The holiday idea came from Italian TV chef Gino D’Acampo. We love Gino. He’s as Italian as a Dolmio advert with a gondolier singing ‘O Sole Mio’. His shows are always set in gorgeous places, so you get a travelogue and cookery programme rolled into one. Mind you, I can’t see him pulling this format off in England; ‘Today I gonna make a fish and chip, and where better to prepara this a beautiful dish dan here ina da Blackpool? Bellisima!’
Anyway, my wife watched him doing his thing in Gaeta and he did a great sell on the place, showing the viewer around, recalling childhood holidays, cooking yummy food, etc. Gaeta caught her attention. But this is another part of the enigma of Italy. Think about it. Are you thinking? Good. Italy has 50% more coastline than Spain. So how come we can reel off a dozen Spanish seaside resorts, yet for Italy, most people would just say “errr… I dunno; Rimini?” The reason (I reckon) is that Italy has a totally different seaside culture to Spain. It hasn’t exploited its beaches and resorts in the same way. There are lots of great beaches in Italy, but whereas most countries have bigged up their resorts for global tourism, Italy hasn’t. The Italian seaside is set up for Italians. There’s no MacDonald’s, no ‘Red Lions’; no ‘Kiss me Presto’ hats, there’s no compromise.
We looked into Gaeta; it has a great beach, a truly old town chaotic with history, Roman ruins, an 11th century monastery complete with grotto, medieval stuff, and there’re restaurants and bars… for a little place it packs a lot in! It is a bit off the beaten track. We flew to Naples, then caught a train and a bus to get to our gaff; the Hotel Gajeta. It’s 3 star place, inexpensive, in a great position facing the harbour, and well placed between the old town and the beaches. We went in September so it was still nice and hot and, at the end of the tourist season, not too crowded. In fact, it was only busy at the weekend when the Neapolitans come over for a nice day on the beach. So let’s start there!
The main stretch is Serapo beach and, in its beachy type way, it has great beachness. There are other beaches further north up the coast. Not too far away, but you’d need to hire a car or catch a bus to get to them. Serapo beach is big. It’s got no pebbles, and the water is as shallow as me for quite a distance out. It’s a dull place to snorkel unless you are afraid of fish (ichthyophobia, dine out on that one), or you’re a geologist with a special interest in sand; there’s nothing to see. The organisation of the sun beds is peculiar as 90% of the beach is owned by ‘beach clubs’. They’re all of a muchness and you pay to use their facilities. For your cash you get a sunbed, changing rooms and use of the toilets. Prices range from 10 to 20 euros, per person, per day, which is a bit steep. Each club has a cafe and showers, for which you pay one euro. Those showers would be free in Spain. You will need to book your sunbed at weekends if you want to be near the front. There are some free, public bits of the beach. They’re a bit scrappy, but step to the water’s edge and, of course, you’re all in the same sea! Nobody else questioned the set up. I thought it was a bit rum. If Gino had been there, he could have explained it all and fried us some whelks on the beach. Presumably with garlic, basil and olive oil.
OK, you’re sitting on the beach, you get a bit bored, so you decide to go for a walk. To the left of the beach is a big hill upon which is the Monte Orlando Park. It’s forested and there’s the 1st century Mausoleum of the Roman General Lucius Plancus on the top. There’s also a 1000-year-old monastery and the attached Grotta del Turco to visit. But I was in a rush and, to my regret, decided to visit the mausoleum and skip the other two. The walk up was fine, if hot and sweaty, and the views of the beach were great. There are cute wild cats everywhere, though one of the brutes threatened me when I tried to take a picture of its newly born kitten. It’s a half hour or so to the top where sits General Lucius Plancus’ tomb. It is unique in its own way. It should be a UNESCO world heritage site on the grounds that it is, comfortably, the dullest piece of masonry in classical antiquity. You can’t go inside so, effectively, all you have is a featureless grey stone cylinder. It’s been boring people for 2000 years! Actually, that’s some achievement. There’s a picture in the video, I missed out on a pretty grotto for this…
It is likely that after your stroll up the hill, you’ll need a drink to rehydrate. Or maybe you fancy five or six hours of rehydrating? There’s some cracking bars in the old town, too many to mention here, but I’ll pick on a couple. My favourite was Radio Bottega. They had a little outside seating area where the clientele reclined under lime trees. Very mellow and chic. It always excites me to see Sainsbury’s produce actually on the branch. Another favourite was the Rendez Vous bar. We went for a nightcap on our way home most nights. It’s very popular, busy and buzzing. Their food is highly rated, though we didn’t eat there. The very popular owner (she might not have been the owner) seemed to be taking her bar tips entirely in lemon vodka shots. Actually, she may have been a customer who just nipped round the other side of the bar. Anyway, I doff my cap to her.
We did eat elsewhere, obviously, and here are a couple of places I’d recommend. If you like seafood, ‘La Macelleria’ has an excellent reputation. I’m not a big seafood fan. I tend to leave the restaurant pebble dashed with bits of shell from my wife’s crayfish wrecking activities. I’ll wear a fencing mask next time. Actually, the meals were superb, but what I really liked about it was the owner. He really cared about the quality of his food, came round, made recommendations, and just had a chat with the punters. Another brilliant place was ‘Pizza Calpurnio’, so named after an inscription on a stone that’s exhibited as part of the wall near the toilets (ah well). By mistake I ordered a pizza bianchi (no tomato sauce on) with pepperoni, cheese and onion, and it was awesome. The restaurant has mixed reviews on TripAdvisor but we loved it. It gets busy, so book a table.
Should you go?
We stayed five days and nipped to Naples for two nights, but I think Gaeta’s worth a week on its own. We came away regretting what we hadn’t done; the monastery, the grotto, the castle, and the churches. Because it ‘guards’ the bay of Naples, the history of Gaeta is bizarrely rich and this is evident in the constant building and re-building of the town since Roman times. If you spot some cheap flights to Naples, it’s worth a visit.
If you liked my blog, there’s every possibility that you’ll like the comic novel I’ve recently published. As much as I enjoyed teaching, and respect those who do the job, there’s plenty to laugh at. I spent 30 years giggling 😊. It’s a bargain at £2.21 for the Kindle! Click on the image for the Amazon link.