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CityProfile: Salerno

Dear Friends and Readers,

I focus on being Italian so often that I forget I am a special kind of Italian. I am “Salernitana” (i.e. a person from Salerno) and proud.  I have a love-hate relationship with my home town as anyone, who moved away from the place where they were brought up, can tell you.  But I have to admit I miss it at times because it is a beautiful little city and I have family and few good friends that I adore. It is funny they have the same name and they could not be more different from one another but they are BOTH awesome. There is my Carla Milanese (we have been best friends for almost 20 year) and then there is my Carlo. As in Carlo De Cristofaro, the nephew I always wanted to have, even if I am too young to be his aunt (yeah, right!). So my Carlo, who is about to graduate Law School and make me a very proud “aunt”, took time from writing his dissertation to give some travel advice to the readers of SerenaPalumbo.com.  Hoping to see more of him on this website soon, I leave the screen to “my” Carlo De Cristofaro.

Who is Carlo? My name is Carlo and I’m 22. I was born and currently live in Salerno, where I study Law, and (fingers crossed are in order) I’m going to graduate this summer. I have great plans for the future and I would love to move to the United States to study advanced corporate law, and who knows what else future’s got in store for me!

How do you know Serena? It’s almost one year that Serena and I have become friends. I’ve known her from the Next Food Network Star (because yeah, even us Italians have something to learn about kitchen!) and when I heard she was from my very same hometown I knew I had to find a way to get to know her. So I sent her an email, we started talking law, but in a matter of minutes we found ourselves chatting about our favorite True Blood stars, kitchen, everyday gossip and, most of all, crazy shopping! How couldn’t such a pretty person win a way to my heart? If people were stickers, Serena would be the ultra-rare, must have, shining, glitter one. And yes, I’m a one-of-a-kind nerd.

Why are you a specialist on Salerno? I could not be the Major of Salerno on Foursquare, but this is my city and I can give you some tips about it!  It’s the town you don’t want to miss if you’re travelling southern Italy. I mean, is there any other place on Earth you can go from beach to snow in less than one hour except Universal Studios? Plus, it’s Serena’s hometown, which means there are some pilgrimage must-visit checkpoints everybody should see especially when she’s going to be crowned Queen of the World.

Where to stay? One of the best things about Salerno is that even if it’s not as big as NY’s smallest district, you still get to choose among a wide hotels selection. If you’re looking for an Hostel, I strongly suggest you give a try to Ave Gratia Plena (http://www.ostellodisalerno.it/web/index.php) which is the ultimate Hostel solution because it’s located in the inner core of the city near to the Cathedral. It’s cheap and well kept, according to my friends coming over from other parts of the world. If you’re instead in the mood for an Hotel, you just have to decide how much you want to spend and which part of the city you’re going to stay in. The most important and expensive one is the Grand Hotel Salerno (http://www.grandhotelsalerno.it/) near the Railway Station, and it’s the top if you’re looking for comforts and a desirable position. I am staring at it right now from my room and there are always tons of people coming and going so I assume it’s really as relevant as the sponsors state. If you’re not a city center person and you’re looking for a more quiet place that still allows you to see the sea from the window of your room, I suggest you think of booking at Novotel Salerno  (http://www.novotel.com/it/hotel-6351-novotel-salerno-est-arechi/index.shtml) which is a four stars as well and lets you reach the oriental part of the city which is full of beaches and the newborn city port. If you don’t want to wake up with the sea under your feet like prince Eric in the Little Mermaid, you still have plenty of choices which are pretty efficient as well. It’s just a matter of money and placement. I strongly suggest you to think of Hotel Plaza (http://www.plazasalerno.it/) which is a three stars right on Salerno’s most important Street (that being Corso Vittorio Emanuele), or if you’re in for a more familiar environment give a shot to B&B San Pietro A Corte (http://www.sanpietroacortesalerno.it/index.php?lang=en) which is in the center of the city near the Hostel and is famous for its warm and comfortable rooms which are a blast if you add to them the strategic positioning. Still, any remaining option has its pros and cons, and if I’ll ever apply as Lonely Planet tour guide writer I’ll remember to feature them all, but I guess it’s enough for now.

Where to Eat? Let’s be honest. You’ve been waiting all along for this part of the guide because you might have already heard about Salerno’s specialties somewhere, so let’s cut to the chase and talk food!  If you don’t know any of Salerno’s typical dishes, I’m going to tell you but you have to promise you’ll try them all! Being a sea city, Salerno’s cuisineis specialized in fish, especiallyanchovies in their marinated or fried version.  You also don’t want to miss Caprese Salad, made with bufala mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. How about pasta? Gnocchi alla sorrentina are strongly suggested if you’re not a fan of fish, but if eating Nemo and company doesn’t scare you, then you should try spaghetti allo scoglio(with all sorts of shellfishes and shrimps) or risotto alla pescatora which is pretty much the same but with rice instead of pasta. Or potatoes and squid, just because we love Ursula (from The Little Mermaid). You also want to consider spaghetti garlic and oil, which is one of the simplest and most satisfying dishes whose recipe you’re definitely bringing back home. But if you’re really looking for something special you’re never going to eat anywhere else, you have to tryparmigiana di melanzane, which is made with fried aubergines, sauce, mozzarella and ham. Or, if you happen to be here in late September, you need to try milza imbottita, which consists in spleen  stuffed with parsley and garlic, all cooked in vinegar. Gattò di patate, which is a potatoes flan with cheese and salame is the center of a controversy because its invention is claimed by Salerno and Naples. Which one is going to be the winner according to you? I guess you’ll have to try them both! And speaking of Naples, you should try pizza as well and you’re not gonna  be disappointed! Have you ever heard of Scazzetta? It’s a typical Italian cake made with Frutti di Bosco and cream.

It was Pope John Paul II’s favorite cake and you can buy it at Pantaleone, which is one of the eldest cake shops of the city. Where to eat all this stuff?  If you’re into fish, I suggest you go to La Spagnola which is located in front of the main port and is delicious to me. As for pizza or traditional cooking, the best picks are Fratelli La Bufala (http://www.fratellilabufala.eu/), Ristorante Santa Lucia (http://www.ristorantepizzeriasantalucia.net/) and Vicolo della Neve (http://www.vicolodellaneve.it/) which was an actual snow storage basement. Yet, I haven’t told you about my favorite restaurant ever, which is 10 minutes away from the center and is called Pummarola Ncoppa (http://www.pummarolancoppa.it/) where you really get to experience almost any kind of fish based, meat based or pizza based meal and I guarantee you’re going out full like an egg but happy like a baby swimming in candies!

What to see and What to do in Salerno?  Are you the kind of person who likes general sightseeing, going to the sea or monuments? Well, let me tell you that Salerno offers pretty much any of the possibilities I’ve listed, but as my grandma says “a stitch in time saves nine”, so let me tell you the What and Where to make sure you’re getting the most out of your vacation.  As for monuments, Salerno’s Cathedral is famous all over the world and is known not only because it’s beautiful, well kept and still working, but most of all because in its crypt are stored the relics of Saint Matthew, who is the major saint of the city, so if you’re staying here on Sept. 21st make sure to give a glimpse to the huge festival that revolves around the entire city involving spectacular fireworks at night and carnivals in the morning and afternoon.

If you’re in for some creepy mythology, you have to visit the Devil’s Arch, which is an ancient Roman aqueduct that is said to have been built over night by the devil himself, summoned by a powerful warlock to win a bet against the king of Salerno.  And if you like Castles, you have to visit Prince Arechi’s castle, which is located on the top of Salerno’s highest hill and offers a stunning panorama over the entire gulf apart from a very peculiar inside that reminds of the Beast’s Castle (from the “Beauty and the Beast”), like my parents always used to tell me when I was a child. Aside from any other kind of information that Wikipedia will surely provide you, here are some insiders’ tips: if you’re here during Christmas time, you can’t miss Salerno’s Luci d’Artista (Artists’ Lights) which is a city-wide exhibition of artistic lights culminating in a giant Christmas tree right in the center of the city. The lights are so bright and spread that the city looks like one of those North-Europe cities where the sun never sets for half a year!  So let’s say you missed Christmas: does that mean that festivals’ time’s over? Definitely not! Around Easter, there’s the Fiera del Crocifisso (crucifix carnival) which involves various stands selling local items and crafts that you definitely want to bring back home with you as most of them are handmade and precious.

Last but not least, how about a night dedicated entirely to pizza? If that’s making your tongue run all the world around, then you’re ready to come to Salerno’s Festa Della Pizza, which is usually set in early September. One more reason to come while the Sun is still alive and kicking! 

What to Buy? Okay, sorry to break it to you like this, but unless you’re planning on moving from Salerno and getting to other close areas, like Vietri (which is famous all over the world for its ceramics), you won’t be able to find much typical stuff to bring back home and hang on a wall to dust for the next hundred and half years.

I’m saying this because the best option would be to actually bring back to your country some food you won’t be able to find elsewhere unless you’re in the right mood for asking for a loan.  At least that’s what all my NY friends do whenever they come visit, they go for it with no hesitation!  Which means I suggest you to try buying wines(there are some exceptional wines to remind you of Italy like Lacryma Christi, Aglianico (in its various versions) or Solopaca or Fiano di Avellino) or Limoncello, which is a lemon based drink coming in its liquor version or cream version for those of you who don’t feel a lot like Sex and the City party night.  And if your friends enjoy your dinners and think to have tasted it all, you can bring home the secret ingredient everyone is gonna go crazy for, which is Extra-Virgin Campania Olive Oil, made with Italian olives. Your dishes are never going to be the same!  Mozzarella is a must so make sure to grab it fast.  Oh, and if you manage to see the star of Cooking in Manhattan on vacation in her hometown, just try kidnapping her because I assure you that she would make the perfect life coach, but don’t tell I told you so or next time she’s gonna make me fly the whole way to NY to see her.

Ciao!