While still relatively unknown to most tourists, Sperlonga is the perfect weekend escape from the busy piazzas of Rome. In this article, we will guide you through the best things to do in Sperlonga, and we will help you plan your travel from Rome to Sperlonga by train. It’s time to grab your speedos, Allora!
Why Sperlonga Beach Should Be Your Next Italian Weekend Destination
I first visited the tranquil Italian town of Sperlonga in April 2012. It was my first semester as an exchange student in Rome, and I was surprised to find that the Roman piazzas and alleys were blistering hot already in April. The 15 minutes walk from my flat in bohemian Trastevere to my lecture halls was enough to make me break a sweat, and together with my fellow students we spent every single break drinking chilled white wine in the sweet shade of bars in Monti, Testaccio and Centro Storico like there was no tomorrow. “It’s only April”, we panicked, “it will only get warmer from now on!” Rome does indeed get hot during the summer months, and we quickly decided that we needed a seaside break from the Italian heat.
We needed a few days by the Italian coast. We needed fresh sea breeze, aperol spritzes galore and soft, sandy beaches under our feet. All of this, ideally, as far away from the narrow, hot streets of Rome that we could possibly get during a brief weekend break. After asking a few local friends, we quickly decided to adopt the ”When in Rome” saying as our mantra – we decided to follow the advice given by the locals and book a hotel in Sperlonga, a small village located only an hours train journey from the city centre of Rome.
Upon arrival, we instantly knew we had hit the jackpot. Sperlonga is a beach town located in Lazio, and even though it’s a well-known holiday resort for most Italians, you will quickly discover the rather obvious lack of tourists. You see, most non-Italians don’t know about this place. It truly is a hidden gem in Italy. A sort of small-scale, less visited Positano, if you’d like.
Finding Serenity in Sperlonga: A Beach Getaway from Rome
What we found in Sperlonga was nothing short of a paradise.
The town itself, Sperlonga’s Centra Storica, is perched on top of a small hill, discreetly providing you with the perfect excuse to burn off all of those delicious aperol spritzes and porchetta sandwiches you basically inhaled during lunch. Below the picturesque town, white and soft sand is stretched out along the coast. You can probably stay here for a few days, I reckon, doing your best at doing nothing (as the Italian saying Dolce far niente says – the pleasure of doing nothing) while being ridiculously relaxed at a beach chaise longue. Bear in mind that the beach is divided into lidos (private beaches), and that you normally have to pay a fee to occupy a pair of sunbeds, an umbrella and bar access for the day. I can assure you, however, that it’s worth it as soon as you get served your very first aperol spritz accompanied by the relaxing sound of crashing waves.
In other words, these private beaches are basically what you would call a “beach club” anywhere else in the world. In bella Italia, these beach clubs are simply refered to as stabilimenti. If you were hoping for a lone beach and coconuts à la Cast Away, I must unfortunately disappoint you. Sperlonga is basically one big beach club, there’s aperol spritzes and Italian men in speedos as far as your eyes can see. Nonetheless, you can still keep your privacy.
And privacy is actually the main reason for why Sperlonga ended up being such an idyllic beach resort in the first place. You see, Sperlonga can reveal a rather dazzling and glamorous past. Long before you and I packed our suitcases and headed off for a wee holiday in Italy, Sperlonga was actually a town where the key writers, artists, politicians and film stars of the 40s, 50s and 60s headed to when they needed solitude. Marlene Dietricht and Arthur Miller supposedly loved it here, hidden away from the crowds behind the walls of Sperlonga’s Centra Storico. Even Academy Award-winning actress Sophia Loren was known to seek solitude and rest in the streets of beautiful Sperlonga.
As a conclusion, you’re in good company if you’re planning a beach getaway to Sperlonga. Even the Roman Emperor Tiberius resided here during the summers. You can find the archiological remnants of his villa next to a hidden grotto on the beach. The site can be visited, and a ticket will give you entrance to both the museum and the archeological site.
Exploring Sperlonga Centra Storico
Lounging on a sunbed day in and day out is all fine and dandy, but you can’t really visit Sperlonga without properly exploring and getting lost in the hidden alleys and streets that make out Sperlonga’s Centra Storico.
Imagine all the white, crooked buildings. The smell of beautiful, fresh bougainevilla – all casually draped over a perfectly white-painted wall, of course. The sudden feeling of awe when you accidently catch a glimpse of the sea through the fence in someone’s back garden. That is Sperlonga’s Centra Storico, charming in a non-pretentious way.
Full of authentic Italian charm, this is a town that has yet to be invaded by the heaps of tourists that hike around the more famous Cinque Terre and Positano each year. As Nell Casey so aptly writes in Italy’s Best Kept Secret:
“Positano, for instance, has transformed itself to fit the tastes of well-heeled travelers, with exalted luxury hotels and shops (and powerful publicity machines). Although Sperlonga geographically resembles Positano and other towns on the Amalfi Coast—Rapunzel-like beauties perched on high—it has ably maintained an unpretentious yet potent charm. Sperlonga is a delightful place to visit that insists (be it shyly or confidently) on a different kind of prestige: life unfolding unassumingly against the eternal beauty of the landscape.”
Nell Casey and I are far from the only people who have found the charm of Sperlonga more thrilling than that of Positano. Even legendary Italy-enthusiast Elizabeth Michilli appears to think that Sperlonga is basically heaven.
Things to do in Sperlonga
People ask what things to do in Sperlonga, but to me that is plainly obvious: Beach. Wine. Dine. Repeat. It’s as simple as that, really. Sperlonga is not a place you go in order to find a spectacle or constant entertainment – it’s the type of coastal town where you go to completely unwind, to relax, to forget about the world for a wee while.
But, there’s always a but, there’s of course plenty of things to do in Sperlonga. If you’re of the wandering kind, you will find the hidden alley and picturesque streets of Sperlonga to be utterly tempting. You can waste away several days wandering around and admiring the view in Sperlonga’s Centra Storico (It’s OK, it happened to me as well).
The previously mentioned villa of of Emperor Tiberius, with its museum, is of course worth a visit. So is also the ancient church of Santa Maria. The church dates back to early 12th century and its home to some stunning mediaeval mosaics.
Still, the most important pastime in Sperlonga (except for lounging on the beach, that is) is eating and drinking. Seafood enthusiasts will find that most of Sperlonga’s restaurants will serve local seafood. There is also a big offer of pizza dishes as Sperlonga is located rather closely to Naples, the birthplace of Italian pizza. I personally found Gli Archi and Cuccino Io to be especially cozy, but to make it easy for you I’m leaving a link to The 10 Best Seafood Restaurants in Sperlonga (according to TripAdvisor). To be fair, I think it’s hard to find a restaurant in Sperlonga’s Centra Storico which is not packed with charm, amazing wine and delicious food. Michelin-like restaurants, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen (and that’s a relief, if you’d ask me! It means that the town is still hidden from the general tourist radar).
The Weather in Sperlonga
The weather in Sperlonga is highly enjoyable, especially from the perspective of someone who’s currently residing in rainy Scotland. The high season in Sperlonga is between May-October, but it’s my belief that the best time to visit Sperlonga is in May, September, October. The beaches will be jam-packed with holiday-hungry Italians in June, July, August, so if I were you I’d avoid those months.
Nevertheless, the weather in Sperlonga is still moderately nice all year round. As I’m writing this, on a bloody freezing November-evening in Aberdeen, it’s 16 degrees celsius on Sperlonga beach (not that I’m jealous or anything…).
Planning your train journey: Rome to Sperlonga
Sperlonga is located aproximately halfway between Rome and Naples, and the easiest way to travel from Rome to Sperlonga is by train. During the summer months, there’s a train that leaves hourly from Termini (the biggest train station in Rome). You can book your tickets with TrenItalia here (remember to switch to English in the upper right corner). Your stop is called Fondi-Sperlonga, and from here you can travel to the city centre by either a local bus or by taxi. The journey from Rome to Sperlonga will take 1 hour and 20 minutes, the bus will take 15 minutes from the station to the city centre.
All photos by Christina Sunneklep/Nele Leuschner.
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