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Campania Travel Guide

Sorrento Coast, Campania, Italy (© JuneHawk - iStockphoto.com)
Sorrento Coast, Campania.

Introduction

Campania is the most densely populated Italian region with 5.8 million people living on just 13,595 km², an area slightly smaller than Northern Ireland or the US state of Connecticut. It is also the poorest regions of Italy, with only half the GDP per capita of Lombardy (the richest region). The only major city is the capital, Naples, where nearly 1 million people live. The second largest city is Salerno, which has a population of 140,000.

Like the rest of Southern Italy, Campania was colonised by the Greeks from around the 9th century BCE, and became part of Magna Graecia until the Romans annexed the south of the peninsula in the 3rd century BCE. The temples of Hera and Poseidon at Paestum date from this period (5th century BCE).

Few places in the world have such beautiful scenery has the region of Naples, and in particular the Amalfi coast, and the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia in the Bay of Naples. The area has attracted well-to-do tourists since ancient times, when Emperors Augustus and Tiberius had their villas on Capri. Nowadays the upper classes and the jet set from all over the Western world still relish its ideal climate and sensational natural beauty. It is little wonder that the Amalfi coast has the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe outside Paris and London.

But in the backdrop of this enchanting vista looms Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, still at risk of erupting once again. Immediately south of the Vesuvius stretches the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, Italy's largest national park. It is now protected by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, along with the ancient Greek towns of Paestum, Velia and the Padula that surround it.

Famous people from Campania include (chronologically): the fashion designer Salvatore Ferragamo, the film producer Dino De Laurentiis, and the actress Sophia Loren.

Cuisine

Campania played a essential role in the history of Italian, and even European cooking. Naples alone contributed to the invention of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese (made from buffalo milk), and pizza. Tomatoes were brought from the Americas to Spain and Italy by the Spaniards in the 16th century, but were used for a long time solely as ornamental plants. The earliest known cookbook including tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692. The San Marzano tomato, grown in the rich volcanic soil around Mount Vesuvius, is considered by many chefs to be the best plum tomatoes in the world thanks to its low acidity. Neapolitan sauce (often mistakenly called marinara sauce in the US), made with tomatoes, garlic, onions and herbs, is probably the world's most widely recognised tomato sauce.

Modern pizza, though inspired by ancient Greek and Roman flatbreads, originated in Campania, where it first acquired it present-day appearance in the 19th century. Legend has it that in June 1889 the Neapolitan pizza-maker Raffaele Esposito created the "Pizza Margherita" in honour to the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy. He garnished it with tomato, mozzarella and basil, to represent the colours of the new Italian flag.

Campania is renowned for the exceptional quality of its vegetables and fruits. Most famous among them are the Sorrento lemons, used to make limoncello, an after-dinner lemon liqueur with an alcohol content of 32%.

Typical Campanian dishes include gattò (potato casserole with ham, Parmesan and pecorino), insalata caprese (salad of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil), maccheroni alla napoletana (macaroni with a sauce of braised beef, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, white wine, tomato paste and fresh basil), mozzarella in carrozza (fried mozzarella with slices of toasted bread and olive oil), polipo alla Luciana (octopus with tomatoes sauce, chopped tomatoes, olives and garlic), sartù di riso (rice with mushrooms, peas, onions, tomato paste, meatballs, chicken liver, cheese, and olive oil), spaghetti alle vongole (with clams in a white sauce with garlic, olive oil and pepper).

Wine has been made in Campania for three millennia, making it one of Europe's oldest viticultural region. The greatest part of the 2 million hectolitres of wine produced annually are cheap table wines. Quality has been increasing since the 1970's, and Campania now has 20 DOC and 4 DOCG wines. The most famous DOC is Lacryma Christi, originally produced by monks on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. The Taurasi, made from the Aglianico grape brought by the ancient Greek settlers, has been the local rising star among red wines, gaining DOC status in 1970, then promoted to DOCG in 1993. Aglianico del Taburno became the second DOCG for reds in 2011. The native Fiano and Greco grape varieties are used to make Campania's two DOCG white wines: Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.

Attractions

Attractions are listed geographically, from west to east (left to right) and north to south (top to bottom).

Naples (Napoli) ※
Bay of Naples, Campania (© Sergiogen - Fotolia.com)
must-see Naples.
Procida
Procida, Campania (© francesco riccardo iacomino - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Procida.
Ischia
Ischia, Campania (© neno - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Ischia.
Capri
Capri, Campania (©  Yanta - Fotolia.com)
must-see Capri.

Other attractions

very good Pozzuoli

Capua
Amphitheatre of Capua, Campania (© LianeM - iStockphoto.com)
very good Capua.
Caserta Royal Palace & Park
Caserta Royal Palace, Campania (© Salvatore Pandolfi - Fotolia.com)
must-see Caserta Royal Palace & Park.
Vesuvius National Park
Mount Vesuvius (Tatiana Belova - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Vesuvius National Park.
Herculaneum ※
Herculaneum, Campania (© Patricia Hofmeester - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Herculaneum.
Pompeii ※
Pompeii, Campania (© Alexey Popov - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Pompeii.

Other attractions

outstanding Palace of Capodimonte
Benevento
Arco di Traiano, Benevento, Campania (© Claudio Giovanni Colombo - iStockphoto.com)
very good Benevento.
Sorrento
Sorrento, Campania (© Vladimir Khirman - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Sorrento.
Amalfi Coast ※
Positano, Amalfi coast, Campania (© jeremyreds - Fotolia.com)
must-see There are 13 municipalities along the Amalfi coast, the most famous of which are Positano and Ravello. Other popular places are Praiano, Atrani, Scala and Vietri sul Mare.
Paestum ※
Paestum, Campania (© Patricia Hofmeester - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Paestum.
Cilento & Vallo di Diano National Park
Palinuro, Cilento & Vallo di Diano National Park (Photoworld.it - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Cilento & Vallo di Diano National Park.

Other attractions

good Avellino
very good Castellammare di Stabia
very good Salerno
very good Velia

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Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

  • : Moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
  • : Recommended - to visit if you have time
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Natural attractions

  • : Moderately interesting
  • : Recommended
  • : Highly recommended
  • : World-class natural attraction
  • ※ : UNESCO World Heritage site


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