Sperlonga is a beautiful seaside town to the south of Rome, accessible by public transport. Whitewashed houses are clustered together on a steep headland, the streets warren-like stairways that bring you to unexpected terraces above the sea. The old town is compact and charming, and a pleasure to explore.
To the north of the headland is the modern part of Sperlonga, catering mainly for tourists keen on well-developed beaches. The real treasure lies south of the town. Beyond the harbour stretches an exquisite length of beach, with gorgeously clean sand and water. There are trees and greenery along the shore, and the atmosphere is luxuriantly peaceful. Most of the beach is taken up with beach establishments, where you pay to use the facilities and enjoy a shaded sunbed. But there are also generous stretches of 'spiaggia libera', free beach, where you can bring your own towels and equipment and bathe for free. And there is plenty of space to promenade along the water's edge without paying anything: it's fine to wander along the entire length. This is one of the loveliest and most inviting beaches I've seen in Italy, and I can't praise it highly enough.
If you walk along the beach from the Sperlonga headland (a lovely stroll, especially when you splash along in the shallow waves), you reach a WWF nature reserve by the rocky headland. You can also see through the railings into the ruins of the Roman villa, and the Grotto of Tiberius. A little further back along the beach you will find a lane leading inland - follow this to the main road and you'll arrive at the entrance to the Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale). Entrance is cheap (€2 at the time of writing). Note that you won't be allowed in wearing swimming costumes.
It is known from contemporary accounts that the Emperor Tiberius was among the Roman VIPs to own villas in the Sperlonga area. Suetonius writes that the villa was known as 'the Cavern' after the banqueting hall sited in a natural cave. It was here, records the biographer, where the Emperor narrowly escaped death when rocks fell from the ceiling.
In the 20th century, during the construction of the coastal road, extensive ruins were found on this spot, leading archeologists to believe that they had discovered the site of Tiberius's Grotto. In the cave were the fragments of huge sculptures which once dominated the artificial fishponds at the cave-mouth. These important mythological works of art have been painstakingly reconstructed, and in the airy modern museum you can see both the fragments and the copies. Down a path outside the museum (the ticket covers the entire site) you arrive at the villa ruins, and the cave itself. The location is very atmospheric, and if you're lucky you may have the spot to yourself; the museum is not a busy one.
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