Good Sights: Italy – Riviera di Ulisse
This part of the Italian coastline, stretching 60 km (36 mi) along the southern flank of the Lazio region, was named after Homer’s mythical hero-voyager, Ulysses — Remember, he did stay a year, so he and his crew had plenty of time to explore the coast in between wining and dining with the sorceress Circe — is a sight to see. With its picturesque cities and towns dotting the landscape, a handful of islands close by out at sea, the crystal clear shades-of-blue Tyrrhenian, vineyards filled with juicy grape just waiting to be turned into award-winning wine, seafood dishes of every type to whet your palate and a national park to explore, what’s not to like about it. Must-see stops in Terracina, Gaeta and San Felice Circeo.
According to classical Roman writers, the island of Aeaea, where Ulysees and crew were to have landed, was identified as Monte Circeo (Mount Circeo) on Capo Circaeum (Cape Circeo). It may have been an island in Homer’s time (ca. 8-7 century BC), with marshes and sea surrounding its base; but, today, it’s a small peninsula with a long lido (sandy beach) that’s attached to the mainland. Archeologists have identified one grotto on Cape Circeo as La Grotta della Maga Circe (the Cave of the Sorceress Circe).
In addition to Ulysses and his crew and the sorceress Circe, the Neanderthal roamed the area and lived in its caves; forces from Imperial Rome kept the peace for a time followed by the Papacy; and last, but certainly not least, the mysterious Knights Templar dismounted for a spell. Detailed online tourist information on San Felice Circeo is available at: www.sanfelicecirceo.net/en/index.shtml.
National Park of Circeo – The only park of its kind in Italy to include both a plain and coastal area. The park is divided into five main habitats: the forest, the promontory, the coastal dunes, the wetlands and the island of Zannone. Online tourist information at: www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.circeo/Eindex.php.
Terracina – Just 60-miles south of Rome, La Città d’Arte (The City of Art) rises along and above the historic Via Appia (Appian Way), and is right next door to San Felice Circeo. This port and seaside resort city claims its heritage first from the Etruscans, then the Volscians and finally the Romans. It is the only point where the mountains reach down to touch the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Landmarks of note are the Temple of Jupiter, the Emilian Forum, Piazza Municipale and the Trajan Port. Not to be overlooked is a boat ride out to the Pontine Archipelago to take in the five islands that make up the chain: Ponza, Palmarola, Zannone, Ventotene and San Stefano. Online tourist information at: www.terracina.eu.
Gaeta– Prior to the Risorgimento (The Resurgence that unified Italy) in the mid 1800s, Gaeta was a secondary maritime republic that eventually gave up its independence to become part of the Papal States. This once proud city still has its seafaring moments, as Gaeta is the overseas homeport for the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet flagship.
Today, Gaeta beckons tourists to come and sample the treasures that lie at the tail end of the Riviere Ulisse. Have the lens cap off as you explore the Aragonese-Angevine Castle and the town’s medieval center, and become awestruck by breathtaking panoramic views from atop Mount Orlando. If its fun-in-the-sun you’re looking for, do like smart Romans and Neopolitans do, head to one or all four of Gaeta’s blue-flag rated beaches: Serapo, Fontania, Ariana and Sant’Agostino. And if we’re talking Gaeta we have to talk olives, the homegrown Olive di Gaeta, the “black pearl of Italian olives” — one bite and your tastebuds immediately come alive.
Finally, a stop in Gaeta would not be complete without a stroll down the ancient cobblestoned Il Budello (literally, The Gut). It’s longest street in the city, but also one of the narrowest at only 2.5 meters, Il Budello is a pedestrian-only alleyway filled with workshops, artisans and mom-and-pop food markets at eye level, apartment dwellers right above, and the colors and sounds of centuries past all around.
For complete, up-to-date tourist information visit the Gaeta Pro Loco site: www.prolocogaeta.it. Once there, just click on the Union Jack flag for English.
Now that you’ve had a piccolo assaggio (a little taste), maybe you’ll consider adding the Riviera di Ulisse to your travel bucket list. Do let me know.
Ciao for now.
©The Palladian Traveler
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