Walter Verburg was born in Germany. He’s now in his sixties, and since the age of 28 he has spent his holidays at Castellabate. “They usually involve guiding groups of tourists around the area,” he says. “People here are incredibly hospitable, the sea’s lovely and there’s lots more – you can visit an olive oil cooperative in San Mauro Cilento, taste wine at Agropoli and sample “soppressata” (a type of salami) at Gioi.”
Welcome to the South. For those who’ve never been to Castellabate, in the province of Salerno, it’s the location for the comedy movie, Welcome to the South, which was released in 2010. It starred Claudio Bisio and Alessandro Siani and catapulted this lovely corner of Cilento into the spotlight. Bisio plays Alberto Colombo, a post office employee who (as a punishment) is transferred from Brianza in the North of Italy to Castellabate in the South. He goes there reluctantly, and with ahead full of negative preconceptions typical of Northern Italians, but later returns homewith a suitcase full of wonderful memories – the same sort of memories that Walter has been taking back to Germany to share with friends and family for the past 28 years. But now Walter also has some important news to announce – a few weeks ago Open Fiber started work on a new fiber optic network covering the entire commune (an Italian local government district, like a town or city), providing an internet connection of up to 1 gigabyte per second. It will reach 8,200 homes and offices, including 22 local and central public administration buildings such as schools and community centres, and 80% of the network will use existing infrastructure, connecting Castellabate to the outside world at hitherto unimaginable speeds.
“The advent of the fiber optic network is another growth opportunity for the region in terms of the services we offer our citizens,” says Castellabate’s mayor Costabile Spinelli. He makes no bones about the difficulties involved in running a commune of 9,800 inhabitants scattered over a large area, 37 square kilometres divided into five districts, including three large ones, namely Santa Maria, San Marco and Castellabate itself. “Castellabate is one of Italy’s most beautiful villages and has held the Legambiente environmental organisation’s “Blue Ribbon” status for 20 years. We now offer quality tourism here, and that requires innovative services. We’ve already installed four charging stations to cater for e-mobility and we can look to the future with ultrabroadband.”
The tourism explosion
Tourism has for many years been the most important source of income for the area, which until the late 1990s was known as the home of one of Italy’s largest fishing fleets. Now more than one in two dwellings are second homes, especially for families from Naples or Salerno who come to the village at weekends from May to October. The large number of B&Bs that have sprung up in the last 10 years have also attracted sizeable numbers of foreign tourists. “The figure can reach 50,000 people in July and August, with as many as 70,000 in the peak period. There is an excellent quality-price ratio and in September most places start taking bookings for the following summer,” says the mayor.
Fortunately, the boom has not had a negative impact the beauty of one of Italy’s most attractive regions. Castellabate is part of the Cilento, Vallo di Diano and Alburni National Park, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. In 1972 the sea and coast became a protected marine reserve to preserve their natural and environmental heritage – hardly surprising, then, that this year the reserve was awarded “Five Sails” by the afore – mentioned Legambiente. Punta Licosa in particular is considered to be one of the world’s most enchanting bathing venues – the rocky beach can only be accessed on foot along a track passing through Aleppo pine trees, olive trees, vines and Mediterranean maquis. This lovely spot is a blend of nature and mythology – the name of the village of Licosa refers to Leucosia, one of the three sirens Ulysses encountered during his long voyage home to Ithaca. Other nearby tourist destinations are the Zona Lago (“Lake Area”) and the district of San Marco with the beach that in 1983 saw the discovery of a necropoliswith over 60 tombs. The tomb furnishings are now on display at the museum at the Paestum Archaeology Park, half an hour away by car.
Thanks to the fiber optic network this slow, environmentallyaware tourism is about to become smarter. “We want to present an integrated offer. For us, the internet is a fundamental element in all this,” says Orlando Di Scola, one of the promoters of the Cilentomania tourist association, which has opened offices in Castellabate, Paestum, Agropoli and Agnone. “The season now stretches into late October and tourists are always on the lookout for something new. We’re trying to match supply with demand,” says Di Scola. The tourist agencies offer packages ranging from snorkelling to parasailing,kayaking and horse riding. “These days a good internet connection is essential for information and contacts. It’s still not good enough in many parts of Castellabate.”
The local climate and Mediterranean cuisine also delight the senses – just ask anyone who has tried the typical products of Cilento, from Menaica anchovies to white figs. Like Postmaster “Albert Colombo” who, in Welcome to the South, is won over by his colleagues, who ply him with delicious local dishes and products. Untouched nature, Mediterranean food and a climate that is neither too hot nor too cold. “No one dies here!” is the famous comment made by the King of Naples, Napoleon’s brother-in-law Joachim Murat, and these words are inscribed ona wall near the mediaeval castle that stands above the village. The Castello dell’Abate (“the Castle of the Abbot”), in fact. Why not come and see whether Murat was right?