Salerno, Gateway to the Amalfi Coast
By Monique Burns
One of the best places to embrace Mediterranean splendor is the Province of Salerno. Here, the Gulf of Salerno’s wide arms encompass the spellbinding Amalfi Coast—with famous seaside towns like Amalfi, Positano and Ravello—and the more southerly Cilento Coast, with its broad beaches and resort hotels. Travel agents and tour operators who book minimum two and six-night stays on the Amalfi Coast also can reap contributions between 25 and 50 euros per person from the Salerno Chamber of Commerce.
Settling Into Salerno
Halfway between the Amalfi and the Cilento Coast, Paestum—known for its well-preserved fifth-century temples and its archeological museum—is a good base for exploring Salerno Province. The four-star deluxe Savoy Beach Hotel (www.hotelsavoybeach.it), whose columned lobby atrium recalls a majestic Roman temple, has 42 elegantly appointed rooms. At Ristorante Tre Olivi, with its spacious patio, pasta and other entrees feature fresh fish and calamari from the Cilento Coast, buffalo mozzarella made on nearby farms, and beef, chicken and wild game from farms and neighboring woodlands. Doubles start at $153. Steps away is the elegant four-star Hotel Esplanade (www.hotelesplanade.com) where doubles start at about $100.
North of Paestum is the city of Salerno, once the home of the world’s oldest medical school and the place where the Allied Forces disembarked in September 1943. In addition to a pretty port and modern attractions, Salerno has a delightful medieval quarter whose main attraction is the 11th-century Duomo, with a Romanesque belltower, a loggia with inlaid wood, and a crypt containing relics of the apostle San Matteo.
South of Paestum lie the wide sandy beaches and turquoise-blue waters of Palinuro. With spacious terraces perched high above Buondormire Bay and rocky Cape Palinuro, the palatial King’s Residence Hotel (www.hotelkings.it) has 67 spacious rooms, a beauty center with sauna, a pool and a lovely restaurant. Doubles start at $139.
Discovering the Amalfi Coast
Overlooking the Gulf of Salerno’s broad blue expanse is the province’s world-renowned attraction, the Amalfi Coast, where small towns with pastel houses climb sheer cliffs. Heading west from Salerno, you first encounter the hamlet of Vietri sul Mare, a ceramics center since medieval days. In Villa Guariglia, the Provincial Museum of Ceramics includes centuries-old and more contemporary works, many featuring the area’s signature blue and yellow colors as well as its trademark lemon and grape motifs.
West is Maiori, which has one of the largest beaches along the Amalfi Coast, and is also known for its churches, including Santa Maria a Mare, where each year on August 15, a celebration is held to mark the day in 1204 when fishermen discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in offshore waters. One of Maiori’s newest hotels is the five-star Hotel Botanico San Lazzaro (www.botanicosanlazzaro.it) with 18 rooms and breathtaking views high above the Gulf of Salerno. Doubles start at $306.
Next-door Minori, site of the Jazz on the Coast Festival in July and August, was a favorite seaside resort of the ancient Romans. Dating from the first century B.C., the Villa Romana is a 2,500-square-mile archeological complex featuring splendid mosaics. In the town center, the Russo family runs the four-star Hotel Villa Romana (www.hotelvillaromana.it) with 55 well-appointed rooms, a superb restaurant, and a swimming pool surrounded by lemon trees. Doubles start at $140.
In the hills high above Minori, Ravello is known for its world-famous music festival, held July through September. Mentioned in Boccaccio’s 14th-century masterpiece, the Decameron, this beautiful town later inspired Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, and D.H. Lawrence, who wrote Lady Chatterly’s Lover here. Artists also have been drawn here, most notably Turner, whose Ravello seascapes can be seen in London’s Tate Gallery.
Back on the coast, the road dips southwest to Amalfi. Here the chief attraction is the Cathedral whose 13th-century Cloister of Paradise, with more than a hundred Moorish-style columns, recalls medieval days when Amalfi was one of the world’s four great Maritime Republics—along with Genoa, Pisa and Venice—and traded vigorously with the Arab world and the Orient. The Cathedral complex includes the Basilica of the Crucifix, with its treasure trove of religious objects, and the Crypt, containing the head and bones of Sant’Andrea, the town’s patron saint. Just 500 meters from the Cathedral, the Museo della Carta (www.museodellacarta.it) traces the history of handmade paper in Amalfi, Europe’s oldest paper-making town and the place where the Vatican still buys its writing paper.
Among the many fine hotels in Amalfi are the four-star Marina Riviera (www.marinariviera.it) whose spacious doubles, with breakfast, start at $320, and the three-star Hotel Floridiana (www.hotelfloridiana.it) where doubles, in a restored 12th century residence, start at $112. Facing Amalfi’s ancient square, the Residenza Luce bed-and-breakfast inn (www.residenzaluce.it) has five charming rooms decorated with tiles from Vietri sul Mare. Doubles start at $118. Also in the town center, the pretty Sharon House B&B (www.amalfisharonhouse.com) has doubles starting at $118. Facing the bucolic Li Galli Islands where the Sirens of Homeric legend once lived, Positano, near the western end of the Amalfi Coast, has had a reputation as a jet-setter’s paradise for decades, drawing the likes of Liza Minnelli, Matt Dillon, Franco Zeffirelli and Mick Jagger. High above the town center with its dark red façade and green shutters stands one of the world’s most famous hotels, Le Sirenuse (www.lesirenuse.it). Doubles begin at $529. Away from the bustle of town is the equally famous, five-star Il San Pietro di Positano (www.ilsanpietro.it) with elegantly appointed rooms, splendid terraces covered with lemon and olive trees, and a small private beach. Doubles start at $585.
Alitalia (www.alitalia.com) flies to Capodichino International Airport in Naples.
For information on Salerno Province, visit www.italiantourism.com or www.provincia.salerno.it
Get Lost in Erice, Sicily
By Maria Lisella
Whether it is the high perch it occupies or the legends that surround it, Erice is truly one of the most enchanting towns in Sicily. It also happens to be one of the most often overlooked, as escorted tours tend to stop in Palermo as if it were the westernmost city on the island. If you want to impress your clients, create an itinerary with the other extraordinary attractions in this corner of Sicily such as the Aegadian Islands, Segesta, San Vito Lo Capo, Mothia, Marsala and Selinunte.
Among the historical sites are Venus’ Castle, Peopoli Castle, the Towers of the Balio and the old churches, like the 13th century Matrice, San Giuliano, San Giovanni, San Martino, Sant’Orsola and Il Carmine, next to the Military Palace. There is so much to see in Erice that even getting lost is a pleasure.
To arrive, take the cable car or drive up the Via Vito Carvini at the Porta Trapani. Driving from Trapani to Erice, it is striking to witness how much of the former was ravaged during World War II and later rebuilt, while Erice’s labyrinth of narrow streets and 60 or more churches remained untouched. Although not listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Erice has managed to preserve its medieval qualities without transforming itself into a Disneyworld of souvenirs. To be sure, there are shops worth visiting, experiencing and photographing, but a visitor is likely to take a lot more home than ceramics and salt from Erice.
Not unlike the mist that often encircles its peak, Erice’s history is mysterious as much of it has been lost or interwoven with local folklore. One tale is that Eryx, the mythical hero and king of the Elimi, gave the town its name. There is some evidence that Elymian settlements dotted the area in the fifth century B.C., which seems logical as its strategic location made it the object of recurrent conflicts from ancient times, especially in the wars between the Greeks and the Carthaginians. Other myths link Erice to the mother Venus and Aeneas and Heracles.
The town’s layout also hints at symbolism as it is shaped in an equilateral triangle and once inside that triangle the avenues wind within a great ring of walls, with the medieval district unfolding into an intricate weave of cobbled streets that suddenly open up to flower-filled courtyards that seem to have been unchanged for centuries.
Set at about 2,500 feet above Trapani, Erice stands at the peak of Monte San Giuliano. Often wrapped in mist, in spring the mountain is simply crowned by oleander, pines and brightly colored flowers that bloom out of the stone pockets. Erice is a place in which time literally stands still. Take time to walk its silent, polished stoned walkways, its steep alleyways past its discreet gray houses, often set behind walls, perhaps a vestige of its Arab past. Everything feels quiet and tidy in these little lanes, where oriental fragrances of cinnamon and vanilla or the aromas of cakes still produced by the nuns in the Convent of San Carlo are carried by the wind’s vectors.
What To Do
Clients may want to start at the top with a romantic walk to the Castello di Venere (Castle of Venus), which houses the Altar to Venus Erycina from the 13th century B.C. From here there is an amazing view over almost the entire province of Trapani. Surrounding the Castello di Venere, and the Torri di Ballo are the sweet public gardens, the Giardiani del Ballo. Climb the castle ramparts or tower and on a clear day you will see Monte Cofano, the city of Trapani and the nearby Egadi Islands, and perhaps, Pantelleria or Cap Bon in Tunisia about 100 miles away. The best time to visit Erice is in the off seasons such as autumn, spring or even winter, when a faint fog provides some sun cover.
The Cordici Museum, housed in the Town Hall in Piazza Umberto I, exhibits archaeological finds from the Erice necropolis, including an outstanding head of Aphrodite that dates from the 4th century B.C., as well as artifacts from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans.
It is still important to note that Erice has more to appreciate than just the historical artifacts. Here you will still find artisans producing high-quality products. Among the most outstanding artisans is Pina Parisi, who also passed on her skill with the loom to her daughter Francesca, who creates rugs in geometric patterns of bright colors reflected in the Sicilian landscape. The carpets follow a naïve style of bits of colored material and cotton thread woven in quite modern patterns that could accompany a wide range of interior styles. Visit www.pinaparisi.it
Do not miss Maria Grammatico’s world-famous pastry shop, Pasticceria Grammatico, where she sells frutta di martorana (marzipan candies), cudduredde (fig biscuits), crostate di marmellata (jam tarts), mostaccioli di Erice (Erice cinnamon biscuits) and other delicacies. Maria, a former nun, was the subject of Bitter Almonds: Recollections and Recipes from a Sicilian Girlhood by Mary Taylor Simeti. Visit www.mariagrammatico.it
Step inside La Bottega dei Sapori for the Trapanese salts the area is known for. Foodies will want to try the Sicilian pastes ranging from finocchetti or anise-flavored to cinnamon to pistachio and, of course, a wide range of liquors of similar flavors and finally capers from the nearby Egadine island of Pantelleria.
Where To Stay
Accommodations at the Castello cost about $400 a day. Don’t let that stop you from recommending this town to your clients. Visitors can stay either inside the town in a bed and breakfast, which have proliferated in the last two to three years (and no, they do not pay commissions, but this is where your service fee comes into play).
Inside Erice is the eight-room former 15th century monastery, Il Carmine, a three-star property that runs well under $100 a night for a double with breakfast. La Pineta is a 25-room property set in the northern part of town that costs under $100 for a double room including buffet breakfast for two.
For more information on accommodations in Erice, visit www.sicilia.indettaglio.it/eng/alberghi/alberghi.html
Although most escorted tours circumvent Erice, some companies include it such as Andiamo Tours’ Sicilian Heritage Bello (www.goandiamo.com); Cloud Tours, which specializes in customized honeymoons can include Erice and Sicily (www.cloudtours.com); and European Tours also customizes vacations (www.europtours.com). Or, some travelers might prefer to stay in Trapani. Erice can also be done as a daytrip from as far as Palermo by train to Trapani and the cable car ride up the mountain to the town.
For more information on Italy, contact the Italian Government Tourist Board, 212-245-5618; 310-820-1898;or visit www.italiantourism.com