Occupying the southern side of Sorrento’s peninsula, the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) lays claim to being Europe’s most beautiful stretch of coast, its corniche road winding around the towering cliffs that slip almost sheer into the sea. By car or bus it’s an incredible ride (though it can get mighty congested in summer), with some of the most spectacular stretches between Salerno and Amalfi. If you’re staying in Sorrento especially, it shouldn’t be missed on any account; in any case the towns along here hold the beaches that Sorrento lacks. The coast as a whole has become rather developed, and these days it’s in fact one of Italy’s ritzier bits of shoreline, villas atop its precarious slopes fetching a bomb in both cash and kudos. While it’s home to some stunning hotels, budget travellers should be aware that you certainly get what you pay for here.
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Capital of Campania’s southernmost province, the lively port of SALERNO is much less chaotic than Naples and is well off most travellers’ itineraries, giving it a pleasant, relaxed air. It has a good supply of cheap accommodation, which makes it a reasonable base for some of the closer resorts of the Amalfi Coast and for the ancient site of Paestum to the south. During medieval times the town’s medical school was the most eminent in Europe; more recently, it was the site of the Allied landing of September 9, 1943 – a landing that reduced much of the centre to rubble. The subsequent rebuilding has restored neither charm nor efficiency to the town centre, which is an odd mixture of wide, rather characterless boulevards and a small medieval core full of intriguingly dark corners and alleys. It is, however, a lively, sociable place, with a busy seafront boulevard and plenty of nightlife and shops.
Paestum and around
Paestum and around
About an hour’s bus ride south of Salerno, the ancient site of Paestum spreads across a large area at the bottom end of the Piana del Sele – a wide, flat plain grazed by the buffalo that produce a good quantity of southern Italy’s mozzarella cheese. Paestum, or Poseidonia as it was known, was founded by Greeks from Sybaris in the sixth century BC, and later, in 273 BC, colonized by the Romans, who Latinized the name. But by the ninth century a combination of malaria and Saracen raids had decimated the population and left the buildings deserted and gradually overtaken by thick forest – the site wasn’t rediscovered until the eighteenth century during the building of a road through here. It’s a desolate, open place even now (“inexpressibly grand”, Shelley called it), mostly unrecognizable ruin but with three golden-stoned temples that are among the best-preserved Doric temples in Europe. Of these, the Temple of Neptune, dating from about 450 BC, is the most complete, with only its roof and parts of the inner walls missing. The Basilica of Hera, built a century or so earlier, retains its double rows of columns, while the Temple of Ceres at the northern end of the site was used as a Christian church for a time. In between, the forum is little more than an open space, and the buildings around are mere foundations.
Immediately south of Paestum, the coastline bulges out into a broad, mountainous hump of territory known as the Cilento – one of the remotest parts of Campania.