The Cilento and Vallo Diano National Park is the second largest park in Italy. The park itself extends over a surface area of roughly 181 thousand hectares and includes 80 communes characterized by the natural scenic beauty of its flora and fauna. Due to its biological and cultural characteristics, in 1997, Unesco designated it a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, under its Man and Biosphere program - only 350 protected areas of this nature are listed throughout the world - and a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991.
It offers numerous landmark attractions. The most noteworthy archaeological site is that of Paestum, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world . Encircled by a wall measuring 5km with four large gates, it has three beautiful Doric temples which have been carefully restored and handed down to us in excellent condition: the Temple of Neptune, the largest in Paestum, the Temple of Athena, also known as the Temple of Ceres, and the Basilica, the temple of Hera. While in the area, make sure to visit the Archaeological Museum housing numerous relics including paintings from the Tomb of the Diver.
Another site of great importance is the archaeological area of Velia, known, above all, for the Eleatic School of Philosophy founded by Parmenedes and Zeno of Elea, who were born here. Particularly worthy of note is its Pink Gate, the oldest example of a rounded arch in Italy.
One of the most charming seaside places in Cilento is Punta Licosa: according to legend the island of Licosa is nothing but the shape assumed by the body of the siren Leukosia, who committed suicide by throwing herself into the sea after failing to entice Ulysses to the rocks. An uncontaminated pine forest and crystal clear waters surrounded by small beaches make it a small paradise. A protected marine area, it boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy. Most of the area is private property and therefore not fully accessible to the public.
Perched on the top of a hill, Castellabate is one of the most picturesque towns in Italy with its labyrinth of small streets, stairways, breathtaking views, villas and Patrician villas. And then again, Acciaroli, a charming fishing village where Ernest Hemingway drew inspiration for his novel entitled The Old Man and the Sea. The area is also home to Palinuro. According to legend, Palinuro was the helmsman of Aeneas, who fell into this sea, only to be killed by the inhabitants of the area upon reaching dry land. The coast is dotted with grottoes, the most famous of which is the Blue Grotto, considered one of the most beautiful sea caves due to its almost surreal blue water. The “eye-catching” colour is a result of sunlight passing through the cavities and creating a blue reflection. Another of the area’s attractions is the Silver Grotto, whose walls are reflected with silvery rays, or the Bones Grotto, whose walls are embedded with the bones of humans and animals from the Quaternary period.
The Certosa of San Lorenzo di Padula is the largest in Italy, boasting the largest cloister in the world (12,000sq.m.) surrounded by 84 columns. It is now home to the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Western Lucania housing a collection of relics originating from excavations of the necropolises of Sala Consilina and Padula.
Not just architectural and natural beauties but also culinary specialities. Pioppi, in Cilento, is the village where the dream of the Mediterranean Diet began. It was here that the American doctor Ancel Keys conducted exploratory research on the dietary habits of Southern Italy, discovering their benefits especially with a view to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Bread, pasta, rice, lots of fish, fruit and vegetables, pulses and olive oil are still the typical ingredients of local cuisine. Culinary specialities also include ‘mozzarella nella mortella’, ‘soppressata di Gioi’, the white figs of Cilento, round artichokes, the beans of Controne and the chickpeas of Cicereale, ‘caciocavallo podolico’ and the anchovies of menaica
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