(…cont’d from here.)
…and Rocco, my “Sperlonga Virgil,” was right about Il Bistrot (and not only). After my first dinner at this outdoor restaurant overlooking the port, I knew I’d found the best in sperlongano cuisine – and top listing in spelongano hospitality. Owner Alessandro (his zia Anna cooks up the goodness) – and lovely waitress, Cristina – made sure I had small tastes of nearly every antipasto on the menu, starting me off with a local sheep’s milk cheese laced with anchovy paste. Who could ever imagine…?
Fishballs with caponata, octopus with roasted potatoes, a vapor-light mixed fry of zucchini slivers and calamari, a fish Parmesan, fried anchovies with a purple tomato variety followed. After the antipasto goodness, I opted for “una porzione piccola, per favore” of the pasta with sea bass, baby tomatoes and mint… but Alessandro insisted I also try a specialty (“Just one, please, though…”): their huge ravioli stuffed with eggplant, cinnamon, sea bass and topped with a tangy tomato sauce spiked with currants and pinenuts.
There could be nowhere else to eat while in Sperlonga. Rocco knows.
He also knew the best route to the Museo Archaelogico: “along the beach.”
Years ago, we’d seen the astounding colossal Roman/Greek sculptures salvaged in the late 1950’s in the Sperlonga grotto of Emperor Tiberius (1st AD) – but not the grotto. Following Rocco’s lead, I headed up the beach, passing Vittorio, university student, selling his pizzas from a basket as he shouted “la pizza e’ pronta!”, an old man lugging a basket of coconut slices from umbrella to umbrella, enthusiastic bathing-suited youth leading a group dancing/exercise class, bathers of all ages splashing and panting to keep up with the rhythms.
Reaching the Museo, I joined a few silent, awestruck visitors wandering well-lit airy rooms of immense marble masterpieces, intricate mosaics, and theatrical masks found in Tiberius’ grotto. From the museum, I followed an olive tree-lined path winding to the grotto, now empty, where Tiberius’ entertained in imperial glory – and centuries later, sperlongani fishermen sheltered their boats at night.
Nowadays, the view from the Emperor’s cavernous grotto sweeps over colorful beach umbrellas, children splashing in the crystal Mediterranean water, and off in the distance, Sperlonga clings to the stony outcrop, her stalwart sentinel tower facing seaward.
I headed to the clutch of blue and white-striped umbrellas just below the lookout tower – and “my” apartment – ready for a dive into the Mediterranean after my dive into Roman history. This was Peppino’s stabilmento balneare where all Rocco’s guests have an umbrella and beach chairs during their Sperlonga stay. The welcoming staff serving at the coffee bar and the seafood lunchtime buffet – and jocular Peppino himself – enhance any Sperlonga sojourn.
Rocco, mille grazie once again for all your Sperlonga tips. Dante had his Virgil. Thanks for being a Virgil for me, showing me Paradiso. In Sperlonga.