1.800 plant species
There are at least 1.800 plant species, many of them endemic or rare such as the Palinuro primrose, symbol of the Cilento National Park, and the wild orchid of San Giovanni a Piro. Centuries-old olive trees dot the sparse coastal lowlands and the gentle hillsides. Hundreds of animal species, such as the Apennine wolf, the hawk, the eagle and the otter inhabit this extraordinary natural environment.
Thick forests cover the tall peaks
The main peaks are the Alburno (5,715 ft), the Cervati (6,227 ft) and the Gelbison (5,594 ft). The calcareous quality of this mountain range is responsible for the formation of scores of impressive natural architectures and sculptures – over millions of years water has been funnelled inside the rock shaping magnificent caves and grottoes (about 400 caves have been listed so far). The caves “Grotte di Pertosa” and “Grotte di Camerota” are two superb examples of this phenomenon.
The historical and cultural importance
The historical and cultural importance of this area is testified by the presence of architectonic and religious evidence scattered all over the area, which shed a light on the millenarian history of the present inhabitants’ ancestors – relics dating back to prehistoric, Lucanian, Greek and Roman ages. This is the land where western civilization has its roots. The Greeks settled here in the VII century BC and celebrated the splendour of their colonies: superb examples are the grand Doric temples of Paestum and the ruins of ancient Elea. This was Magna Graecia (Latin for Greater Greece), and here was the birthplace of the Pre-Socratic philosophers Zeno and Parmenides and the Eleatic school (V c. BC). Byzantines, Longobards and Normans have left castles, churches, monasteries, and cloisters, lavishly decorated with fine works of art. The inland settlements, in particular, are characterised by distinctive medieval buildings like cathedrals, castles and fine palaces. The Certosa of San Lorenzo, at the foot of the hill of Padula in the Vallo di Diano, is one of the world largest monasteries and one of the most valued for its architectonical grandeur and profusion of art works.
Villammare is an ancient fishing village at the feet of the large Cilento National Park. The Park takes in one of the most attractive strip of the Tyrrhenian coast swathed by the vivid colours of the Mediterranean flora. Long sandy beaches, a colourful seafront fringed with palms and eucalyptus trees, small restaurants, cosy venues and cottages make Villammare the perfect seaside resort for travellers from all over the world, in search of friendly and charming spots off the beaten track. Breathtaking views from the hills covered with centuries-old cork oaks, trekking the mountains and cruising along the Cilento coast, mouth-watering regional cuisine and the special friendliness of the locals captivate visitors all year round.
1. Agropoli and Punta Tresino:
The antique suburb, which is entered by a picturesque door, is a tangle of environments, alleys, squares, stairways all in an antique style. Other notably interesting landscapes in the surrounding area are the Bay of Trentova (with its ample sandy beach) and Punta Tresino, an ancient site of historical memories. Here there are still a few visible traces of the graves and tombs, the immense boundary wall of the old city, and of the burial hollows, all of which have great charm for the secret that it still conceals.
2. Casaletto Spartano and the Waterfall of The Hair of Venus:
Set in the hilly landscape of the Cilento, around Casaletto Spartano, is the splendid natural Oasis of Rio Casaletto, where nearby rises a fountain from which the waters of the source of the “Capelli di Venere” (Hair of Venus) gush out, and where it’s possible to witness the spectacular scenery offered by the waterfall and its “Grotta di Mariolomeo” (The Cave of Mariolomeo).
3. Caselle in Pittari and the Caves of Bussento:
The river Bussento starts on the southern side of the Cervati Mountain and flows into the Tirreno next to Policastro. But its waters disappear underground for almost 7 Kms giving life to a mysterious hidden world. Where the waters disappear near Caselle in Pittari, the main river mouth called ”Inghiottitoio della Rupe” (Swallow of the Cliff) descends down for about 600 meters and has a small walkable path following it and its waters into the mountain you can witness the outstanding beauty and the magical disappearance of the river Bussento into the depths of the earth. This spectacular Karst phenomenon is situated in a landscape of luxurious woods. With a backpack on your shoulders you can start a short trek amongst the pines, in the beautiful area of Caselle in Pittari and walk up to the ”Inghiottitoio della Rupe” to admire its impressive entry into the mountain and, further onwards, you can also visit the la “Grotta di Orsivacca” (Cave of Orsivacca).
4. Corleto Monforte and the “Museo Naturalistico degli Alburni” (Natural Museum):
The Natural Museum of Corleto Monforte was opened in 1997 and is situated in a central position in comparison to the Alburni Mountains. The Museum offers a permanent exhibition of Vertebrates and Invertebrates of European fauna, Birds (1200 European kinds), Mammals (over 60 kinds), Crustaceans and Insects (over 20.000 samples).
5. The Coast of Infreschi:
The Tirreno coast line, along which offers many stunning beaches, coves, cliffs, towers, caves, with a backdrop of clear crystalline waters, is a protected and uncontaminated area and is well known at an international level. Among the coasts most famous attractions is “Porto Infreschi”, a natural bay that owes its name to the abundant veins of fresh water that hide under the sand. The landscape is dominated by enchanting beaches, the spectacular “Vallone del Marcellino” (Marcellino Valley) and by the significant number of coastal towers constructed to protect the coastline from pirate attacks. You can also appreciate this coastline, not just by car, but also by sea and there are boat trips which leave from the ports in Scario and Marina di Camerota. These boats sail to the following beaches: “I Gabbiani”, “Risima”, “Sciabica”, “Francesi”, and “Porto Infreschi”. For those who decide to take a trip to Porto Infreschi, we suggest stopping at “Il Pirata” (The Pirate), an ancient sailing ship which has been transformed into a simple little rustic restaurant which is famous for its “Spaghetti ai frutti di mare”
6. Grotte di Castelcivita (Caves of Castelcivita):
Situated in the heartland of the Cilento, along the valley of the Calore River, in the depths of the Alburni mountains, offers one of the most important natural Karst phenomena in the south of Italy. There is an impressive succession of environments adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, calcareous falls and columns all with fantastic profiles. The underground cave extends for around 5000 mts, of which only 1700 are accessible to the public. There is an underground connection with the other speleological complex placed on the opposite slope, to north of the range of the Alburni, the “Grotta dell’Angelo” di Pertosa (Cave of Pertosa’s Angel).
7. Grotta dell’Angelo di Pertosa (Cave of Angel, Pertosa):
This amazing natural underground “cathedral” was formed about 35 million years ago in the outskirts of Pertosa. Traces of human presence found in the caves have been dated back to the Stone age and then to the Greek and Roman era. After that they were used by the Christians who devoted them to Saint Michele the Archangel. The caves are crossed by an underground river, “Il fiume Negro” (The Black River), and they are accessible partly by boat and partly by foot for about 2500 meters, where you can see the spectacular natural rock formations and an underground waterfall.
The historical center offers a splendid concentration of buildings, shops and monuments of great historical and architectural value, among which are many churches so it’s not by chance that Maratea is famously known as the city of 44 churches, rich with precious and artistic testimonies. Situated above the residential area, on the suggestive peak of “Monte S. Biagio” (Saint Biagio Mountain) there is the “Statua del Redentore” (The Savior Statue), second only in size to the one in Rio de Janeiro, which watches over the surrounding lands with open arms and looks out onto the sea. From the terraces of “Le Cannicelle.”, it is visible with the naked eye on the mountain range to the left. Under the statue, on a side of the mountain, set in wild nature, are the ruins of the ancient suburb of the local castle.
9. Monte Bulgheria (Bulgheria Mountain):
Its unmistakable outline imposes on the delicate Cilentano landscape. It is the extreme point of a mighty mountain range. The panorama from the summit is wonderful because of its proximity to the sea. It can be reached from “Celle di Bulgheria” or “San Giovanni a Piro” through two special paths. It’s about a two hour walk to reach the top of the peak, of which about half an hour of the path is “off-road”.
10. Monte Cervati (Cervati Mountain):
With its 1.898 meters, its peak is the “prince” of the Cilento, which is mantled by the snows in the winter season, and in the spring marvelously transforms color with pockets of lavender. The ascent to the peak which starts from Sanza is worthwhile to see the extraordinary succession of natural environments, which changes from olive-groves to the Karst highlands, to the alder and oak forests, to the Mediterranean vegetation, to the Beech forests, to the cliffs and finally to the bare dorsal of the summit. The Cervati is visited every year on the 26 of July by crowds of pilgrims who on top of the mountain near the sanctuary of the “Madonna della Neve” (Madonna of the Snow), celebrate ancient rituals. This exciting celebration is one of a kind and, for over a thousand years, the pilgrimage has been made to the peak of the mountain showing us a scene of faith and tradition. It’s about a two hour walk to reach the top of the peak, of which about half an hour of the path is “off-road”.
11. Monte Sacro o Gelbison (Sacred Mountain or Gelbison):
Climatic phenomena and natural geologic aspects give this mountain a sacred value still felt by the Cilentano communities. Many different Pilgrimage paths climb up the mountain. The pilgrims come from every part of the South, some barefoot, singing litanies and carrying Saints. The sanctuary, on the peak, was founded in the second half of the 10th century. On reaching Novi Velia by car, at the base of the mountain, it’s worth a short stop in the ancient center, with its three architectural sights: the ancient “Torre Longobarda” (Longobard Tower), the “Convento dei Celestini” (Convent of the Celestini) and the “Castello dei Baroni di Marzano” (Castle of the Barons of Marzano), and from there following on to the principal destination of the excursion. To begin the ascent to the Monte Sacro (Sacred Mountain) cars can be parked in an picnic area a few kilometers from the residential area, near a hydroelectric plant. To reach the summit, it’s about a 3 hour walk.
12. Morigerati and the WWF Oasis:
The Bussento River starts from the southern slope of the Cervati Mountain, near Caselle in Pittari and disappears down into the huge gulley to reappear, after its mysterious trip in the depths of the underground, a few kilometers to the south, under the residential area of Morigerati. This zone offers one of the most beautiful sights of naturalistic value to the Oasis. The walk begins from Morigerati with a beautiful mule track paved in stone and partly dug into the rock which, after a series of downward bends, leads to the entrance of the cave. From here you can enter by a narrow stone stairway which leads to the spectacular canyon, carved by the river, with two wooden bridges. The riverside offers some suggestive views where clear fresh water flows in and out of deep suggestive wells, rapids and waterfalls.
It’s famous all over the world for the stately and valuable “Certosa di S. Lorenzo”, UNESCO Heritage monastry, built in 1306 by Thomas of Sanseverino; The Certosa is one of the largest monasteries in the world and among these, it is one of greatest interest in Europe for its architectural importance. Visiting it takes you back to the reality of the secluded monastic life of the monks that lived there. The Certosa monastry is also called the “Palace of the Silence” and it’s the site of the Archaeological Museum of western Lucania. The legendary omelet made from a thousand eggs in honor of Charles V (1535) was prepared in the imposing kitchen, an event which is still remembered every year on the 10 th of August which is St Lorenzo (St. Lawrence) day and is celebrated by the locals making an enormous omelet. A short distance from the monastery is the suggestive Battistero di San Giovanni in Fonte, built in the 6th century on a clear and plentiful natural spring whose waters surround it and partially flood the inside of it resulting in enchanting scenery.
This is the ancient Poseidonia, founded toward the end of the 7th century A.C. by Greek colonies from Sibari and then occupied by the Lucani and latterly by the Romans. Its UNESCO Heritage temples are a milestone in the history of architecture and have become the cultural symbol of Magna Grecia (Greater Greece). Today it is the centre of the modern Gran Tour. The field of Paestum, with its three great temples are an unforgettable sight is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. The Museum preserves some of the most important works in southern Italy, such as the famous frescos of the “Tomba del Tuffatore” (Grave of the Diver), the only testimony of figured painting in Ancient Greece.
Its main attractions are the clear uncontaminated sea, the splendid beaches and the numerous underwater caves which are dotted along the whole of “Capo Palinuro” (Cape Palinuro) and because of these it is a great destination for the passionate scuba divers searching for underwater charm. The long cape which reaches out to the sea is perforated by natural erosion of the elements; the caves are among the most attractive in the Cilento coastline. Every day from the small port in Palinuro the characteristic wooden boats start their visits to the caves. Among the most famous are the “Grotta delle Ossa” (Cave of Bones), in which the walls immortalized by thousands of residual bone fragments from prehistoric times, the “Grotta Azzurra” (Blue Cave), la “Grotta d’Argento” (Silver Cave), la “Grotta dei Monaci” (Monks’ Cave) e la “Grotta del Sangue” (Cave of Blood).
16. Piaggine and the Calore valley:
The village of Piaggine is locally known in dialect as “chiajne” which means “slope” due to the fact that the village seems to slide down the mountain. But its position is rather narrow, set between the mountain and the deep Gola del Calore, in the heart of the most fascinating natural area, beside the tallest and wildest peaks in the Cilento. There are a little more than 2000 inhabitants who defend, thanks also to an active environmental association, the beauties and the pastoral traditions of these lands.
17. Pioppi and the Museo del Mare Vivo (Living Sea Museum):
On leaving Casal Velino by the main road, direction north, following a windy road between hills and shining green and blue sea, you reach Pioppi. The spectacular aquariums of the Museum allows visitors to take a look into the underwater world and see the present forms of life in the sea environments around Pioppi and the lower Tirreno Sea.
18. Punta Licosa (Cape Licosa):
According to the ancient sources, the headland of Licosa takes its name from the siren Leucosia who as the legend says, threw herself into the sea in frustration when Ulysses managed to resist her song. But according to legends it seems that there were two sirens: Leucosia and Leukotea. Homer, in fact mentions the headlands “of the two sirens.” This legend already justifies the particular charm that characterizes this place. Furthermore, the splendid pine forest that leans out onto the sea and the numerous charming pebbly beaches that seem almost carved along the rocky shore, make for a particularly interesting and pleasant visit. Like a natural terrace, the cape of Licosa stretches out to the sea with its dense Mediterranean vegetation, its ruins and its uncountable testimonies of the constant verifiable human presence from ancient times.
19. Roscigno Vecchio (Old Roscigno):
Abandoned in the beginning of the century because of threatening landslide movements, this village is perfectly preserved on the mountain creating an almost unreal atmosphere for today’s visitor. It is almost a symbol of the Cilento of days gone by, and so there are plans to found a Museum of Culture and Country Life. While the local population have moved to a new center below the original village, the old centre is never forgotten and is still used for celebrating parties and fairs.
20. San Severino di Centola:
This is a fraction of the “Comune di Centola” (Centola Community) which is preserved in fantastic surreal scenery and its residential medieval centre, is like a ghostly village, having been abandoned for over half a century. The ruined boundaries which date back to the 1200’s lean out to face over the Mingardo River, and were the residential centre of an ancient Neapolitan family of Norman origin. The castle was placed there to guard the family possessions and it was of great strategic importance. Among the abandoned houses breathes an atmosphere of a world which no longer exists.
21. Sassano and the Valle delle Orchidee (Valley of Orchids):
Of the 72 species of orchids present in the Cilento National Park and Vallo di Diano, 63 can be found in a small valley not far away from Sassano, to the east slopes of the Cervati Mountain. For this reason this area is known as the Valley of Orchids. At the beginning of spring, an unbelievable variety of shapes and colors can be seen: from the flowers of the Orchis Italica, which seem like naked men, to those of Orchis Simia, shaped like chimpanzees; from those of Ophrys Apifera, shaped like a bee, to those of Orchis Papilionacea, which seem like small butterflies. In a large grassy basin next to the Valley of the Orchids, there is the “Tavolo del Paradiso” (Table of Heaven) a symbolic artwork with the imagination and the creativeness of a local artist which has given life to a symbolic meeting place for the 80 communities of the Park and is auspicious with its collaboration and conservation of nature.
A very small sea village that is worthwhile visiting more than once. From its port it is possible to take a boat towards the beautiful beaches, which are only reachable by sea, and it is heaven for the scuba and snorkel lovers, divers and exploration. The boats depart every hour and they follow the coast line between Scario and Punta Infreschi. The first morning departure is at 9.00 o’clock (09:00) and the last boat returns at 6 o’clock (18:00) in the evening. The inexpensive trips offer the possibility to admire the splendid caves and bays. They take you around rocks and caves which you can explore on the boat or by swimming. These boats also sail to the following beaches only reachable by sea, and you can hop on and off the boats if you wish to spend some time at the charming beaches “I Gabbiani”, “Risima”, “Sciabica”, “Francesi”, and “Porto Infreschi”.
It is the best preserved fortified town in the Vallo di Diano. It is castled on an isolated hill and its structure is kept within a walled perimeter founded on a base of giant stones (4th Century A.C.) and was later developed by the Romans and Normans. Later, under the Sanseverino’s rule the castle of Teggiano was built and the town started to compete with Sala Consilina for control of the whole area. The towns architectural structure is based on a cross shape with two roads which connect the principal public buildings: the Cathedral, the Castle and the many Angevin churches (Sant’Andrea, l’Annunziata, St. Pietro).
The archaeological sites at Velia represent a historical symbol of the whole Greek culture. The city was founded from exiled Greeks from Focea, looking for a pleasant place to establish the center of a new colony and it is among the first settlements of Magna Grecia (Greater Greece). It is the birthplace of the famous “Eleatical philosophical school”, and Parmenide and Zenone were among its most famous philosophers. Sights to see are the excavations, the famous tower and the rich archaeological site with the admirable “Porta Rosa” (Pink Door) the only standing example of a Greek round arch.
The characteristic village, of which Villammare is the sea fraction, rises on the hill where it is situated inland to around 150 meters above sea level. According to the legend the village is built upon the site of a Phoenician community from the 4th Century A.C. which was subsequently, in the Roman era, the important economic and productive centre “Vibo ad Siccam.” Today Vibonati offers the visitor a stupendous landscape and a medieval suburb which is almost intact, full of criss crossed stone streets and lanes along which are splendid old buildings. At the highest point of the residential area rises the 17th Century “Chiesa Madre di Sant’Antonio Abate” (Mother Church of Saint Antonio Abate).
Excursions further afield:
26. Capri and Anacapri:
Known as a destination for international tourism it owes its success to the variety of landscapes and to its extraordinary historical and environmental heritage. Don’t miss a visit to the “Villa di Augusto” (Villa of August), the walk in the mythical “piazzetta”, and a trip around the island by boat which offers picturesque inlets with marvelous colors, the “Grotta Azzurra” (Blue Cave) and the famous “Faraglioni” rocks. During the summer months it is possible to reach Capri with the Ferries or Hover ships which departure from Sapri port. The trip takes around 3 hours.
It was in 79 AD when the catastrophe happened. Submerged by ashes and lapillus of lava, today the ancient city of Pompei is amazingly preserved. Not only the structures but also belongings and materials discovered in the houses and shops offer a touching testimony to the daily life from that era. The excavations, which started in 1709, have uncovered an archaeological, artistic and historical heritage of priceless value which attracts millions of visitors every year.