy, and if they do they just visit Amalfi (which let’s admit it, is so expensive and packed with tourists). If you’re one of them, you’re missing out on some of the most spectacular places, great food at tiny prices and warm small town people with a million traditions to discover.
On our drive down from Naples , we stopped in Paestum which is famous for two things: an archaeological site with 3 perfectly preserved Greek temples and… mozzarella! Having only 2 days, we picked the mozzarella, but if you have a bit of time to visit the archaeological site I encourage you to look it up. I hope to visit it soon and let you know in a future blog 😉 Back to the mozzarella, this area is full of bufale which make, you guessed it, mozzarella di bufala. Just like in Tuscany you see a vineyard every 10 feet, here you see a “caseificio” where they make the fresh mozzarella just as often. We picked one called “Masseria Fuscillo ” and watched them make the mozzarella and ate a giant one for 4 euros. Milk just oozes out of it as you stick your fork in it. SO delicious. You can get it accompanied by cold cuts, freshly baked bread, olive oil and cherry tomatoes or just alone.
Our next stop after some research was the town of Castellabate. WOW! You know all those Italian movies, showing idyllic little towns with romantic alleys, a little grandma washing clothes outside, small shops making everything handmade and the smell of pasta everywhere you walk? This is the town! So adorable that it looks fake. It has a beautiful castle and the most amazing sea views, being on top of a hill. This is where the sea really changes color in the Mediterranean. Capri and Amalfi have some beautiful blue waters but from this point on the sea starts looking like you’re in a Caribbean island and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
We kept on driving down to our hotel which was in Palinuro. We arrived around 3 pm and it was dead. No one around, most shops closed. We entered a cafe’ and the employees were either dozing off on a chair or watching a soap opera. They were almost shocked to see people enter. We decided then to drive to the Natural Arch beach and enjoyed the beauty of these pretty caves on the beach despite some bad weather. When we went back to town after 5 pm, of course, it was lively and full of locals going for a stroll and eating gelato. Definitely an authentic area, not made for tourists, but still having restaurants, hotels and all the comforts you need. The few tourists we did see were from Northern Italy and a couple German campers. Anyway, Palinuro has a beautiful “5 finger coast” and we got to tour all the small coves on a 15 euro boat tour. The most beautiful one is the blue grotto, bigger and nicer than the one in Capri!! A 35 foot tunnel underwater (which can be explored by scuba divers) allows sunlight to pop into this grotto giving it those unreal blue hues. The boat tour also allows you to jump in the super clean water at Baia del Buon Dormire.
Baia degli Infreschi THIS IS A MUST DO!
Marina di Camerota is the most lively of the towns in the Cilento Coast and has a really nice harbor, boardwalk and historical center. Thanks to a local tip we found out about a hidden bay called “Baia degli Infeschi”. This place is amazing. It’s a natural harbor, so the water is always flat and calm. Phoenicians, Greeks and ancient Romans would settle there with their boats during storms. The water is clearer than a swimming pool and the snorkeling is fantastic. No boats are allowed to put down their anchor there, have a motor on or fish. This keeps it so unbelievably clean and full of sea life. There is a cave with 4 fresh water springs that go into the sea. The water is cold in there and the temperature in the cave is always so low that they used to use them as refrigerators to store freshly caught tunas up to 3 days. This paradise-like bay can be reached by boat- where you can spend the entire day (pack a lunch!) or just one hour- or by foot by hiking 2 hours in nearby hills that have steps down to the water. If you like hiking this area is beautiful and full of forests and cliffs on the sea.
Marina di Camerota offers anther unique excursion: It’s called lamparata. It starts at 9 pm and on a small boat you get to accompany fishermen in the all the different caves where they go fishing. With their flashlights you get to see the coral inside all the caves. Seeing this at night is truly unforgettable. You will fish with them and around 11:30 pm go back to shore to fry up the fish and make a plate of fish pasta together. Can’t get any fresher than that! The fishermen are super friendly and absolutely love what they do and the area they show you. The whole experience ends at 1 am and it’s unique to this area. Totally worth it.
Now that we explored the marine side of this protected national park, we had to explore some of the inland mountainous region. We drove to Oasi Capelli di Venere and the drive there was simply stunning. Rolling hills getting higher and higher, small towns making colorful dots on top of the mountains. We stopped in the park to see these stunning waterfalls. History and nature mesh together forming a unique oasis where time stands still, so serene and tranquil. I could feel my lungs rejoice in all that deep green. Unfortunately, a tiny frog jumped near my foot and i ran away quicker than lightning. To each their own phobia
Have you ever visited Cilento or do you plan on it?? Leave a comment below!