K-Rae Nelson gets her car towed away by local Carabinieri and attends her own private 30-minute seminar on how to fire up a pizza oven, strictly in Italian, of course;  too bad that she doesn't speak Italian at all...

by K-Rae Nelson, Solana Beach, California

K-Rae stayed at Villa Trotta for two weeks in August/September 2004.

We have vacationed in Italy several times, but never south of Umbria. This was our first experience in Southern Italy and apart from some summary descriptions of local villages, the guidebooks we found were curiously silent on the Cilento region. Since the Summer In Italy web site and the numerous guest comments were so informative, we were confident that the Villa Trotta itself would be magnificent. However, we didn't know if we were headed towards a rare hidden jewel or a desolate corner of Italy best left unexplored. We were delighted to find that our experiences reflected much of the former and none of the latter.

We had several misadventures we could have happily forgone including having our car towed in Agropoli, a subsequent meeting with the local carabinieri and finally, while descending one of those nail-biting roads on the Amalfi coast, a snapped tension bar on our rental car. Throughout all of these encounters we had an amazingly good rapport with everyone we met from the Agropoli police officers and the Salerno Avis agent to the Ravello bus drivers and hotel employees who went out of their way to assist us.

We also had excellent "discussions" (I use this term loosely given our degree of competence in Italian) with people even when we weren't in crisis mode. We enjoyed shopping in Perdifumo which, according to my pedometer, is one mile from the Villa. I especially enjoyed my interactions with the owners of the smaller of the two alimentari, which is run by a couple and their daughters. We managed to have a couple of conversations with the friendly owner of the café who was justifiably proud of his granita di amarene made with cherries he put up himself. The pharmacist and tabacchi owner were also very helpful and friendly.

Neither English nor French were foolproof means of communication and we often had to resort to our cobbled together Romanian-Spanish-French-inspired "Italian". You can imagine the unintelligible patois that we must have concocted, but I have never met a people so proficient at communicating with so little information at their disposal. The most profound memory I brought back from this vacation was our contacts with the Italians from the area.

The arrival

We drove down from Naples and since we were unsure of how long the drive would take and were anxious to get settled in, we decided to leave the Amalfi coast experience for another day. The directions we had received were quite clear and prepared me for the very steep drive up to the church. Franco, Gioconda's husband, happened to be in his car at the corner and witnessed our attempts to make the sharp right turn. (Thereafter, we followed Franco's advice and made a U-turn at the next street up, thus sparing both our nerves and the transmission.)

We were several hours early since the drive turned out to be less than two hours (the longest stretch was beginning at Battipaglia at the SS 18 turn off). Gioconda was a very gracious host in spite of our early arrival and spent a lot of time showing us around the house. I was curious about the pizza oven, having read about it on the web site. Franco spent at least thirty minutes giving us detailed instructions, in Italian, on how to properly make a fire. We started out with the best of intentions, but in the end, we decided we're not excited enough about pizza to go through the effort. We did make two lovely fires and barbecued twice in the fire pit next to the pizza oven.
The web site is so well designed that there were few surprises when we arrived and only good ones at that. From the web site pictures, I thought we were going to have an "ocean peek" view. As it was, we spent many daylight and evening hours gazing out at the 180º coastal view from the three terraces. On clear days and evenings we could even see Capri. Before retiring at night I would gaze at the sky from the bedroom windows and slip out onto the balcony from the bathroom for a last glance before bed.

Getting Around

We tried in every way possible to cut the driving time to Salerno, the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii, but it still took one hour every time. The drive through Battipaglia to the A3 is rather uninteresting. We found that the coastal route through Paestum was not significantly shorter time-wise, although the drive was more scenic, traffic was more fluid and we were much more relaxed. This also allowed us to discover the sandy beaches hiding behind the roadside pine forests. From Agropoli Sud we would get onto the SS 18 towards Salerno and exit at the first Paestum exit.


Since one of my vacation pleasures is to cook, I was thoroughly charmed by the kitchen at the Villa Trotta. The long wooden table is perfect for preparing meals and eating inside, which we did mostly at night when we came back late. Otherwise, we ate under the beautiful and cool kiwi arbor. There is also plenty of room to put the outdoor table right next to the outside kitchen and fire pit. My only regret was that it was never chilly enough to have a fire in the kitchen fireplace. We'll have to return in the fall some year!

I enjoyed grocery shopping in Perdifumo, Acciaroli and Santa Maria di Castellabate. The friendly woman at the smaller Perdifumo alimentari taught me the Italian names for their vegetables and we enjoyed a soup made from the gigantic green-skinned, orange-fleshed squash they called zucca. I also purchased fresh borlotti beans from her that I cooked and then served tossed with olive oil, sliced onions and tuna, as well as rape, somewhat bitter greens that I served sautéed with garlic and the remaining borlotti beans. There is an especially good grocery/deli on the main drag of Santa Maria di Castellabate where we purchased excellent prosciutto, parmesan and grilled, marinated artichokes.

Local Life

For me, the best part of this vacation was really getting a feel for local customs and habits. Following Gioconda's recommendation, we went to a sagra at the Eucalyptus Agriturismo complex our first night at the Villa. A sagra is a local party, open to the public, with food and dancing. We enjoyed the goat stew castrato (a first) and fusilli pasta with tomato sauce. We were the only non-Italian speakers there and it was a great way to kick off our stay, although unfortunately, we left before Miss Eucalyptus could be crowned. There appeared to be a sagra every weekend evening somewhere in the region. Several times in the evening from the terrace at the Villa, we enjoyed catching the highest of the firework displays from local festivities in other villages.

The passeggiata is a tradition not to be missed. The streets, which are barren and uninviting at 4 pm, begin to fill at 5:30 or so. Stores in Agropoli and Santa Maria di Castellabate begin opening around 6 pm and according to the signs on the doors, some of them stay open until midnight! We would do our shopping at 7 pm or so and by the time we were ready to head home, the streets would just be getting interesting. People of all ages stroll the streets until quite late. You can sit in a café or on a street bench in Agropoli and watch the parade or join the crowd strolling down the main street exchanging greetings.


Santa Maria di Castellabate won points for its adorable "city" beach surrounded by old stone buildings. Its sandy beach and protected waters provided comfortable paddling and swimming.  We spent a few hours at another protected "city" beach in Agnone where we also sampled a local café's caffé freddo and granita al limone. Acciaroli's sandy beach is located right in the town center and is great for people watching. The sandy beach at Ogliastro Marina was pretty nice with almost California-size waves and there was also a more protected cove with a tiny strip of pebble beach. The beach in the center of Paestum was sandy with calm waters. The beaches north of Paestum behind the pine forests were less populated. Other nice beaches were to the north of Palinuro and south of Palinuro at the Baia del Buondormire, which we accessed by boat on our Cilento Explorer outing.


Cilento Explorer Boat Excursions

After a long drive on the windy roads towards Palinuro, we decided to spare the driver and spend a day on a boat outing. The boat leaves at 9 am from Acciaroli and makes a stop at Casal Velino Marina. From there, the boat goes to Palinuro for a visit of the Grotta Azzurra and then to an isolated beach south of Palinuro on the Baia del Buondormire. This excursion is for people who don't mind 5 hours on a boat in exchange for 2 hours of swimming. That said, we really enjoyed our day on the boat, soaking up the sun and the scenery, and swimming at a beautiful beach. We were also treated to our own boat passeggiata. A multi-generational group of "typical Neopolitans", according to one Italian woman, was on the boat with us and we literally spent hours being entertained by their boisterous singing and interactions. This excursion costs approximately 25 euro per person.


Definitely worth a visit or two. We went in the late afternoon, but guided evening visits of the site with musical accompaniment are also offered for a significantly higher fee. Although I'm sure you do not have the same freedom to roam the site as you can enjoy during the day, it is probably an unforgettable experience. Paestum is a 30-minute drive from the Villa. Take the SS18 from Agropoli Sud and exit at the first Paestum exit. This takes you right to the ruins. The first time, we took the coastal road from Agropoli and got lost.

Museum note: At Paestum and Pompeii, and most likely other museums as well, senior citizens from Europe enter free.

Vietri sul Mare

This village, known for its pottery, is at the beginning of the Amalfi Coast drive. We made an afternoon pottery run to Vietri sul Mare and were not disappointed. The shops are decorated with ceramic tiles and the ceramics are less expensive than their Florentine counterparts, although the quality of the glazing and the workmanship are not the same. We found some very nice pieces in Vietri for a much more reasonable price than similar items we later looked at further on the Amalfi Coast.

Overnight to the Amalfi Coast

Since we are late risers, we decided to spend the night on the Amalfi Coast. We drove as far west as Positano and then turned around and spent the night at Ravello. Ravello is a magical place, especially in the evening. We had an unforgettable midnight walk through the village, up and down stairs and through tunnels. We spent the night at the Garden Albergo, Via Boccaccio 4, 089 857226. We also had dinner there. Do not miss the sorbet-filled fruit dessert. The chestnut, walnut, plum, apricot and kiwi gems were incredible.

We regretted missing the evening concert in the Villa Rufolo gardens. The village of Amalfi with its spectacular cathedral was also a hit. The downstairs chapel in the cathedral is easily overlooked, but worth exploring.


I regret to say that in spite of all advice to the contrary, we left Pompei to the last day on our way back north to the Naples airport. We had two hours during the hottest part of the day in which to explore the site. Make this a trip on its own in order to fully appreciate Pompei. We definitely have to come back.


Restaurant Barbanera (Agropoli) Centro Storico

The restaurant is located on the hilltop of the historical center, past the old stone gate at the top of the stairs. It is the second restaurant on the right after the church. There is a reservation system of sorts. Give your name to the person in charge and come back at the appointed time. We ate here twice. The food is simple and excellent. We especially enjoyed the frittura di alici and other fried fish dishes. The grand total for three adults and a child, including wine and waters, was 40 euro. A steal.

Restaurant Boccaccio (Acciaroli) on the port side of the town

Slightly more expensive than Barbanera (50 euro for four at lunch), but also very good fish.

Restaurant Taverna del Pescatore (Santa Maria di Castellabate)

More formal atmosphere than the above restaurants and a touch more expensive, but very good.

Restaurant Il Calesse (Castellabate)

We went here our last day of vacation, based on the recommendation of a previous Villa Trotta family. I wish we had followed their advice earlier because it was probably the best food of the vacation and the outdoor seating in a cool and shady setting overlooking the sea was quite charming.


There were a couple of differences we found between our experiences in Northern Italy and in the Cilento area. We had planned to stop at one of the large supermarkets we knew from Tuscany on our way down from Naples to stock up on supplies, but they do not seem to exist in this area. However, we had no problem getting supplies in Perdifumo Saturday evening after we arrived.

We had expected to be able to stay in touch via e-mail with people from home, but we never did see an Internet café. In fact, when we questioned a young woman in Acciaroli, her reply was, "What's an Internet café?". This did not pose any real problems for us, but you should know that Internet access is not readily available in the Cilento region [2005 update: most coastal villages in Cilento by now have  an Internet point]. We did, however, find internet cafés on the Amalfi Coast.

My husband and I were content to be without phone service during the vacation and the Summer In Italy staff assured us that if anyone from home needed to contact us urgently they would get the message to us. However, my mother-in-law felt uncomfortable not being able to call for help, if needed. Next time we would probably rent a cell phone using the information posted on the Summer in Italy web site. For city folk uneasy about country "isolation", the village is a 20-minute saunter from the Villa, there are neighbors about 1/4 mile down the road, and the Agropoli hospital is a 15-minute drive from the Villa.

As you can see, we had a wonderful experience at Villa Trotta exploring a new corner of Italy and enjoying a much deeper level of contact with Italians than we've had on previous trips to other areas of Italy. Two weeks was just enough time to scratch the surface and whet our curiosity for our next stay.

Been there? Done that? Share your experience and tips!

Haven't visited yet? Have questions about Meet the Italians in the Cilento National Park? Ask them here!