Saturday, November 04, 2006

Day 19: Bacoli-Frascati

We have to move on today.....our time in Bacoli was sort of fractured because of the car incident but we did enjoy the area and would think about coming back in the future. The hotel is a bit quirky (especially the lighting) but--because the weather is so uncertain and cool--we don't get to take advantage of the wonderful balcony and roof terrace. The staff is very nice and helpful and it was fun to have the whole place to ourselves for the most part.

The weather today is sunny but a bit cool....certainly an improvement over the past few days. We decide to drive slowly up the coast into Lazio and on to Frascati, rather than getting on the autostrada and making it a fast trip. I am curious to explore the beach towns along the Campania and Lazio coast and it is always nice to check out new areas.

Bacoli to Frascati Map

For most of the ride up the Campania coast, the views of the sea are few and far between. We make a couple of jogs from the main road to the beach but the towns are sort of depressing....both because they are a bit rundown and because it is off season. We make good time through the various towns enroute--Castel Volturno, Mondragone and Baia Domizia--but the scenery between towns is mostly uninteresting....long views of flat farm lands with the mountains in the distance on one side and either scrub pine woods or empty beach establishments and campgrounds between the road and the sea on the other side.

What we do see in every town are numerous places that make and sell mozzarella di bufala.....this is certainly an important part of the region's economy. And a fair amount of uncollected garbage.

One instance of the uncollected garbage epidemic in Campania

The other puzzling thing that we notice--especially around Castel Volturno--is a large number of black men just standing on the side of the road--sometimes in groups, sometimes alone, not appearing to be going anywhere or doing anything. Are they day laborers looking for work? Farm workers with nothing to do out of season? It is a mystery.

There is a drastic change in the scenery the moment that we pass the Lazio regional border....the rugged mountains are suddenly extremely close to the waterfront and there are expansive views over the Mediterranean from the highway. In addition, the first big town that pass through--Formia--looks very attractive....not run down at all, with a fresh looking center and a long pleasant promenade along the water. The same thing holds true for Gaeta...although we don't actually make a tour of the "centro storico".

We make a stop in Sperlonga--I had clients stay there in August who liked it very much. And, in fact, it is a very pleasant town....a small centro storico on a bluff over the beach and very attractive resort area with a very nice sand beach. There is a promenade along the beach in town and then there are some hotels directly on the beach beyond the built up that we saw had a beautiful outdoor pool. We think it is probably the nicest beach town we have visited in Italy....and they advertise that they have been awarded the "Bandiera Blu" which recognizes the towns with the cleanest water.

Beach at Sperlonga facing north

Beach at Sperlonga looking south toward the town.

As we continue along our way, the road leaves the coastline for a while but at Terracina, we are back in sight of the water. Now we are looking for lunch....I would like to find a porchetta truck or a place that sells the Campanian specialty "panuozzo". We drive through Terracina--another very pleasant beach town with a nice downtown, a long promenade along the waterfront and nice beaches. We don't find the food that we are looking for so we continue on toward the San Felice Circeo area...which is a resort and park area dominated by a high bluff, a long beach and some exclusive resorts. On the road out of Terracina, I see a sign advertising "panuozzo" so we stop and go into the pizzeria/delicatessen. At first, they say that they don't have any but the proprietor relents and makes up the sandwich for us....freshly baked warm pizza with lots of prosciutto and mozzarella cheese inside.

As soon as we reach San Felice Circeo, we stop by the waterfront, open the car windows and enjoy our lunch. The "panuozzo" doesn't disappoint.


This resort is more upscale than has a long pretty beach, an exclusive little beach town (with two yacht brokers), a nice harbor, a national park with hiking trails and, for good measure, an attractive "centro storico" high above the water.

Beach at San Felice Circeo

The next beaches we come to are the nicest of all.....a completely undeveloped strip of sand on a barrier island off Sabaudia, separated from the road by dunes. There is a large lagoon between the barrier island and the mainland that looks very pretty and suitable for boating and fishing.

Beach at Sabaudia

Even the town of Sabaudia---which was built by Mussolini as a new town--looks inviting. All these towns are convenient and understandably popular with Romans for their summer holidays but virtually unknown to American visitors.

Now we leave the coast and find the Via Appia (the same Appian Way that begins in Rome) and drive up its absolutely straight path from the sea to Velletri--where the Alban Hills begin. Lots of agriculture and long flat vistas.....but we are making good time towards Frascati.

Once we hit Velletri, the road climbs into the Colli Albani which reach almost to the southern city limits of Rome. The drive along the Via dei Laghi (there are two volcanic lakes in the Colli--Nemi and Albano) reveals no trace of any lakes because the roadside is heavily wooded for almost the entire trip. There are a number of large restaurants along the road and we see at least two big parties being held as we drive past.

We arrive in Frascati about 4 pm.....the main square is very crowded on this sunny and pleasant Saturday afternoon.....and make one wrong turn enroute to the hotel--which gives us an unplanned introductory tour of Frascati's "centro storico". We finally extricate ourselves, note that we had misinterpreted the direction meant by a downward pointing arrow on the hotel sign and find the Hotel Flora located a few hundred meters down from the main square.

The hotel is in a very attractive villa

that is very stylish and very modern---sliding glass doors to the lobby, electronic keys, an elevator, and wireless high-speed internet access (finally). Our large room has a separate sitting area, a large marble bathroom with a (very strange) glass door, a big, comfortable bed and lots of light.

We unpack and spend some time getting used to all the creature comforts and then we make a quick tour of the town. It's a five minute walk from the hotel to the town's main piazza. There is a large villa high over the main square--the Villa Aldobrandini--and a wide promenade with an overlook that gives you a broad vista over the city of Rome, to the hills north of Rome, and the mountains to the east towards Abruzzo. From the main square that has traffic routed around it, you can walk into the historic center with nice in front of the Duomo and--a few blocks away--one that is front of the market and has four porchetta stands lined up around it. There are small, pedestrian only streets with shops all through the center, which is mostly level; however, once you leave the center there are serious hills...some going up and some going down...and a number of places that give you panoramic views over the valley.

On our first walk around we find the large duomo

a church with a 13th century belltower

and a bakery that bakes giant loaves of bread in wood burning ovens

with the wood for the oven stacked outside.

Frascati seems like it will be a nice place to stay.

We have dinner at Cacciani, one of the most famous restaurants in Frascati. It is a very handsome, professional and well organized place. And the food is very good also.....we share an antipasto plate which has fabulous salami, prosciutto and parmigiano-reggiano. Diana has spaghetti cacio e pepe and then pollo alla romana and I have pasta with oxtail ragu and a fritto misto of vegetables--all are good but not earthshattering. The wine is a white from Marino and very refreshing. The check comes to over Euro 100.00 which is a bit pricey for what we have.....but we do enjoy the evening.

It is a short, easy walk (downhill) to the hotel on this somewhat chilly evening. Tomorrow we have an appointment to visit an agriturismo nearby and then we plan to explore the Via Appia.


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