Cilento: the Amalfi Coast’s unpretentious little-known neighbour has it all, minus the crowds

The Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s most famous and popular destinations. And for a reason. With its dreamy pastel-coloured villages located on spectacular cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, it’s no wonder this region is visited by millions of tourists every year. However, the surge of visitors has come at a cost: prices of accommodation and food are massively inflated, the winding roads between the seaside towns are often jammed with traffic (especially in high season) and local establishments have made way for unimaginative tourist shops and bars where English seems to be the main language. Don’t get me wrong: the Amalfi Coast is an absolute stunner, but its small towns and villages are simply unable to absorb the hordes of tourists they currently receive.

If you’re looking to escape the international crowds this summer but still want to feel those seaside village vibes of Campania, southern Italy, then there’s no need to look much further. Because just south of the Amalfi Coast lies a region that few foreigners have heard of but that has just as much to offer. Its name? The Cilento Coast. Located at less than a 2-hour drive south of Naples, this beautiful stretch of coastline is a rough diamond still unspoiled by mass tourism. Though it does get busy in summer, most visitors are local to the region and have a holiday home here or are staying with family and friends. And while Cilento’s seaside towns may not be as glamourous as their Amalfi neighbours, what they lack in sophistication they make up for in authenticity. Add to this ancient ruins, sandy beaches and a fabulous culinary scene and you might start to see why I think the Cilento has so much appeal.

Quaint and quiet Agropoli

The gateway to the Cilento Coast is Agropoli, one of its loveliest and liveliest towns. Located on a cliff overlooking the harbour, the town was founded by the ancient Greeks who called it Akropolis (meaning ‘high city’ – what’s in a name). From the newer part of town, a pedestrianised shopping street leads all the way to the top, where you’ll find Agropoli’s small but beautiful historic heart, which includes a few tiny piazzas with seaside views, a baroque church and a Spanish-era fortress. At night, the town is buzzing with people meeting each other for dinner or, of course, a gelato (by far the best ice cream is served at Arricria’ at Piazza Umberto I).

Best gelato in town: Arricria’ in Agropoli

Agropoli is a great base for exploring the rest of the region, such as the famous Greek ruins of Paestum, which are only a few kilometres away. Once a major ancient Greek city called Poseidonia, Paestum’s remains are among the best preserved and most spectacular in Europe and include the magnificent temples of Hera, Athena and (what is thought to be) Neptune. Moreover, the on-site museum and depot houses a huge collection of tomb stones, ceramics and artefacts, which can be admired as part of a guided tour. If you’re a lover of classical history, Paestum is a must!

The breath-taking remains of the Temple of Hera in Paestum

After your daily dose of history and culture, visit modern-day Paestum’s beautiful sandy beach to get some tan AND some food. Hidden behind the pine trees you’ll find Hotel Calypso, which has a fantastic slow-food restaurant with a mouth-watering menu. After all, Cilento is the unofficial home of the Mediterranean Diet, which is one of the reasons – together with regular exercise and a busy social life – why this region has so many people of 100 years and older.

Lunch at Hotel Calypso in Paestum – so good!

Speaking of a healthy lifestyle: for more beach fun head south to the seaside villages of Santa Maria di Castellabate, Acciaroli and Marina di Camerota. The towns themselves might be rather unassuming, but they are surrounded by wonderful sandy beaches. The best bit? You will probably be one of the very few foreigners who make it here.

The beach (this one’s in Acciaroli) is yours!

So, if you’re planning your next Italian summer get-away but without the international crowds, you now know where to go.

You can thank me later.

But shhh…! Please don’t spoil the secret!

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