Cilento: an insider’s guide to the gastronomic scene
16 June 2023
Written by Teresa Cremona
Discover the culinary delicacies of the territory
Cilento is that strip of Tyrrhenian coast that goes from the province of Salerno to the Gulf of Policastro lined with charming villages and worth visiting for the temples of Paestum. It is one of the most beautiful territories in Campania characterised by pristine stretches of land that contrasts with the crystalline blue sea surrounded by imposing mountains, such as Mount Cervati (whose peak is almost 1900 meters.). The highest number of centenarians in Italy lives in Cilento thanks to the Mediterranean lifestyle and diet, which together make up the so-called “Cilentano Method”.
The best food and wine products of Cilento include the fusillo di Felitto, anchovies of Menaica, the salella ammaccata olive, Prignano Cilento fig, Crotone beans, a small brown legume called Lentiscosa maracuoccio, Cicerale chickpeas, the white onion of Vatolla, the soppressata of Gioi (the only larded salami of Campania), the white artichoke of Pertosa, the cacioricotta of Cilento and a particular buffalo mozzarella called murtedda, wrapped in sprigs of myrtle. As for wines, the Cilento DOC is an excellent example of the great fertility of the terrain, enriched with minerals.
The first town you meet starting from Salerno is Battipaglia, renowned for the production of mozzarella. The cuisine of Matteo Sangiovanni, the chef of Le Radici Restaurant, uses it as the main ingredient in many of his dishes. A little over 20 kilometers away is Paestum, in the Piana del Sele, where the archaeological area of ancient Posidonia is an unmissable testimony of the classical world. Paestum-Capaccio is renowned for the numerous dairies that produce high quality buffalo mozzarella from Campania. The Caseificio Vannulois one of the recommended stops not only to buy mozzarella, but also to eat it on site, in the tasting room (as well as tasting the yoghurt, butter and ricotta which are truly special).
For lunch there is Nonna Sceppa, for its traditional and seasonal cuisine of both land and sea, while at the Hotel Savoy Beach there is the Tre Olivi, in which the chef Giovanni Solofra received Two Michelin stars upon opening. His cuisine is an ode to local history and folklore where nothing is left to chance. In Paestum sleep at the Hotel Tenuta Duca Marigliano, a small charming hotel surrounded by meadows and gardens, opposite the Porta Aurea, one of the four access gates to the archaeological area. Another hidden gem to sleep in is Domus Laeta, a historic house that belonged to the Aulisio family and whose memories are still tangible within the furniture, objects of art, archives, library with ancient and rare books. Not far away, the Le Trabe restaurant, with signature dishes prepared with local ingredients. In Paestum – Capaccio, there is Storie di Pane, a store dedicated to baked goods with no shortage of dishes that enhance the traditions of the area cooked with ingredients from the family garden.
Those who want to fully immerse themselves in nature, between the countryside and the sea, can choose La Foce dei Tramonti campsite, managed by the couple Fernando and Anna, a place of nature and tranquillity.
Along the coast of Ascea, towards the south, in one of the suggestive areas of Cilento, there is Punta del Telegrafo, where Il Sentiero degli Innamorati offers a spectacular panorama. On this occasion, a stop at La Scogliera for fresh fish cooked with local aromatic herbs and vegetables. A small detour but a “must” is Trentinara, a small medieval village, perched on the top of the Cantenna cliff, also known as the Cilento terrace due to its privileged position. At the Cilento & Tradizioni artisan workshop you’ll find different types of bread, such as Vescuotti di Pane Antico (rusk bread), as well as dry sweets and figs. To eat, there is Casa Artigiani which offers cured meats, cheeses, local wines and the classic “acquasale”, a traditional dish of Cilento, which has toasted bread as a base. Another local specialty is free-range chicken cooked with peppers.
The vineyards of Fiano and Pinot Noir from the Tredaniele winery are cultivated on the heights of Trentinara. For extra virgin olive oil, the frantoio, rotondella, salella and leccino cultivars, there is the organic farm L’Uliveto, which also has chickpeas in its agricultural production. For sleeping, head to Paolino 848, a homily environment with rustic rooms and a wine store.
Agropoli, with the tourist port and the Angioino Aragonese Castle overlooking the sea, is the realm of fish and dairy products, but also of Cilento pizza. The Vinartepizzeria offers a variety of pizzas and fried products. Overlooking the port is Il Cormorano, a restaurant with rustic and traditional cuisine overlooking the sea. Agropoli is also the heart of the production of the Cilento white fig. To sleep nearby is Palazzo Dogana Resort, an elegant and refined hotel where you can enjoy breakfast in the garden. Before leaving Agropoli, 15 minutes by car, in the direction of Valle della Lucania, there is Tenuta Principe Mazzacane where you can buy goat cacioricotta.
Another unmissable stop in the Diano Valley is the Certosa di Padula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, and since 2002 included in the list of the biggest attractions in Campania. In Padula, the Fattoria Alvaneta, a place of hospitality and relaxation, houses a great restaurant. Among the main products of Padula there is bread, prepared with a mixture of durum wheat, Cilento ciambotta, made with peppers, aubergines, friggitelli and potatoes as well as ricotta panzarotti and fig and walnut tarts. Not far from Padula, in Montesano sulla Marcellana, there’s Maison Giuseppe Manilia, by the master pastry chef Giuseppe Manilia. Try “La Crostatina”, with white chocolate cream and orange mascarpone or the “Summer Soaked Pasta”, babà pasta with Grand Marnier syrup and Sicilian orange peels, custard flavoured with Amalfi Coast lemons, raspberries and fresh strawberries and lemon glaze.
Going further down the coast, you come across S. Maria di Castellabate, with an obligatory pit-stop at the Gastronomia del Corso, to bring home some Cilento delights, and then continue towards Acciaroli, the fishing village that Hemingway loved. Here you can eat the real acquasale, together with the freshest fish cooked in many ways.
In the heart of the Cilento coast there is Pioppi, the world capital of the Mediterranean diet, as well as a renowned seaside resort distinguished by unique naturalistic landscapes.
Among the unmissable destinations between Capo Palinuro and Punta Campanella, there is the Castle of Rocca Cilento, a charming residence, a fortress full of history, immersed in the quiet of unspoiled nature where you can also stay, taste the restaurant’s cuisine and experience wine tasting.
Finally Palinuro, the pearl of Cilento, with the Baia del Buondormire, the Spiaggia delle Saline, the Spiaggia della Marinella and that of the Arco Naturale where the Agriturismo delle Donne prepares dishes with ingredients sourced in-house. The farmhouse also has a vineyard and a shop where you can buy the farm’s artisan preserves.
The last stretch is in the Gulf of Policastro: Tortorella, the picturesque village, Sassano, where you can stop and stock up on cheeses at the Fratelli Starace Dairy, with the ever-present caciocavallo. In Scario, a town characterised by caves and beaches that can only be reached by sea. In Policastro Bussanino, eat at Ristorante Il Ghiottone where chef Maria Rina offers light, genuine and fresh seafood cuisine with traditional Cilento dishes rich in creativity and innovation.