Exploring Cilento Italy, The Best-Kept Secret South of Naples

May 30, 2023

South of Naples, the Amalfi Coast, and Sorrento, lies Cilento (pronounced chee-lento). Cilento, Italy encompasses a coastal subregion of Campania that stretches from the town of Paestum to the Marina di Camerota, with a lush and hilly national park inland. The region has a lot to offer travelers looking for a serene and authentic Southern Italian experience.

Cilento’s history spans thousands of years, and it has witnessed the rise and fall of various civilizations, including the Romans, Byzantines, Normans, and the Kingdom of Naples. The region’s historical legacy is evident in its UNESCO archaeological sites and medieval hill towns.

While Cilento is a popular beach destination for Neapolitans, it remains pretty much unknown among international tourists. But the region’s mouth-watering food culture and beautiful natural scenery is definitely worth exploring. What’s more, the Cilento Coast allows you to take in the same wonderful scenery (and cuisine) as the Amalfi Coast while avoiding the crowds.

Areal view of Castellabate in the Cilento region of southern italy with water and island

The Cilento region features stunning places such as Castellabate. Photo credit: Gianpaolo Antonucci

Cilento vs. Amalfi Coast – Which is better for you?

The main advantages of Cilento over the Amalfi Coast are serenity, affordability, and authenticity. Cilento offers a more peaceful experience compared to the Amalfi Coast. It is less crowded and generally much more budget-friendly in terms of accomodation and dining. Because most international travelers have never heard of Cilento, exploring the region can really give travelers a sense of discovery and adventure. It’s also great for those interested in farmstays and local food festivals.

There are disadvantages, though: there’s not much infrastructure for transportation, and there are less developed tourist amenities. Because of the lack of transport, it’s a better option for travelers who choose to rent a car or motorcycle. In addition, Cilento has almost no nightlife compared to the Amalfi Coast. It’s a very family-friendly region, but if you’re looking for nightlife, stick to the Amalfi Coast or Naples.

Coast of Cilento, Italy with beachside views, mountains, and a small island

The Cilento coast is home to some beautiful sites – and usually isn’t as busy as the Amalfi Coast. Photo credit: Mario Esposito

Getting around Cilento

To reach the coastal towns of Cilento, you can take the train from the central station of Naples to Agropoli, Paestum, Ascea, or Pisciotta. Once there, local buses can take you to inland areas or beautiful coastal towns.

Renting a car directly at the Naples airport is the best option if you plan to spend time exploring the region. It’s also an amazing region to explore by motorcycle.

Top things to do and see in Cilento

UNESCO World Heritage Archeological Sites

Cilento is home to several UNESCO world heritage sites, and two archeological parks – Paestum and Velia. The archeological site of Paestum boasts some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek temples in the world, dating back to the 6th and 5th centuries BC. We highly recommend a visit.

Velia is an ancient city founded in the 6th century BC that has remains of various civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It’s less impressive visually than Paestum, but is great for history buffs and families.

Ancient Temple of Hera II in Paestum, Southern Italy, near Cilento

Paestum’s Temple of Hera II is one of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples in Italy. Photo credit: Antonio Sessa

Beaches & coastal scenery

Charming towns dot the entire coastline of Cilento. You really can’t go wrong: all of the beaches have lovely scenery with rolling hills and clean blue water. Here are three of the best beach spots to check out:

  • Agropoli, known for its ancient fortress and a delightful historic center, has lots of beautiful sand beaches to enjoy. It’s on a train line for easy transportation access from Naples.
  • Marina di Ascea has one of the longest sand beaches with free public areas, beach clubs, and a long wooden boardwalk. Romantic sunset walks, anyone?
  • Further down the coast lies Palinuro, with crystal clear waters, a blue grotto (Grotta Azzurra—yes, just like the more famous one on Capri), and a massive natural stone arch to admire.
Palinuro grotta azzurra near cilento

Palinuro’s Grotta Azzurra is quite similar to the one in Capri. Photo credit: Mboesch

Hiking & mountain towns

Cilento is home to many picturesque hill towns. Castellabate, a medieval village perched atop a hill, is absolutely worth a visit. You can stroll through its narrow streets and visit the 12th-century castle.

Insider’s Tip: Castellabate is well known in Italy because it was the set of the famous comedy movie Benvenuti al Sud, about the differences between Northern and Southern Italy.

Another town worth visiting is Trentinara, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. It’s also home to Cilento in Volo, an exhilarating zipline that allows visitors to soar from mountain to mountain. The flight provides thrill seekers great aerial views.

Cilento’s rugged coastline is a paradise for nature lovers and hikers as well. The Sentiero degli Innamorati in Marina di Ascea is a hiking trail that follows the coastline and gives you lovely views of the sea. It’s only about two hours round trip, so it’s accessible for moderate hikers and those looking for a morning or afternoon activity.

The more advanced Sentiero del Cervati takes you through a rugged mountain landscape and is a great option for hiking enthusiasts. We recommend splitting the hike and staying at the mountain hut Rifugio Cerviati.

Castellabate view of Cilento coast with statue of monk and sweeping landscape

Charming Castellabate is one of our top picks for hiking in Cilento Italy. Photo credit: Enrico Pighetti

Exploring Cilento traditions


Cilento is famous among Neapolitans for its rich culinary culture, especially agriturismi (farmstays). An agriturismo is a type of bed and breakfast connected to one or more local farms. They are often in charming rustic cottages or rural homes. Visitors can choose to stay there overnight, or just eat lunch or dinner there.

Staying at an agriturismo allows guests to immerse themselves in the countryside life and savor traditional Cilentan cuisine made with the absolute freshest ingredients.

Food festivals

Cilento hosts a variety of sagre (food festivals) throughout the year, each centered around one specific seasonal type of food. They usually start in the early evening and have food stands, lively music, and dancing. When traveling to Cilento, be sure to look up any sagre of the season.

A popular festival is the Festa del Fico Bianco, dedicated to the delicious white figs of the region. Another popular event is  Sagra della Castagna, a chestnut festival in various towns that showcases the versatility of local chestnuts. The Sagra della Mozzarella is, well, a mozzarella festival. The region (especially near Paestum) is a renowned producer of buffalo mozzarella.

Chestnuts, an autumn and winter Italian food specialty

Don’t miss out on Cilento’s Sagra della Castagna, which is celebrated in the autumn.

Traditional dishes to try

Fusillo di felitto

Cilento is home to plenty of dishes that showcase the region’s culinary prowess. Among these specialties, fusillo di felitto stands out—a handmade pasta twisted around a knitting needle-like rod and served with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese.

Cavatelli con ragù cilentano

Cavatelli con ragù cilentano is another amazing pasta dish. Cavatelli is a type of fresh pasta that resembles the better known orecchiette. The ragu of this region is made by slowly simmering several different cuts of pork meat in a flavorful tomato sauce.

Plate of cavatelli pasta with peas and tomato sauce

Cavatelli is a can’t-miss dish when exploring Cilento. Photo credit: Jameson Fink


For vegetarian travelers, ciambotta is an amazing option. It’s a comforting vegetable stew usually made with potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant (plus whatever else is in season) cooked in fragrant olive oil.

Soppressata di Gioi

The hard-to-find soppressata di Gioi is a traditional salami made from pigs raised in the region. It’s usually produced in the winter months in and around the miniscule hill town of Gioi. No worries if you visit in other seasons, though — trying a cheese and cured meat plate (tagliere) of local delicacies is always a good idea in Cilento.

by Chelsea Newman

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