A weekend in Cilento in the south of Italy

The coastline below Castellabate in Cilento in the south of Italy

The coastline below Castellabate in Cilento in the south of Italy

A weekend in July, too hot to sit still … but … where to go?  The north was too far and the south too scorched, so we settled on next door – Cilento.

Can’t claim brilliant local knowledge for the choice, rather over-indulgence … too many viewings of Benvenuti al Sud.

The view from a piazza in Castellabate

The view from a piazza in Castellabate

This cheerful ‘brace-yourself-for-Naples’ film is set in Castellabate, a hilltop town perched on one edge of the protected Parco Nazionale del Cilento, Vallo di Diano e Alburni.

Near the town’s centre, nailed to one of its old walls, is the saying attributed to a famous visitor, Napoleon’s flamboyant king of Naples, Gioacchino Murat:  Here one does not die.

Plaque on the wall in Castellabate quoting Gioacchino Murat: "Here one does not die."

Plaque on the wall in Castellabate quoting Gioacchino Murat (King of Naples from 1808-1815): “Here one does not die.”

Our route there took us through the outskirts of Naples, past Vesuvius, and on beyond Paestum, famous for its mozzarella di bufala and the beautiful completeness of its Greek temples.

Quite a route, and Castellabate was a fine full stop.

The centre of the old town has two piazze.  The first we reached was the one that features in the final credits of the film, Benvenuti al Sud.  The square, more of a balcony really, has views over the sea and into a sky that drifts with occasional gulls and sounds from the beaches below.

A statue in Castellabate commemorating the foundation of the Abbey of the Santissima Trinità in 1011 in Cava di Tirreni which led to the arrival in the area of Abbot Costabile Gentilcore in 1123. He built the fortified castle (Castellabate) to help protect the locals from the Saracen attack

A statue in Castellabate commemorating the foundation of the Abbey of the Santissima Trinità in 1011 in Cava di Tirreni which led to the arrival in the area of Abbot Costabile Gentilcore in 1123. He built the fortified castle (Castellabate) to help protect the locals from the Saracen attack.

We, and a crowd of about four, stood and stared, and soaked up the colour.

The view down to the beaches below the old centre of Castellabate

The view down to the beaches below the old centre of Castellabate

Old, narrow streets led us out of the piazza and further into the town.

A plaque in Castellabate describing the importance of the Cilento area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: "... a cultural landscape of exceptional quality ..."

A plaque in Castellabate describing the importance of the Cilento area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: “… a cultural landscape of exceptional quality …”

It was a hot midday but there was shade and many of the tight, tiny streets funnelled the wind.

The second piazza we visited was the one in Benventi al Sud that played host to the post office.  The film set is gone now and the space filled instead with cafes and umbrellas.  We flopped in their shade for a lunch of traditional Cilento dishes – acqua sale and a plate of local hams and cheeses.  It was peaceful and perfect – a good place to end our first taste of Castellabate.

The football table - perhaps the one from 'Benvenuti al Sud' - which now stands where Maria would have unwrapped herself from a motorbike or two.

The football table – perhaps the one from ‘Benvenuti al Sud’ – which now stands where Maria unwrapped herself from a motorbike or two.

The next stage of our journey was to Roccagloriosa on the opposite edge of the national park.

By Roccagloriosa, Cilento in Italy

By Roccagloriosa, Cilento in Italy

The autostrade we followed, with occasional loops for roadworksseemed to hang within the wilderness that surrounded it. Gradually the unspoilt valleys on either side got deeper, the road stilts longer, and the warnings about ice more frequent.

One of the views from Roccagloriosa in Cilento, Italy

One of the views from Roccagloriosa in Cilento, Italy

We had booked a night at Le Stalle di Giurò, an agriturismo in Roccagloriosa with space for us and the dog.

The area, once home to the feisty Lucanians who dominated a sizeable chunk of southern Italy in around 500BC, is all granite, trees and views – a healthily impenetrable place if you’re worried about your neighbours.

Olive trees and their harvest nets in Roccagloriosa in Cilento, Italy

Olive trees and their harvest nets in Roccagloriosa in Cilento, Italy

It’s old and little-manicured, the sort of place that runs a finger down your spine (in a good way) the first time you visit … especially if your aged Alfa, with its rattled-loose undercarriage, is faced with dwindling roads.

At first it was straightforward – a small tarmac road through olive groves – but then the tarmac disappeared, and rutted dirt led us deliberately off piste.  It was so off-piste that it became hard to tell the clank of goat bells from the scrape of Alfa Romeo metal.

Our neighbours at Le Stelle di Giurò in Cilento, Italy

Our neighbours at Le Stelle di Giurò in Cilento, Italy

Then, at last, we were there … at the right spot in the middle of wild goatville, welcomed warmly by a half-blind kitten and the owners.  Our rooms were comfortably rustic and clean, and the dog ecstatic about his wilderness walk in the 37 hectares of wood at the back of the property.

The little doorman at Le Stelle di Giurò - always waiting with a welcome

The little doorman at Le Stalle di Giurò – always waiting with a welcome

Supper that night, after an edgy drive back up the road to the town, was at Il Borgo where we sat out in the piazza in front of the trattoria.  As the dark moved in the tables around us filled up with local families.  Slowly, slowly the heat soaked back into the sky, and the stars came out.  Nobody hurried … it was too pleasant and too still.

View up a street near midnight in Roccagloriosa in Cilento, Italy

View up a street near midnight in Roccagloriosa in Cilento, Italy

The meal over we strolled up along the cobbled streets towards the church with its views over the valley.  It was close to midnight – cats watched and the elderly chatted in doorways.

The next day after a breakfast of fresh cake, eggs, ripe tomatoes, bread and coffee we turned back along the stilted roads towards Napoli. The plan was not to stop … but then the old site of Velia turned out to be right on our route home.

The archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy

The archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy

We found it just as the sun reached the hottest part of the day.

The Via di Porta Rosa at the archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy

The Via di Porta Rosa at the archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy. This leads up to the arch (Porta Rosa).

The shade evaporated and the ruins stood unforgiving – one right at the top of the ridge above us.

The archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy

The archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy

Full appreciation of archaeological sites takes a special skill … I’m normally in the ‘could-do-better’ group, a stranded alien in a hard-to-imagine world.  But Velia is different.

I can understand why a community would choose to live in Elea (as the Greeks called it)/Velia (as the Romans called it), and I love the work in the walls that remain.

Crowning it all for me is the site’s beautiful Greek arch.  It’s been named Porta Rosa, after the wife of the archaeologist who recently uncovered it.

The Porta Rosa at the archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy

The Porta Rosa at the archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy

The arch sits in a gorge at the top of the hill exactly as it has done since the second half of the fourth century BC.  The only difference today is that the debris that buried it for so many of those centuries has now been removed.

The Porta Rosa in the archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy. It was built in the fourth century BC and buried soon afterwards by some form of landslide. It was only rediscovered in 1964.

The Porta Rosa in the archaeological site of Velia in Cilento, Italy. It was built in the fourth century BC and buried soon afterwards by some form of landslide. It was only rediscovered in 1964.

The rest of the site, a mix of Greek, Roman and medieval remains, is small and easy to access despite the climb and, on the day we visited, the heat.  To help with both there are water fountains dotted strategically, most of which were working when we were there.

There were other groups of visitors but there was never a crowd.  Most of the time it was just us, working our way from shade to shade, civilisation to civilisation and view to view.

Up at the acropolis, right at the top in the shelter of a medieval building, we discovered one of ancient Greece’s most esteemed philosophers – Parmenides (who lived around 500 BC) – and we learned of another who also came from Elea, Parmenides’ pupil Zeno (490 – 435 BC).

Parmenides was born at Velia (then known as Elea) as was his pupil Zeno who, like his teacher, went on to be counted amongst the greatest philosophers of ancient Greece.

Parmenides was born at Elea (the Romans changed the name to Velia). I have seen this quotation from his work translated into English as: “It is necessary to say and to think that What Is is; for it is to be, but nothing it is not.”

The display was clearly laid out and easy to understand, apart from the quotation above … but it seems it wasn’t just the heat, Parmenides was never one for making thinking easy.

We abandoned the struggle and turned the car towards Napoli – heads full of Cilento, its light, its wild places and its people, ancient and modern.

Parmenides (c 515 - 450 BC) founder of the Eleatic School of ancient Greek philosophy

Parmenides (c 515 – 450 BC) founder of the Eleatic School of ancient Greek philosophy

***

Additional information including some sources used in researching this piece:

This link is in Italian and gives information on the religious founders of Castellabate.

This is a recipe (also in Italian) for the casserole acqua e sale which is based around dried bread and tomatoes.

This links to the website for the comfortable, characterful Le Stalle di Giurò

Information on the Lucanians (in English) from Geoff Matthew’s website Life, Death and Miracles.

A little about Parmenides and the Eleatic School of ancient Greek Philosophy

Finally … a glimpse of the irresistible Benvenuti al Sud.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2016

 

10 thoughts on “A weekend in Cilento in the south of Italy

  1. So envious that you are based there and can explore on a whim 🙂 I researched the area prior to my last trip but found as you say that a car really is needed. Maybe one day i too can be in Italy longer and settle for a while! I adore the post and your photos and Mr Goat.

    Like

    • Thanks so much – you’ve just given my day a big boost of sunshine ☀️😀 We are incredibly lucky to be here. It really is a huge privilege … and then I have the added happiness of sharing via my blog. If you can manage the time and a car I really don’t think you’ll regret it. So much to see and enjoy. Glad you like Mr Goat – he’s a favourite of mine!

      Like

  2. Ah, that’s better. Great photos. It looks wonderful. Don’t you think the Porta Rosa very like the one near you in Naples at …………. Damn. I can’t remember the name but you took us there and the great oracles cave was closed. Brain dead. It’s been very hot here amazingly.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ginny – glad the photos have come through. The arch you’re thinking of is Arco Felice. We drove through that yesterday evening and it’s surprisingly different. Arco Felice is very tall and far more frail looking (in a very substantial way!) compared to the smaller, robust, solid arch of Porta Rosa which has big, regular stones whereas the arch in Arco Felice is made of small, on their side, Roman bricks and does not look so even. I’ll try to get a photo. PS Good news – the Sibyl’s cave has opened again (finally)!

      Like

    • It was so worth the drive Yvonne. The road to Castellabate and across Cilento was in good condition, and there was not much traffic other than through Paestum, but even that was not too bad. Parking was also easy at Castellabate (big parking area reasonably priced near the top of the village). Velia wasn’t as well signposted as we’d assumed after all the brown signs around Napoli for Pompei etc but, in a way, that was part of the discovery and the pleasure. As for the film … can’t count how many times we’ve watched it with friends and guests and it still makes us laugh 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ginny – that sounds very annoying. Not sure where you are with your Ipad but it may be that they are just taking a while to download. I don’t think there should be a problem from this end. I wonder if you could try to access from a main computer and let me know if the problem is still there. If it is I’ll try to find out what’s going on.

      Like

Space for comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s