Driving to Sapri beaches along the Cilento Coast in Italy

By Tee1

Sapri Beaches on the Cilento Coast

Cicero once called the Sapri beaches a “small gem of the southern sea”. In Italy’s southern Campania region, the small town of Sapri offers a sheltered bay and the wide open Villamare beach. This elegant beach spot overlooks the fantastic Gulf of Policastro, and can be found bordering Basilicata and Campania.  Sapri has been a busy beach vacation haven since Roman times. This resort town is a part of the Cilento Coast and is frequented primarily by Italians. The lack of foreign tourists makes it considerably less costly than the nearby Amalfi Coast. While still crowded in August, it has not been completely overwhelmed by English speaking throngs. Sapri has a year round population of 6,835.

“A small gem on the southern sea”- Cicero

The Sapri beaches have an impressive backdrop of green hills and grandiose mountains. Along the Villamare beach are a number of bars and restaurants on a long promenade. The promenade also has some pleasing gardens and sports ground too. Villamare beach is nice, sandy, and the clear water offers exceptional visibility. The narrow streets of this charming place lead to a town square full of charachter. Outside of the beach, Sapri is a small place and doesn’t offer much for other than natural beauty. You come here for fun in the sun, not landmarks. There appears to be a medieval tower, but it an observatory that was built in 1927.  If it was an attempt to bring in more sightseers, it didn’t work.

Where is Sapri? 40°4′N 35°17′E

Beach Vacation to Sapri, Italy

The Cilento Coast is one of southern Italy’s important tourist areas for a family beach vacation. It is found on the southern part of the Province of Salerno in the Campania region. The Cilento Coast stretches from Sapri in the south east to Capaccio-Paestum in the north-west. Only two of the 16 municipalities on the Cilento Coast, are directly on the sea.

[pullquote]The Blue Flag is a certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that a beach, marina or sustainable boating tourism operator meets its stringent standards.[/pullquote]

What the coast lacks in quantity, it certainly make up for in quality. Marine reserves are scattered along the coast resulting in the cleanest water in all of Italy. The beaches of the Cilento coast have been repeatedly recognized as Blue Flag beaches. It is the most awarded area in Campania.  The Italian environmentalist association, Legambiente, also rates Sapri and other localities highly for their beaches with Sails.

Road Trip along the Cilento Coast

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of helping a friend drive an old Landrover from some little forgotten town in Italy’s hills outside Naples down the coast. We drove the vehicle to the ferry in Reggio Calabria. Then we crossed across the straights of Messina to Sicily. The ferry only took a bit more than half an hour. The drive continued down through Sicily until we hopped the next ferry even further into the Mediterranean in Malta.

The drive along the coast is spectacular. This drive captures the imagination like a trip to Bora Bora. There are a number of amazing beaches scattered along the route. We stopped at a dozen or so little beach towns. Its one of those scenic drives that are slightly difficult, because it is so impossibly beautiful. Managing to stay on the road, instead of looking at the water is a chore. I was glad that I didn’t need to do any of the driving on the winding roads. We could have done the trip in a few hours on the highway. Instead we opted for scenery, slow and easy.

Most of the villages that we passed through were small. They are all worth continued exploration, especially for a lazy afternoon. It is debatable if it is more beautiful than a Caribbean beach vacation, but without a doubt it is certainly a lot more civilized.

Was this beach spot an inspiration for Hemingway?

In the 1950’s, the American author, Ernest Hemingway, lived in this area of Italy. It is said that The Old Man and Sea was equally inspired by the local fisherman as by the Cubans he later befriended. Nearly 70 years later, fishing has not changed much. If you get up early enough you can see these men head out to sea at sunrise in their wooden boats every day. It’s unlikely there is any truth to this attempted self promotion. But who knows? Papa did spend a lot of time in Italy.

Sapri’s Role in Italian History other than as a Beach Resort

However unlikely it seems at first glance, modern Italy has a massive debt to the role of Sapri. It has nothing to do with tourism or the beautiful surrounding waters. The strong anti-Bourbon feelings which ultimately led to Garibaldi and his Italian unification drive resulted from an unfortunate event in Sapri.

“This country had a look of greater prosperity than I had ever seen.”, Scottish traveller, Crufurd Taid Ramage, in 1828.

The Italian “freedom fighter” Carlo Pisacane landed at Sapri in 1857 with 300 men to defeat the Bourbons. His military endeavor was an astounding failure. As described by the poet Luigi Mercantini, “”They were three hundred, they were young, strong and dead!”. While it didn’t work out for Pisacane at the time, he has been immortalized in verse, Italy was ultimately unified, there is a famous statue and a 3 day festival in honor of his landing in Sapri. I would be willing to wager, he would be fine with the outcome.

There is even a re-enactment of the battle each August during the three-day festival in Sapri. The bronze statue of the ‘Spigolatrice of Sapri’ celebrates the event as it is lying on a rock at see and waiting for the arrival of the three hundred doomed men.

Sapri’s surrounding area is worth exploring, in particular the beach resort areas of Scario and Policastro. There are daily boat trips and ferries to see the Amalfi coast and Naples. A lot of itineraries are possible from the port. Sapri is a good choice for an affordable base to explore the Cilento National Park or checking out Monte Sirino if you want to head off the water. Of course, the famed beach town Maratea is only a few miles south.

Visiting Sapri for a Italian Beach Vacation

To recap, Sapri is a port town on the  Tyrrhenian Sea, in the southern part of Campania and very close to the Basilicata border. The town is 6 miles from Maratea, 4 miles from Policastro Bussentino and about 60 miles from Salerno.

Sapri once had a Serie D football club with all blue colors. The Italian association football club was formally known as the Società Sportiva Dilettante Sapri Calcio. In 2011,  “club’s assets were seized by authorities in a raid of suspected mafia assets”. The club did not appeal and it was excluded from all football.

If you can reasonably afford to spend money, a trip to Italy is better than most places. A nice Italian beach vacation does not need to cost a small fortune. There is no correlation between cost and quality for the most part. You do need to be able to communicate in Italian to avoid brutal tourist prices. A little research will yield incredible savings, especially in small villages on the beach. Another European option for value and a great trip is a beach vacation to France, in Brittany.

If you want to see how Italians relax and don’t want to break the bank, than check out the bathing resort of Sapri and its Villamare beach. Sapri is the southern most point of the Cilento Coast and is internationally known for its crystal clear waters. It is extremely slow, so considerably different than the best beaches of Barcelona. During the summer Villamare transforms into a happening place with about 15,000 people. Obviously, this is a result of families of Italian sun worshippers. It is an incredibly popular beach spot with Italian families looking for relaxation in the day and calm waters. The blue flag beaches stretch for over 3 miles. The location allows you to do quite a lot.

If you look back a little further than the Romans, you will find that Sapri and Villamare is really the ancient “Petrasia”. Petrasia is a Greek place name which refers to a group of houses built close to the sea at the mouth of the Rio Cacafava.

Villammare Beaches

The coast is divided in two by a small rocky cape. On one side is the lovely Villamare beach while on the other you find the promenade and the other sandy beaches of Santa Maria li Piani; east, towards Sapri, Marinella Park Beach and dell’Oliveto beach.


“La Spigolatrice di Sapri”.

Luigi Mercantini (1821–1872)

THEY were three hundred, they were young and strong,

            And they are dead!

One morning, as I went to glean the grain,

I saw a bark in middle of the main;

It was a bark came steaming to the shore,

And hoisted for its flag the tricolor.

At Ponza’s isle it stopped beneath the lea;

It stayed awhile, and then put out to sea,—

Put out to sea, and came unto our strand;

Landed with arms, but not as foemen land.

They were three hundred, they were young and strong,

            And they are dead!

Landed with arms, but not as foemen land,

For they stooped down and kissed the very sand.

And one by one I looked them in the face;

A tear and smile in each one I could trace!

“Thieves from their dens are these,” some people said,

And yet they took not even a loaf of bread!

I heard them utter but a single cry:

“We for our native land have come to die!”

 They were three hundred, they were young and strong,

            And they are dead!

With eyes of azure, and with hair of gold,

A young man marched in front of them; and bold

I made myself, and, having seized his hand,

Asked him, “Where goest, fair captain of the band?”

He looked at me and answered, “Sister mine,

I go to die for this fair land of thine!”

I felt my heart was trembling through and through,

Nor could I say to him, “God comfort you!

They were three hundred, they were young and strong,

            And they are dead!

That morning I forgot to glean the grain,

And set myself to follow in their train.

Twice over they encountered the gens-d’armes,

Twice over they despoiled them of their arms;

But when we came before Certosa’s wall

We heard the drums beat and the trumpets call,

And mid the smoke, the firing, and the glare

More than a thousand fell upon them there.

They were three hundred, they were young and strong,

            And they are dead!

 They were three hundred, and they would not fly;

They seemed three thousand, and they wished to die,

But wished to die with weapons in their hands;

Before them ran with blood the meadow-lands.

I prayed for them, but ere the fight was o’er

Swooned suddenly away, and looked no more;

For in their midst I could no more behold

Those eyes of azure and that hair of gold!

They were three hundred, they were young and strong,

            And they are dead!