Travel: Twelve hours in Salerno
SALERNO- The Amalfi coast is widely known for being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, but should you fancy a break from this well trodden tourist trail, stop for an afternoon in this less famous Campania seaside city for a pleasant surprise.
From its gritty outskirts to its historic centre, the port town gives a flavour of life in Southern Italy. Being only two hours on the train from Rome, it is just about possible to see in a day trip from the capital if you wish to escape the buzz of the Eternal City. The town makes a pleasant alternative to big sister Naples, quieter and smaller but still with a flavour of the South and well served by buses, which run to nearby coastal towns and historical sights such as Pompeii and Paestum.
Taking the 8am train from Rome, speeding down through Lazio and Campania as mists lifted, revealing fields of tomatoes, certainly made for a unique experience. Arriving in Salerno felt a bit like moving back in time. The pace of life there is slower than that of Rome, and Spanish influences can certainly be felt in the architecture as much as in the Neapolitan dialect- the South having been ruled by Spain up until the 18th Century.
The historic centre is very much worth a visit; narrow streets lead up to the Duomo, a Byzantine style church with a beautiful 12th Century bell tower which includes a mosaic covered interior and golden altarpiece. Exploring further up the hill lies the Giardino della Minerva, a botanic garden designed on several levels with stunning views of the bay beneath. Castello di Arechi, a medieval castle, is also the perfect spot for costal views although the climb will certainly work up an appetite, but where better to sit down to a pizza than in the region home to the dish. We found ours for 3.50€, in a small restaurant with gingham tablecloths, just set back from the sea front. The cost of living is cheap here although work is relatively scarce outside of the tourist season.
Following a satisfying lunch, the palm-lined Lungomare Trieste beckoned. This two-kilometre stretch offers lovely views of the Gulf of Salerno and is supposedly one of the most beautiful in the area. From here frequent buses and ferries connect the town to other smaller and better-known sites along the coast, Amalfi is just 35 minutes away at best.
Vietri sul Mare, lying 15 minutes north by bus, is a small, perfectly formed, hill town perched above the sea and the centre of the area’s ceramic industry. The main street runs from the ceramic factory at one end, to a square and viewpoint at the other and is dotted with touristic ceramic shops- although this by no means detracts from its charm. Paths beyond the square slope down through lemon groves (another source of local industry) to the small beach nestled beneath the town.
At this point, time was unfortunately running short. We had hoped to visit next-town-along Cetara too, but planning and thunderstorms were not on our side and so it was onto another bus, taking us back to the centre and the station.
Leaving the city on the evening train there was a distinct feeling of having seen a more authentic side to the country and region than ever before. The golden evening light on Vesuvius, spotted from the train, added to the magic and on returning home to Rome at 8pm, it really did feel as if I had been away for the capital from more than just the day.