Maratea and Paestum back on the west coast

Trip Start Apr 17, 2009
Trip End May 09, 2010

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Flag of Italy  , Basilicata,
Friday, August 21, 2009

From Matera we headed 3 hours west to the coast and the town of Maratea (not to be confused with Matera). Maratea refers to a 15 mile stretch of coastline that Basilicata has on Italy’s west coast. We had heard good things about the area and were interested to see it.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the peak of the Italian vacation season (mid August) and the area was extremely packed. The beaches, which we mentioned before did not impress us in southern Italy, were unbelievably crowded with hundreds of chairs, umbrellas, and tourists. The hotel rates had been raised for the high season and restaurants were packed solid at night - assuming you could even get a table.

The old town of Maratea is a very nice hillside village with steep cobblestone streets, fountains, and beautiful mountain and valley views. We had a hard time finding a room here and finally lucked into one at a hotel called Capo Casale. It was high up in the old town and the trek from the lobby to our room took us outside and up many staircases. Our room turned out to be in a separate old house that had been renovated into hotel rooms.

At night the streets were jam packed with Italian vacationers and we were about the only non-Italian tourists there. On our first night we had not made reservations at any restaurants and went from place to place where we were repeatedly told “sorry, all booked up tonight.” We finally found a place where we ordered a couple of decent pizzas for our dinner.

The next day we took our car up the coast to see some of the other towns in the area and were not overly impressed. The area would probably have seemed quaint and charming if there had not been thousands of beachgoers swarming the streets of every village and town we visited. It made driving a nightmare and just was not much fun.

Also, we were really shocked at the litter issues across southern Italy. This is not the case in northern Italy. However, in southern Italy there is a stunning amount of trash and litter everywhere - even along the country roads. I don’t mean just a napkin or a few cups. I mean piles of plastic bottles, piles of cans, bags and probably every wrapper ever sold in the area. This was all along the streets of the towns (no matter how small) and all along the highways and even small roads. It was very sad and very pathetic. Twice we saw handfuls of trash thrown from car windows of cars in front of us. Not only do you see it on the roads but you also see it in the waters along the coast. Without doubt, it is the worst littering situation I have ever seen in a major country. However, let me reiterate that northern Italy is not like that- it is generally quite clean and the people obviously have a very different attitude toward trash and littering.

For our last night in Maratea we did make a reservation at a small place that was part bar and part meat/cheese shop. Our hotel desk clerk told us about it. We sat outside at an old wooden table on the cobblestone street. The staff brought us enormous plates of cured meats, sausages, and cheeses from all around the region. They also brought us local vegetables and good wines. The staff was very nice, and we had a great dinner in a very cool setting.

The next day we drove back to Salerno in order to drop our car off, spend the night, and catch the morning high speed train up to Milan in northern (clean) Italy.

On our way we stopped to see the ruins of the Greek and Roman town called Paestum. We had heard about the ruins but did not expect much from them. We were wrong. You can wander the old stone streets and along many blocks where ancient houses once stood. However, unlike Pompeii, the ruins of the houses here are just two or three foot high bases- not really much to see. The town’s three 2,500 year old Greek and Roman temples, however, are some of the best preserved temple ruins in Italy. They were beautiful and majestic and we were really glad we had made the trip to see them.

Another side note- that night in Salerno we ate at a small, local restaurant located on a back alley. We had read about it on the internet as having the best local food and pizzas. The place was called Vicolo della Neve and they truly had the best pizza we had in Italy- the sauce was amazing with tons of oregano and the toppings were simply cheese and a few capers. The crust was thin and the flavors of the sauce, cheese, and capers were out of this world YUM!!!!
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