When the traffic dies there remains the light scent of jasmine in the air. It’s the weekend and the youth emerge, filling the streets of the Centro Storico, frequenting the city’s hip beer bars, paninerie, enoteche and, of course, pizzerie. The heat of the day is swept away by a fresh chill that crawls through the seaside town. Along the coast, couples and families casually stroll along the lantern-lit path, gelato or granita in hand and, tonight for some reason, the sound of a distant singer recanting something by John Legend or some other American pop artist.
Salerno isn’t a big city, but it’s a beautiful one. Like dreams of the Amalfi Coast, it stretches from the sea up into the hills. Unlike nearby Naples, it’s undeniably calm. There exists a rich history, from the Duomo (formally known as the Cattedrale di San Matteo – San Matteo is the city’s patron saint) to the Museo Diocesano (a wonderful museum that’s free for EU residents and cheap for the rest) and the Pinacoteca Provinciale di Salerno (a free-for-all small museum of paintings) to the Museo Archeologico Provinciale (a free-for-EU-residents heaven for lovers of artifacts). If you’re into frescoes, the Chiesa di San Giorgio is paradise on earth.
Enjoy the sun of Campania at the Giardino della Minerva for both an exploration of plant life and an amazing panorama of the entire city. The Villa Comunale, a grand park near the waterfront, otherwise known as the Lungomare di Salerno, is another place perfect for repose, especially if you acquire a cup of sorbetto al limone from the small stand within. Further up in the hills is the Castello di Arechi, where you’ll find a little bit of all of the above. For performance arts, Teatro Verdi is both a spectacle for opera as well as architectural design.
When you’re in need of sustenance, don’t overlook the affordable panini at Panineria Sant’Andrea or a pizza a libretto (a whole pizza napoletana folded to supposedly resemble a small book, perfect for the street) at Pizzeria Sant’Andrea right next door. A cuoppo misto cone of fried seafood can be had for about five euros nearby as well. For drinks, head to BAI for Italian craft beers or Drinketto for a range of cocktails, including sweet dessert-like shots. During the day, Caffè dei Mercanti along Via dei Mercanti, the historic center’s main drag, is a great place for a break (also because they sell Anchor Porter and Sierra Nevada in bottles – got to rep those California brews).
Less-than-a-day trips include the nearby Vietri sul Mare, just around the hill from Salerno, a place known for ceramics and stunning views. More inland, there’s Cava de’ Tirreni, a relaxing town with a lovely city center. The Grecian ruins in Paestum, the Area Archeologica dei Templi di Paestum, offers a trip back in time in the form of a quiet park. I found all three to be laid-back ventures worth pursuing.
And when we drove up to the quiet Monteforte Cilento, we could see the lights of small towns stretched across the mountain, the narrow road curving before us lit only by the light of the Renault, the sound of New Order blasting a contrasting yet complementary soundtrack. It was then when I considered the strangeness of being in the country of a country not your own; it was like floating through a surreal dream set at the edge of the world.
The feeling is not too different from strolling along the waterfront of Acciaroli at night during the off-season, when the normally busy streets and crowded bars are respectively vacant and closed; heading out to the Madonna at the end of the pier in near complete darkness is a disappearing act. The city is known for having what is designated as the cleanest beach in Italy, I’m told, and even in the dark one can see how clear the water is.
For those seeking the Amalfi experience or that Napoletana vibe-slash-pizza without the chaos of Naples (as great as it is), Salerno is a wonderful destination to consider.
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