“No time to leave fruit in your apartment, Anna, but try these,” dark-haired Rocco urged, as he plucked juicy midnight blue mullberrerries off the bushes in front of the Sperlonga apartment (part of the Sperlonga Resort) I’d rented from him for a couple days. The laden mulberry bush obstructed only slightly sweeping views of the Mediterranean below, shimmering with setting sun – and was no obstruction at all to the stalwart 16th century guard tower squatting on the rocky promontory jutting over the sea, once protective sentinel for Sperlonga, a frequent target of pirate attacks.
“Pre-espresso” juicy mulberries from “my” bush would start off every Sperlonga day. About an hour south of Rome, Sperlonga clings to a rocky outcrop over the sea like a panicked cat clawing to avoid a fall into the abyss below. Winding alleyways snake between pristinely-white stuccoed houses, highlighted with the color splashes of dangling washes on yawning clotheslines, magenta bougainvillea crawling over balconies and here and there, wall murals whispering stories and legends. Their recurrent theme? Pirate attacks.
Now twisting corkscrew alleyways backdrop wedding photos and enchant vacationers wandering them aimlessly, browsing in tiny artisan shops, once wine cellars, olive oil cellars, stalls for farm carts. In one small niche – perhaps once a wood cellar? – four little boys whisper stories to each other and nearby, elderly sisters, Vincenzina and Leonina – two of six children of a sperlongano fisherman – sit side-by-side, watching i passanti and murmuring about the changes they’ve seen in their seaside village.
Some labyrinthine alleyways – often vaulted – end in tiny espresso-cup-sized piazzas where set tables are ready to welcome dinner guests. Others end in the passeggiata along the stone wall on the edge of town, Mediterranean pines like umbrellas spreading out above and below, boats bobbing gently at anchor in the port – and here and there, a holidaying couple shoots a selfie. Flanking the port, sandy beaches with rows of colorful beach umbrellas stretch out all the way down the bay.
This was my nightly view from my table at Il Bistrot, a Rocco recommendation – and after the first dinner, why go anywhere else?
After all, Rocco was to be my faithful “Virgil-to-Dante” Sperlonga guide for the next few days…