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The Five Secrets of Long Life in South Italy

The beach at Paestum on the Tyrrhenian Sea looking toward Cilento
The beach at Paestum looking toward the cliffs of the Cilento Coast

Cilento is famous for the temples at Paestum, mozzarella di bufala, and the Mediterranean Diet. First studied by American physiologist named Ancel Keys who lived in Cilento for 40 years, it was codified in his1959 book “Eat and Stay Well” and then in 1975 “How To Eat Well and Stay Well The Mediterranean Way.” Since then scientists have continued to study the abundance of centenarians in Cilento. Most researchers agree that it's the complete lifestyle, not just the diet, which after just a few days spent enjoying the healthy food, beautiful beaches, and general sense of serenity in Cilento, seems irrefutable.

In 2020 food writer Luciano Pignataro along with oncologist Giancarlo Vecchio published “The Cilento Method: The Five Secrets of Centenarians” to explore exactly what makes Cilento a model of longevity and wellness

1. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

Author Michael Pollan's advice for eating is heartily validated in South Italy. The culinary heritage of Cilento relies heavily on vegetables, beans, rustic handmade pastas, and anchovies which are rich in heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Meat is eaten sparingly, often in a ragù and for Sundays or special occasions. Cured meats are common in Cilento, more so now because of food industrialization that makes them available year round, but it should be remembered that cured meats are a preservation method and so salumi (charcuterie) would be savored throughout the year.

Quotidian dishes include a vegetable stew called ciambotta, pasta with chickpeas, and stuffed peppers. Pescatarians will find their paradise in Cilento.

Cilento style ragù with fusilli or fusiddi
Handmade fusilli in a ragù

2. Take the stairs

The anziani of Cilento aren't thinking about their step counts and they'll always stop to talk to friends along their way. Long meandering walks are designed to run into friends and neighbors along the way, stop to chat or gossip, and enjoy the fresh air and the views, particularly at sunset. Also key to the "Cilento Method" are long quiet walks in nature.

The evening stroll in front of the temples at Paestum
Evening passeggiata in Paestum

Ancient South Italians cities like Herculaneum or Paestum were built along the sea for easy access to the ports and the coastal lifestyle. But in the early Middle Ages much of the South Italian coast became too plagued by malaria and was often raided by pirates from North Africa. People fled to the hills and built villages that thrived until the cars became common place. Small villages are often inhabited by the people who also grew up in them and long staircases and hills are a normal part of life. It's notable how many senior citizens throughout Italy are physically agile and can climb hills or steps with ease. The daily passeggiata is not the grand event it was in years past, but it is still practiced, especially in the summertime.

3. Relax

A good night's rest is cultivated throughout the day. Sure, sometimes it's possible to be so busy that you fall into bed and fall asleep immediately. But even so, a racing mind can keep you up or dampen the quality of your sleep. The phrase you will hear over and over again in Cilento is "piano, piano" --- slowly, slowly. Take your time, take time to commune with nature, take a nap, and prioritize peace in your own mind.

The clean waters of the Cilento Coast are said to have been home to Homer's Sirens from "The Odyssey."
A boat ride along the protected Cilento Coast

4. Be part of a community

The anziani of Cilento believe your heart is physically kept strong by always being with your loved ones. Being lonely creates stress, while good company nourishes you. It's common to see the older generation of men hanging out together in the piazza or women leaning out their window or sitting in the doorway to say hello to passersby.

A more modern iteration of traditional village life is found at a wine bar in Trentinara's where guests sit on pillows and wine crates along the staircases and lanes of the medieval historic center. It creates a sense of warmth and humble conviviality among strangers who quickly become friends.

5. Spirituality and a sense of awe and wonder

Cilento has a special energy that has attracted seekers for at least 3,000 years. Greek colonists founded a town called Poseidonia and built four massive temples, three of which survive today. With three of them dedicated to the goddess Hera, Poseidonia later called Paestum was an important pilgrimage site especially for women who came seeking blessings for marriage and fertility. In the Middle Ages Hera's cult was Christianized by monks who transformed her into the Madonna del Granato. Hera temples can be found throughout South Italy and are the underpinning of the intense worship of the Virgin Mary and the dominance of women within traditional family structures.

Remove religion from the temples and they still inspire a powerful sense of awe and wonder. This deference to something sublime doesn't need to be defined for it to soothe your soul.


“The Cilento Secret” is a one week tour that unfolds the story of Cilento and the gentle life here that feels like Italy of another era. Departing May 15-22, 2022 or it can be modified for a private tour.

The view of the Cilento Coast from Borgo Castellabate.
A view of the Cilento Coast looking west toward Capri and Amalfi



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