A corner of Campania where time stood still
In the sunny south of Italy lies Pisciotta, an unspoilt village even locals don’t know about. Lee Marshall breaks the silence
Twenty years ago, I promised the friend who told me about Pisciotta and its marina that I would avoid writing about it. But surely there must be a statute of limitations on such vows? And in any case, the Pisciottani are so simpatici, and business is still so slow outside of the canonic Italian beach months of July and August, that I can live with the minor betrayal.
Pisciotta is the kind of small, southern Italian coastal town that you have a picture of in your head, but often struggle to match in the real world. The old town sits on a hill just back from its seaside frazione or offshoot, Marina di Pisciotta. It’s a place of narrow lanes, ancient stepped alleyways leading to hidden chapels, small piazzas with their inevitable external gathering of old men in hats playing cards.
Below, between the lower skirts of the town and a sea so clean the beach regularly features as one of Italy’s Bandiera Blu environmentally virtuous resorts, lie the centuries-old olive groves that give this part of the coast such an archaic feel. It’s one of those places where you fully expect to meet goatherds tooting on pan pipes. From the arched loggia of imposing 17th-century Palazzo Ciaccio, a stroll down the ancient paved path known as La Chiusa brings you into the heart of the olive belt, and it’s a lovely walk even in the summer heat, with the fronds arching over the path in places like a green tunnel. The whole of the Cilento region of Campania is now a protected nature reserve; last time I ventured back up this path from the beach I saw a hoopoe, its punky crest backlit by the setting sun.
A 20-minute walk from the town brings you down to the Marina di Pisciotta, a thin scatter of modest hotels and restaurants strung out along the edge of a surprisingly busy fishing port. It’s this that has helped to preserve Pisciotta from selling its soul to tourism. Fishing is still an important activity here: especially the age-old form of anchovy fishing, peculiar to this village, using hand-woven menaica nets that let smaller fish escape but leave larger ones trapped in the mesh, allowing them to be picked off and preserved immediately in terracotta jars – or taken fresh to one of the beachside trattorias, where they are served up every which way, with all courses except dessert (and they are working on that).
The gently-shelving strip of beach that extends north from the fishing port is a mix of flat greywhite pebbles (once used by the local washerwomen as drying weights) and sand, with the latter predominating by the shoreline itself. For more sand between your toes, head four miles south towards Palinuro, where the three-mile-long Le Saline beach is the ultimate family-friendly Italian strand.
The Campania coast near Palinuro, left, is a short drive from Pisciotta, below