Giffoni Valle Piana
This cute, compact town is tucked into the hills northeast of Salerno. Enjoying breezes from the nearby mountains, it's also close enough to the sea to enjoy the beaches while retreating to the tranquility of the hills in the evening. For a small town, there's a lot of life - it's famous for an annual film festival aimed at youth, and they pull out the stops for Carnevale and other yearly events. An unusual event is the Tiro al Caciocavallo-the shooting of the caciocavallo cheese. This charitable event has local hunters and citizens alike pay a fee to shoot at the balls of cheese that are hung at a distance of 60-80 meters away. The best marksman wins bragging rights along with a whole prosciutto.
Giffoni Valle Piana is famous for its agricultural products, too. Hazelnuts and olive oil are grown here and especially prized. There used to be lots of skilled artisans who worked in wool, copper and iron.
The town has ancient roots dating back to the Etruscans, the Osci and the Greeks, before being taken over by the Romans when the area sided with Hannibal during the Punic Wars. The strategic position between Salerno and Sannio made it an important crossroads and the Romans built a network of roads and small settlements throughout the Picentini zone. The Franciscans built a monastery to house an important relic, the sacra spina, a thorn from Jesus' crown of thorns, which is now held in a reliquary in the Church of the Annunziata. The holy relic is celebrated with a religious festival every March.
Giffoni Valle Piana has some beautiful sights, including the Church of Santa Maria a Vico, built on an ancient temple, that conserves eight columns with corinthian capitals. The Convent of San Francesco, built in the 1500s, has a quiet and charming cloister along with frescoes done in Giotto's style. The Temple of Ercole was part of an ancient complex dating to the 6th century BC, with an epigraph from a Roman senator that was inscribed in the 1st century BC.
The nearby borgo of Terravecchia is a scramble of streets topped by a castle, walled and preserved with the old stones and charm intact. The castle that tops it was originally built two millennia ago! In short, Giffoni Valle Piana packs a lot of culture and history into a small place!
There is plenty of outdoors activities, with horse riding, hiking and botanical parks in the area. The beaches of Salerno and the beginning of the Amalfi Coast are just a half-hour away. there are good restaurants and homey coffee bars to enjoy.
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