The park was declared part of the Biosphere Preservation program of UNESCO in 1997 for its pristine natural environment, rich in rare plant species, such as the primula di Palinuro -- a rare dune flower that has been adopted as the symbol of the park -- and the wild orchid of San Giovanni a Piro, a Mediterranean orchid (orchidee spontanee). The park covers almost 180,000 hectares (444,790 acres), and encompasses two mountain masses -- the Alburni to the north and Monte Cervati to the south -- and several small towns and villages. Vallo della Lucania, the seat of the park information office, is a good base for discovering the interior and enjoying hiking opportunities.
Beyond a belt of uninteresting modern development, Agropoli's well-preserved medieval citadel (about 49km/30 miles south of Salerno) crowns a promontory dominated by a castle, today partially ruined and overlooking the harbor and the small fishing harbor below. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Punta Campanella and Capri from the castle's walls. We also recommend a stroll along the seafront promenade.
Teggiano (100km/62 miles south of Salerno and 14km/8 3/4 miles north of Padula) also makes for a pleasant excursion. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore has beautiful sculpture, particularly the 13th-century ambone and the 14th-century tomb of Enrico Sanseverino. More art is in the Museo Diocesano (tel. 0975-79930; free admission; Tues-Sun 10am-1pm and 3-6pm), in the 13th-century church of San Pietro. The imposing castle dates back to Norman times; owned by the Macchiaroli family, it is not open to the public. Other villages worth the detour are Castellabate (20km/13 miles south of Paestum), with its picturesque 12th-century castle, and Acciaroli (80km/50 miles south of Salerno) and the adjacent medieval hamlet of Pioppi.
The archaeological excavations of Velia, 90km (56 miles) south of Salerno (tel. 0974-971409; daily 9am-sunset; admission 2€, free with purchase of the Artecard), are near the coastline, on the outskirts of Marina di Ascea. These ruins are lesser known than those at Paestum; they are the remains of the Greek colony of Elea, created around 540 B.C. as the seat of the famed Eleatic school of philosophy. Elea had grown into such a beacon of Greek culture by Roman times that even after it fell under the rule of the empire it was allowed the privilege of maintaining Greek as its official language. That is when its name was changed to Velia. The lower town features portions of the walls from the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., as well as, around the south gate, houses originally from the same period but modified in Roman times. Also of note are the Roman thermal baths, with beautiful mosaics in the Frigidarium. From there you can climb to the famous Porta Rosa, on a stretch of the original Greek pavement. In the Acropolis (the upper town), you'll find ruins of a theater, an Ionic temple that was partially covered by a Norman castle, and a sanctuary to Poseidon. The northern sections of the city walls are still well preserved.
The best attractions in the park are its grottoes. Most superb are the Grotte dell'Angelo in Pertosa (tel. 0975-397037; www.grottedellangelo.sa.it; MarOct daily 9am-7pm, NovFeb daily 10am-4pm; three guided tours 10€, 13€, and 16€, free with purchase of the Artecard). Created by the stream that still flows there, the grottoes have parts still underwater. A visit here starts with a ride on a raft across the first cave. The corridors extend for over 3km (2 miles), but the actual walk depends on the length of the tour you choose: the Inferno (60 min.), the Purgatorio (75 min.), or the Paradiso (90 min.). Each subsequent hall contains marvelous formations of shapely stalactites and stalagmites, and some pure crystal formations. The grotto's inhabitants built pile dwellings during the Neolithic period, and more traditional dwellings during the Bronze and early Iron ages. The caves were kept in use during Lucanian and ancient Roman times, and during the Christian era, when they were consecrated in the name of Saint Michael, the 11th-century archangel. Experienced spelunkers can book a tour to less accessible parts of the grottoes, including the active subterranean stream. To reach the grottoes, follow the signs for PERTOSA on SS 19; the parking area is a short distance off the road to the left. Note: Thursday and Friday, when school is in session, access to the grottoes is reserved for classes; they open to the public at 2pm.
An interesting complement to a visit to the grottoes is the recently opened MIdA, Piazza de Marco, Pertosa (tel. 0975-397220; www.fondazionemida.it), a museum dedicated to the local ecosystem with a multimedia exhibit on spelunking (admission 2€, free with purchase of the Artecard; Tues-Sun 10am-1pm, Nov-Mar also 3-6pm and Apr-Oct also 3-7pm).
The Grotte di Castelcivita (tel. 0828-7772397; www.grottedicastelcivita.com; admission 10€, 20% discount with purchase of the Artecard) is an astounding succession of large galleries and natural halls extending for over 5km (3 miles) under the Alburni mountains. Inhabited from Paleolithic times to the Bronze Age, the grottoes are composed of a central section of galleries and halls. Lateral chambers that depart from the main core have been only partially explored. Some halls have beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations, others, such as the so-called Tempio (Temple), have multicolored formations. Remember to bring a jacket: It's chilly even in summer. The grottoes are accessible by guided tour only, with visits starting every 90 minutes (Mar 16-Sept 30 10:30am-6pm; Oct 1-Mar 15 10:30am-3pm). To reach the grottoes, follow SS 488 toward the small town of Controne; the grottoes are a few miles down the road.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.