Tips from the “Virgil” of Sperlonga

August 11, 2015 / Food & Wine
Sperlonga, Lazio

(…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…?

Alessandro serves up the goodness
Alessandro and Cristina

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.

SEabass Parmesan
Ricotta anchovies
Ravioli magic at IL Bistrot
Octopus and roasted potatoes
Fish balls with caponata
Chicory and fagioli con crostone
Calamari and zucchini strips
Antipasto goodness at Il Bistrot
Anchovies and a rare purple tomato

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.

Dance on the beach

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.

Grotta dei Delfini da Peppino

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.

Entrance gate to the apartment

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

17 Responses to “Tips from the “Virgil” of Sperlonga”

  1. silvana franz

    When are we going to Sperlonga together? I’m looking forward to meeting all those nice people and enjoying the wonderful food.

  2. Gian Banchero

    Anne, you’ve done it again! And just how am I suppose to stick with my diet? Not only have you gifted us with the tempting foods, but off you enticed us to visiting the magnificent statuary. As with many articles from ItalianNotebook my day has started off with a grand smile!!… For sure I’m to send this article to several friends who wonder about my love of Italian food and the people and history of the “Boot”. Again, grazie!

  3. Janice Peters

    Once again, you have made me hungry! What an amazing capture of the place and people!


  4. Anne. You will recall Liz and me visiting Sperlonga in 1976 while on our round trip Vespa adventure from Rome to Assisi , where we visited you and Pino in your original farm house. We’ve always wanted to return and just may do so after this article!!

  5. Jack Litewka

    I should have known better than to read this column and see the photos of gorgeous and imaginative food *before* eating my lunch (which will consist of sunflower seed butter and boysenberry jam on Dave’s Power Seed bread).

  6. Rosemary Johnson

    Anne, thanks for including a map! I had never heard of this delightful looking place before.

  7. Mary Cappiello

    Annie— Because of your article Matt and I are DEFINITELY heading to Sperlonga in May! Thanks once again! Keep them coming! We love your superlative articles!

  8. Suzanne and Jack

    Anne you have just given us another reason to visit Italy. I will definitely put Sperlonga on our list of places to see. You describe both the historical and contemporary aspects of the town so very well. You are a true wordsmith. And, the food looks delicious too.

  9. Alessandro Spagnardi - Ristorante il Bistrot

    Thank you Anne for your kindness and for your nice words, it was a real pleasure meeting you. We look forward to welcoming you, and your friends, again at the Bistrot in Sperlonga! Alessandro.

  10. Kay Thiels

    You have a gift of literally putting us right there with you, enjoying the sights and the food! Would love to join you!

  11. Maryanne Maggio Hanisch

    This may be my perfect place: the expansive beach, the lovely town, the ancient site and it’s museum, and naturally, the food!!

  12. Thanks Anne for You beatiful articles! If You Want, Visit The Monti Cecubi wine Farm near Sperlonga And our Facebook Page Antichi Sapori Locali To discover other beatiful places in
    Lazio Region!

  13. Anne, was the triclinium open in the grotto? I visited a couple of years ago and it was gated. Would have loved to walk where the Emperor Tiberius used to dine

  14. Vicky Craig

    Thank you, Anne, for taking us along on another beautiful “visit!”

  15. Great suggestions for a visit in Sperlonga! If nobody told you, have a look on iTunes or Beatport there is a song “Sperlonga” by Damiano La Rocca, a local composer. I think it’s great but let me know if you like it. Bye, Simona.

  16. WHAT a great ride with you this am! Exactly the way I like to explore while traveling. The landscapes, the museum, the people and oh Geeze…..the food!!! You surely needs someone to help u enjoy that beautiful food….like me! Definitely want to visit there when I come back!!

  17. Gull-Britt Lundsröm

    I dont know anybody who can present Italy and its thresures not to mention
    the food like you Anne! yhanks again for a interesting note!


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