It might seem strange to say that I’m a beach person, having spent much of my adult life as a desert dweller. But every vacation during those years was to the ocean, because while I loved life in New Mexico, I craved the ocean and needed at least one week of soaking myself in salt water to regenerate.
Now we live in the mountains of inland Basilicata, but thankfully our location is just about equidistant from two seas. My preference is the deeper water and more interesting coastline of the Mediterranean, more specifically, the Cilento Coast.
This lesser-known seaside destination is south of the renowned Amalfi Coast, but a world away from the glitz and crowds. While the Amalfi road plunges and twists insanely, the Cilento’s 60-mile stretch of coastline ambles from the ancient Greek ruins of Paestum to the rocky resort of Palinuro. In between are fishing villages and hill towns that offer quintessential southern Italian hospitality. And—unlike the Amalfi Coast’s tiny rocky coves—the beaches of Cilento are sandy, wide, and easily accessible.
The Cilento is also Italy’s second largest national park, and encompasses not only the coastline, but also the inland hills and Apennine Mountains. There are vast untouched natural spaces, loads of trails for hiking and horse riding, rivers for rafting, medieval hill towns, and the remains of ancient Greek and Roman cities to explore, making it a year-round delight.
We were lucky to discover this little-known shore on one of our earliest visits to Italy, and have returned often, and in all seasons, to enjoy the beaches, walk on the sand, relax to the rhythm of the waves, and eat excellent seafood. We love the still-authentic towns and the fact that they have a year-round life, not just summer resorts. In fact, lately we’ve been kicking around the idea of buying a small place there as a weekend escape and getaway, to be closer to the water when we need a break from the mountains.
While looking at real estate listings, I discovered renting may be an affordable option, though. While summer prices for vacation home apartments start at about $500 a week, many owners are willing to forego those few weeks of elevated prices for a full year of rental income.
In historic Paestum, a trio of ancient Greek temples are incredibly well preserved. They’re not just breathtaking, but also the location of musical and cultural events. Paestum also has a long shoreline of sandy beaches, and is the center of delectable mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) production. Here, I saw a listing for a newly-built townhome for rent with two bedrooms and one bath, fully furnished, just steps from the sea for $503 a month.
Down the coast is my favorite location, Castellabate. This beautiful gem is actually a collection of three towns—the old medieval center on the hill with its square castle on top, and two seaside towns. Santa Maria di Castellabate is the main center offering more services, a kilometer-long promenade lined with shops, and a lengthy expanse of seafront to enjoy. There is a beautiful beach anchored by a castle right in the heart of town, plenty of cafés, and a nice vibe. Despite its popularity (and high prices) in the summer, I found a one-bedroom apartment for rent right in the center of town for $436 a month. Apartments of this type go for $600 per week in summer.
Next door is San Marco di Castellabate, which maintains a fishing village character with its marina and small-town ambiance. Every day a fleet of fishing boats bring in the fresh catch and sell the fish right on the dock. It has a handful of good restaurants, an upscale spa, and loads of atmosphere. Here, I saw listings for a few nice furnished apartments, including one on the edge of town that has been recently and tastefully renovated with two bedrooms, two ample balconies, and new furnishings, for just $391 a month.
Another new apartment with two bedrooms and new furniture has a wide terrace with views of the olive-covered hills, the old town of Castellabate, and the sea for $503 a month.
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