Praise to Cilento: a sensorial chronicle

Monica Bernacchia

There are lucky places as the land “on this side of the Alento river”: green mountains up to the sea coveted by many peoples for the possibility of cultivating, grazing, perching on the hills to defend themselves, trading on the river and sea routes. I tried to portray this land where all the senses are equally involved: in fact, my training journey to the South was rich, enveloping and total.


The Via Silente is a route for today’s travelers and its silence is one of the features that affected me on this holiday, the silence of the villages, the evening silence in my apartment overlooking the gulf of Palinuro and the light of the moon whitening the black of the sea.

But that silence was alternated with the competent and passionate tales of our guides. Fiorenza, precise and refined, guided us among the Greek temples of Paestum, wisely stopping in the shade from time to time; Gisella accompanied us to the ghost village of San Severino Marche, she is a cosmopolitan lover of her roots, soul of “Cilento for travellers”; Silvana, a generous caretaker, storyteller by vocation, took us on a journey through history in the Angevin-Aragonese Castle of Agropoli.

Cilento is a land of cultures and several peoples arrived here by land and sea: here they met and clashed.

Greeks, Lucanians, Romans, Lombards, Saracens, Normans, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Piedmonteses. The names of the mountains and villages prove this, as the language: a mixture of sounds. I must thank these passionate guides, and I add the friendliness of Antonio, our helmsman of the boat trip along the coast of Palinuro, the kind welcome of the staff of the WWF Oasis of Morigerati and of the caretaker at the Certosa di Padula.


My eyes were filled by the orange circle descending on the Tyrrhenian horizon line, by the colors of a clean sea – light blue, turquoise, cobalt blue – by the green behind it, everywhere, with yellow steep walls, cut by gorges, ravines, sea and mountain caves: caves inhabited in prehistory and then refuges for bandits.

And then the light. In the evening, it is sweet and sensual after the fire of sunset. In the morning, it’s sparkling and soft. At noon, full and heavy. And around 4pm, in the Blue Grotto of Palinuro, the afternoon light comes out bottom up offering the most intense and glacial blue.

Among the small discoveries of our hunting eyes: sea urchins and a great variety of fishes difficult to name, except the “occhiate”, a swallow’s nest under an entrance arch to Morigerati, spiderwebs beaded with water and large lizards of mountain.

Smell and taste

Among the most persistent smells: the freshness of the lemons, making the table happy, the scent of the wild fennel of the ghost village of San Severino, a rural scent of dried reeds as soon as you arrive at the Saline beach. When you are surrounded by green, the air is filled with an odoriferous density mixed with the flavor of the sea.

And of course, the mouth. At “La Dispensa di San Salvatore”, everything is good, yogurt is excellent. The Paestum plain is a continuous sequence of farms of “bufale”. At the “Locanda dei Trecento”, we certainly pay the right and ate so well, there where the food is tastier with courtesy.

At the “Galietti” restaurant in Foria, we explored the tenderness of the meat and the crunchiness of small prawns. And the Monique bar in Policastro Bussentino: I immediately trusted it for its name, and in fact it did not disappoint me at all. It won my personal award as the best macchiato of the holiday: frothy, fluffy and not burnt, prepared with care. What did we bring home? The sweetened taralli, the oil, the Cilento coffee, the buffalo mozzarella, the Pietro Cava frisedde.

Let’s go to the touch

A clean and warm sea welcomed me, my body immediately found itself in harmony with this sea.

In the first days of flat sea, we swam among the fishes of Ficocella, they were visible by naked eye among the rocks, we dived from the boat in front of the “Buon Dormire beach”, a memorable thrill. Then, we went to Basilicata along the coast of Maratea, it deserves an entire holiday. In Fiumicello, unexpected cold currents made swimming more sparkling. Then down in Calabria, in Praia a Mare: black and gray stones on the bottom of the sea and the relief of transparent water.

When the sea became rough due to the north wind, we faced dangerous waves at the Saline, founding more protected areas in Marina di Camerota and Lido Marinella. We walked through the alleys of the villages among cats, swallows, landscapes and history written by the walls and on the walls – Camerota, Pisciotta, Padula: castles, baronial palaces, revolutionary movements, the landing of the three hundred people on Sapri. In Agropoli, we greeted Cilento with warm and transparent water in the Trentova bay.

Some natural and historic curiosities

Coffee arrived from Arabia to Salerno and Cilento two centuries before the discovery of America for a commercial payment; in the tomb of the Greek founder of Paestum, left intact by Romans, archaeologists found the food of the gods: honey, well preserved in terracotta vases closed with wax; behind Palinuro, Mount Bulgheria was named by the Bulgarian mercenaries paid by Lombards during the Greek-Gothic war. The Basilian monks settled here escaping from the iconoclasm of Greece of the eighth century; Saint Francis arrived also in this land, giving the so-called sermon to the fishes on a rock under Agropoli.

I come away with a question: today, what would the South be if the attempt of the Neapolitan Republic was successful?

Other trifles of joy

Dipping your feet at the mouth of the Lambro River, where it meets the sea at the Marinella lido; at the WWF oasis of Morigerati, the coolness on the banks of the Bussento river, it emerges from a cave after an underground journey impossible to explore for speleologists; entering the so-called temple of Poseidon in Paestum and touching a Doric column.

Final thanks

Thanks to my Neapolitan colleague Donatella for some essential tips. Working at the Omero Museum has certainly influenced the desire to tell my experience as best as possible, enriching it of meaning, and has influenced my attention to the work of my colleagues in the several places of culture I visited: where I find professionalism and hospitality: thanking them is a moral obligation.

Incidentally, I found the archaeological area of Paestum well equipped for people with disabilities.