Like many of you I’m someone who enjoys getting off the beaten track every now and again. A chance to skip other tourists, the queues and other frustrations that go with popular places. And the opportunity to go somewhere where not many others have been (and let’s be honest: be able to tell them about it later)
A couple of years ago I wanted to add a road trip to our holiday in southern Italy. I’d already decided to go to Paestum to see the Greek temples, but where else was good around there? While reading my Lonely Planet for Southern Italy I became intrigued about the Parco Nazionale del Cilento e Vallo di Diano: “Proving the perfect antidote to the holiday mayhem along the coast, the Parco Nazionale del Cilento e Vallo di Diano is a compelling combination of dense woods, flowering meadows, dramatic mountains and water. A world heritage site ….” Sounds good right? And they even provided a driving tour of the area.
I’ve written before about how empty southern Italy is, but let’s face it, it’s ITALY not inner Mongolia, so there’s always going to be some tourists around, and things that tourists like, such as signs in English, public toilets and ATMs for example.
Sometimes you can be lucky and find an amazing place and have it all to yourself. However I’ve come to realise that generally speaking places are popular for a reason: because they’re good.
So let me take you on a tour ….
Let’s start with the good part: Paestum. After starting the day on the Island of Procida, two ferries later we picked up a car in Sorrento and drove to Paestum via Salerno, leaving the Amalfi coast drive for another trip.
The beaches and coastline south of Salerno are bland, flat and look like they’ve seen better days. ‘Busted ass-ville’ as we like to call it. It was early July and they were empty and it all felt kind of spooky as we drove by. A bit further along I started seeing women standing at semi-regular intervals along the bushy roadway, and then it dawned on me … I see what’s going on here! That at least provided a bit of merriment as the scenery was otherwise not worth mentioning.
But all that disappeared once we got our first glimpse of the temples. It’s one of those really special places that truly takes your breath away! There are three of them and they are enormous and magnificent, sitting silently in a huge field, and surrounded by the remnants of the city that was once there.
The nearby museum is terrific and houses the artefacts taken from the site. Seeing the two together it’s incredibly easy to imagine what the town would have been like back in the 6th century BC.
And of course as is usual in southern Italy, hardly any other people!
So that was the good bit. Now for the off the beaten track bit.
The following day we ventured into the park and valley, roughly following this driving tour.
First stop was Controne, a mountain top town which had some nice views.
It was Sunday and the older gents of the town were hanging out, catching up on the week’s gossip.
We wandered around town, looking for something to look at, and found this.
A priest said buon giorno on his way to mass, but apart from him and the gents in the piazza there was no-one around. That’s because they were all indoors making lunch. The smells, my god the smells. So delicious! We loitered about for a bit hoping that someone would take pity on us and invite us home to share their feast …
Pretty soon we both needed to pee. But no tourists = no public toilets. Help! We eventually found a street pissoir (designed for men) which we happily made use of. Sadly I weed on my foot. Beginner problems I’m sure.
Next stop Postigliono. We were sure this town would be charming, with friendly locals tripping over themselves to invite us over for lunch! “Mamma, we brought some Australians!”
We found the 11th century Norman castle. Closed. Of course it’s closed, it’s Sunday.
OK, the next town is sure to be the one!
Sadly this one was even weirder than the other two. Here the locals really stared. Stared hard with stony looking faces. It was quite frankly, creepy. Here we couldn’t even find the path to the castle and kept ending up in people’s houses.
We had intended to stop in at a few more places along the driving tour, but the locals had worn us down, so on to our lodgings for the next two nights at Teggiano, which was billed as “bristling with churches and museums, as well as a cathedral and a castle”.
Yes there were loads of churches and museums, but in the two days we were there almost all of them were closed, and the castle is privately owned, and you guessed it – closed. Hang on, the herb museum is open!
At least the room at our hotel was nice.
This town was bigger and much more pleasant than the other three we stopped in at.
But it was still pretty lonely …
And the locals still stared at us when they weren’t watching soccer on screens outside the local café.
It’s the kind of place where old men sit in the piazza and chat, or outside bars and play cards and drink coffee. When we came back at night the same men were still sitting outside the same bars scaring off decent folk like us looking for amusement. And there’s no women anywhere ….
Eventually we did find the women. They’re all in church. I followed my ears the next day to the cathedral where a heavenly choir was singing. It was packed at 5pm on a Monday. Who has time to go to church on a Monday afternoon I wondered? The women of Teggiano, obviously.
One night we ate at the hotel restaurant, which was kind of weird since we were almost the only people there.
The next night we had pizza in the piazza, and were served by the most hilarious waitress who had absolutely no idea whatsoever what we were saying, in either Italian or English.
As you can imagine, we were at our wits end by this time, and amused ourselves with the bathrobes.
One of the reasons I thought this road trip would be fun was being able to visit the Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula, one of the biggest monasteries in southern Europe, which dates from 1306 and covers 250,000 square metres. And thank the lord I was right, it’s an excellent place to have a look around if you’re in the area.
A wall of religious icons (and dead people’s bits)
The monastery kitchen
And Teggiano wasn’t all bad, because this happened at night!
So be warned fellow travellers: the path is beaten for a reason.
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Until next time, safe travels,
The Travelling Pantaloni
I always swore off the double-decker buses and earbuds because they were far too touristy…until I realized I was a tourist (I don’t travel to far away places all that often). Those buses were usually relatively-clean and timely AND took me to all of the places I wanted to go. When I finally accepted that I was the average tourist, I was able to check so many thing off my must-see list that I had time left over to explore off the beaten path. We always find some great things off the beaten path, but it would be hard to leave a country we’d probably only see once and miss the big name sites. Please keep sharing your wonderful photos and advice; I’m living “la dolce vita” vicariously through you two!!!
Thank you Mr Tiny! I can’t tell you how nice it is to receive a non-spam comment on my blog from a living, breathing human being! So glad you’re enjoying it and I too am secretly a fan of hop on-hop off buses (except for that time in Mexico City, but that’s another story!)