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Campania

As bewitching and hot-blooded as Parthenope, the Siren who, rejected by Ulysses, cast herself into the sea and drowned in the blue waters of the Gulf of Naples, overlooked, then as now, by Vesuvius. Joyous and radiant like an aperitif at sunset on Capri, in the “piazzetta”, in summer, when the sparkling sea takes centre stage. Even in the relatively warm winter temperatures, the Christmas atmosphere in Campania is unique, as you will see if you take a stroll through the workshops of the artisans in San Gregorio Armeno, where they make the most unusual and original nativity scenes you can find anywhere.

Campania is an explosion of colours and emotions. It can be both wonderfully chaotic – like fascinating, multi-coloured Naples, where you are sure to be swept away – and delightfully romantic, as you sit on the citrus-fragranced terraces of the Sorrentine Peninsula, looking down to the blue Tyrrhenian Sea. Then again, it can also be unforgettable: think of the Roman archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, or the equally impressive and unique Greek sites such as Paestum. And it is, of course, authentic, just like the intense flavours of its culinary traditions, encapsulated by pizza and mozzarella cheese, baba and sfogliatella pastries.

The past has left unique traces in Campania. In Paestum, for example, the temples of the Greek city of Poseidonia are still standing, and there really is nowhere on the planet quite like Pompeii: it is the only place where you can get lost amid the streets of a flourishing Roman city frozen in time, 2,000 years ago. Always a cultural crossroads, Campania is the only southern Italian region to have had a maritime republic, Amalfi, and it has at various times played host to Arabs, Spanish, French and Normans. Campania is something of an open-air theatre , as Eduardo de Filippo, the father of Neapolitan comedy, was wont to put it.

The Campanian breakfast ritual of a tazzulella of espresso coffee and a sfogliatella pastry is a mouthwatering start to the day. Any subsequent hunger pangs can soon be taken care of by a typical Campanian sandwich known as a panuozzo fritto. To immerse yourself in the poetry of Campanian gastronomy, you just need to wander around the streets of the oldest part of Naples, and you will be unable to avoid the wonderful aroma of the meat sauce being cooked up from early in the morning. Bronze-die pasta. Michele’s pizza in the film Eat, Pray, Love . The Slow Food presidia such as figs from the Cilento area, where the Mediterranean diet was born, and naturally, buffalo mozzarella. To finish off every meal, a limoncello is de rigueur, made of course from IGP Sorrento lemons.

Glamourous squares like the famous piazzetta on Capri and time-honoured temples to commerce such as the Umberto I gallery in Naples are home to stylish boutiques showcasing the most famous brands. But the real luxury of shopping in Campania lies in the great manufacturing traditions of the tailors and shoe factories. On the Amalfi coast, you will find an array of picturesque little stores and workshops, where you can pick up the very best locally crafted souvenirs. The region includes numerous outlet villages such as the “La Reggia” designer outlet.

From Vesuvius to the Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields). In Campania, dark, mysterious volcanoes alternate with the majestic sea stacks of Capri and Anacapri. Nature reserves such as those of the Cilento and the Vallo di Diano, where lush greenery and archaeological riches have combined to earn them UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Villages clinging to the cliff edges, such as Positano, which miraculously seem to defy gravity. Landscapes of rare beauty, shaped by the wind, create heavenly panoramas of land and sea, in a region that has surprises in store whichever way you turn.

In Campania, you can see some of the most spectacular caves in the Mediterranean, such as the Grotta Azzurra at Capo Palinuro in the Gulf of Policastro. Not surprisingly, these caves are very popular with divers from all over the world. As soon as you move out of the major cities, you will come across a plethora of national parks and nature reserves, where you can set out to discover the natural world, taking invigorating walks or even kayaking or rafting on the River Tanagro. There are numerous options for fascinating treks, such as along the unforgettable trail known as the Sentiero degli Dei (or “Path of the Gods”), which leads from Agerola to Positano and takes in a flight of no fewer than 1,700 steps. Although not strictly a sporting pursuit, a helicopter trip over the Gulf of Naples is certainly a worthwhile experience, as is a trip around Ischia in a fishing boat, indulging in some recreational fishing.

If the presence of a volcano makes you think of thermal spas and wellbeing, then you’re very much on the right track. In Campania, there is a wealth of options for regaining your sense of mental and physical balance. The thermal waters of Ischia have legendary therapeutic properties. Here, you can choose from the wild, free spas at Sorgeto, where the warm water meets the sea, or the elegant Gardens of Poseidon in Forio, where the water reaches 40 degrees.

Relaxing during the day and enjoying the finest entertainment throughout the night on the islands, from Capri to Procida. It would be impossible to list all of the leisure opportunities offered by this region, which in itself is something of an “open-air theatre”. In Campania, international cultural events are staged both on the coast. such as the Ravello Festival, and in small towns like Giffoni Valle Piena, which plays host to the Giffoni Film Festival – the world’s number one children’s film festival. The nightlife of Salerno is exceptionally vibrant, and the city takes full advantage of its promenade – which is among the longest and most attractive in Italy – both in summer and in winter, when it is embellished with stunning illuminations.

Almost everyone has heard something about the devotion of the Neapolitan people for San Gennaro (St Januarius). Every year at the city’s Cathedral, one of the most mysterious miracles is repeated, and thousands of local people participate ecstatically in the event, which is shrouded in a mystical atmosphere. If the blood, which according to tradition belonged to the city’s patron saint, undergoes liquefaction, the city will be blessed with good fortune, whereas if it does not liquefy, it is taken as a bad omen. The spirituality of the Campania people is all-pervasive, and also takes in the peace and quiet of religious routes, such as that which leads to Pietrelcina, in the province of Benevento, the birthplace of the most venerated modern-day saint: Padre Pio.

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