Discover the delights of the Cilento National Park

Characterised by its coastal, craggy, sun-bleached, rustic towns, the Cilento National Park is a unique alternative to the Amalfi Coast, where tourists flood each year. Located in the southern Italian region of Campania, this sun-drenched oasis has an abundance of delicious treats to eat, historical wonders to see and activities to complete.

So, why not cast your eyes over our handy guide to get some top tips on where to head whilst you’re exploring this fascinating area?
 

What to see?

A trip to Cilento would not be complete without a visit to Paestum. This world-renowned UNESCO world heritage site features a stunning collection of Doric temples, which date back to 600/450 A.D.. Meander around the ruins and note the difference to Pompeii (the architecture here is more Greek in style!) Make sure you don’t miss the Tempio di Nettuno, which is the largest and best-preserved temple in Paestum, and, if you fancy seeing some flora during your visit, make sure you head over in spring, as the ruins are evocatively surrounded by a sea of scarlet poppies, adding a pop of colour to the sandy, chromatic scenery.

If you fancy finding some more historical ruins, head to the ancient town of Velia, which which was originally a Greek colony (home to famous philosophers including Zeno and Parmenides) and later became a municipality of the Roman Empire during the Second Punic War. There’s a wide variety of buildings to discover, from a large 4 th Century arch known as The Pink Gate, to Roman baths, mosaics and an authentic Roman theatre.

If you’re more interested in religious history, you may prefer to head over to the UNESCO Certosa di Padula, a grand Carthusian monastery complete with ornate Baroque architecture, a maze of 320 rooms and halls, and the biggest cloister in the world.

Or, if you just fancy a tranquil walk around a few coastal towns and villages, why not check out Acciaroli and Pioppi (both of which have been awarded the Blue Flag award for their water quality) or the charming Castellabate, with its historic castle dating back to 1123.

Greek Temples of Pasteum

UNESCO Certosa di Padula
 

What to do?

For the more adventurous among you, you may want to explore Cilento’s magnificent natural landscape (which includes stunning coastal views and imposing mountain ranges) by foot.

There are a variety of hiking trails, from exploring the rocky Coast of the Mermaids (including the promontory of Licosa, which was named after the mermaid who was swallowed up here because of her love for Ulysses) to trekking up the sacred Mount Gelbison with the Basilian sanctuary on its summit, there’s bound to be a hike to delight ever traveller and cover ever interest.

There’s even an opportunity to explore the dark, otherworldly caves of Bussento and St Michael, the latter of which is a breath-taking, well preserved rupestrian (carved out of stone) church!

You can also explore the beauty of Cilento by boat, so why not swap your land legs for an oar and set out to sea on a canoeing or kayaking expedition? For example, this kayaking tour will take you along the entire Cilento coast, allowing you to observe the quaint medieval villages, towns and ruins of the National Park from an entirely different perspective.

Baia degli Infreschi
 

Where to swim?

Let’s face it, after observing the azure seas of the Cilento Coast for long enough, you’re going to want to take a dip yourself! But what are the best areas for bathing? We recommend heading to the small town of Palinuro, which is celebrated for having some of the cleanest beaches in the whole of Italy. (Fun Fact! The town is a perfect place for those interested in Classical Literature, as it is named after Palinurus, the helmsman of Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid).

Palinuro gets quite busy in August when many Italian holiday makers flock to the crystal-clear waters of this coastal town, however you’ll see why it’s so popular when you visit yourself! The town’s main beach is Spiagga Palinuro, or, if you prefer to swim more peacefully, you can also head to the quieter stretch of sand near Palinuro’s harbour, where you can hire kayaks and arrange boat trips.

Another alternative swimming location is the crystal clear, idyllic waters of Baia degli Infreschi, which is a particular gem of the Cilento coast. This natural harbour is completely sheltered from all winds, and gets its name from the freezing cold spring waters that feed into it and mingle with the sea. Why not take a dip in this unique blend of water, or organise a boat trip from its rocky shores!

The beach of Castellabate
 

What to eat?

After all that exploring, trekking, kayaking and swimming, you’ll definitely be in need of a good meal, and there is not better place to be to taste some delicious dishes than Cilento.

After all, it is the birthplace of the Mediterranean diet, a diet developed by American scientist and author Ancel Keys. Keys had observed the low level of coronary disease amongst the inhabitants of Crete despite the amount of fats and oils they consumed, and began to research and develop his very special diet plan when he relocated to Cilento. 

The diet comprised of ingredients such as extra-virgin olive oil, pasta, bread made with different kinds of flour, tomatoes, olives and vegetables, and delicious dishes including eggplant with sheep’s-milk cheese, peppers stuffed with breadcrumbs, leafy greens cooked with potatoes, and fried zucchini blossoms, which can all still be found in trattorias and homes across the area of Cilento today. Who said you couldn’t be healthy on holiday?

We particularly recommend trying some of the area’s local delicacies, such as Cilento’s famous buffalo mozzarella and ricotta, which are perfect on top of a pizza or even on their own! You can even go and meet the beautiful buffalo and witness the cheese being made at authentic buffalo farms such as Tenuta Vannulo and Barlotti Caseficio! And don’t forget to stick around for a tasting. 

If you would prefer a dish with fish, why not head over to the hill top coastal town of Pisciotta, which boasts several restaurants (such as Perbacco and Angiolina, an old railway worker’s canteen dating back to 1958) that serve up the town’s renowned sumptuous salty anchovies caught by local fishermen in the nearby bay. Dried white figs are another specialty of Cilento, which can be bought as an ideal holiday gift to take back home at Santo Miele farm (where you can also spend the night!)

To top it all off, you can’t visit Cilento without trying some of the local wine. Why not see how the vibrant vini are made with a fascinating winery tour and tantalising taste testing at a local vineyard. Or even just ask for some advice on picking a typical Cilento in any restaurant or trattoria you come across! Red lovers should definitely sample a Cilento Rosso, made mainly from the region’s flagship.

Buffalo Mozzarella

The hilltop town of Castellabate

The town of Pisciotta

Pisciotta, the Procession of the Virgin mary