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Golden Day Sixty-Nine: Delicious Salerno with Arthur Schwartz

January 25, 2012

One of the most wonderfully delicious times I’ve had in Italy was when my husband and I joined Arthur Schwartz’s Cook at Seliano group in Paestum.

Arthur is a passionate expert when it comes to Italian cuisine—check out two of his many inspiring cookbooks:
Naples at Table and The Southern Italian Table. It’s great fun to be around him and his co-host, Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli, who owns Tenuta Seliano, the agriturismo where the cooking vacation is based.

Even if you’re not taking class, Tenuta Seliano is a perfect spot to relax in rural surroundings, eat very well, and explore Campania. Just a short walk away are three of the best preserved Greek Temples in the world.

Twenty minutes north is Salerno,what Arthur calls, “one of the most charming towns on the Amalfi Coast.” Set at the coast’s southern border, Salerno is a perfect stop for a Golden Day, especially when you have advice from Arthur.

“Go to the Giardino della Minerva,” he began, when I spoke with him by phone a couple of days ago. This is the oldest botanical garden in Europe, created in the early 1300s, when there was a medical school here. You’ll find it above Salerno’s medieval  historic center. To get there, you take a public elevator, found diagonally across from the centro storico’s parking lot. The garden is made up of 6 terraces, filled with about 260 plant species, including such rarities as the legendary mandrake and ginseng. On the top terrace, is a Tea Room, La Tiseneria. Here you get a panoramic view of the port and sea, while you sip teas made from the garden’s herbs.

Salerno’s centro storico is one of the best preserved in Italy—with narrow, arched alleys (vicoli) and broad vias lined with delightful shops. The major attraction is the 11th century Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Matthew—his bones are kept in a crypt under the main altar. And on the way up to it, on Via Duomo, are good antique shops.

I always love hearing Arthur’s restaurant advice. “There are lots of pizzerias to choose from,” he says. Always the teacher, he explains the difference between Neapolitan and Salernitani pizza: “Salerno’s crust has a smaller ring, it’s less puffy and the crust is crisper than what you’ll find in Naples.” A great place for Neapolitan pizza in Salerno is Antica Pizzeria Vicolo della Neve (Vicolo della Neve 24, 089 225705, closed Wed). Neve means “snow” and the vicolo got its name because in olden days the tunnel beneath the street was used to store ice, wrapped in straw, that was hauled down from the surrounding mountains by mules. In addition to pizza, you can order good oven-baked dishes here–such as stuffed peppers, salt cod and potatoes, meatballs, or pasta fagioli.

For great Salerno style pizza, if you’re feeling adventurous, Arthur’s advice is to head to O Paisano (Via Bottiglieri di Giovi 19, 84133 Salerno, 089 750861), in the hills on the outskirts of town, where you can also enjoy delicious fritti (fried antipasti).

Salerno’s best shopping is in the centro storico on Via dei Mercanti, where you’ll find unique stores selling jewelry, locally made leather goods, and hats. You also should stop for dolce at Pasticceria Pantaleone (Via dei Mercanti 77, closed Tues). It’s not a sit down place, but you can pick up goodies to go, such as baba or Scazzetta del Cardinale—Salerno’s signature cake filled with lemon cream, covered with strawberry-flavored icing. Mercanti eventually becomes Corso Vittorio Emanuele (the more modern part of town), where you’ll find traditional Italian chain stores, such as Benetton and La Feltrinelli.

“And join in on the passegiatta, that starts around 5:30, along Via dei Mercanti and the surroundings,” says Arthur. “On Saturday nights the streets fill up with the 20 to 30 year olds, spilling out from the bars…”

Grazie mille for taking us to yet another delicious, vibrant place, Arturo!

*For more info about Arthur Schwartz, Italy, and Cook at Seliano custom vacations, go to www.thefoodmaven.com.

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