Episode #038: The captivating Cilento Coast

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Listen to “The captivating Cilento Coast – a secret spot close to Amalfi” on Spreaker.




Looking for an Italian beach escape that’s easy to get to, yet transports you to another time and place away from the crowds? Introducing the Cilento Coast. Just minutes by car from the glamorous sights of the Amalfi Coast, the Cilento region offers a slower pace of life, natural wonders, and some of the world’s most amazing food. Join me as I talk to writer, art historian, and fellow food lover Danielle Oteri from Feast on History about her passion for beautiful Cilento.

Show notes
A few kilometers down the coast from the glitz and glamor of Positano, there’s another world waiting for you. Sharing similar topography to the world-famous Amalfi Coast, Cilento is its quieter, laid-back sister. The one you go to for long chats and lazy afternoons on the beach, rambles through ancient ruins, and a glass of wine on a humble rooftop.

The Cilento Coast overlooks the azure blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and is backed by rugged mountain ranges. You’ll find the preserved remains of ancient civilizations and people who care passionately about their land, traditions and culture. Here buffalo are treated with the utmost respect. And they respond in kind by producing gallons of milk for some of the world’s most delicious mozzarella cheese. It’s the perfect antidote to a busy modern life.

With excellent connections to both Naples and Rome, it’s a little surprising that Cilento is such a well-kept secret. But, that may be not for long after you hear about this piece of paradise in southern Italy.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Important places to visit on the Cilento Coast
  2. How to walk among 3,000 year old Greek temples
  3. Why the people of this region live to a ripe old age
  4. The ingenious methods used to make delicious buffalo mozzarella
  5. How to get to and around this fascinating area
  6. Villages and beaches to visit on the Cilento Coast
  7. Where to go fishing for anchovies, followed by a beach party until 3am (with a nap in between)

About our guest – Danielle Oteri from Feast on History

danielle oteri feast on history

Danielle Oteri is a writer, art historian and founder of Feast on History a food, wine and art school specializing in Southern Italy.

After visiting her grandmother’s town on the Cilento Coast she was inspired to celebrate her family’s homeland and help others do the same. Feast on History offers immersive culinary, art and wine classes in Italy and now online.

If you’re visiting New York City you can also join Danielle’s company Arthur Avenue Food Tours on a delicious walk through Little Italy.

You can find Danielle on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Salerno – major town connected to Rome and Naples that gives you direct access to the Cilento Coast
  • Paestum – town and site of some of the best preserved and important Ancient Greek ruins in the world
  • Capaccio – perched above Paestum, Danielle’s tours of the region are based in this town
  • Borgo La Pietraia Country House – beautiful hotel with stunning sea views run by Danielle’s cousins
  • Tenuta Vannulo – organic buffalo mozzarella farm
  • Santa Maria di Castellabate – beautiful town with a great beach
  • Pisciotta – town famous for anchovy fishing
  • Agropoli – major town of the Cilento Coast
  • Pioppi – home of the Mediterranean diet
  • Certosa di San Lorenzo – largest monastery in Europe
  • Spazio Paestum – art space in Paestum


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Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely accents however!

[00:00:59.750] – Katy
Ciao a tutti! Hi, everyone, it’s Katy here with another exciting episode of Untold Italy. I hope you’re keeping well. We are doing fine here in Australia, but are very much looking forward to getting back to Italy again as soon as it is safe to do so. And as soon as we’re allowed. Let’s just say my feet are super itchy and I’ve planned out more than five itineraries already. [00:01:24.170] – Katy
But, you know, while we wait, one of the best ways to travel and transport yourself to another place is via food. So just last weekend, we ordered an amazing antipasto platter of cold cuts, burrata cheese and nduja, which is a spicy meat paste from Calabria. And we also had a Caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella cheese. And I immediately thought of a day that we spent in Naples or Napoli last November where we had what my friend and I called a life changing experience with some cheese that we found there. [00:01:57.020] – Katy
Trust me, it was so good. So on this week’s episode, we’re actually going to the Cilento coast, which is right next to the Amalfi Coast and shares its spectacular scenery, but not the razzle dazzle and prices of its better known sister. This is actually the home of the buffalo mozzarella that we had tasted in Naples. And the food here is so good and so healthy that it is studied endlessly by scientists and dietitians who try to unravel its secrets. [00:02:27.320] – Katy
Our guest this week is Danielle Oteri, an art historian and owner of the Feast on History Food and Wine school that’s found on the Cilento Coast and actually now online. Danielle has a wealth of knowledge about this lesser known region, thanks to her family connections and studies, and has lots and lots to tell us about what to see and do there, including information about some very spoilt buffalo that are responsible for that oozy, delicious mozzarella cheese. So without further ado, let’s welcome Danielle onto the show. Ciao Danielle Benvenuti and welcome to the Untold Italy podcast. [00:03:08.990] – Danielle Oteri
Hi, Katy. Thanks for having me. [00:03:10.820] – Katy
Oh, it’s so exciting to have you here. Now, Danielle, before I go ahead and ask you all the many, many questions I have about the Cilento coast, could you please let our listeners know something about yourself and your background? [00:03:24.080] – Danielle Oteri
Well, I’m an art historian by training. I live in New York City and I’m the founder of Feast on History tours in the Cilento region. And my background is in that region. My grandmother came from the town of Capaccio, where our tours are based. And I grew up hearing her stories my entire life about this little town. And so when I actually got to go the first time, I think I was about 19 or 20 years old, it was really like walking around in a storybook. And now many, many years later, it still feels that way to me. [00:03:57.680] – Katy
Those family connections are always so strong, aren’t they in Italy? And it’s it’s really amazing way to connect yourself to the country. But where exactly is the Cilento coast? [00:04:10.190] – Danielle Oteri
It’s an area of Italy that even some Italians may not be familiar with, though they might be familiar with some of the landmarks that are there. So Cilento is in the region of Campania. So if you’re saying Cilento in Campania, it’s kind of like you’re referring to the Hudson Valley in New York State, for example. [00:04:28.460] – Danielle Oteri
And it’s just a little bit south of the Amalfi Coast, about an hour and a half from Naples if you’re driving. So if you are going to Cilento, that’s probably where you’re going to fly in. And about 30 minutes south of Salerno. And it encompasses both the coastline and the interior mountains as well, where there’s some very, very beautiful and remote difficult to reach villages. Amazing. [00:04:54.070] – Katy
So you said it’s really close to the Amalfi Coast, does that mean it’s got a spectacular coastline, too? [00:05:00.270] – Danielle Oteri
It really does, but it’s not nearly as built up. So from the place where we are based. My cousins in Italy have a hotel there and that’s where our tours are based. So if you’re standing at the hotel, you’re facing the Tyrrhenian Sea. If you look to your right, you see the Amalfi Coast and the Gulf of Salerno. [00:05:21.330] – Danielle Oteri
And then if you look to your left, it’s the Cilento coast. So it’s really all like the same coastline, except that the Cilento coast is not nearly as built up. And there’s also no cruise ships. It’s a national park. So it’s a much more natural, much more pristine coastline. The water is a lot cleaner. The beaches are a lot cleaner. There’s no splashy hotels and yachts pulling up and celebrities everywhere. But that’s also part of its charm. [00:05:52.450] – Katy
Yeah, it does sound amazing. And I understand that coastline was used as a setting for the Wonderwoman movie [00:06:00.210] – Danielle Oteri
It was! My husband and I were actually watching that movie and I’m staring at the scene where they’re sort of surrounded by all those giant rocks. And I went, wait a minute. I pulled up my phone and I immediately began Googling. I’m like, I know where it is. [00:06:17.370] – Katy
Yeah, well, I think if it’s good enough for Diana Prince, then it’s probably good enough for us. [00:06:21.340] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of an undiscovered gem. I think a lot of Italians have actually really discovering it this year because they’ve been doing most of their traveling inside of Italy for their summer holidays. So I was just speaking with my cousin yesterday and she said that they were filled with Italians all of August, which is not normally the case. So I think other Italians as well are discovering this little piece of paradise. [00:06:50.790] – Katy
Oh, it does sound amazing and you mention that those mountains as well, what mountain ranges are they? [00:06:57.710] – Danielle Oteri
It’s all part of the Cilento National Park. Well, a little bit on the other side, you have the Apennines, the very beginning of them that they it’s also part of an area of Italy called the Val di Diano. It sort of goes into the interior, very rugged region of Basilicata. So on the sort of north east side of Cilento, the inland side of it, it borders, it turns into Basilicata. So similar terrain to Metara, for example. [00:07:27.660] – Danielle Oteri
And it’s an area that, you know, it’s pretty poor. There aren’t that many young people there anymore because there are just so few jobs. But it’s really spectacular for people who are interested in hiking and mountain biking. That’s a very big thing in that area. [00:07:44.570] – Danielle Oteri
It’s filled with these little what they call ghost villages, these places that were thriving little villages and really kind of emptied out when emigration from Italy in the 20s and the 30s really accelerated. And so when you go to some of these little small towns and you tell them that you’re from the United States, they’ll you know, some old lady will say, “Do you know the last name, Rosario? Because my cousin left in nineteen thirty five,” and then she’ll name some very specific town in the New York area. And yeah, you actually know exactly what she’s talking about. [00:08:23.140] – Katy
Oh, I love those connections. It’s so fantastic. And so you’ve got all these natural beauty. So I guess that’s the main thing to do in this area. But I understand is also a lot of history too [00:08:35.910] – Danielle Oteri
The biggest site to see there are the temples at Paestum. So southern Italy was all part of Greece. It was a Greek colony, the Magna Graecia, is what it’s called by historians. And so there was a city founded there called Poseidonia in the 6th century B.C. So Poseidonia being the city of Poseidon. And starting in the sixth century B.C., there were a series of four temples, three of them are still standing. One of them was completely destroyed and sunk into the marsh, though lots of fragments from it have been found. [00:09:10.970] – Danielle Oteri
So these are the three most intact Greek temples in the world. They’re not in Greece. They’re in Italy. But of course, this was Greece. And they… Sort of an unlikely survival. So it was a Greek city that became a Lucanian city. Lucanians were this sort of tribe of people from central Italy, then it became a Roman city and the entire site where all the temples stood became also residential. [00:09:41.620] – Danielle Oteri
The Romans built their homes right on the temple complex and then eventually in the early Middle Ages, the site became abandoned because there were pirates from North Africa who were raiding the coast. And also the area was very malarial. It’s was very marshy and swampy. [00:10:01.600] – Danielle Oteri
And after the people that lived on the temples moved up the hill to the town of Capaccio. It really sort of just sunk into the marsh and was sort of protected by neglect and there was a lot of buffalo that were actually grazed there. Buffalo are naturally immune to malaria. They were actually brought to Italy by the Romans. And so the locals kind of always knew about Paestum. And there were people that were doing some sort of farming and agriculture in that region, but in that area. But it really wasn’t habitable and it was in the seventeen hundreds when they were kind of really rediscovered. [00:10:41.260] – Danielle Oteri
The Bourbon’s sort of brought people from the grand tour down there – writers like Goethe, for example. There were a lot of engravings done of them at that time, but oddly enough, they really came back to life when Mussolini drained the swamp, literally and figuratively. They began a huge project to drain these waters and the temples were revealed again. And, you know, intermittently there’s been archaeological work done there, but they really are the glory of this region today. So a lot of people, if they’re on the Amalfi Coast, will frequently do a day trip to Paestum. And if there’s you know, there are a lot of people who say, I’ve never heard of Cilento. Oh. But I’ve been to Paestum not realizing that that is sort of the first town that you will reach when you come to the area called Cilento. [00:11:33.730] – Katy
And I believe you can actually walk among the temples and get really, really close? [00:11:40.630] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, you’ve always been able to walk all over the temple complex. And, you know, it’s pretty amazing. You have mosaic pieces right underneath your feet. You walk around in the basin of the old swimming pool, you can see the little like holes in the ground, which were the cisterns and the bathrooms of the Roman homes. But about I want to say since two or three years ago now, they have a new museum director who’s done a lot of really wonderful things about making the site accessible, including making it wheelchair accessible. But he did open up two of the temples to people actually walking on them. And it is a thrilling experience. [00:12:19.630] – Danielle Oteri
It really is, because, of course, they’re so massive and you get to stand very close to them normally. But there’s something about walking on them and being inside that just is overwhelming, that they’re just tremendous, tremendous pieces of architecture. And to think about how old they are, is almost incomprehensible. [00:12:38.180] – Katy
Yeah, amazing. I think they are two and a half thousand years old, I think. [00:12:42.200] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, one of them is about three thousand years old. [00:12:44.680] – Katy
Oh, wow. Yeah. I mean, I’ve been to the site at Agrigento and that was amazing. But you can’t actually walk inside the temple. So this must be just, it’s giving me shivers thinking about it actually. [00:12:58.550] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah. And they’re far larger than the ones that Agrigento too. [00:13:03.370] – Katy
Wow, and they are pretty big. [00:13:05.540] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, no, these are and these dwarf those I went last summer, I went to Agrigento right after being at Paestum and I was like, oh, these are tiny. It sounds ridiculous, but yeah, it’s true. [00:13:17.800] – Katy
That’s incredible. Now, I’ve got big, big regrets about not stopping there. But I believe there’s some amazing mosaics in there as well. There’s one that I was reading about, about the Tomb of the Diver? [00:13:33.530] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, the Tomb of the Diver is one of the Lucanian tombs. So the Lucanians are really, I think, a kind of an understudied group of people. And I realized my own roots coming from this area. When I looked at these tombs and there’s these very realistic portraits of people, I’m like, oh, these guys are my ancestors. So there there was a whole series of tombs, a whole necropolis that was excavated in the 1960s. And this this is the area where the Lucanians, the wealthy Lucanians had their tombs. [00:14:07.100] – Danielle Oteri
And so imagine a person being buried in the ground, but then being surrounded by four slabs. So like a coffin that’s much larger than the body itself. And then each of the four slabs painted with different scenes, some depicting passage to the underworld. There’s some, there’s one in particular that’s so beautiful where you see sort of an elder greeting the person who has just died and sort of clasping their hands. And the faces are… They look like Italians that you see walking around the streets of anywhere in Campania today. It’s tremendous. And the tomb of the diver is one of those. And it’s an image of a young man diving, except that he’s not diving into a body of water. He sort of diving into the great unknown. And these tombs are all excavated in the 60s. [00:14:55.400] – Danielle Oteri
There was actually a lot of theft that happened at that time. There are some some of these tombs which are in major museums around the world, which I will not name at the moment, probably should give them back. And … But the museum at Paestum has not been able to integrate them into their regular display. I believe that’s something that they’re planning on. They have them all in storage vaults. But during summer months and during other times of year, when there’s a lot more tourism, they will actually open up the vaults for appointments. And you can go down there and see them. And they are really amazing. And I can’t wait till they’re eventually on more public display because they’re so vivid. You really get a sense of life as it was in the third century B.C. [00:15:45.900] – Katy
It just blows my mind that that has such longevity when we live in such a much more can I say like consumer disposable culture and you just wonder from our life what’s going to be left, you know? Things that last thousands of years [00:16:04.130] – Danielle Oteri
So many things they are going to have to sort through be like what was up with these water bottles? [00:16:11.750] – Katy
I hope they don’t last that long. That would be a tragedy. [00:16:13.530] – Danielle Oteri
You know, they might pull out of Starbucks cups. [00:16:17.930] – Katy
Oh, yeah. But I think, you know, this whole attitude to longevity and long life and just taking a slower pace, it’s it’s really part of the culture there, isn’t it? [00:16:32.750] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, it was actually known for very, very old people. People who lived a very esteemed age and are not just old, but are healthy. And you really see this when you move along the coast. So from Paestum. Capaccio is the town in the mountains, Paestum is the town on the coast. It’s actually like a combined township and that’s kind of your entry into the Cilento. And then as you go deeper, it gets more rural, it gets more traditional. And then so moving along the coast, you go to Agropoli, which is a much more modern town. So it’s where we’re going to go shopping and go out for a good dinner. There’s a Michelin starred restaurant there and then you just keep going. [00:17:13.190] – Danielle Oteri
Castellabate, Pisciotta down to Politnuro and you get to these little tiny fishing villages that are just almost untouched by the modern world, and whenever you drive into one of these towns, you know, a lot of people go there in the summer to go to the beach, you’ll see always a group of older people sitting in the piazza. Very rarely, do you know, very often they don’t even have teeth, maybe because they grew up in an age when they didn’t have a lot of things like dental care when they were children. But you see some lady who looks like she’s in her 80s get up and climb up a hill with so much more agility than I have. [00:17:54.550] – Danielle Oteri
And you see that there are these social connections, you know, people that eat diets that are just pretty much vegetables, olive oil and fish that just have a very, very natural, easy, stress free lifestyle. So there’s sort of a joke in Cilento. They say the password to life in the Cilento is piano piano, which means slowly, slowly. And it’s true. People seem like allergic to stress. I mean, when I show up… I live in Manhattan. With me it takes me a while to calm down, especially because I’m usually coming through from Naples. And Naples is a crazy city like New York is. So it always takes me a few days to sort of drop my energy down to the local rhythm. [00:18:37.150] – Danielle Oteri
And when I do, I’m like, oh, this is how you live to be a ripe old age. Not the way I’m doing it normally. But, you know, if you show up in your sort of frenetic and full of energy, they will just look at you in a way that is it’s not condescending, but it’s kind of like calm down and you do. And it works. And, you know, it’s sort of soothing. And it’s a very, very unique life, I think, you know, even again, northern Italians will come and see this as a curiosity because life in Milan or Bologna is also very busy and frenetic. [00:19:10.080] – Danielle Oteri
And there have been researchers working in Cilento specifically in 2017, I believe a group of researchers from Sweden who had conducted a long study where they actually swapped out a group of Swedes with a group of people from Cilento and put them in the opposite places to see if this had an effect on their health. They also have been studying a particular kind of rosemary that grows wild there, that people put on a lot of their food and they suspect that there’s something in the oil of this, Rosemary, that might have something to do with longevity. [00:19:45.540] – Danielle Oteri
But really, they also think there’s something in their gut biome that is much better off at warding, that’s much better warding off disease. There’s a lot of scientific stuff which I’ve read and I’m not a scientist, so I don’t fully understand it. But having spent enough time there, I’m going to say it’s because these people just reject stress in all of its form and staying calm is such a virtue to them. [00:20:12.120] – Katy
Yeah, I mean, I can sign up to sitting in the piazza in the sun for days, weeks, even.. It sounds amazing to me. [00:20:20.170] – Danielle Oteri
Right. Yeah. And you know, it makes sense because my grandmother was like that. She was she really saw stress, especially stress around the time of eating to just be like, you can’t do that. You know, she treated it like it was dangerous. And maybe I just thought it was part of her personality, like a quirk or something when I was growing up. But then after spending time there, I was like, oh, everybody’s like this. It’s … You know, you really put strong boundaries around your time with your friends, around your meal times, and you don’t let other things upset you. [00:20:53.160] – Katy
Yeah, amazing. So I bet the food is extremely delicious then. [00:21:00.430] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, it really is. And I would say to people that are going to the Amalfi Coast, I mean, yeah, the Amalfi Coast is beautiful and you want to take that ferry and maybe you want to go to a fancy restaurant, Positano. But the food in Cilento is like one hundred times better and a quarter of the cost. So you have lots of really fresh fish, of course, amazing vegetables. A lot of vegetables that are exported throughout the rest of Italy are grown in Cilento. And you’ll see as you drive, there’s just fields of agricultural production, everything, tomatoes, Kiwis actually is one of the very big things that’s produced in the Cilento. [00:21:34.830] – Danielle Oteri
The thing that it is most famous for, though, is buffalo mozzarella. So I had mentioned before the Buffalo have been in the area since Roman times because they are naturally immune to malaria. They used to be used to like work animals and they produce milk, which has like three times the fat of cows milk. And actually, if you’re lactose intolerant as I am, you can eat this cheese with impunity. So, yeah, it’s really it doesn’t bother the stomach of someone who’s lactose intolerant at all. It’s a different kasein, a different protein. I don’t know whatever the science is, I just accept it and just eat it. [00:22:15.900] Yeah, exactly. And like you said, it’s OK, great. I’m in. But yeah, there’s dairy buffalo mozzarella production in the Caserta area, which is closer to Naples. But the DOP from Chileno is really considered to be the very best buffalo mozzarella in Italy. And one of the attractions that tourists might know actually. The other thing it’s most famous, second only to the temples of Paestum is one particular place called Tenuta Vannulo. And it is a farm that is dedicated to the highest standards of animal welfare and is incredibly particular about the mozzarella. So what that means is they play Mozart for the Buffalo. They have massaging machines for them. They have these very, very fancy milking machines from Germany that allow the buffalo to milk themselves when they’re ready. So once again, no stress result is the buffalo just produces really exquisite milk and it’s this very, very rich cheese. [00:23:20.850] – Danielle Oteri
At Tenuta Vannulo, well, they allow tourists to come in for a tour of the facility and a tasting. And they have a lovely, lovely little restaurant. And they’re so particular about their product that they won’t ship it. They won’t even deliver it to a home or a restaurant in the area. You have to call in the morning. [00:23:37.260] – Danielle Oteri
So I’m going to pick it up, pick it up by ten o’clock. It’s all going to be gone. And they feel that soon as it leaves the property, it’s already degrading. You’re not supposed to refrigerate it. You’re supposed to eat it as fresh as possible. So, you know, you can get buffalo mozzarella that’s exported around the world. But when you try the stuff there, it’s a totally different thing. [00:23:57.750] – Katy
Yeah, I had this when I was in Naples. We did a food tour with my friend and I was tasting this buffalo mozzarella and we’re going I think I’ve changed my life. My life has changed. Our guide was like, “No, you need to go and try it straight from the farm”. So he might have been talking about this particular farm. [00:24:19.110] – Danielle Oteri
He probably was, yeah. They opened up in 1988, so they’ve been around for a while, but they really started to attract tourism in a big way in maybe the past ten years. So you know, a lot of times now if a tour group is stopping at Paestum, they might make a stop at Tenuta Vannulo for a tasting of the mozzarella. It’s a really fun place. And, you know, it’s interesting, too, because there have been here in the United States various attempts to bring Italian Buffalo to California, to Vermont, all these places that produce excellent dairy and try to start buffalo mozzarella production here. And it has mostly been unsuccessful because when buffaloes are stressed, they won’t give milk. And even though they’ve had like the buffalo actually like give birth and have babies raised in California and Vermont, none of them have been able to still produce enough milk to make this a viable industry. So there’s something about Cilento [00:25:18.720] – Katy
They just want to go back to Cilento those buffalo here. But I just think isn’t there something amazing that you can and I think this is a wonderful thing about travel, that you can’t recreate those moments and you have to go there and you have to experience it. And it might only last an hour, but you’re going to be talking about it for a really long time, probably. [00:25:44.940] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah. And that’s the kind of place where, you know, there are some nicer hotels, especially along the beach. But if you’re the kind of person and there’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re the kind of person who wants what you want at like 3:00 a.m., stay in Rome, stay in Naples, get room service, stay at the Four Seasons. But if you are the kind of person who is, like, open to somebody inviting you into their house randomly, even though they don’t speak English and you don’t speak Italian, then that’s then this is the place where you want to be. And you have people that are very, very hospitable and do things in a very, very elegant way. But in a simple way. They’re not about flash. [00:26:23.670] – Danielle Oteri
They’re not about, you know, luxury per se and they’re very what’s the word? I’m going to say they’re very orthodox in that like this is the way we do it here. And so when they’re sharing it with you, it’s not to say, well, we don’t care about anything else. This is the way we do it here. Instead, it’s look at how we do this. We want to share it with you. And so, you know, I’ve had the experience bringing guests there where there were some people that were like, I’m tired of eating vegetables. I want to eat a steak. Yeah, well, I mean, I’m sure we could find one in Capuccio, but like, that’s not why you come here. But if you’re really open to the experience, it’s amazing. I mean, we’ve had several tours where we’ve had people just invite us into their homes and we wind up having a glass of wine on their roof late at night. And, you know, and like, nobody can speak the same language, but everybody is somehow getting along and laughing. That’s the kind of place it is. [00:27:19.230] – Katy
It sounds magical. Now tell me about this mozzarella. What do you eat it with? Just eat it. But so could you have it with tomatoes? What’s the what’s the way to go? [00:27:30.110] – Danielle Oteri
I think the Caprese salad is pretty standard when you have it at Tenuta Vannulo. If you go to the restaurant for lunch, they start you off with a plate that’s got a regular hunk of mozzarella, a little ball of it, really a smoked ball of mozzarella and then usually some buffalo ricotta. I’m actually a huge fan of the ricotta. So delicious, so rich. Like I said, the fat content is way higher than cow’s milk. They also make gelato with it, which is really extraordinary. But, yeah, they really just… It’s simple presentations. There might be a leaf of basil on there, of course, a little drizzle of olive oil. And then from there they’ll move through the dinner or the lunch, giving you usually just vegetables. The idea being that the cheese has so much fat that that’s enough sort of fat and protein for your meal. But you really just appreciate whatever that one single ingredient is. [00:28:21.480] – Danielle Oteri
I always remember one of the first times I went, my cousin served me an artichoke heart and it was just like the most incredible thing. And I kept asking him what? Like what? What is going on with this thing? He’s just looking at me like nothing. Some salt, some olive oil. It’s simple. I mean, that’s kind of that’s kind of the the idea, you know, it’s a good area for people that might have dietary restrictions. Actually, people are very sensitive to people feeling included during your meals. But because the food is so clean, they don’t have and have problems. [00:28:58.630] – Danielle Oteri
We had a guest on a tour last year who is gluten free and she doesn’t have celiac disease, but she does get all sorts of like rash reactions on her skin when she has gluten. She is actually able to eat pasta and pizza just fine there because it’s all milled locally, grown in the national park where there are no pesticides. And she was fine. And then she went back to Naples and tested it and had a pizza and she broke out in a rash. So it’s a really clean environment is so healthy, naturally organic. [00:29:30.790] – Katy
They’ve been growing organic foods centuries. [00:29:34.030] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah. And I always say, you know, Venice is the canals and Rome has the Colosseum. But Cilento has Italy’s healthiest food. [00:29:42.190] – Katy
It does yummy. And there’s probably a lot of fish there too. [00:29:46.650] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah. Along the coast, anchovies are another thing that are fairly famous. I think Cetara on the coast gets a lot of fame for it, but a lot of the even the Cetara anchovies in the shops on the Amalfi Coast, I should say, that sell anchovies. A lot of them actually come from Cilento. There’s a town called Pisciotta where the anchovy fishermen go out with these special nets that they’ve been using since antiquity. This is where the netting is actually spaced so that it only catches anchovies and it doesn’t harm any of the other fish. And in the summer, you can actually book this kind of tour where you go out on a boat that’s sort of sailing adjacent to the fishermen and you can watch them working with the nets and then you go back to the beach and then the fishermen come in a little bit later. There’s sort of a delay in between. But then they basically do like a big fish fry on the beach with all of those anchovies. And, you know, all these people say, oh, I don’t like anchovies. But they’ve never had them fresh like this before, and it’s so much fun. And it goes on to like 3:00 in the morning. [00:30:49.990] – Katy
Of course it does. And then they sleep till 3:00 in the afternoon. I love this lifestyle, but it’s definitely for me. [00:30:56.710] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, well, they actually still get up early, but then they have that big midday nap to make up for it [00:31:03.070] – Katy
even better. [00:31:04.390] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah. And they still do that in this area. I mean, in so many places in Italy, you know, it’s the modern world. Everybody’s working a lot. But if you go to these smaller towns between 12 and four, you would think they were abandoned. I mean, nobody nobody is out. [00:31:22.690] – Katy
Well, if this is what it takes to live to be 100, I think I can sign up for that, definitely. Four hour nap, party till three o’clock in the morning, eating lots of delicious fish. Do they have eggplant there, too? Because I’m I love a bit of mighty eggplant as our friend, mutual friend Karen calls it. [00:31:42.400] – Danielle Oteri
Oh, yeah, yeah. Zucchini, eggplant. I mean, the summer, August especially. Yeah, eggplant is everywhere. It’s very heavy on vegetables. And actually the most important thing about the food there, this is the actual origin point of the official Mediterranean diet. So we know that term, we know it sort of is applied to, I think, you know, Greek food. It’s the one diet that always comes out in scientific studies is the one that’s actually healthy and not a fad diet. But it originated in Cilento. So there was an American physiologist named Ansel Keys who was living in a little town called Pioppi, and he was noticing the extraordinary long life of all the people that were in this town and began his official, what was called the five countries study and his actual methodology and science has been sort of debunked, so to speak. But the tenets of what he observed and wrote about were really accurate. I think the reason his work was sort of turned around was that he kind of inspired the, like, no fat, low fat movement, like all the snack wells that people eat in the nineties thinking, well, I can eat plenty of sugar as long as it doesn’t have fat. That sort of had its origins somewhere in this original diet. [00:33:00.130] – Danielle Oteri
But his point really was, is that the fat in the diet was coming from things like olive oil, but there was very little meat in the diet of people in Cilento and they really mostly eat vegetables and a lot of bitter greens in particular. And this being one of the sort of real foundation points of the Mediterranean diet. So people in Cilento are enormously proud that this all began here. And in the town of Pioppi, there is a little museum of the Mediterranean diet and there is actually a woman who was Ansel Keys’ housekeeper in the fifties. So she was a very young woman in the fifties. She’s a very old woman now. She still has a restaurant there, and she cooks the dishes that she made for Dr. Keys back then. [00:33:46.900] – Katy
Amazing. Amazing. I love these stories. It’s so cool. So, look, it’s all these lives outdoors, lifestyle, healthy eating. But you’re an art historian. Are there any of the more cultural experiences to be had around Cilento. [00:34:03.200] – Danielle Oteri
You just go into these little towns like Capaccio the town my grandmother is from and you know, it’s very now it’s a very humble town, but it was a very wealthy one in the seventeen hundreds. And so there’s lots of these old Palazzi. And so as an art historian, it’s especially fun to go into these old homes. We had the privilege of somebody who had just renovated a home inviting us in and their family member was an architect. They had done a really beautiful job and they were showing us all these things that they found during the renovation. There had been a chapel in the house. All the wealthy homes at that time had some sort of a church or a chapel inside. And these statues of the Virgin Mary that they had found that it just kind of like been thrown in a closet. So there’s a there’s a lot of like what I call feral art all around Cilento. Lots of beautiful little churches, especially. [00:34:54.900] – Danielle Oteri
Again, if you if you go to these little ghost villages up in the mountains, there is another big Carthusian monastery, I believe I might be misstating which order of monks this is, but it’s the largest monastery in Europe. It’s called San Lorenzo di Padula. It’s a Charterhouse and that is tremendous. And then, you know, just beyond Cilento, but close by, you’re driving close, driving distance to Pompeii, to Herculaneum, to the royal palace at Caserta. And then Salerno actually has a lot of really interesting medieval art, medieval art. Late Medieval early Renaissance is my specialty. So there’s a cathedral there. There’s a series called the Salerno Ivories that are there. And a lot of these things are not, you know, so famous to people who have a casual interest in art history. [00:35:46.980] – Danielle Oteri
But for those who study Italian art, there’s a lot of stuff that you get to have really close contact with, you know, that are not that’s not locked away in a museum, that you don’t have to pay a lot of money to go see or wait on online to see that you can just walk in and it’s you and the art. [00:36:00.790] – Katy
Hmm. I love those kind of experiences. And you feel like you may have only discovered them yourself and you feel kind of special when you go to them, you just go, wow. [00:36:13.380] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah. And it’s interesting, you know, people have a sense of proprietorship around these works of art because they and they are pieces of their heritage. So, you know, when I went to Villa Oplontis, for example, which is a villa that was near the main city of Pompeii, sort of like a big wealthy person’s villa that was also destroyed during the Pompeii destruction of 79 nine A.D. And it was like me and one other British couple that were there who were personal friends with Jeremy Corbyn and gave me all sorts of gossip. [00:36:48.780] – Danielle Oteri
It was actually pretty cool. The guys who were like the museum, like the not the museum attendance, like the attendance of the archaeological site, which was just a bunch of older men from the town. They were telling me about the site because there wasn’t a lot of signage or, you know, there was no audio guide or anything. And they were like explaining it as though they were telling me about their grandparents. And I think that’s a really special thing about looking at art in southern Italy is that it’s very personal to people. Whereas here in the United States, we are lucky to have some of the best works of art in the world because the wealthiest people in the world lived here in the early nineteen hundreds. And we’re collecting things from Europe at a time when you could just sort of buy stuff and bring it to another country, which you can’t do now. And that’s a good thing. But it’s so disconnected from the place. And so to see something in the place that it’s from and being told the story from people who consider it part of their personal ancestry has a totally different resonance. [00:37:52.100] – Katy
Mm. It really does. And I think … are there are many people making their own art there now? Are there artisans that are creating their own artwork? I know there’s a lot of pottery around there. [00:38:05.270] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah. That’s a little bit more on the Amalfi Coast. Very close by though. Vietri sul Mare is very close like 30 minutes away from where we stay at the at the beginning of the Cilento. So there are a lot of really interesting artists that are part of a space in Paestum called Spazzia Paestum. So they’ve opened essentially kind of a quasi art gallery and store right near the archaeological site. So there’s gift shops and a couple little restaurants that you can visit after looking at the temples. And then they have this one gallery and they usually will have artists work on a different theme. And it’s not just fine artists, it’s like industrial designer. So it was an industrial designer that designed this beautiful little ceramic buffalo. So things that are symbolic of the area that are representative of the area and they’ll give it to people to interpret and really contemporary way. I mean, I feel like everybody in Italy is an artist. I look at the graphic design of the map at Paestum or like some bottle of olive oil that, you know, is from just like a little family farm. And the graphic design is so gorgeous. I mean, you would think that some very, very luxury firm had created it. And, you know, like, no, Pasquale’s brother did it. [00:39:23.640] – Katy
I love it. I love it. Just the connection back to what’s there, the family and the land and all of the things around. Now, if we were wanting to spend some time there. And we weren’t going on one of your tours. Though it sounds like that will be a very good idea. Would you need a car to get around? [00:39:44.010] – Danielle Oteri
You do. And that really is the case for most of southern Italy. Paestum, as a beach town does… There is a train that stops at Paestum. And so that’s why actually a lot of people from Naples and from Rome do take their holidays there, because you can just kind of stay there on the beach. But that’s really, you know, for people that are just looking to get out of the city and go sit on the beach. If you really want to explore the area, you need a car. [00:40:06.720] – Danielle Oteri
There’s no traffic in the area. So if you’re nervous about driving, it’s not a problem. It does get a little tricky if you decide to go visit the ghost villages because some of those mountain towns are really, really remote. I’m not a huge fan of driving on those mountain roads. They’re not so well paved in many places. But if you stick to the coastline, then it’s fine. It’s a little windy, but it’s nothing like a terrifying road along the Amalfi Coast. And again, there’s no traffic. So if you’re confused, you know, you can go slow as you need to. There’s no problem. [00:40:41.790] – Katy
So, can you pick up a rental at Salerno or even Paestum? [00:40:46.380] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, I think actually right in Paestum, you can get them. I think a lot of people will tend to get them in Naples because that’s often where they’ll fly into or Salerno. Yeah, I mean, there’s, you know, the regular Hertz and the major rental companies are all accessible in that area. [00:41:03.250] – Katy
Yeah, sure. I have good experience at Naples Airport with a rental car company, but I’ll tell you about that one later. And so what’s the best time of year to go? It sounds like summer might be pretty nice, but are the shoulder seasons also really lovely? [00:41:22.470] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, I definitely recommend going in the spring or the fall, especially the fall because it’s harvest. And so you’ve also got the addition of wine. There’s a lot of beautiful Cilento wine. And in a similar way to the food, it’s a lot of sort of small family farms, people that do things in a very, very traditional way. And because the real estate is very inexpensive in Cilento, the wine tastes way more expensive than it actually is. I mean, so much wine costs, what it costs because of the real estate that it’s grown on. This is why, you know, Napa Valley or Sonoma wine in California is so much more expensive than some French or Italian labels. It’s because of the property taxes. So Cilento has a lot of great stuff in the fall. It is the best time because you can go visit these vineyards and even watch the crush going on. And of course, everybody has a tasting room that you can visit. [00:42:12.030] – Danielle Oteri
And in the summer, you know, August is the month when they’re the busiest. So that’s where you’re going to get people from the rest of Italy. There’s also a lot of tourists that come from London and from Belgium in particular. A lot of people who are interested in hiking and biking from Belgium come to Cilento and the Netherlands as well. [00:42:32.490] – Danielle Oteri
So it’s it’s fun because you know, there’s beach parties going on. There’s the Ferragosto celebrations. But that’s not when you’re going to have sort of like the most attentive service and wind up getting invited into somebody’s home because everybody’s busy. Everybody’s working and everybody’s enlisting. If they’re working in hospitality in any regard, they’ve enlisted every member of their family to come help. [00:42:56.760] – Katy
But if you go in the spring or the fall, you really get more of the experience of interaction with the locals. [00:43:04.470] I think the fall is always my favorite time to go actually. I just I love that that feeling of harvest. And it’s a bit of celebration as well. And the weather is usually really good too. [00:43:15.330] – Danielle Oteri
So it’s still warm. Yeah, they will joke. I usually see on Facebook, usually around early October, somebody will post a meme that says, oh, it’s August the fifty third because it does stay warm there longer, which is good because most of the folks there are working in hospitality in some way. So they don’t really get a chance to enjoy the summer themselves, but they can still go to the beach well into October. So it’s an advantage for them. [00:43:42.270] – Katy
And are there ferries that go up and down that coastline, or is it more up towards the Amalfi Coast? [00:43:47.070] – Danielle Oteri
There is now a ferry from the the city of Acropoli. When I say city, it’s a very small city. So, yeah, you can go from Agropoli to, I think most points on the Amalfi Coast. Usually when we do it, we’ll go into Salerno and then there’s a ferry that stops at every single town on the coast and then goes out to Capri, or you can go into Naples by boat that way. [00:44:10.200] – Danielle Oteri
But out there and there’s also lots of, because it’s a fishing area, too, there’s lots of sort of private boat rentals. So you can pay a local fisherman basically what seems to be a very reasonable amount of money for a private boat ride all along a very pristine coastline. [00:44:30.670] – Katy
Oh, that’s my idea of heaven actually, I love a love boat ride. My husband’s actually a sailor, but he likes ocean racing. So it’s not fair because I say, come on, let’s go rent a boat and you can do all the work and I can lounge on the deck. No. So we have to hire someone. Yeah. Oh, that sounds magical. I really like the the sound of that, but definitely I’ve got massive, massive regrets now about not stopping there longer. [00:45:01.380] – Katy
You mentioned that it takes a little while to settle into the lifestyle. That is. how long would you recommend staying in that area just to really, really appreciate it the most? [00:45:12.060] – Danielle Oteri
I think five days is really ideal because, yeah, you get to settle in. You can explore some, you know, get some beach time in. My favorite beach is a town called Santa Maria Castellabate. Castellabate the medieval village, which is just above the beach, is on that list of Italy’s most beautiful villages, that it really is a special place. And then the beach town is absolutely gorgeous. So, yeah, you want some time for the beach? You want some time to go to Paestum, you one time to go explore the mountains. There’s an amazing zip line in the area, which I highly, highly recommend. And what’s great about Cilento is that you are close to major cities. So, you know, for for people who are traveling and wanting to make the most of their visit, you know, you can fly into Rome and, you know, do the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel and all of that and then take the train or fly down in Naples and then have this really wonderful sort of off the beaten path, authentic experience with all the great food and the wine. [00:46:18.150] – Danielle Oteri
So, you know, other parts of Italy, even though they’re beautiful, like Calabria or even going to Sicily, might require more time. But Cilento is really close. And even if you want to drive from Rome or from Naples, it’s like from Rome, it’s about three hours. So it’s good in that it allows you to do both like the touristy stuff that you want to do because you’re in Italy and then also put in the off the beaten path part. [00:46:42.310] – Katy
Yeah, I really love this combination idea. I think that it’s going to become more and more popular as well when we can travel again, which hopefully that’s very soon. But yes, I think definitely being able to access these beautiful, slower pace of life as well as those top sites that people want to see, I think combining those two is is an excellent idea that I would certainly be taking more advantage of actually myself and building that into my plans. [00:47:10.290] – Danielle Oteri
Yeah, I think everybody is is discovering, you know, more natural tourism right now. I mean, I know here in New York we’re very restricted in everything right now. Our restaurants aren’t even yet open for indoor dining. And so people have been going swimming. They’ve been going up to the mountains in the Hudson Valley. They’ve been going to the beaches of Long Island and New Jersey, much more so than ever before. And I think that’s a travel trend that will continue even as people are able to travel in Europe. Again, I think they’re still going to feel much more comfortable being in a place with lots of space, even in a hotel. [00:47:44.250] – Danielle Oteri
You know, there’s lots of these agriturismo properties in Cilento where even if there’s other guests there you know, you’re very well spaced and where you’re not going to be worried about being in crowded situations. I mean, I’m sure people will crowd into the Sistine Chapel again. I have no doubt that will happen. But I don’t know that anybody’s going to want to do that in the next two or three years. [00:48:04.950] – Katy
Yeah, possibly not. Possibly not. Now, I have one last question for you, Danielle, about the Cilento coast, and that is, what is the one place where you go to and you haven’t been there for a while now and the one place that you go back to that you know, you’re back and it’s very special to you [00:48:23.730] – Danielle Oteri
That’s just going into the town of Capaccio and, you know, being my grandmother was there and this town was my storybook. It’s like my heart. And soon as I arrive there, I mean, I just have such a feeling of, you know, home. And it’s funny because I know I’m not from there, and yet I know the town historian who’s always sitting in the piazza, like, I can rely on him to be there. And as soon as I pull up into town or I walk into town, usually “Ah ciao bella! Americana. I offer you a coffee,” and it’s just like I’ve always been there. [00:49:02.630] – Katy
Oh, it does sound like a really, really wonderful place and one that we all hope to get to very, very soon. Now, I do have huge regrets, huge regrets about not spending more time there. And we sort of just zipped through. But, Danielle, how can our listeners stay in touch with you and learn more about the Cilento coast and that amazing food and buffalo mozzarella? [00:49:24.390] – Danielle Oteri
My website is Feast on History dot com, and we have moved all of our programming online this year. So we have wine classes, we have cooking classes that are filmed in Italy and we have my art history tours brought online. And I’m actually bringing in some of the guides that I work with in Cilento to be online with us and to share what we’re doing with the world. [00:49:46.710] So, you know, this is something that we adapted to because of covid, but it really it made us realize that we could actually share this with people from all over the world because it costs a tiny amount compared to actual travel. And so, yeah, feast on history, food and wine school online is the way you can engage with all of this stuff now. And then hopefully we can all travel again soon and we can help you with that as well. [00:50:11.900] – Katy
Oh, wonderful. That’s so exciting. I can’t wait to have a look at another around that. It’s something as I’ve recorded this podcast over the last few months, just even just talking about Italy and all the places you can go, it does actually bring me a big sense of calm. So I think trying these online experiences can just transport you to another place, just even for a moment until we can all get back on the road and travel again. So grazie. Danielle, thank you for joining us. I really feel like I can smell those Tyrrhenian sea breezes and almost had a little vacation on the coast myself. [00:50:48.120] – Danielle Oteri
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. [00:50:50.640] – Katy
Oh, my goodness. Now, those itinerary ideas I’ve been working on have another destination to deal with. Hello Cilento coast. I absolutely must check out those buffalo. My mind is boggling that the cheese can taste even better than the one I tried in Naples. Now you can easily get directly to Salerno, which is at the end of the Amalfi Coast and the start of the Cilento coast from Rome in about two hours by train. This is actually way easier in some respects than going to Positano or even Sorento because you do have to do a transfer or two in those cases. [00:51:25.590] – Katy
So the Cilento coast makes a great option. If you want to escape the Amalfi Coast crowds or you’re looking for a more budget friendly destination with similar scenery and experiences. And I even heard that you can see Capri glistening in the distance from the property where Danielle’s cooking classes take place. Make sure to drop by Danielle’s website Feast on History for all the details of that experience. Plus, the online food and wine school. All the details are in the episode show notes at Untold Italy dot com forward slash thirty eight. [00:51:55.770] – Katy
Or you can also reach them via your podcast app. Now that’s all for this week. Grazie, thanks so much for listening and I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did find it useful, we would be so grateful if you could share our podcast or leave a rating or review. This helps us reach more people and help them plan their own memorable trips to Italy. Grazie. And now I’m going to close off and dream about buffalo mozzarella. Honestly, it can be life changing. Ciao for now.



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