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Cilento: Discovering the Undiscovered

by Celia Abernethy from Italy Travel More


Blue waters shine in the distance and the bright, sandy beach traces a long line down the shore. I’m standing in the square of the mideveal town of Castellabate overlooking the Cilento coast, one of Italy’s closely kept secrets. My husband and I have just returned from exploring Cilento in the region of Campania and the province of Salerno. We were guests at Il Rifugio in Agropoli managed by The Pinelli Estate; a private villa with an infinity pool overlooking Cilento Wine Country. Here’s a quick round-up of what I discovered. Soon, I will be updating the site with more information on Cilento tourism and the Campania Region.

The Garden of Italy

Acquasale con mozzarella –

yesterday’s bread dipped in salty water served with buffalo mozzarella, oregano and basil leaf
Known as the “Garden of Italy” for its rich agriculture, Cilento boasts the largest tomato crops in Italy and the dairy farms produce the highest quality milks, creams and cheeses; in particular mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella cheese made with buffalo milk). Olive trees, hot pepper and wine grapes also grow abundantly here. The food is absolutely amazing and fresh. The Cilento National Park and the Diano Valley are UNESCO world heritage sites.

Campania is More than the Amalfi Coast

Santa Maria di Castellabate

Just steps away from Amalfi, Positano, and Sorrento the towns of Agropoli, Palinuro, Santa Maria di Castellabate and Acciaroli are gaining recognition. In 1953, John Steinbeck wrote about Positano “…a dream place that does not seem really real when you are there, but that is real and tempting once you have left.” Since then, Amalfi has been the prima ballerina and Cilento has hidden her beauty from the limelight.
Like many parts of Italy, the spotlight has shifted and travelers are looking at unexplored areas. In Cilento, you can avoid the congestion and crowds and live an authentic Italy travel experience. The Agropoli harbor hosts both fishing vessels and luxury yachts. Palinuro was used as a set in the Hollywood blockbuster Wonder Woman. Santa Maria di Castellabate is a charming little beach town with a castle and Acciaroli was where Ernest Hemmingway spent long retreats sipping grappa with the locals.

Private Hideaway

Agropoli Beach promenade

Undiscovered by most travelers, Cilento is the perfect getaway for privacy and intimacy. An endless stretch of velvety sand facing westward offers relaxing days of pleasure and stunning sunsets. Beaches proudly display their blue flags awarded for environmental excellence. Rent a yacht at the Agropoli Marina or have a romantic dinner at one of the quality restaurants along the strip. The long beachside promenades are perfect for long, hand-holding walks.

Ancient History

The Temple of Athena and the Temple of Neptune in the Archeological Park of Paestum


Campania is rich with history, culture and tradition. Naples and its ancient underground city, Mt. Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Villa Caserta are all a short distance from the coast. The Temple of Athena and the Temple of Neptune in the Archeological Park of Paestum are the largest ancient Greek ruins outside of Greece.

Where to stay:
Il Rifugio
Agropoli, Italy

Il Rifugio is an antique farmhouse with designer interiors and an infinity pool overlooking Cilento

We were guests at Il Rifugio in Agropoli. Il Rifugio is an antique, refurbished farmhouse overlooking the hills of Cilento Wine Country. Managed by The Pinelli Estate, who welcome guests to the villa rental with your choice of full butler service or self-catering. And guess what – it comes with a yacht! (No joke!)

The Pinelli Yacht, a Rizzardi motor yacht comes with the villa
See Il Rifugio and other accommodation on

How to get to the Cilento area

By Plane

Fly to Naples international airport (then private or public transportation.)
Airlines that fly to Naples are: Alitalia, Easyjet, Volotea, Ryanair, Air Italia, Blue Air, Eurowings, Transavia,, Brussels Airlines, Finnair, Lufthansa, Vueling, Swiss, Air Cairo, Wizzair
Fly to Salerno-Amalfi Airport (then private or public transportation.)
Airlines that fly to Salerno are Alitalia, AirDolomiti, Carpatair, Danube Wings, Air Alps, Air Vallee, Medavia

There is an airport train to/from Napoli Centrale station

By Car

The best way to get to the smaller towns of Cilento is to drive. We flew into Naples airport and rented a car from Europcar and then drove to Agrolpoli-Castellabate, which was about 1 hour and 40 minutes. (From Salerno airport it is about a 45-minute drive.)
If you book a taxi, it may cost you more or less €165, about the same as a rental car.
If you are staying at Il Rifugio or in other quality accommodation, they can arrange transportation for you.

Insider tip:

If you drive from Naples airport, leave time to stop at Herculaneum, the ancient city below Mt. Vesuvius which suffered the same fate as Pompeii. Pompeii and Paestum are also along the route.

By Train

Stazione Napoli Centrale – Naples has a large central station and can be easily reached by Milan, Rome, Florence, Bari and all major cities in Italy.
From the Naples airport, there is a 15-minute airport train to the Napoli Centrale Station and costs €5 (one-way).

To arrive at your coastal town, you will then have to get a local train.
From Napoli Centrale Station the train to Agropoli-Castellabate takes about 1 hour 20 minutes and costs €7.80 (one-way).


Article and photos: Celia Abernethy
Photos of Il Rifugio: courtesy of The Pinelli Estate

BBC's Andy Mossack reviews Agropoli and the surrounding area of the Cilento coast, home to 'The Pinelli'

For those in the know, the Cilento coast in Campania  is by far the preferred option to Amalfi. Same dramatic coastline but far less tourist traffic. Andy Mossack stays at the luxurious Pinelli Estate to explore what it and the Cilento have to offer.

There is something immensely satisfying about sitting out on a lofty terrace with a glass of local vino rossolistening to nothing save the occasional bleat of a distant goat. I can’t lie, in my head, I’m saying “this is the life.”

And it most definitely is.

The princely Pinelli Estate is the brainchild of Englishman Nigel Carley and his partner Dawn who, after over three years of traipsing around Italy searching for somewhere to build an investment property, discovered the Cilento purely by chance. Wind forward two years and a long-neglected 18 acres of farm property that had been handed down over ten generations is now home to a quite magnificent four bedroom luxury villa surrounded by olive trees and grape vines.

The villa, Il Rifugio, the once-abandoned farmhouse on the estate, has been a renovation labour of love and it shows. From the four individually styled guest rooms to the cinema room, dining room, kitchen and terrace, there is rustic character oozing from every pore. And no wonder, its history dates back to the 18th century, the exposed wooden beams and stonework revelling in their born-again Sunday best.

I swear I can almost feel the old place smiling.

The Pinelli Estate is discreetly tucked away on one of the Cilento’s numerous mountain tops high above Agropoli, the largest town on the Cilentan coast. It’s just a 90-minute drive from Naples, and I remember waving on the A3 at the turnoff to Amalfi’s clogged coast road as I sped past on my way to Cilento.

Even after you manage to find the small concealed entrance, there’s a narrow driveway to negotiate before Il Rifugio coyly reveals herself. For me, it all adds to the exclusivity of the villa’s retreat status. After a swift run through of the facilities by concierge Max, (who insists “he is available 24/7 for anything I need”) I’m left to explore the villa and relax a little after the early start out from the UK.

The terrace and infinity pool are the stars of the show for me; large wide terrace with a sizeable table in the shade for eating outdoors and gazing out at the view; a spectacular spread of mountains and pastures and just a hint of the Med over to the right. There’s a Jacuzzi on one side and a gas barbecue on the other. The kitchen is state of the art but somehow manages to hold hands beautifully with the rustic character of the villa as does the dining room, with a table big enough to seat eight comfortably. The cinema room is effectively a cosy lounge with a projector and a Netflix membership (a takeaway pizza from Bar Ideal up in Ogliastro the local village and you’re all set).

Upstairs, my room is dominated by a large queen bed dressed in crisp high thread linen. A fluffy robe lies patiently atop it. There’s an Ipad sitting in a wall cradle and a Sonos system loaded up with a Spotify membership.  A set of double doors leads to a snug but cleverly constructed wetroom with a walk in shower, high-end toilet and sink.

I catch that view again from my bedroom window and thoughts of hopeful sunsets come tumbling into my head.


Back downstairs there’s another surprise. Included in my stay, a fully crewed motor yacht is available for me to use from Agropoli harbour. Wait a minute. An exclusive villa and now a motor yacht to poodle around the Med. My millionaire lifestyle circle is complete. There are 50 nautical miles included for all guests, which might just be enough to get you to Amalfi and back. You can, of course, invest in more miles if you want to pay for them!

Nigel and Dawn have compiled a list of their favourite tried and tested restaurants including family-owned La Civetta, practically on the doorstep. Momma Donna can also be tempted I’m told, to pop down to the villa and work her culinary magic from La Civetta in a private dinner.


As the days and nights pass, I find the peaceful solitude and welcoming embrace of Il Rifugio the perfect contrast to a day out exploring the Cilento.

Exploring the Cilento.

From the Pinelli Estate it takes just a few minutes to drive down into Agropoli and begin exploring a region where international tourism has inexplicably passed it by. Agropoli’s fine old town with its cobbled streets and ancient castle battlements is a must visit. This is the home of Buffalo Mozzarella and there are plenty dairy farms you can visit and witness the cheese being made. I visit Vannulo just a few minutes past Agropoli, one of the oldest farms in the region and certainly the first to produce organic buffalo mozzarella.

It’s produced by hand each day after the 600 strong herd has been milked. And this is no ordinary dairy, by the way, these buffalo take themselves to be milked, walking unaided into a special pen where a milking robot takes care of business. Then they stroll out and wander around their enclosure stopping for an automated back massage or a shower before being serenaded by the music of Mozart. Clearly, buffalo prefer Austrian composers to Italian!


There are regular daily tours around the farm and an excellent restaurant using vegetables and herbs from their own garden plus, of course, plenty of that fresh mozzarella.

Just a few minutes from here, at Paestum, you’ll find the best preserved ancient Greek temples outside of Greece. A Unesco World Heritage Site, Paestum’s huge temples date back to the 6th century BC honouring Poseidon the God of the sea. The entry ticket also gains you admission into a museum crammed with frescoes and ancient ceramics. I was particularly taken with pottery signed by the artist Python. Extraordinary.


Drive back the other way and the breath-holding zigzag classic coast drive of the Cilento beckons with its 12 blue flag beaches and countless hidden coves and bays. But first, do not miss out the beautiful fishing towns of Santa Maria di Castellabate and San Marco. They are simply delightful to walk around and perhaps enjoy some authentic Cilentean hospitality.


The Pinelli Estate is a very special place to stay. Nigel and Dawn are in the throws of renovating Villa Velius,

a second property on the estate to complement Il Rifugio, but it’s not due to be completed until early 2019.

As for me, my distant goat has wandered off, but I’m staying put on the terrace and getting another refill of that local vino rosso. My millionaire lifestyle can last a few more hours.


Via A. Vitolo 33/bis,

Roccadaspide 84069 [SA]

Office Open Weekdays 8:00 - 17:00

© Magari 2020

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