Cilento Coast Trip Report - Part 1

Sep 13th, 2017, 04:29 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2016
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Cilento Coast Trip Report - Part 1

Hello all, a detailed account of our time in the Cilento, feel free to stop reading if I ramble, I just don't want to forget a thing.

2nd September: Love at not quite first sight

Arriving in Naples airport, the charms of the mezzogiorno did not reveal themselves to me instantly: it was grey, oppressive and belting down with rain and it took hours to collect the hire car. I cheered up a bit when I realised we were driving past Vesuvius (because how often do you get to say that?) and a bit more when we found Kiss Kiss radio station, playing a mix of Kylie, Backstreet Boys and Italia-pop. Soon, Joe had relaxed into driving on the other side of everything, the rain had eased and we were singing along. After heading for Battipaglia on the SS18, I spotted a port below me to my right; Salerno, a vast liner silhouetted against the bruised pink sky. Further down, we passed through holiday towns scattered with apartments and bikini-clad ladies on terrazze. Two hours later, we turned into the mountains, our little Citroen hefting itself gamely through rockfalls and vertical olive groves. We glimpsed a half-moon of inky sea through the hills and there it was – Pisciotta.

I felt an instant connection with the sombre mountain village dozing in the twilight of a stormy afternoon. The piazza was deserted and I inhaled the petrichor and took in the crumbling buildings encircled by hills. Marulivo Hotel owner Massimo came bounding down the steps ahead of us, all smiles, to take our cases. Joe parked in the public car park ten minutes away while I staggered after Massimo up and down a dozen sets of steps of varying inclines. A word to the wise: Pisciotta has hardly any straight, flat areas, only the approach and exit roads, the piazza and the lungomare - everything else is connected by an endless series of steps. Massimo took me to the terrace for a housekeeping chat and I marvelled at the sky, reflected violet, grey and turquoise in the Tyrrhenian Sea far below, past a carpet of ancient olive trees.

We had a sea-view room with a terrace, and opened the door to let out the heat. We dozed for an hour, the white curtain billowing inwards as the rain fell and the brontide rumbled on. I felt as if I were in a dream. The storm passed, and I leaned out take pictures of the Marina below me and our village clinging to the mountainside to my left. After a shower and change we went exploring, spending an hour with red wine and Parmesan in Bar Agora in the piazza, watching the early autumn leaves fall and the menfolk gather to pass the time. We wandered up and down steps, through covered passageways with thick stone walls, one inscribed in the darkness with siamo quell che tutti sognano; we are the ones that everyone dreams of. We walked and walked, the shoulder-width passageways opening here and there to a vista of hills and sea. We passed dozens of cats snoozing in doorways. They were skinny but clean and there were plates of food everywhere for them. We didn’t pass many people, but those we did greeted us quietly. We passed a small children’s play area, a cat feeding her tiny kittens in a doorway, a row of parked Vespa’s.

Back at the Marulivo, we joined the other guests on the terrace for a while. The hotel was like Pisciotta – quirkily beautiful and built on a thousand steps. The lobby was an internal courtyard, chairs beneath an Indonesian umbrella, a domed window framing the purple sea, a reading room and corridors snaking off in all directions. We walked a few minutes to the local restaurant that Massimo had recommended. As we hadn’t eaten since our airport breakfast, we were famished and Osteria del Borgo did not disappoint. We sat at a wobbly table under a pine tree and watched the moon rise between the branches as we ate bruschetta and lemon, cream and saffron linguine, washed down with a bottle of the local Greco di Tufo. Three courses and wine for two, with bread and aqua naturale, costs about 50 Euros in Pisciotta. We saw cats hustling for food and drinking from the water fountain, couples from the hotel and Italian families, chattering over steaming plates of vongole. This is a seafood area, the local menacaia-caught anchovies and garlicky shellfish taking centre stage. As a vegetarian, my choice was often limited to pasta with pomodoro or melanzane, but the freshness and presentation was faultless. We both ate (and drank) well every day and have returned home a few pounds heavier. As I lay in bed that night I could imagine 14th century monks waking early within the thick, cool walls to pray.

3rd September: The accidental hikers

Breakfast was on the terrace: sunset-hued nectarines, cheese, tomatoes, coffee, baskets of warm pastries and yoghurt topped with nuts. The pleasures of food are immense in Italy – the tang of cheese smothered in sticky honey, a scarlet tomato squished into snowy-soft mozzarella – and we loved guessing what pastry and yoghurt we would be served each day; our favourites were the heart-shaped apple pastry and the coffee yoghurt.

We strolled around the village looking for cats, weaving in and out of passageways and narrow streets. I felt that I was inside, or wandering a deserted film set. We found cats aplenty – a fluffy Siamese who may have been called Domenica shouting to be let in, tabby cats blinking their green eyes and an elderly black cat with a dribble and a limp, who scampered away like a kitten when food appeared. We walked like we were under a spell past crumbling frescoes and sheets’ billowing from balcony’s.

We caught glimpses of the sea and realised we were headed for La Chiusa, the path through the olive grove down to Marina di Pisciotta. Down we went, hiding under a tree from a sun-shower as a woman passed us coming back uphill. The olive trees were lovely with their silvery leaves and twisting trunks wound with harvesting nets. There were several property developments for which people had seemingly run out of money or enthusiasm, as they lay half-forgotten in the shade of the olive trees. A lady shouted from a tall house in angry, staccato Italian and green lizards darted into cool crevices.

Finally, our feet fell onto steps and pavements, and we were in the village of Marina di Pisciotta; more cats, women washing the steps, families going to church. We came out onto the lungomare, and strolled over the the seafront. The atmosphere was different to the hill-village, less dreamy. Families pottered, a woman hosed a patio down with a hose and people passed each other on scooters, ciao’ing. We sat on a seafront bench and watched the waves break over the sea-wall. The sea was incredible, jewel coloured and inky blue stripes. At the harbour we saw menacaia nets on the fishing boats and a weathered statue of Mary looking out to sea and holding a rope, for the local mariners.

After a quick stop at a café (and a struggle to order two gelati of one flavour, rather than one of two flavours) we tackled La Chiusa again this time uphill in the afternoon sun. To distract ourselves, we spotted the fruits growing in the groves – olives, figs, cactus fruits, grapes, lemons and a chirruping bird in a tree may have been a Hoopoe. When that stopped working, I tried counting to ten in Italian with each step and when that stopped too, we just sat and closed our eyes for a while. It was hot, the lady was still shouting, the lizards were still darting, and for the second time I thought of the monks, moving up and down the hill each day for worship, supplies and pilgrimage.

Back up in Pisciotta, I rested on a step and found myself in the middle of a feline turf war, a tiny tortoiseshell jealously guarding me from a pair of tabbies. We pulled ourselves up the last few steps to the piazza and collapsed into a chair in Bar Agora, downing a large glass of wine each before moving to Bar Germania for a mini-pizza and a soda. One of the local’s, a tall skinny man with a mop of grey hair, chatted away to himself and we whiled away an hour in the shade. We had a siesta at the hotel and then spent the afternoon on the terrace, lounging on the white sofa bed, drinking Aperol Spritz and watching the sun sink in to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Another lovely meal at Osteria del Borgo, this time with Parmigiana di Melanzane to start, and off to bed.

Still to come: our adventures in Castellabate, Palinuro, Paestum and Padula
Lamorna is offline  
Sep 13th, 2017, 05:36 AM
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Lovely. Eagerly waiting for more.
Keren is offline  
Sep 13th, 2017, 05:38 AM
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Wonderful!!! More please!
jelopez33 is offline  
Sep 14th, 2017, 08:21 AM
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4th September – Sleeping Priests, Secret Birds and Sticky Cats

After two days spent wandering our beloved Pisciotta, hovering a mile above the sea in an enchanted haze, we were eager to get out and explore. We had a chat with Marulivo owner Lea after breakfast, who gave us annotated maps, suggestions for day trips and tips on driving. Lea and Massimo were perfect hosts and nothing was too much trouble.

Joe's colleague had stayed in Castellabate and said it was nice so we decided to go there, a 90-minute drive north, during which we passed by the ruins at Velia, a watchtower visible from the motorway. Up we went into the hills, until we passed the Castellabate sign and stopped for refreshments. The café was empty (apart from a lady who asked eagerly if I was German. It happens, I'm rotund and fair) and we took a lemon soda out to the terrace - wow! Spread below us was the whole valley, with the sea in the distance. After marvelling this (and, incidentally, receiving notification from BBC news app that a third Royal baby is expected), we parked up in the centro storico.

Sadly, the imposing Abbots Castle that the town takes its name from was closed until 6pm, but we were more than compensated by the view from the piazza at the foot of the castle, sky and sea at once the brightest, deepest and richest blue you can imagine, and then deepened, brightened and enriched some more, streaked here and there by a divine paintbrush with turquoise and interspersed with lush green maquis and terracotta roof tiles.

Monday was the first blisteringly-hot day of the trip, and as much as I wanted to explore the UNESCO-protected town, I couldn't wait to take a running jump into the sea. We explored the tangled maze of stairs, narrow streets and covered passageways that I was beginning to recognise as the hallmarks of a medieval Italian hill-town, found the piazzetta (teeny-tiny-piazza) and dived for the nearest restaurant for refreshments. Luckily, we could sit inside at a little place decorated in cool cream. Hearing I was vegetarian, the head waiter recommended Giardineria, picked vegetables with bread and oil, to start and simple ravioli with ricotta and pomodoro for main. Both were delicious, although the screaming bambina refusing to be calmed by her young parents was not so refreshing.

After lunch, we ambled through the near-deserted streets of Castellabate, again feeling that we were in a film. Narrow passageways opened out in to a Greek-looking vista of blue sea and a domed white roof; a church bell-tower was cocooned in greenery; cats snoozed in the shade. Most intriguing was a weathered and ivy-clad door, firmly bolted, from within which came the chirrups and flutters of what sounded like a hundred birds of paradise. I couldn’t see through any windows or cracks, and the secret birds of Castellabate will forever remain a mystery.

The religious art museum was also closed, so we paid a visit to the church. Inside, two people tied posies to the ends of the pews as we meandered down the aisle. There was an intricately carved double confessional and an arresting full-scale model of Santa Katarina in a glass box, her breastplate pierced by a dozen arrows. The most intriguing sight, though, was the priest sleeping at a desk in a vestibule, head thrown back and mouth gaping. Back at the car park, we saw wedding cars arriving, so maybe the priest was having forty winks before the big ceremony.

The heat was relentless and we needed the cool of the sea. Our sun-addled brains couldn’t work out how to get to Santa Maria di Castellabate, so we followed signs for San Marci instead, the quieter resort. San Marco was near-deserted. We parked in the main car park opposite a little supermarket and followed a few beachy-looking people though the piazza and local church and downhill to the beach. This turned out to be a mistake, as the beach was privately owned by Hotel L’Approdo, a fact pointed out to me by a mean little man as he summarily ejected us, deaf to my pleas for directions to the public beach. Luckily, two well-to-do British ladies on sun loungers took pity on us, and directed us to the hidden free beach five minutes away. It was a rugged little strip on sand, bordered by rocky outcroppings and covered in piled of pale, soft seaweed at the shoreline. After some minor underwear-related panicking on my part (I really did not want to yell ‘Joe, help, my bra is stuck in my cozzie’ on a quiet Italian beach), we headed for the sea. This was my first abroad-swim in 20 years, and Joe’s first ever. The sea was divine, cool with a gentle swell, and we started a trend, as an older couple standing on the shoreline followed us in, the lady gingerly following her husband.

Suitably refreshed, we stopped at the harbour for a quick drink in the American-themed beach bar, before strolling back to the car and picking up a few munchies at the supermarket. After a drive back through some stunning alongside a dried river-bed, and catching a glimpse of the currently off-limits ruins of San Severino, we arrived back in Pisciotta. That morning, we had met a tiny little grey kitten with a sticky eye in a passageway near the hotel. In the evening, we came upon him all curled up with his mum, a quiet black cat, and three tabby siblings. When we saw him, the other three were lying on top of their mum and he lay curled around her head. We must have disturbed his sleep as he staggered to his feet and plopped down in an empty space on mums back, snuggling down for the night.

That night, we ate at Tre Gufi, the Three Owls, a few minutes further on from Osteria del Borgo. Joe was initially brought anchovy pasta instead of sausage, and my aubergine and ricotta pasta was nice, but the stars of the show were the starters, the best Parmigiana di Melanzane we had ever tasted, washed down, of course, with Greco di Tufo. We had an early night, in preparation for our excursion the next day to Paestum.
Lamorna is offline  
Sep 15th, 2017, 03:04 AM
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5th September - Old Temples and New Friends

We had a transport-related adventure every day in Cilento - the first day was flying and driving, the second was hiking, the third wild swimming and the fourth was a train to the ancient templates at Paestum. A sat-nav mishap sent us to a builder’s yard and we arrived at Pisciotta station, 10 minutes’ drive from the town down near the Marina, with minutes to spare. After frantically poking at the ticket machine as it shouted at me (don't forget to validate by 'punching' it into the little green machine) we were on the platform about to catch our first ever Trenitalia.
As I was checking we were on the right platform, a dark-haired woman tapped me on the shoulder to say hello. It was the lady who had passed us on La Chiusa on Sunday, who turned out to be a solo traveller from Dublin, in Pisciotta for a week without a car. The train was great, passing through pretty scenery on the 45 min journey to Paestum. Be prepared for more physicality than is required for UK trains - the gap between train and platform is big, the step up is high and the train doors need some force to open them - something to be aware of if you are travelling alone or with heavy luggage. Get ready on the platform, don't flap and enlist help if you need it.

Disembarking at Paestum, we crossed under a stone arch into the city walls, and ambled down the road for ten minutes, stopping for refreshments in a café. It was good chatting to our new friend about issues as diverse as relationships, politics, TV and travel. She had a different take on Pisciotta that us, as she had been there for almost a week, alone and without transport and had felt hemmed in, unable to 'escape' or swim due to the stormy weather. The otherworldly ambience was delightful to me, maybe because I had company and access to a car, which is something to bear in mind for any solo or car-free travellers. That said, there are regular train links from Pisciotta northbound to Paestum, Salerno and Rome, and there is a shuttle-bus that runs from the piazza to Marina and the train station, and by arrangement to Palinuro etc. Staying in the Marulivo was such a boon, as Lea and Massimo are keen to help arrange trips or excursions, and there is a great little travel agent in Pisciotta, just outside the piazza, called Discover Cilento.

We walked down the country lane on a scuffed dirt track, past fields in the sunlight, chatting away. Before long, we came across the temples, magnificent and sombre in the wide open Sele plain. There was a feeling not of peace, but of pause. These are not bare bones, rather magnificent sleeping beasts and their day is not done. The quality of the light was remarkable too, transforming the temples from white to soft gold over the course of the afternoon. The entrance was 15 Euros pp for the monuments, archaeological site and museum and I believe that may cover the ruins at Velia too, which we did not get to see.

After clambering over the temples, which were dedicated to Neptune, Hera and Athena (the 5E guidebook was a good little buy and do lots of research before so you know what you are looking at as the signage is not that thorough) we strolled around the ruins of the vast, flat archaeological site, speculating about what the ruins may have been, our imagination running wild - swimming pools, fighting pits etc. We found a restaurant over by the museum where we could shelter from the fierce midday sun - this site reminded me of the Coliseum and Roman forum - soaring ruins, wide open plains, blistering heat and no shade. The restaurant had a bravura salad bar, and while Joe opted for a mezze platter while our friend and I had a massive plate full of 6 or 7 different vegetables - braised pumpkin, aubergine folded and stuffed with cheese, fried courgette, all mopped up with bread. Buonissimo! It says something about the three of us that we were more animated about a plate of veggies that about the beautiful temples, but it may have been some form of cultural sun-stroke, it was such a hot day.

We were flagging after lunch, but managed an hour in the museum, which actually deserved more time and attention than I gave it. It's a small but beautifully presented (and air conditioned!) collection of tomb friezes, decorations and frescoes' and amphora, statues and grave goods from the local Sele plain but also from as far south as Palinuro. Star of the show is the huge, pale slab painted with the most beautiful, simple rendering of a sleek diver, calmly cutting through the air and about to break the surface of a body of water. It is incredibly affecting, more so than the temples for me. The artwork is so simple - rudimentary, even - but perfect and the colours are luscious - the rich coffee of the divers skin, the inviting, mysterious blue of the water. Perfect. There is a good shop at the museum where you can but souveniers etc but also train tickets and we bought a brilliant English-language pocket Cilento guidebook.

We were all tired and cultured-out, and wandered back to the station earlier than we had planned, running and jumping straight on to what we thought was the right train - until our friend pointed out that the train had actually zoomed past Piscotta 20 minutes earlier, and we were at Sapri! We were slightly stressed by this as Joe was booked onto a moonlight fishing trip at Marina di Camerota that night at 7, and it was already gone 4pm, but we saw there was a train at 5 back to Pisciotta and decided to explore the seafront at Sapri. We were sure that this ‘mishap’ was actually in our friends plan, so happy was she to have escaped from tiny Pisciotta! Sapri seemed nice, a larger town with a shingle beach and a Spanish-looking wide promenade that I imagined people to roller-blade up and down. Talking of large towns, I forgot to mention that, when at Castellabate the day before, we had driven further north to Agropoli, so I could wave at my mum on the Skyline webcam! I’ve heard Agropli has a lovely old borgo but it seemed like such a big and busy city, full of cars and cars, Pisciotta is much more my thing.

After a refreshing 45 minutes at Sapri seafront, we paid TEN euro’s each for a ticket back to Pisciotta – expensive day on the trains, our fault for not checking the destination properly (although I had asked two people if the train went to Pisciotta and they said yes, failing to mention that it didn’t actually stop!) . Back in Pisciotta, Joe’s fishing trip had been cancelled due to choppy sea’s, so we ate together at Osteria del Borgo, this time having the obligatory Parmigiana and a main of Gnocchi in a garlicky vegetable sauce, very delicious but more autumnal and filling than my previous meals. The tiramisu is also worth an honourable mention, and we went for a carafe or Greco this time, rather than a full bottle.

Before dinner, we found our little grey cat sitting apart from its siblings, BOTH eyes now sealed shut with green pus. I had been reluctant to wipe it away in case I made the infection worse, but seeing him isolated and blind broke my heart, so Joe picked him up and I moistened a tissue and wiped the gunk away. The poor little kitten was squealing and scared, I hope I didn’t hurt him, and Lea and Massimo’s daughter was a little bit worried as she came upon us wrestling with the little guy, but it was lovely to see him with both eyes open and Joe carried him back down to his siblings. We saw him later that night rough-and-tumbling with the others, and Lea had cream from the vets for whichever cats needed it, so hopefully our little Sticky is still happy and well.

We'd had a great day, the highlight of which was meeting our new friend. The Temples and especially the museum were stunning and well worth a visit, and what had struck me was how quiet it was - still only early September but maybe 30 other people in the whole place, it seemed virtually deserted. So much better than the selfie-taking hordes at the Coliseum.
Lamorna is offline  
Sep 15th, 2017, 04:12 AM
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Lovely report, thank you!
Calabria62 is offline  
Oct 11th, 2017, 05:21 AM
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6 September - Our Day at the Beach

Having been at such a wonderful stretch of coastline for 4 days and not yet dipped a toe in the water, we needed a beachy day, and for beachy days in the Cilento, we'd heard you head for Palinuro, luckily only a 15 minute drive away. It was 10 am but already roasting hot as we made our way down the cliff-side steps to the tiny crescent of Ficocella beach.

Skyline webcams have 265 cameras all over Italy, showing various cities, monuments and beaches in real-time. I had enjoyed looking at the rather distant, pixelated camera at Ficocella beach in the months leading up to our trip. It looked so peaceful and the water was stunning, so many different shades of blue. Ficocella is every bit as lovely in real-life, and some more, but the atmosphere is quite different to what I expected. It's tiny, the little patch of sand visible on the cam being about 30% of the total beach surface, and nets protecting against rock falls line the cliff edges, reducing space even more. Also, there is a beach bar out of view of the camera, bedecked in plastic fringing and serving drinks and Panini. The staff are friendly and there's a beach dog, a cute shaggy Labrador called Mojita, but they do play loud 1970s disco music incessantly, so there was no chance to enjoy the soft sound of the waves on the shore, over the din of Gloria Gaynor and Boney M!

We paid 15 Euro for 2 sunbeds for the day, grabbed a drink and chilled. After a while, we went for a swim and the water was beautiful, cool clear and still and rising to a sandbank a little way out, so you could sit down in shallow water about 20 feet out. We stayed in the water for half an hour or so, and then got out and dried off, snoozing in the sun to the strains of I Will Survive.

We were booked onto a boat trip around the caves (14 euros, booked by our hotel)leaving from the harbour at 2, so at 12 we packed up and reluctantly drove to the port. We found a restaurant right at the Port, which in truth was not that friendly - the waiters studiously ignored us and presented not to understand everything we tried to say. However, I did end up with a beautiful Caprese salad with crusty bread for 10 Euro.

We queued up at the harbour and filed onto the boat: two young Italian couples doing nothing but snogging and taking selfies, a yacht-y looking Italian family, and us. The 'skipper' was great, a salt-stained, tanned sea-dog who gave a running commentary, of which I understood about 10% (really need to improve my Italian), although he did keep saying 'estrella' so I need to find out what that is.

The boat trip was stunning, in many ways the highlight of the trip. Skipping over the waves, the sun and sea-spray enveloping me, I was entranced by the ancient, towering limestone cliffs, traversed by the hero's of Virgil and Homer. The water inside the Blue Cave was amazing, deep and luminous, unearthly. Seeing the entrance to the other caves, the shape of a monks face in the rock, the lighthouse on up of a towering cliff, smelling the sulphur from inside a cave, seeing the natural arch in the rock, but mostly dancing over the waves, following the path of ancient fishermen, was wonderful.

The low point was probably being taken to Baia di Buondormire for a swim - mostly because I slipped and fell off the boat, plopping unceremoniously into the sea and hurting my knee on a rock, when trying to disembark. Also, though, it was just full of tour boats like our own - far from being a paradise reachable only by boat, it was a tiny, shaded beach crammed with people (all of them sniggering at my misfortune, probably) Still, it was nice to swim in the cool, clear waters (which eased my throbbing knee somewhat)

On the way back, the lovely salty-skipper pushed the boat up to a rock to make it easier for me to get on (I felt ashamed at this special treatment but it was very nice of him) and enjoyed a beautiful ride back through a cooler sea, feeling the spray hit my face and watching the sun sink lower and sparkle on the sea. Back on terra firma, we made our way back to Ficocella and resumed position on our sun-loungers, now with crisps and drinks. This, in many ways, was the best part of the day - playing with Mojita the dog, feeling the sun caress us instead of battering us about the head, watching the sun set over this ancient, beautiful coastline.

We had meant to meet our new friend, but time had ticked on, as we were determined to squeeze every bit of sun out of the day. After watching the sun fizzle below the horizon at Palinuro, and driving back to Pisciotta, we didn't end up eating until late, and she had already had dinner, so we resolved to meet for a goodbye drink the next day, as she was leaving on Thursday.

And so we enjoyed a fine meal of lemon cream linguine at our local Osteria and fell into bed, another memorable day over, and drawing us closer to the end of our holiday.
Lamorna is offline  
Oct 11th, 2017, 07:12 AM
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So pretty there but the towns did feel somewhat deserted in late May still.
sundriedtopepo is offline  
Oct 11th, 2017, 11:25 AM
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Sundriedtopepo - what was the weather like in May?
Lamorna is offline  
Oct 11th, 2017, 11:33 AM
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Pisciotta was pretty much perfect in late May as far as liveliness, but the towns along the immediate coast felt like they were still shuttered. We had lovely weather for the most part--sunny and mild, but one rainy washout day--certainly not swimming weather though. June or September would be ideal I think.
yorkshire is offline  
Oct 11th, 2017, 12:52 PM
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Thanks Yorkshire. We're going back the year after next (would go next year if could afford fact, would go back tonight if I could!)

Early September was perfect busy-ness, and the weather was beautiful for the most part, but it did rain heavily twice and there were thunderstorms several nights. Immediately after we came home, the weather went a bit wild for a week but I think all that was due to disruption to weather systems after the US hurricanes.

I'm torn between July and September but think we are going to go for the same time if year again, early September, back to the lovely Pisciotta. This time, were going to visit Oasi Morigerati, Ascea, the ruins at Celia and Velina/Casal Velina and maybe drive down to Sapri and Maratea.

I'm in love with this region!
Lamorna is offline  
Oct 11th, 2017, 01:02 PM
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Lamorna, check historical weather for the region. I seem to remember that September is a better month. When we were there in May it was surprisingly cool and rainy, but we were only driving through, so we didn’t mind.
sundriedtopepo is offline  

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