Lazio


Keeping up with my running theme of search engine terms that lead folks here…

I lived across the Golfo di Gaeta from the eponymous city (Gaeta) for two years.  Perched high on a hill in Maranola di Formia, I woke up each day to a stunning view of one of Italy’s most beautiful coastal cities.  Gaeta doesn’t have a train station – it used to, but now the station’s site makes a great parking lot for Atratino’s – so it’s off the event horizon for most travel guidebook writers.  Lucky, lucky me.  Two years of living near a charming town that backpackers miss.

There are still plenty of foreign tourists in Gaeta, but they arrive courtesy of the U. S. Navy.  As the Navy draws down its presence there, we’ll eventually get to the point where the only Americans who go to Gaeta are people who were formerly stationed there, travelers who knew people formerly stationed there, or historical die-hards who love religious history and cool Italian church architecture. 

If you’re Catholic, Gaeta has special religious significance, because it was from Gaeta’s Golden Chapel that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed in 1853.  This teaching, which means that Mary, mother of Jesus, was conceived without Original Sin, was accepted and understood to be true by the Church long before the official proclamation date.  Still, it happened in Gaeta.

Another famous Catholic site in Gaeta is harder to find.  It’s Montagna Spaccata (“Split Mountain”) a formation of two high rocks, with a sharp cleft between them, that juts out into the sea.  You can only see this from a boat or by hiking up Monte Orlando to the monastery, which is now run by the missionary order of the P. I. M. E. Fathers.  This international order took over the monastery when the local diocese could no longer support it.  There’s a trail that leads out to the rock formation.

Local legend has it that Montagna Spaccata was formed on Good Friday, as Christ died on the cross.  This is why Monte Orlando is swamped by pilgrims every Easter Monday (“Pasquetta” in Italian), which is a holiday in Italy.  They trek up to the monastery to pay their respects…and kick off official Italian beach season with another type of family journey, later in the day.

Gaeta has a local pride that both typefies Italy and defies classification.  Gaeta’s ancient history ties the city closely to Rome.  Linguistically, the residents might be closer to Naples, but they cling to their status as residents of Lazio (the Italian region that includes Rome) with tenacity and what a non-Italian might call chutzpah.  They may sound like Napolitans, but they aren’t.  Quite.

This, to me, is Italy in microcosm.  Each town, each region, is special, unique and distinct.  When your history dates back over 2500 years, you have a right to local pride.  Gaetani have been fishing and sailing in their gulf for centuries; they’ve passed on family traditions to dozens of generations.  Their beautiful city is well worth a visit, I promise.

Hat tip and grateful thanks: Monsignor Bob Sable, who introduced me to the P. I. M. E. Fathers, their love of Oreo cookies, Gaeta’s history, and Rome’s presepi (Nativity scenes).

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Once again I’m having fun reviewing the search terms that bring folks to this blog.  The lamb spiedini thing keeps popping up; guess I’ll have to do some additional research when time permits. 

 Yesterday, someone dropped by the blog, apparently looking for good restaurants in Gaeta, Italy.  I have to be honest; I ate a lot of restaurant meals in Italy (and have the waistline to prove it), but my favorites weren’t in Gaeta.  Nevertheless, there are a few places we ate at pretty regularly, and here they are:

 Calpurnio, in old Gaeta, Vico Castani, 4.  This restaurant is a wonderful summer evening stop because they have dozens of outdoor tables, with shading.  Their pizzas are excellent.  They also serve good seafood pasta.  Their menu looks the same all year ’round, but you may find that some dishes aren’t available because they’re out of season, or because…it’s Italy, and that’s how things work.  All menu items aren’t necessarily available all the time.

Flamingo, in Hotel Flamingo, on the corner of Corso Italia and Via Bologna.  Another great summertime stop.  Excellent pizzas.  You don’t have to be a hotel guest to drop by for a pizza.  Spinning (stationary bike) classes are offered some evenings and contribute loud music to the atmosphere.

Atratino.  Via Atratina, 141.  Atratino serves Gaeta’s best lasagne.  Service is attentive and many waiters speak English.  Quality is uniform, and the staff is accustomed to large groups and families.

Now I’m hungry.

Walk off your dinner!  Get inspired by reading my newest travel Hub, Explore Baltimore’s Waterfront Promenade.

My son’s philosophy of European travel in a nutshell…food, scenery, maybe a military museum.

We were looking at blog stats today and I noticed that someone had arrived here via a search for “best restaurants Itri, Lazio.”  Now, I actually do know some wonderful restaurants in Itri.  I just haven’t blogged about them.  At any rate, my son commented that, in his mind, Euro-travel is really, well, all about the food.  And scenery (assuming you’re still awake after the food).

So…where is that good restaurant in Itri?  It’s Taverna Fra Diavolo (the Devil’s Brother Tavern).  It’s right in the main central square of Itri.  Their menu tells the story (in Italian) of the restaurant’s namesake, a dire character.  You don’t need to know anything about that to enjoy this place. 

For one thing, it’s very warm and toasty there on a cold winter day.

For another thing, they serve the best lasagne this side of Umbria.  The Formia/Gaeta/Itri area isn’t known for its baked pasta, because it’s on the gorgeous Golfo di Gaeta.  Seafood is commonly served in local restaurants, but excellent lasagne is hard to find.

If you’re exploring Itri or hanging out on Gaeta’s lovely beaches, check out Taverna Fra Diavolo.  It’s worth the drive.

I confess to being entirely biased when it comes to travel in Italy’s Lazio region.  Not only does my favorite road, Via Appia Antica, run through Lazio, I lived in southern Lazio for two wonderful years. 

Now that my disclaimer’s out of the way, let’s return to the Via Appia (SS-7).  From Minturno, the road veers inland, away from the ancient cobblestoned street, and into the city of Formia.  Just past downtown Formia, Via Appia passes the tomb of Cicero, ancient Rome’s most famous orator, and heads inland toward Itri.  If you slow down and pay attention, you’ll notice a couple of stone markers along the SS-7.  These are real Roman milestones, built when the Roman soldiers made the road.

Off to the left of the modern paved street, a few stretches of Via Appia Antica’s cobblestoned surface parallel the SS-7.  You can walk along these old roadways, provided you can find a safe place to pull your car off the road.

Itri, where most Gaeta olives are grown, makes a great lunch stop.  Itri’s 9th-century castle perches on the side of the steep valley wall, and the small town below boasts some good restaurants and pizzerias.

Fondi, the next town you’ll pass on the Via Appia Antica, is another interesting town.  Fondi’s 14th-century castle is more substantial (OK, it’s downright bulky) than Itri’s.  Fondi’s weekly market is popular with shoppers from all the neighboring towns.

Terracina is one of my favorite Italian cities.  In ancient times, travelers complained about the incredible traffic jams.  People passing through Terracina usually stopped at the temple of Jupiter Anxur on the hill overlooking the city and sea, and the roadway leading to the summit was, and is, quite steep.  Eventually, things got so bad that the locals built history’s first recorded bypass around the base of the hill.

Nowadays, the Via Appia and Via Flacca (SS-148) converge and then split in Terracina.  From here, Via Appia becomes the straight, flat road of my imaginings.  In fact, it becomes pretty boring.

Via Appia Antica gets interesting again near Albano.  Here, in the hills outside of Rome, lies Lago di Albano (“Lake Albano) and Castel Gandolfo, summer residence of Catholic Popes since the late 1500’s.  It’s easy to see why.  The lake’s surface is incredibly blue, and the local towns sell delicious porchetta (roast pork) in restaurants and from roadside stands.

Via Appia heads downhill from here toward Ciampino Airport.  I’ll write more about Rome and the Via Appia Antica next time.