A cor­ner of Cam­pa­nia where time stood still

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Secret Seaside -

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

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