Cilento – hunting the cliché

Naples, Campania and Cilento – May 2015

The last two weeks we travelled in southern Italy. While I’ve been to Liguria quite frequently, this trip has been a premiere of sorts. I’ve only ever been to the south of Italy as a kid, and the only thing I consciously remember is being a bit scared during the celebrations after the world cup finals 1980 (Italy beat Germany). Originally, the idea to go a bit further south this time came up, because a mate of me, Caspar from Story Travelers, whom I was able to help location scout for a shoot in Berlin, lives in Matera. Then I looked at a map and discovered a region called Cilento. Feeling incredible creative I talked to people and it turns out, Cilento isn’t really that big a secret.

Can you believe that, there are actually people living in these houses.

Can you believe that, there are actually people living in these houses.

Of Course we never made it to Matera, so now we have a reason to go back next year. I’ll publish photos and short stories from our stations in the coming days, but wanted to start with a quick overview and some photos.

Before flying to Naples we booked a car for 12 days, starting two days after our arrival, and an Airbnb-Appartment. We arrive Saturday afternoon with the usual collection of prejudices (you know… organized crime, superb food, noise and crazy traffic – we were able to verify three of these and had a lot of fun making stories up about the fourth) and an adress.

View over nighttime Naples towards Vesuvio, with  a moon that was so bright it actually created its own shadows.

View over nighttime Naples towards Vesuvio, with a moon that was so bright it actually created its own shadows.

The place we’re staying is on a hill on the edge of the histrical center in a 250 year old former shoe- and hat-factory with a beautiful view over Naples and Vesuvio. The next two das we spend mostly just walking around and trying to grasp the sheer amount of old buildings and churches – although most of them are abandoned, plundered and decrepit. We see hundreds of buildings which would be a major sight in Berlin, but here they are just normal appartment or business buildings. Traffic is relentless and if you want to cross the street as a pedestrian there comes a point where you just have to walk and hope for the best.

View over the Golfo di Napoli near Sorrento. the island straight ahead is Ischia.

View over the Golfo di Napoli near Sorrento. the island straight ahead is Ischia.

Monday afternoon we pick up our Smart forfour at the airport and head out down the coast. Capri is a heart’s wish of my better half (and Germans have been singing songs about it for the last 50 years, so I guess you kind of have to see it) and we both want to see Pompej. So we pick a nice Studio in Massa Lubrense as our base for the next four days- a tiny village north of Sorrento.

On top a mountain on Capri, roman statue holds vigil.

On top a mountain on Capri, roman statue holds vigil.

Capri of course is one giant tourist trap, but worth it nonetheless. The landscape is as breathtaking as prices are (2,50€ for an Espresso).

The small Theatre in Pompej, used for musical performances, still a very good acoustic.

The small Theatre in Pompej, used for musical performances, still a very good acoustic.

Pompej is everything you imagine it to be, although a lot of the houses were closed due to renovations. Seeing the petrified bodies of adults, kids and dogs alike really let’s you feel how awful it must have been. On the other hand there all these beautifully preserved Frescoes and details.

The coast at Santa Maria di Castellabate with an old palazzo and tower guarding the harbour.

The coast at Santa Maria di Castellabate with an old palazzo and tower guarding the harbour.

We decide against Amalfi and Positano on the other side of the peninsula because traffic along the coast is just a nuisance; endless rows of tour busses clogging the serpentines and creating air that is more or less unfit to breathe. Instead we decide to work on our tan and book another appartment in Santa Maria die Castellabate. Our host Caterina welcomes us with homemade Dolci and we enjoy the good live over the next couple of days. The only “productive” thing we do is visiting Paestum, an ancient greek town with some of the most impressing temples you can imagine. A shame, that so much of it was destroyed – there is a road that actually runs right through the Amphitheatre.

Paestum is one the biggist hellenistic settlements in Italy and the temple still awe-inducing after 2,5 millenia.

Paestum is one the biggist hellenistic settlements in Italy and the temple still awe-inducing after 2,5 millenia.

To the mountains it is. We head for the Monti Alburni, seriously some of the most impressive mountains I know, rising from an incredibly fertile and green land, accessible through some very exciting roads. At some points there are signs telling us, we can’t go further, while the locals tell us, it’s perfectly safe, as long as your ae careful. The further inland we get the gladder I am about my limited but existant knowledge of Italian. The people we meet in the coming days are so extremely friendly that as a Berliner it’s hard to not be little bit sceptical, they come with us to show us the way, offer a ride and share their booze – incredible.

No matter from wich side you at the Monti Alburni, they always look impressive.

No matter from wich side you at the Monti Alburni, they always look impressive.

Before we can get in Grotta di Castelcivita, we need to kill some time and use it to find one of the most amazing little places. A combination of an old watchtower and a mill. It sits on a tiny strem emptying into a slightly larger river. Trees broke through the roof and the light creates a mystical feeling. We start to wonder whether we’re still in Italy, so much it looks like some fairy-tale fantasy from a Tolkien book.

A decrepit mill on a small stream, with trees creating fairy-like lights on the gurgling water.

A decrepit mill on a small stream, with trees creating fairy-like lights on the gurgling water.

And of course every good fantasy story needs some dwarves digging holes in the mountain to unearth its beauty. The grottoe is one of the largest in Europe, formed by an underground river thousands of years ago. The diversity of form and colour is stunning and when we exit the place after 2 hours it feels like getting back into the real world after a deep dive down the rabbit hole, even though only a small part is open for tourists.

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Castelcivita itself is a lovely old town on the top of a mountain, crowned by an 800year old tower overlooking a wide and lush valley with the next settlement just still visible in the hazy afternoon. Immediately our fantasy kicks in, conjuring scenes of shining knights insulting each other across the vale. Sadly though it’s a town slowly dying. Instead of nearly 3.000 people like in the 80s today only 1700 reside here today, judging by the people we see out and about, most of them well past their prime.

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We spent the night in a beautiful Agriturismo, where we are welcomed like old friends, maybe because we’re the first guests this year, but I’m starting to think that people in the south are just naturally friendly and outgoing. Once again we are blessed with an incredible view – and a million moskitoes, because of the nearby river. After a ridiculous 4-course meal, where we basically had enough after course one (which meant I had to eat it all, since we didn’t want antagonize our host), we head to bed early.

Beautiful elderly face from a woman enjoying the last rays of evening sun on a small piazza in Castelcivita

Beautiful elderly face from a woman enjoying the last rays of evening sun on a small piazza in Castelcivita

Next morning we decide to spend another two days at the sea and book a studio in Marina di Camerota. On our way there we find the sources of the river Ausio after unintentionally exploring the area around Sant’Angelo A Fasanella a lot more thourogh then we intended – it was totally worth it though. The place is kind of magic with an old roman bridge, some cascades and incredibly lush surroundings.

Not easy to find: the sources of the river Ausio with an old roman road and bridge leading to it.

Not easy to find: the sources of the river Ausio with an old roman road and bridge leading to it.

Another highlight on our way back to the Mediterrenean is Roscigno Vecchia, a village that was abandoned in the 1940s when massive landslides threatened to wipe out the place. The new village is maybe a Kilometer up the road, but all the old houses are still standing as veritable ghost town. For the last few years there is one old guy living there taking care of the ocassional tourist and sometime they still have meetings in the village square. Other than that, it’s ust sheeps making sure the streets won’t overgrow and a lot of bees und bugs.

The abandoned village of Roscoíngo Vecchia was home to a lot of movie productions.

The abandoned village of Roscoíngo Vecchia was home to a lot of movie productions.

Camerota sure will be a very busy place in a couple of weeks, for now it is very quiet. Even after Juventus secured their ticket for the champions leage final in Berlin there are just a few Youths out celebrating and when they see us, they fall silent almost immediately, aybe because I look so menacing.

Stay tuned for more photos and actual tips of where to eat and drink and sleep…

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