Lingering in Sperlonga
Sperlonga shares a train station with Fondi, its inland neighbour. At first sight it appears to be just a small town located on a high promontory…
…but the beaches that stretch off for several kilometres in both directions make it the premier beach resort in Lazio.
Small flats here sell for a million Euros and in peak season hotel prices soar. I was here for two nights in May when it was pretty quiet, having unexpectedly been given a day off, allowing me to escape Fondi for a short break at the sea side before heading home.
The old centre is stunning; a warren of small alleyways and staircases, impassable for cars or scooters, so there’s nothing to disturb the peace.
Every time you turn a corner there’s a new set of stairs or an archway to entice you further in.
Even though it’s tiny, you could spend a long time wandering around.
The watchtower at the point, sadly doused with concrete to make it look neat, was a look out for Saracen raiders who destroyed the town a few times in its history.
Nowadays the only invaders are tourists from Rome and around the world. The beach was virtually deserted when I was there in mid-May and an army of empty lettini (sun loungers) and ombrelloni (beach umbrellas) stood awaiting the official start of summer in June.
Sperlonga comes from ‘spelunca’, meaning cave, and there are a fair few along the coast around here. A fair way down the south beach is the legendary cave of Tiberius, the Roman emperor who used Sperlonga as his second holiday home when he got tired of Capri.
Apparently his parties would put Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga affairs in the shade. Although at one dinner party in the cave, described in an ancient text, a diner was killed by a falling boulder! The museum containing the bizarre statutory he had commissioned for his now partly submerged villa is worth a visit apparently, although I just looked at the pictures from the comfort of my sun lounger.
I wasn’t completely lazy though. After appreciating the peace of an early morning walk around the old town, I went for a run along the country roads leading up to the hills behind the town and was rewarded with a great view of the small wild mountains behind. It made me realise how narrow the strip of flat land is here between the mountains and the sea .
Hotel Mayor, 4 Via I° Romita, Tel. 0771 54 92 45
I stayed at this mid-range albergo which has rooms for €60 a night (€100 in peak season in July/August). The rooms are basic but comfortable and the staff are friendly and they have free Wi-Fi in reception which worked in my room on the third floor. They also have a ‘private beach’ by which they mean they have sun-loungers in a less crowded area of the beach which you can use for free. It’s an ok place to stay although the breakfast is a little bland.
Just up the road from the hotel at 19 Via Romita Primero is Da Fausto, recommended by a teacher as the ‘best’ (i.e. most expensive) restaurant in town, but it was beyond my budget. I managed to eat pretty well at these places though:
…square chunky spaghetti with wedge clams, a particularly favourite bivalve of mine.
Collecting them on your fork requires a fair bit of effort but the results are very satisfying (A).
To follow, Soute di Cozze, mussels mariniere style with a parsley and wine sauce, and two pieces of ‘bruschetta’, in this case fried bread doused in olive oil, also delicious (A).
Finally a second secondo (sheer greed!) of grilled Pesce Spada (swordfish) with fried courgettes and even more bruschetta on the side.
This was a bit bland and needed salting but was still pretty good (B).
To drink my final bottle of Satrico from Casale del Giglio (B+), now an old friend.
From here the force of gravity helped me down the hill to the gelataria in the square for dessert. Italian chocolates are great and one of my favourites is Bacio (meaning kiss), a hazelnut covered in dark chocolate. So how could I resist the ice cream version?
The gelataria is also a pasticceira and and it was a constant struggle to resist the delicious looking sfogliatelle pastries on display.
They also have arragostini, which are shaped like small lobster tails.
It’s located near the Mayor’s private beach, in a small square at the end of Viale Cristiforo Colombo, the main street that runs along the North beach.
There are two stalls selling fresh fruit and veg in the square before 12 each day. I couldn’t resist getting half a kilo of datterini tomatoes, tiny bombs of flavour that fitted perfectly in your mouth.
To go with them the nice lady gave me a huge stalk of basil, plucked from the biggest basil plant I have ever seen. It’s this kind of thing that makes me want to move here forever! There must have been six other varieties of tomato on the stalls.
I also saw some ‘nespole’, a yellow fruit I’ve never seen before called medlar in English, which should apparently be eaten when it’s nearly rotten. Or used to make jelly like quince.
There’s a great fishmonger near the square as well, and some deli grocery stores further down Viale Cristiforo Colombo. Everything you need really.
Tropical (Elementary B), 17-19 Via Cristoforo Colombo
Recommended by the hotel and a teacher I was working with, this is a seemingly cheap rudimentary place in an expensive town. It’s basically a long room with a low roof, open detachable windows (slightly chilly in May), a large telly at one end and paper tablecloths with anchors on. The macho waiters have a lot of ground to cover but you get served eventually. They do pizzas here too, including a long oval version for two people, and more worryingly, Tennant’s Super on the drinks list.
I was here mainly for the seafood and had a huge plate of Risotto Frutti di Mare for €14.50 which was piled high with mussels, clams, calamari, squid, octopus, a solitary prawn and a couple of chunks of chicken (which worked very well), basic but tasty and filling (B).
The house white, ‘Iuppiter’ a dry white from Terracina, is drinkable but nothing special (C+) (€10).
Having developed a major appetite in recent days, I followed this up with Salsiccia Paesana con Patatine, i.e. Sausage & Chips, which here was a smaller version of the local spicy sausage than at d’Mblo (see Fondi post), served with oven chips, which did what it said on the tin (C+).
To finish, Fragole con Limone e Zucchero, strawberries with lemon and sugar and a not-cold-enough limoncello, or two. Total cost €49.50, slightly more than at the incredible Vicolo d’Mblo in Fondi but much lower in quality. Better value to be had elsewhere I’d say.
Ristorante Pizzeria L’Angolo (Intermediate A), 15 Via Tiberio, Tel. 0771 548808
In a corner (angolo) of the south beach, this is a big place with which must be heaving in peak season though it was relatively quiet when I went.
That is if you could screen out the disco pop, an American lady with a disobedient barking dog and the loud German couple on the next table. You can sit outside on plastic or inside on wood, and I did both, eventually choosing to retreat to the warmth and dog free quiet of the interior.
This was my last night on this tour so I went for things that I wouldn’t get to eat for a while. The Mozzarella Campana was fresh and delicious (A) and only €3, half the price and twice as good as anything I got in Rome.
The rustic Linguine All’ Astice (pasta with lobster) in a powerful tomato sauce was also excellent (A) although things got a bit messy due to my poor skills with a nutcracker.
To go with this an ok (B-) bottle of ‘People’ Frascati from Poggio le Volpi (2010).
Finally a slice of Torta di Fragole (strawberry cake) and a Grappa Moscato. Total cost €43. I think better food and value than Tropical. A good send off before heading home.
Sperlonga is magical, as the Italians would say, ‘E stupendo!’ Go in the off season if you can, before the hordes arrive and the prices shoot up.