History is in every stitch of contemporary Italy. During these politically turbulent times, there is nothing that widens my view and soothes my soul more than traveling to Italy. But I hate how much "fake Italy" is for sale right now. Too many fake truffle hunts, big floppy hats, mediocre wine tours that serve only tourists and overpriced Vespa tours.
To move beyond the clichés, I crafted Campania Past & Present to look closely and thoughtfully at one particularly special corner of Italy called Cilento. My mission is this: Instead of taking a tour of Italy, this is your chance to live in Italy. Even if it's just one week, you'll see how the past meets the present, you'll eat the true Mediterranean diet and be safely in the care of an Italian family.
Home: Borgo La Pietraia
Unpack your bags just once. Home is Borgo La Pietraia in Capaccio which my beloved Scariati family designed to look like an ancient stone village. The stone was quarried just a few kilometers away and each one was laid by hand. Each wall is a meditation and a geological map of the Cilento. Inside, each suite has floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Down the Road: Paestum
Down the road in Paestum, archaeologists are conducting new excavations that are literally rewriting the history books about this ancient city. Unlike nearby Pompeii where throngs of tour busses and umbrella wielding tour guides dominate the ruins, Paestum is a pensive place where you can wander between the temples and the museum with a stop at the Bar Museo for coffee and gelato.
Anthony Diaz, a guest from our 2016 tour said that walking on the ruins gave him a feeling of euphoria. Having lived in New York City his entire life, he felt forever changed by the experience of exploring a city now conquered by grass, olive trees and wildflowers.
In the mountains: San Salvatore 1988
We always have a long lunch at La Dispensa, a restaurant along the county highway that also serves as the tasting room for San Salavatore 1988, an organic vineyard spread around the mountains. Our meal here is entirely vegetarian and showcases the organic vegetables that grow around the vineyard to support bio-diversity in the soil. Here in Cilento, what grows together, goes together.
He mused about the ruins of nearby Velia, another ancient Greek colony that was home to the philosopher Parmenides and the Eleatic School. If the DNA of just one of those philosophers remains in the Cilento, then he must carry on the local traditions because surely they are suffused with the world's greatest wisdom.
45 Minutes to the West: Amalfi Coast
Neighboring Salerno boasts the new Zaha Hadid ferry terminal that looks like a smooth, sloping oyster shell. From there we sail along the Amalfi Coast until we see the cathedral built by seafaring Normans. Dinner is at 8pm at a family-run trattoria off the side of a less scenic road. But it provides an experience that is increasingly hard-to-find on this fashionable coast—a truly local one.
20 Minutes To The East: Cilento Coast
Things are more serene on the Cilento coast. Dr. Ancel Keys named the “Mediterranean Diet” while living here. Researchers today speculate that rosemary might be why Italians live so long. Snack on fried seafood piled into a brown paper cone as you wander these fishing villages. A slower, gentler daily life reveals the true secret to longevity.
Later that evening we'll head to Agropoli, once the Acropolis to the plain of temples at Paestum. More mindful of its medieval past, our favorite pizzeria is named for Barbanera, a pirate from North Africa who once captured the city and controlled the coast.
Locals here take their evening passeggiata seriously and the entire town seems to be out on Saturday night. It's always in Agropoli, walking among kids kicking soccer balls and elderly ladies walking on the arm of their grandsons that I remember my favorite quote from Joseph Campbell:
"People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive."