The region of Campania offers many attractions.
For the historians…
During World War Two the small mountain town of Campagna, a city that neighbors Varano, cultivated an atmosphere of dignity and hope. The city’s Convent of San Bartolomeo acted as an internment camp for exiled Jews. San Bartolomeo, however, did not resemble the labor and death camps in Germany. Rather, the convent allowed Jews to practice their religion, to engage in leisure activities—such as casual music-making—and to freely roam the city during the day. The convent was recently transformed into a museum in honor of Giovanni Palatucci, the Italian responsible for relocating hundreds of German Jews to southern Italy.
A contrast to the above, the Secret Museum of Pompeii in Naples contains a collection of seductive ancient art. Excavations, undertaken hundreds of years after the tragic eruption of Mount Vesuvius (79 C.E.), revealed a wealth of sexually explicit art, frozen by volcanic ash. The phallic images and the inappropriate blending of the animal and vegetable kingdoms troubled eighteenth-century thinkers. Many described this particular artistic style as “grotesque,” leading to the modern conception of pornography.
For the nature lovers…
A visit to the Blue Grotto and the coast’s many hidden grottos (caves) will not disappoint. The Blue Grotto is located on the island of Capri. Tourists can travel to the cave’s sapphire waters via boat or, after 6 PM, join the locals for a nighttime swim. Alternatively, smaller and less traveled grottos dot the edges of Campania’s beaches. A short walk (or swim) away from the crowds of the public-beach scene inevitably leads to seemingly unknown sea caves, untouched by tourists.
Salerno, additionally, houses two World Wildlife Federation preserves. The WWF di Persano protects the Lontra, an endangered species of otter. Lontra observation stations are strategically positioned throughout the preserve. (Lontra sightings are rare, and require great patience, as the Lontra typically only emerges at night.) The WWF di Monte Polveracchio is a supreme location for the adventurous hiker. Paths wind through groves of maple trees and along steep cliff sides. At the end of a long hike, one can enjoy a refreshing drink of the mountain’s naturally filtered water. (Many residents of Salerno travel to the top of Polveracchio, in order to fill bottles with this exquisite water.)
For the beach-minded…
Varano is a short distance from several public and private beaches, such as those in Agropopli. One can rent an umbrella for the day and enjoy a cold gelato under the Italian sun. Alternatively, the Spiaggie Sabbie Nere (black-sand beaches), just south of Varano, provide a truly unusual beach experience.
The beauty of Campania’s beach scene is most stunningly concentrated in Amalfi, Positano, and Capri. Here, sparkling blue water crashes against jagged cliffs, forming secluded coves of sand. Colorful umbrellas decorate the coast, and quaint shops provide shelter from the sun.
For the archeologically oriented…
Paestum houses the best-preserved Doric temples (sixth century B.C.E.) in the world. Like Pompeii, Paestum suffered from the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Fortunately, much of the city survived, leaving not only temples, but also a Roman forum and amphitheater. The chiseled columns of such architecture recall an ancient past of rigid perfection and geometrical order.