Where Romans Holiday: Tyrrhenian Sea, Sperlonga, Italy

Where Romans Holiday: Tyrrhenian Sea, Sperlonga, Italy

Ever since Roman emperor Tiberius kept a villa in Sperlonga in the first century CE, this resort town on the Tyrrhenian Sea has been a favorite escape for Romans fleeing the Eternal City’s summer heat. Sperlonga’s prominent watchtower, the Torre Truglia, once guarded the village against conquering Turks and Saracen pirates. It now overlooks vacationing Italians sunning on Angolo Beach. Rent a lounge chair and recline beside them. When I was there, bambini dribbled soccer balls between umbrellas, and granita carts rolled by, their proprietors chipping lemon snow cones to order.

Stroll to the eastern end of the beach, where Tiberius’s grotto gapes like a yawning giant buried up to its neck in sand. This sea cave was once part of the emperor’s villa and filled with sculptures depicting scenes from Homer’s Odyssey, which you can now see at the Sperlonga National Archaeological Museum on Via Flacca.

Farther down Via Flacca, shacks sell tangy, custardy mozzarella crafted from the milk of water buffalo that graze in the surrounding Aurunci Mountains. Line up with the locals who come for their daily fix. The cheese goes well with the region’s falanghina white wine, which is floral, flinty, and endlessly drinkable, even at 11 a.m.

Stay the night at the Hotel Grotta di Tiberio in a room with a view of the sea. In the spirit of Ulysses, you might be tempted to linger a while. The ancient Greek hero spent a year on nearby Cape Circeo in the company of the enchantress Circe.

Photo by Pierre Andrews. This appeared in the July/August 2010 issue.

Adam Erace went from a kid whose dinner plate was no-vegetable, nothing-touch zone to a restaurant critic, food and travel writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. He lives in South Philly with his wife, Charlotte, and three maniacal rescue pups. He observes the Oxford comma on request.