Seaside weekend at Sperlonga

A birthday weekend for a friend: we took Friday off, and drove to Sperlonga. It’s a cliff-top whitewashed town halfway between Rome and Naples, and though mid-September, perfect for a beach weekend. We had rented a villa, so we could cook ourselves, and it was clean and very functional, only five minutes walk to the beach. Off course in August it would have been packed, but this was after schools had opened so not very busy. Crystal clear water, perfect to be by the sea.

The old town of Sperlonga is lovely: steep white pedestrian streets that twist and turn, cobblestones, arches, pink bougainvillea, unexpected piazzas and nooks with glimpses of the sea below. We were in the modern part down at sea level, not as pretty but much easier on the knees.

Padre Pio himself. We ambled in for coffee and sfogliatelle one morning, as the pastries are different there from Rome. Here you also get Neapolitan pizza, with the thick crust, which was fab. We bought mozzarella on our way home to Rome, and olives from Gaeta.

I did like this sign in Sperlonga. “Se non vuoi essere complice del COVID-19, continua a rispettare le norme di sicurezza.” (If you don’t want to be complicit with COVID-19, continue to comply with safety regulations.) Messaging is consistent and clear, and people did generally wear masks in public: sometimes under the nose, under the chin or on the elbow, but always ready to pop it on, as you need the mask to enter shops and restaurants.

This lady is shopping from a beachside seller (holding the mirror), who wheels the clothing racks along the waterfront. Lots of space and fresh air, it was a really nice weekend break.

Last day in San Marco Castellabate

seafood dinner

For our last evening in San Marco Castellabate, we went for a nice seafood meal. Fresh fish can be quite expensive, as it is sold by the etto (100 grammes), which is fine as long as you know and are not shocked by the bill. We went to the rooftop restaurant at Hotel Antonietta and had a very enjoyable meal. Dentice (dentex, or seabream, according to the ever-useful “Italian names for fish and seafood“. Thanks again for that.) Limited grill menu, but beautiful setting and the food was wonderful. We chose our dentice, with calamari on the side which they grilled impaled on rosemary. Just gorgeous.
Vietri pottery
The plates were from Vietri sul Mare, just west of Salerno, on the Amalfi coast. So pretty! (This is when I started plotting a cunning pottery-shopping detour to Vietri on the way home, despite already having plenty of dinner plates at home, luggage already stuffed with jars of hazelnuts and honey, and no space to store anything. Fortunately we had non-changeable Trenitalia tickets, and one of us was off to the airport the next morning. But maybe another time……)

Napoli fan club

Walking to the bus stop: Football fans you find everywhere.

vegetable stand

After the pastry shop, before the bus stop, and I am very tempted by these beautiful red peppers. (This is all within about 50 metres distance. My kind of bus stop.)
vegetable stand
This time we took the CSTP bus to Salerno, as rain was forecast, then the fast train to Rome from there. (4.10 for bus ticket, 29 euro for train ticket, two hours to Rome.) The two-hour bus trip is not really recommended, unless you have a passion for urban sprawl. We thought we’d try this, instead of bus to Agropoli (same bus), then train to Salerno, then train to Rome. That would have worked as well, I am sure. But Trenitalia in Rome could not sell us the ticket Agropoli-Salerno for some reason. It was hot and muggy, with rain forecast, so the bus ride was perfectly comfortable and definitely interesting. Not pretty, but so much to look at: lots of mozzarella signs and melon fields. You can see how it used to be marshland. Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is from here, and you frequently see signs, indicating the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) status. We even caught a glimpse of the Greek ruins at Paestum, so I was thrilled.

pastries from Castellabate

Back in Rome, with our tray of pastries from San Marco Castellabate. Not cannoli, as I thought, but caramel-almond rolls with chocolate and pistachio ricotta. Plus the remaining hazelnut biscuit like a shaped brutti ma buoni, but with chocolate. (We’d already eaten the first one.) We unpacked, made some risotto, and finally watched Benvenuti al Sud, set in Castellabate. Funnier than expected, and the pastries were just divine.

Lunch in Santa Maria Castellabate

Beer on the beachBeer on the beach. We had chosen Cilento as a promising long weekend destination from Rome: seaside, beaches, a new area to explore, and the Greek ruins at Paestum. Then we arrived in San Marco Castellabate, it was delightfully tranquil (and hot), and the thought of getting to Paestum and back on weekend buses was just too much. So we opted for another beach day. The ruins will be there the next time we come back to the Cilento area.

Our hotel had a deal with a stabilimento (private beach establishment), so off we went in the shuttle bus and had a very Italian beach day between San Marco Castellabate and Santa Maria Castellabate. Big beach umbrellas, beds, and the sea was crystal clear and immaculate, with green forested hills inland. Such a change from Ostia near Rome! It was quiet as well, despite being quite busy.

beach seller
Stabilimenti are often not great for food, so we ambled barefoot along the beach to Santa Maria Castellabate, just to have a look. This beach seller passed us on the way, laden with a vast array of clothing. Must be hard work.

Grilled vegetables

It’s pretty, and much bigger than San Marco. Lots of deep-fried food options at lunch, so we opted for a beachside hotel restaurant: Taverna del Mare, at Hotel Sonia. Here, grilled vegetables.

spaghetti con vongole
Spaghetti con vongole…..

Scialatielli con frutti di mare
… and my scialatielli con frutti di mare, which I chose as I was curious what scialatielli were. Home made pasta, possibly similar to pici? It was all very nice.

pasta in shop window
Some interesting pasta seen in a window. Here, trenette al nero di seppia (squid ink), and pappardelle al pistachio. Always nice to get ideas of what to try at home. We can get squid ink in the local grocery store, we gave a food-interested nephew in Scotland some squid ink for Christmas and he made some impressively black tagliatelle.

pizza box Castellabate
That evening, we were still stuffed from lunch, with no capacity for the grilled fish dinner we had planned. So we had a lovely evening on the hotel room balcony, overlooking the sea and enjoying the sunset. (Fortunately our friend had booked the nicer room with the seaside view, which we all three enjoyed that evening.) Two of us had crackers and fruit, and the third in our party had takeaway pizza (four euro, Neapolitan style Margerita). Sometimes that is just what you fancy!