Ciclopista del Sole - from Rome to the sea

Published on:  | Last updated: 31 March 2017

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Roma - Baia Domizia Distances
Rome - Folcagnana 25 kms
Folcagnana - Marina di Latina 55 kms
Marina di Latina - Terracina 54 kms
Terracina - Sperlonga 19 kms
Sperlonga - Baia Domizia 46.5 kms

Overview and a word of warning

For most of its length through Italy, to Rome, the Ciclopista del Sole/​eurovelo 7 follows cycleways or quiet roads, and almost entirely avoids busy roads. Things change quite markedly after Rome in that there is a much higher proportion of busy road. I would say that after Rome it really is a route that's for exper­i­enced cyclists only. This isn't intended as a criticism of the people who mapped the route: I think it offers the best option if you want to travel south from Rome towards Napoli.

I really didn't enjoy the route out of Rome (the Via Appia Antica is glorious but after that there's a bit of a trudge for a dozen kilometres or so).

The section of the route along the coast is a bit of a mixed bag. The stretch along the coast near Sabaudia to San Felice Circeo is just fabulous (or at least if you avoid weekends in the peak summer season). Terracina, and Sperlonga are both worth a visit, and both offer beach­front cycleways that even the most hard-hearted, beach-hating misery would enjoy. But the links between the towns range from dull to dull and depressing. The dull bits are over relat­ively quickly so be patient. 

The Via Appia Antica

The eurovelo 7 continues out of Rome on the Via Appia Antica. I had toyed with the idea of taking the Via Ardeatina out of the city but a guide from one of the tour companies (sorry I didn't make a note of the company name or I'd give them a mention) changed my mind. The reason why I had been nervous about it was because of the lastriconi the big blocks of basalt that were used by the Romans to build the road. These are now badly worn and the surface is difficult to walk on never mind ride on. These sections make up a pretty small proportion of the total length of the Via Appia Antica, and are easily avoided by riding on the verges. The large majority of the Via is surfaced with sanpi­etrini those are the tradi­tional black block paving stones used on many streets in Rome. They're not quite like cobbles as the surface tends to be flatter and more even, but not quite as smooth as tarmac.

The route out of Rome starts at the entrance to the Catacombe di San Callisto. The Parco Appia Antica also has an inform­ation point here. A quiet almost-traffic-free road takes you past the catacombs (worth a visit if you have the time), and then onto the Via Appia Antica proper. The Via goes on for over ten kilometres. A few people live on the Via itself, so you will meet the occasional car, but otherwise it's bliss­fully quiet.

After a while the paved road gives way to a fairly rough dirt track with sections of the Roman lastriconi. The official route continues here towards Falcognana - I turned off here but wondered if I had made the right call as I ended up detouring back towards the GRA and then following the Via Ardeatina for several kilometres. I would have done better to have stuck with it for another kilometre or so to the next road junction. If you are heading for Ciampino then your best bet is is to continue on to the next junction and then turn left and continue onto the Via dei Laghi SP 217.

Falcognanana to the Marina di Latina

The official route joins the Via Ardeatina near Falcognana and continues along it for about 13 kilometres. I need to pick my words carefully: the Via Ardeatina is probably the least bad option for heading south out of Rome (believe me, I've ridden some of the altern­atives), but otherwise it really has nothing to recommend it (except perhaps some friendly bars and cafes along the way). It isn't insanely busy, but it is used by a fair number of trucks - although in fairness I should say that the drivers were all consid­erate towards me. The road takes you through a series of indus­trial estates and distri­bution centres in the hinterland of Rome. There's absolutely no scenic interest, but just when I had reached the point when I was asking myself 'Can this road get any worse?' it got better, and I could hear the birds singing in the trees. It continues to improve after you turn off - following the signs to Ardea.

Take the train?

I know many people will hate the idea, but you can save yourself a fairly dismal trudge by simply getting the train out of Rome, to say Campoleone and then picking up the route from there. If the Via Appia Antica takes your fancy you can do it as a day-ride from central Rome without any problem.

The story of this section of the route is the places you don't get to go to. The Via Ardeatina must have once gone to Ardea, but we don't go there - the turning for Ardea takes you through the fringes of Campoleone. From Campoleone the signs point towards Cisterna, but you don't go there either, skirting round Aprilia, and then turning off the road to Cisterna to go to Borgo Montello (turn right by the Capannino bar-ristorante and then left onto via San Giovanni).

At Borgo Montello you pass under the Nettuno-Latina road and head for the coast on the SP136 (the turning is opposite the post office, by a war memorial and play area). From here it's pleasant cruise to the sea and the Marina di Latina.

Along the coast: from the Marina di Latina to Terracina

The Marina di Latina is a bit sad and run-down, but there's a wide choice of bars and places to eat - there are a few places to stay, but not many. When I got there in April 2015 they were in the process of laying what looked like a cycleway along the lungomare.

No disrespect to the Lido di Martina, but things start to look up when you get to the junction at the Lago di Fogliano. Pass the modern hotels, and there's the beginning of a long stretch of unspoilt coastline, with Monte Circeo in the distance. 

There's a brief inland detour where the road has been closed and the dunes have been allowed to reclaim this stretch of coastline. The road takes you inland via Borgo Grappa. The official route runs along the bank of the Lago di Caprolace and into Sabaudia. I opted for the coast road. Out of season (in April) this was very quiet, and it felt like there were as many cyclists on the road as cars (most through traffic takes the inland road).

Sabaudia is a new town that was built as part of the efforts under Mussolini to drain the Pontine marshes and resettle the area. Sabaudia (and the building of the coast road) featured in the propa­ganda newsreels of the time. The archi­tecture is modernist 'razion­alista'. As a piece of urban planning it seems to have survived remarkably well. Personally I really like the place: it grows on me every time I visit. It's partic­u­larly lively on Thursday mornings when there's a market.

From Sabaudia it's back to the coast road for another stretch (5.6kms), before the road turns left at the foot of Monte Circeo and then 6kms on a quiet, leafy country road into the seaside resort of San Felice Circeo.

At this point, I'd stop and have a coffee and enjoy the view of the sea and steel yourself for the 11 kilometres or so on the road into Terracina. Which, frankly, is as dull and shabby a stretch of road as you'll find anywhere in Italy, the dullness accen­tuated by the contrast with the glorious ride to San Felice Circeo. It does eventually come to an end as you come off the main road and onto the lungomare, and if, like me, you're in a bit of a grump by this time, you'll be cheered by the sight of the snazzy new bright blue cycleway. 

Terracina to Scauri

After Sabaudia the coast road swings inland to avoid the 500-metre high Monte Circeo which suddenly rises up out of the sea at the end of the coastal plain. San Felice Circeo is another pleasant seaside resort which gives way to a fairly dull stretch of road leading onto Porto Badino and Terracina where there's a chance to get off the main road for a bit and follow the lungomare (seafront).

Terracina was once an important staging post on the Via Appia - the grand Roman highway that led from Rome to the coast and then on to Capua. It was also a thriving town in the middle ages but malaria reduced the population to a low of 150 people.

Today it is the largest tourist centre in southern Lazio. It does still have a centro storico with a duomo (cathedral) that is notable for its floor decorated with marble mosaics in complex patterns (cosmat­esque) look out for the marble mosaics on the cathedral's facade.

Mosaic decorations from the façade of the Duomo di Terracina

Part of the mosaic decor­a­tions on the façade of the Duomo di Terracina. Photo from: Wikimedia Commons

You can also see the remains of the Roman theatre and forum and a section of the original Via Appia.

Overlooking the town on a rocky peak is the temple of Giove Anxur. The remains that you can see today are simply the base for the temple which burned down. Short video with recon­struc­tions of how the temple might have appeared.

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Sperlonga

Next stop is Sperlonga. Sperlonga has an old town that is a real gem. It's a village of white houses crowded together on a rocky outcrop. With the swallows swirling in the air, this for me was the first place where I really felt I was in southern Italy. The beach­front cycleway takes you into the old town and the Belvedere Monte Circeo, which offers fabulous views along the coast to the south.

A little further long the road (the Via Flacca) is the Grotta di Tiberio. The roman Emperor Tiberius built a villa here with a dining area on an island partly inside the cavern, surrounded by a pool filled with fish, and looking out over Monte Circeo. It all ended badly when part of the roof collapsed during one of Tiberius' dinner parties.

In 1957 engineers carrying out work in prepar­ation for the construction of the modern Via Flacca were working in the in the cave when they came across fragments of sculpture buried in the sediment on the cave floor. In total over 5000 fragments of sculpture were discovered.

The author­ities wanted to move the discov­eries to Rome but there was an uprising by the local people who put up roadb­locks to stop them being moved. So you can see the sculp­tures in the Museo Nazionale on the Via Flacca, on the same site as the grotto.

Centrepiece of the museum is the recon­struction of a group of statues depicting the blinding of the one-eyed giant (cyclops) Polyphemus. The group is dominated by the 5 metre-long figure of Polyphemus as he lies drunk.

Sperlonga - Polyphemus group from the Museo Nazionale Villa di Tiberio

Sperlonga - Polyphemus group from the Museo Nazionale Villa di Tiberio. Picture by steveilott. Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the sculp­tures on the site has the inscription of the names of the three Greek sculptors believed to be responsible for the sculpture (now in the Vatican) of Laocoön and his sons battling two giant sea serpents - one of the great master­pieces of the ancient world.

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From here on along the 15 or so kilometres from Sperlonga to Gaeta is one of the more scenic sections of the coast road as the dunes give way to cliffs. Sadly while the road isn't really awful there's enough traffic - partic­u­larly lorries - to mar your enjoyment of the scenery.

There are also three shortish tunnels after Sperlonga - again nothing really awful but if you've travelled all the way down from the border with Austria without encoun­tering one (it's very possible) this could come as an unwelcome surprise. Take a few moments. Put on your light and high-viz and away you go.

NOTE: legally you are required to wear high-viz clothing and I would defin­itely advise putting on a bright rear blinking light. It's tempting to think "oh it's only a short one", but when you hear the roar of a lorry roaring behind you (and in a tunnel even a fairly small one makes a hell of a noise) you'll be glad you did.

Gaeta

Next stop is the coastal town of Gaeta - most famous as the place where the Kingdom of Napoli made its last stand. For some reason the official route sticks to the main road and takes you past the town. I think a much better option is to turn off the road towards the beach at Serapo and then continue along the lungomare as it passes the centro storico and then takes you out of town along the Lungomare Giovanni Caboto. The modern part of the town - by the Serapo beach is really very dull, so be patient and continue on and then make a right following the signs for the centro storico.

The old city of Gaeta lies hidden behind Monte Orlando - another of the small mountains that suddenly juts out of the sea that punctuate the coast. Monte Orlando is now a parco regionale. At the top of the mountain (which at a 171 metres must be a candidate for one of Italy's shortest mountains) is the extremely well preserved mausoleum of Lucius Munatius Plancus one of Julius Caesar's key generals, as swell as a friend of in his conquest of Gaul (modern France), and founder of the cities of Lyon and Augusta Raurica near Basel.

The other attraction, perhaps the major attraction, on Monte Orlando, is the Montagna Spaccata (the verb spaccare means to split, to smash or to shatter). Two huge fissures in the mountain. The local legend is that the mountain splintered at the moment of christ's death. A set of about 300 steps through a dramatic fissure in the mountain, down to the sea and the Grotta del Turco (cave of the Turk). The story of the Grotta del Turco is that an unbelieving visitor, perhaps a Turkish sailor, refusing to believe that the mountain had split on Christ's death, pressed his hand onto the rock face, which became soft, leaving the imprint of his hand. On the way down is the cappella del croci­fisso - built on a giant fragment of rock theta had fallen down and become wedged between the two sides of the fissure.

Above the city is the castle - the promontory has been a strategic strong­point for centuries. (Seen from above there are almost two castles - one built by the rulers from Anjou and the extension built by the Aragonese). The strategic importance of the city seems to have been more of a curse than a blessing for its citizens - according to its wikipedia page the city has been besieged and captured at least ten times in its history.

The most famous of those sieges ended in January 1861 and marked the last stand of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies - the country that in one form or another had existed since the Norman conquest of southern Italy in the 11th century. The King went into exile in Rome, but the 'Brigantaggio' what we might call an insur­gency continued in the South for years after­wards with the loss of thousands of lives. 

The castle is still in use by the Italian military so isn't visitable. 

Giovanni Caboto

On the quayside at Gaeta there's a memorial to Giovanni Caboto 'discoverer' of Canada.

Gaeta: memorial to Giaccomo Caboto

Gaeta: memorial to Giaccomo Caboto

John Cabot as we know him in the english-speaking world may have been born in Gaeta. Or in Genova. Or Chioggia near Venezia. Either way we do know that he became a Venetian citizen and signed himself Zuan Chabotto - the Venetian form of his name.

Along with the Genovese Christopher Columbus and the Tuscan Amerigo Vespucci he was one the trio of great Italian navig­ators who helped to put the New World on the map. Sailing from Bristol in England's West Country to the New Founde Lande.

On from Gaeta 

From Gaeta you head onwards to Scauri,passing Formia. This is a long stretch of built-up coastline. Formia was an important point on the supply lines towards Monte Cassino and the Linea Gotica - the almost impreg­nable defensive line estab­lished by the German Army in the winter of 1943. Formia was heavily bombed in the war as the Allies threw their massive firepower and air superi­ority into a desperate effort to break­through at Monte Cassino.

Just before you get into Scauri itself a right turn takes you downhill through a narrow and heavily patched road down to the lungomare. Hopefully the Scauri's comune will be inspired by the example of their neigh­bours along the coast and put in a beach­front cycleway - but even without a cycleway the lungomare is an enjoyable contrast to the main road.

From Scauri you continue along the peaceful SP Pecennone, to the mouth of the Garigliano river. You need to follow the river bank to the bridge on the main road. At the junction look out, on your right-hand side, for the Ponte Pensile Borbonico - Italy's first suspension bridge built in 1832.

The official route, at least on the mainland, ends here.

More information

Places to stay

Hotels and other places to stay

Coming out of Rome your best bet for a place to stay is in and around Ciampino where there's a wide range of options. On the route itself is the Agriturismo Il Conte della Faeta. After Falcognana the next towns with hotel accom­mod­ation are Aprilia and Latina.

There are quite a few places to stay around Sabaudia

I stayed at and would recommend both the Hotel-Ristorante Centosedici in Terracina and the B&B Sperlonga in, as you guessed it, Sperlonga.

Hostels

The Ostello Marina degli Ulivi near Sperlonga is (so far as I know) the only hostel between Rome and Napoli 

Campsites

The bad news for campers is that this really isn't promising territory for campsites. There are quite a few around, but these generally tend to be geared up towards permanent/​seasonal lets rather than touring pitches - which means that you get the combin­ation of shabby permanent caravans, and tired run-down facil­ities. Some campsites have also quietly converted into villages which might be a decent bet if you want to rent a bungalow for the night but otherwise aren't much use. Note: this may be a bit too sweeping and unfair and if you do discover a hidden gem please do let me know.

Oh and while I'm giving out the bad news, expect to pay about 30 per cent more in this area than elsewhere in Italy, with low-season rates for a pitch (with two people) at 25€. 

There are a couple of reasonable options near Sabaudia. I haven't stayed at the Rio Martino but the location looks good. I have stayed at the Camping Sabaudia (opens at the beginning of May).

The Agrimare Camping near Sperlonga looks like the most convenient campsite for the town.

There are a number of campsites on the road between Terracina and Sperlonga, and between Sperlonga and Gaeta. The most promising looked to be the Settebello in that it has decent-sized area set aside for touring pitches. 

  Map of campsites along the route:  EV7-campsites-map-show map in overlay    |    EV7-campsites-map-show map in new window 

Resources

There's a very good article about the Sperlonga Sculptures on en.wikipedia.org

Tourist information

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