Last weekend I finally made the trek down to Gaeta. This most beautiful seaside resort is in the Lazio province of Latina and is situated 120km south of Rome and only 80km north of Naples.
My friend who lives in Rome is from the town and for months – almost a year even – we have been planning this weekend away and it finally happened!
And with perfect timing.
Rome and surrounds have been in the grip of a heat wave of late. We experienced the hottest June on record in 230 years.
While I’ve spent many a summer in Rome over the years, only now that I live here can I truly understand the need for Romans to literally escape in the peak of summer. Built in a valley, it’s safe to say that wind circulation is a foreign concept to the eternal city. It is unbearable! I’m talking temps 38 degrees and over for weeks straight!
So on this absolutely stinking hot Friday, the lovely Ms F and I boarded a train from stazione Termini after work and off we went.
Arriving at Formia station (on the Rome – Napoli Centrale line) about an hour and a half later, we then took a local bus to her family home to where we treated to a home cooked meal (followed by lots of girl talk on the terrace).
Miss F’s family live right on the lungomare (beach promenade) and have a rooftop terrace overlooking all of Gaeta. It’s pretty amazing.
I knew from the outset I was in for a special weekend.
And special it was. Beautiful beach, trying the local produce, an amazing seafood dinner and a taste of the very happening Gaeta nightlife.
Gaeta was critically important in Roman times as a military base and to date is still a NATO base. It has a diverse history having been ruled by the French, Austrian, Sardinians, Sicilians, Neapolitans, the list goes on!
A renowned tourist resort to the wealthy ancient Romans, it has evolved to a modern fishing and oil and seaport, now popular with tourists from both Naples and Rome and beyond.
I was told prior to and on arrival that the one thing I had to try was the Gaetan Tiella – the distinctive local fare which looks like a round calzone (closed or stuffed pizza) or a pie. Tiella is made with a range of stuffings like egg and zucchini, cheese and spinach and meat and vegetables. But the most typical is made with octopus pieces, tomato, olives, parsley, garlic and a hint of chilli.
To this day, Ms F’s mother who was out of town while I was there still doesn’t know that her girls went to a bakery to buy me a piece (with traditional filling of course) because she makes the dish herself (and it’s touted by many of the townspeople as one of the best in Gaeta) and would be mortified!
If the one I tried is only a mediocre version, then I hate to think about what’s in store for me on my next visit.
We spent our days at Serapo beach at military stabilimento (permanent beach club) as the family has ties here and it was just beautiful. We swam at the foot of the famous Montagna Spaccata (the split mountain). Legend has it that this mountain split upon Christ’s death and it apparently houses the most amazingly stunning grotto.
Unfortunately, given the extreme heat, we had to sacrifice sightseeing for beach!
While we had a wander around the historical centre, I have a list of things to see in detail next time, including the grotto and Montagna Spaccata, the 6th century Aragonese-Angevine castle, cathedral and bell tower, and the nearby beaches of Arenauta and Sperlonga.
Aside from the beach. Aside from the Tiella. Aside from the breathtaking views… There was – if you can believe it – another highlight. A wonderful Saturday night spent eating seafood and tasting the nightlife in Gaeta Vecchia (the historical centre).
A fishing port, I wasn’t going to leave Gaeta without a seafood dinner. Well I got a feast instead.
We booked into swanky restaurant and wine bar Trasperenze Di Vino on recommendation and we were not disappointed.
We shared their famed seafood antipasti – cooked and raw – trying delicacies such as prawn and bufala mozzarella caprese, fresh tuna and eggplant stack, octopus salad, prawns, scampi, the list goes on.
For main course I opted for the Fettucelle con ceviche di Spigola Aromatizzata (homemade fettuccine with herbed sea bass ceviche). It was divine.
Dessert was baked cheesecake with fruits of the forest for me. And with wines to match, it was a pretty unforgettable dining experience.
We followed this by a sampling of the local bars. Gaeta nightlife rivals that of any other large Italian seaside resort and we embraced this with a sgropino (lemon granita with vodka – just divine!) or two and a few other stops on the bar trail!
My friends – who if they weren’t family before, are now – left me with a, “The summer is long and our house is big!” instruction to return ringing in my ears.
What a weekend!
It’s these moments spent with friends that lay the foundation for memories that last a lifetime
This was my first but definitely not the last time to beautiful Gaeta which now holds a most special place in my heart.
Signing off from Rome,