This blog post we dedicate to a really overlooked town in Campania region – Salerno. This lively town is positioned between the mountains and the sea. Moreover, it has a rich architectural heritage, vibrant nightlife (movida), and many attractions, including cosy bars and restaurants, gorgeous gardens and fascinating museums and monuments.
Here in Salerno you can get an authentic Italian experience. Additionally, it is a ‘budget-friendly’ destination, that can be used as a base to explore the Amalfi Coast. Salerno has a central railway station with excellent train connections and regular ferries running between Salerno port and the Amalfi Coast pearls.
Reading about the history of this area, we found out that it was probably of Etruscan origin. Then it became a colony and belonged to the Ancient Romans, who named it Salernum. In 839 AD it became the capital of an independent Lombard principality. While in 1076 it was conquered by Robert Guiscard. The town developed and reached its splendour during his rules: the royal palace (Castel Terracena) and the magnificent Cathedral were built, and the science boosted. Salerno was later passed around well known noble families – Orsini, the Sanseverino and the Grimaldi. After the Unification of Italy in 1861, Salerno’s urban development continued: many suburban areas were enlarged, and new buildings created.
So where we should start exploring Salerno?
Firstly let’s look at a thriving street art scene. There are many fantastic vivid murals to discover in Salerno: check out Rione Fornelle, a neighbourhood close to the Verdi Theatre or Trotula de Ruggiero mural by famous Neapolitan artist Jorit.
Our journey starts near the train station (Via Velia) to admire Alice Pasquini’s original masterpiece. Alice painted it in October 2014 for the Fondazione Alfonso Gatto (Gatto is one of the most important 20th-century Italian poets), which asked her to create a work inspired by Gatto’s poetry. The Italian artist Greenpino painted the words of his poetry on the steps, while Alice decorated the staircase walls.
Nearby from there, you will find another exciting place a Medieval Aqueduct, built by the Lombards in the IX century to supply water to the monastery of St. Benedict. The fantastic structure consists of two branches featuring characterised arches. These arches were named Ponte del Diavolo (Bridge of the Devil). Due to a local legend, the aqueduct was built in just one night by an alchemist Pietro Barliario, with demons’ help.
From there, let’s move towards the sun-kissed promenade – Lungomare Trieste, a splendid 2-km seafront pathway that connects the town’s old harbour with Santa Teresa Beach. You can find here some shaded seating that is covered by palm trees. Furthermore, there is a series of piazzas/squares completed with statues and fountains. The Lungomare is a perfect place to take a nice stroll after a busy day of sight-seeing in the evening.
Heading towards Spiaggia di Santa Teresa, continue the stroll into the historic old town’s heart and the Villa Comunale di Salerno – a pretty public park. This beautifully landscaped garden is a fantastic place to relax and a perfect stop to take a break in-between visits. Find some interesting sculptures and monuments there, or do some people watching. For us, the loveliest time to go there is during the Luci D’Artista light show organised around Christmas time, when the park is packed with beautiful light installations.
Next, we are on our way to Longbard Castle of Arechi-towering above the city. But before we reach there, we will visit Giardino della Minerva, a botanical garden. It was the location of the Medical School of Salerno (the first medical school in Europe). Take the lift to bring you directly onto the high part of the old town via Torquato Tasso. The gardens were established in the XIV century by Salernitan physician and botanist Matteo Silvatico to provide medicinal herbs and plants to Salerno’s Medical School. There are many plant species and a system of 5 terraces from which you can enjoy fantastic views over the old town and port.
Now let’s continue the hike to the Arechi Castle that was constructed in Medieval times to serve as an additional piece of defence for Salerno’s area. The original parts of the castle stand till today while some sections have been restored. Within the grounds, you will come across a museum that contains various exhibitions and finds that have been excavated nearby. Salerno and the Gulf’s views from here are pretty spectacular, so make sure to stop for a while and soak in the panorama.
As regards to other museums, you can visit:
Museo Archeologico Provinciale on via S. Benedetto, that showcases the excavated history and art of the surrounding area, including a celebrated bronze head of Apollo.
Museo Roberto Papi on via Trotula de Ruggiero – an unusual, and quirky museum that stores the private collection of medical and surgical instruments that belonged to Dr Papi.
Museo virtuale della Scuola Medica Salernitana on via dei Mercanti, located inside the Church of San Gregorio. It exhibits the history of the Salerno Medical School through reproductions of documents, miniatures and photographic images.
While you find yourself on Via dei Mercanti keep walking until reaching the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, where you can find some shops. In the historic centre, it is worth stopping by Romanesque Cathedral dedicated to Saint Matthew, built in the 11th century. Inside you will find a crypt which contains the Saint’s relics, the protector of the city. The church has also a bell tower, a beautiful front façade complete with delicate arches and a triangular pediment.
Just 2 minutes walk from the Cathedral you will find Chiesa di San Giorgio – a baroque church. It’s been incorporated into the local building of Guardia di Finanza and Carabinieri, so it’s not immediately apparent that there’s a church in there. Make sure to stop here and check richly decorated interiors.
If you love visiting, churches make your way to Church of Santa Maria de Lama, one of the oldest in Salerno that preserves some beautiful, ancient frescoes.
On the other side of the town, you will find some other points of interest like Forte La Carnale that played a significant part in defence of the city for many years. In the 16th century, this fort was to be a primary defence against raids from the Saracens. Located on top of a hill, it provides fantastic views of the city, and across the coast.
Finally, we end our day in Parco del Mercatello, situated in Salerno’s eastern part towards the city outskirts. The park connects three districts of Salerno: Mariconda, Mercatello and the European Quarter. Relax among the colourful flowers, a Mediterranean garden with some lush vegetation, and an Orchard full of citrus and lime trees.
You can experience the magic of Salerno during Christmas time when Luci d’Artista” event is organised. It’s a spectacular open-air exhibition of lights, colours, flowers, snow and stars installed in the parks, the streets, and the city’s squares. Unfortunately due to covid 19 emergency, for the first time after 14 editions, the Luci d’Artista 2020 event in Salerno has been cancelled this year. However, some regular Christmas lights will be still installed. Next year, we hope the pandemic will end and the travel will reassume again with the Lights Festival featuring the following Christmas holidays.
As we can’t see the lights installations this year, we will indulge in some local food. We head to the most traditional place in town – Vicolo Della Neve. Here we can get some Cilento cuisine and excellent pizza and calzone. And for dessert, we opt for typical dolce of Salerno: the Scazzetta di Pantaleone, which is a sponge cake, cream, wild strawberries and red glaze.
If you love fresh fish, we recommend eating at La Spagnola in the old port. Food in Salerno is excellent, especially the seafood. It will never let you down. That is why we suggest having some Fritto Misto di Mare, a classic mix of fried seafood that often features calamari, prawns and anchovies. If you are not into fried food order some Risotto Alla Pescatora – a traditional seafood risotto. The fresh fish flavours blend beautifully with the delicate rice base, making this a refreshing dish.
If you are a pasta lover order Scialatielli Ai Frutti Di Mare. It is an extensive kind of pasta served with several types of seafood like clams, mussels. The simplicity of this dish is absolutely fantastic and it really tastes incredible.
Province of Salerno is home to the rare native buffalo, which is still raised around here. And the best product coming from the buffalo farms is obviously mozzarella with delicious buffalo milk, unique, delicate flavour and light texture. Try it in the Caprese salad, a simple salad of sliced mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and basil.
And we can’t forget the wine enthusiast that should visit this region – Colli di Salerno “hills of Salerno”. The vineyards are primarily planted on the hillsides of three mountain ranges: the Picentini, Latari, and Cilento. An interesting fact about this area is that their approved varieties include some international grapes, like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and Italian varieties like Barbera and Primitivo.
As for the wine itself, we usually choose some lovely white wine like Falanghina, Greco or Fiano. If you are interested in some wine tasting and delicious meal, we suggest driving up to Vietri Sul Mare’s neighbourhood town. Book a tasting and tour with lunch/dinner at Le Vigne di Raito. Spend your time among the picture-postcard vineyards and pretty lemon groves, where you can have a delicious meal overlooking the sea.