Whenever I ask my husband, “mountains or ocean?” for daytrips or weekends, with unwavering certainty he always says, “Ocean.” But with the great floods of fall 2013/winter 2014, the likeliness of winter fogs even when it wasn’t raining, plus most seaside villages being all but closed in the cooler months, going to the beach really wasn’t much of an option until recently. So finally, after living for over seven months in a country with approximately 7,600 km of coastline, we finally went to the beach.
After a bit of research and asking around about the best seaside destination in daytrip distance, we chose Sperlonga, not the closest beach, but definitely the closest nice beach. The recent warmer weather was a plus, but it was also Mother’s Day, and my wonderful mother had just flown in to visit for the next few weeks, so this was definitely going to be an ocean day.
There are two ways to get to Sperlonga. The first way is driving, which is fairly straight forward. There are a few parking garages and parking lots in the main town, plus additional parking at the beaches. The other way is to take a train from Rome to Fondi-Sperlonga, then take a bus to Sperlonga. It took about two hours by car, on the longer side for a daytrip, but it was soooo worth it.
Sperlonga 1
Once we got there, we found that Sperlonga has three distinct areas. The original village, pictured above. The more modern north beach, with hotels and views of the nearby mountains.
Sperlonga North Beach
And the South beach which is more natural, with lots of beach clubs lining the shore.
Sperlonga South Beach
What’s a Beach club? I was wondering too, and after some research it’s still a bit unclear to me. It seems Beach Clubs or Stabilimenti are establishments on “private” beaches that charge a fee for chair, umbrella, and use of their services for the day such as restroom, dressing room, and café. I say “private” because the actual shore is usually not owned by the establishment, and I’ve read that the 10 meters of beach starting from the water line is supposed to be free for anyone to walk on. Take that with a grain of salt though, I read it on the internet. In high season chairs are reserved months in advance. So I guess it would be risky to just show up in August or July expecting to find a chair. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand it’s an extremely civilized way to go to the beach, on the other it’s expensive and exclusionary.
After finding some convenient parking nearby, we quickly found the perfect place to celebrate Mother’s Day in style. There were plenty of adorable restaurants in ivy clad piazzas, but don’t settle, towns like this always have at least a few restaurants with a view.
Sperlonga View 1
We settled in for a nice long Italian lunch. I’ve never been a huge seafood fan, but then besides being near the Chesapeake Bay for a few years (but still four hours from the ocean), I’ve never been this close to the sea. Fresh seafood makes all the difference, and I find myself willing to try things I would never have touched before. I eat fresh clams fairly regularly now, and the other day I tried octopus for the first time, which was actually really good and not rubbery or tentacully like I always imagined. So we took advantage of our proximity and ordered dishes like Speghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) and Linguine all’Aragosta (Linguine with Lobster), yum.
Sperlonga Speghetti alla vongole
Sperlonga Lobster Linguini
We lingered over dessert and mooned over the gorgeous view.
Sperlonga View 2
Then we decided to explore the town. Most of what I had read about Sperlonga involved the beach and a few other attractions. Few people mentioned how interesting the historic part of town is. It’s a whitewashed labyrinth of stairways and bridges specked with bright doorways and drying laundry heading in all directions. This is the kind of rustic elegance that cannot be imitated.
Sperlonga City Center 1
Sperlonga City Center 2
Sperlonga City Center 3
Sperlonga City Center 4
Sperlonga City Center 5
Sperlonga Door
Sperlonga Flowers
We started to walk down to the beach from town, but then we remembered that what climbs down, must climb back up again, and this was a long climb. So we returned to the car and parked on the south side near the beach close to the highway, which was the only free parking we could find. Most of the other parking was for the beach clubs and a few restaurants, and we really didn’t want to risk getting towed.
A three minute walk downhill and we were finally at the beach. The water was an unreal teal blue from above, but up close it was clean and crystal clear. The sand was actual sand, not pebbles or sharp rocks. And the beach itself was barely occupied, even for this warm day. I have no idea if we were trespassing beach club property, if we were no one minded.
Sperlonga Sea
Sperlonga Beach 1
Above all, the beach felt tranquil, not just from the sea itself, but from the trees behind us, the town in the distance outlined in the lowering sun, and the green mountains framing us all around. It’s a good place to sit on a rock and contemplate everything and nothing. Of course you can always contemplate the area itself. On the mountain sides above are ruins of some sort of fortress from who knows how long ago, the beach itself has ruins of a building that could be fifty or a thousand years old, but above all is a giant fenced in cave.
Sperlonga Tiberius Cave
This cave is interesting at face value, but it’s impressive because this is where the Emperor Tiberius used to throw parties about two thousand years ago. Now it’s a museum with ancient pools and statues. I really wanted to see it, but we got there too late. All the more reason to go back.
Sperlonga Beach 2
As if we needed a reason to go back. This was a special trip because it was with my Mom, but I also believe it was the beginning of a beautiful beachy daytrip tradition. I’ll definitely be sharing more beach trips in the future.