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Stories from the Cilento, part 1

In this section we want to convey a different sense of Italy, almost as if in slow motion. Not simply to describe the places we travel to, but also to talk about the local people, their present, their past and their future. Every journey has chance encounters and to learn from them you just need to listen to the people you meet.

The road to Pisciotta in certain places is so sketchy as a result of successive landslides as to make us want to turn back, but it’s the only road there is so we press on. On arrival we are welcomed by Nunzia and from our brief conversation on the way to the apartment it becomes clear that we have entered a different Italy where no modern convenience, even a fully functioning road, is ever taken for granted.

Already, our very first impression is one of being immersed in the atmosphere of the 2010 film Noi credevamo (We believed) by Mario Martone which was filmed in this area with the Cilento as the backdrop to the story. The descendants of those young patriot heroes, followers of Giuseppe Mazzini, are still here, proud and splendid.

Everything that determined the fate of this territory in decades past, from its remoteness to its terrible road connections (the new road has been under construction for 35 years) is now playing a part in its resurgence. It has remained remarkably unchanged with its heritage intact and in this special place you have the privilege of living life to a different rhythm. It must be this that attracts people from every corner of the globe. Certainly it’s not a place for everyone and it isn’t surrounded by the picture perfect scenery portrayed in glossy travel magazines but its beauty is to be found even in its imperfections.

Pisciotta in the Cilento area, Italy

And to experience this for themselves people have come from as far away as America, Canada and Australia as well as Switzerland, Holland and Sweden. Many have bought houses here and return every year.

You wonder what possesses them to live in a place where just getting your suitcase to your front door can be an ordeal and where there are no spacious rooms or ensuite bathrooms. The response is that here, deep in the Cilento, there is a connection to a more genuine, simpler and healthier way of life. These recent arrivals, half-way between tourists and residents, made the decision to pass right by the nearby Amalfi Coast and instead come here in pursuit of authenticity.

But for those of you who are just passing through for a day or two and want to stay in Pisciotta, you can choose between the beautiful Hotel Marulivo and the very popular La Casa sul Blu, both of which are in the town itself. And there are other excellent choices nearby like Santo Mercurio. And even if you’re staying further south close to the magnificent beaches of Palinuro or Camerota then you should really make the effort to come to Pisciotta one evening. Start at Cantina Lamadè with one of their signature drinks, an original aperitivo Cilentano, flavored with fresh seasonal herbs and served with local cheeses and meats. And then if you stay for dinner, there is one place in particular that is deserving of special mention.

Malabar - Fish Restaurant

Seated at one of the decorative outdoor tables at Malabar the enchanting atmosphere of Pisciotta and piazza Pagano immediately envelopes you. The first surprise lies in simply discovering this small square, which is only reached after a winding walk through the narrow alleyways of town. Alleyways that are effectively the only outdoor area for the houses crowded into the tight spaces on either side.

And just when you have that slightly trapped, claustrophobic feeling you emerge suddenly into the piazza Pagano with the expansive night sky overhead, looking at a little corner of the sea in the distance and you breathe again.

the town of Pisciotta

Malabar’s tables fill the square but in a very cosy and intimate way and you sense that in this lovely historical setting full of atmosphere you are in store for a wonderful dinner. As soon as you sit down Raffaele arrives and recites a menu that is refreshingly original. Convention here is tossed aside and you are presented with an exciting choice of original and creative antipasti (appetizers), designed around the day’s fresh catch from the marina with a twist of originality, whether in the type of marinade or in the imaginative combination with other ingredients.

The cooking is innovative, but at the same time minimalist and respectful of the ingredients. A combination that fa venire l’acquolina in bocca (makes your mouth water). As they say at Malabar, “discovering a new dish is more precious for the human race than discovering a new star”. Hyperbole perhaps, but it’s their philosophy.

Malabar osteria in Pisciotta

Among the dishes you can sample here are the ones we loved: Palamita con menta capperi cipolla e pimenton, Filetto di spigola in oliocottura, Crostini con zucchine alla scapece e salsa aioli e con melanzana bruciata e alice di menaica.

(The menaica anchovies are caught by the fishermen of Marina di Pisciotta using an traditional method that dates back to the times of ancient Greece, respectful of the life cycle of the fish and the environment. Since 2001, these anchovies have been recognized for their unique taste and importance by the Slow Food movement in Campania).

So what do you do here with such a large choice of antipasti? Do what we did. Order a bunch of them and then when you’ve eaten those don’t be shy and order more. We watched each plate that came out of the kitchen and when one looked particularly interesting we willed it to our table and then when it passed us by we demanded to know what it was and then promptly ordered it ourselves.

And as we have found on the odd occasion when a restaurant departs from the rigid confines of the traditional Italian menu format and creates such interesting and delicious appetizers don’t be afraid to take full advantage and then just skip the other more conventional courses completely.


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