Anzio (Lazio), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

We drove to Anzio by way of Orvieto in Umbria.

Anzio is a fascinating medium sized town of some 50,000 inhabitants on the Tyrrhenian Sea, about 30 miles south of Rome. In the Summer, it is very popular with Roman holidaymakers (some 40% of houses in Anzio are second homes to people from Rome) but, outside of those months it is usually quiet. The town, with it’s sandy beaches and a pretty little harbour (a departure point for a ferry and hydroplane service to the nearby Pontine Islands, although Formia is the primary port in this regard) was very quiet as we arrived.

We had the dogs with us and were therefore unable to make the trip to the Pontine Islands but that is an archipelago we will most certainly visit in the future. Only 2 of the 6 islands are occupied all year round (the islands of Ponza and Ventotene) but Palmarola and Zannone are inhabited during the summer months and all six islands have stories to tell; even the deserted Santo Stefano (a penal colony until 1965) and Gavi (now a wildlife refuge).

Anzio is steeped in ancient and modern history (with a fair bit in between although the place fell into decline during the Middle Ages). At the time of the Roman Empire, the combined towns of Anzio and Nettuno were known as Antium and was the birthplace of two Julio-Claudian Emperors (Caligula who reigned 37-41 AD and Nero who reigned 54-68 AD). During his reign, Nero developed an enormous, magnificently decorated palace in Antium (the Villa Imperiale di Nerone or Nero’s Villa). Covered in a precious white marble it stretched 800 metres along the beach and 300 metres inland. No doubt with the palace in mind, a subsequent emperor, Hadrian, described Antium as one of the prettiest places in the Empire. There’s not a great deal remaining of the villa but it’s footprint is largely intact.

Anzio’s beaches once again became a centre of attention in January 1944 when during WW2, “Operation Shingle” saw troops from the USA, Great Britain and Canada invade them with a view to compromising the German 10th Army and liberating Rome. After a promising start (i.e. a 7 mile beachhead established and an open road to Rome for the loss of just 13 Allied dead) the invasion stalled and developed into one of the more savage battles of the war (more than 43,000 Allied casualties) with Lieutenant General Mark W Clark and his subordinate Major General John P Lucas combining to totally screw the operation up. Lucas (described by Winston Churchill as a ‘Stranded Whale’) was relieved of his command and sent back to the USA after sitting on the beach for 8 days and doing nothing while the Germans rushed their 14th Army south to support their 10th Army. Clark too should have been returned to the USA for tolerating Lucas’ inertia and then deliberately ignoring the orders of his own Commanding Officer (General Sir Harold Alexander) as he sought to retrieve the situation. Lucas’ replacement, Major General Lucian Truscott of the US 3rd Division wrote that “had Clark held loyally to General Alexander’s insructions… and not changed the direction of my attack… the strategic objectives of Anzio would have been accomplished in full”. The US military historian Carlo D’Este was more critical saying that Clark’s actions in disregarding Alexander was “as militarily stupid as it was insubordinate”. Clark kept his post. No surprises there since he was a close personal friend of Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces.

Except for a few words about the war cemeteries I perhaps need to draw a line under the Battle of Anzio. It will suffice to say there is a great deal in the town and it’s immediate surroundings to remind any visitor of Imperial Rome and the Anzio landings of 1944.

There are three war cemeteries in the area immediately surrounding Anzio; two British & Commonwealth cemeteries (‘Anzio War Cemetery’ and ‘Beach Head War Cemetery’) and the USA cemetery at Nettuno (now known as ‘The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery’ after US cemeteries in Salerno and Sicily were closed).

I took the time to visit the well maintained Anzio War Cemetery and during my walk back to a beach car park where I’d left Vanya with Nala and Beanie, I passed the charming 17th century Villa Adele, a significant part of which is now a museum, the Museo dello Sbarco di Anzio. Initially,the museum’s focus was directed towards the area’s archaeological finds but, perhaps unsurprisingly, four rooms have since been dedicated to the Battle for Anzio; a room each for the USA, Britain & the Commonwealth, Germany and of course Italy. A small part of the museum is centred around a Lieutenant Eric Fletcher Waters, a British officer who landed at Anzio and lost his life in the ensuing battle. His son, Roger Waters, grew up to be a co-founder, bass player and principal lyricist of Pink Floyd and; one of Pink Floyd’s singles, “When the Tigers Broke Free” (originally entitled “Anzio, 1944”) tells the story of his fathers death at Anzio.

Close to Anzio War Cemetery is the Basilica di Santa Teresa. That’s Saint Teresa de Lisieux (the Saint I wrote about in my blog on Alencon earlier this year – Tour 7) and not to be confused with Saint Teresa of Avila or Saint Teresa of Calcutta or any one of the other Saint Teresas’s). The Basilica, which was built between 1926 and 1939, is very imposing from the outside (especially having regard to it’s huge belltower) and it is supposedly very impressive on the inside too but a wedding ceremony was underway as I arrived and I wasn’t inclined to hang around.

One church I was able to access is the Chiesa dei Santi Pio e Antonio on Anzio’s main square, the Piazza Pia. Having been consecrated in 1885, this neo classical style church is a little older than the Basilica di Santi Teresa and, if not so imposing, is far prettier.

Back at the Van, Vanya and I planned our next move and we determined to drive north along the coast and seek out a good seafood restaurant. This whole area is justifiably famous for it’s fresh fish. We found the perfect place some 16 miles away on a wide sandy beach in Torvaianica. The food, the setting and the mood were truly great. From Vanya’s perspective however that all seemed to fade into nothing against the new drink she discovered at the restaurant – a Prosecco & Lemon Sorbet. Honestly, she was in seventh heaven. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of that drink…

Bolsena (Lazio), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

Wow! Bolsena really impressed me, notwithstanding the overcast weather. It is probably crowded with tourists during the summer but during mid September the place was quite empty (and yet all facilities were still open). We timed our visit well.

Bolsena is a small town of less than 5,000 people located on the northeast shore of Lake Bolsena which, with a depth of 500 feet and a diameter of 7.5 miles, is the largest volcanic lake in Europe. The crystal clear waters of the lake teem with fish but is so clean it is safe to drink. There are a couple of small islands towards the centre of the lake, L’Isola Bisentina and L’Isola Martana, but the inclement weather precluded any boat trip on our part. They are privately owned islands but boat trips are still possible at least during the summer months.

Many of the villages around Lake Bolsena, particularly Marta on the south side of the lake, are fishing villages where pike, perch, eel, various species of bass and catfish are caught. Bolsena also supports a number of fishing boats but in summer the town’s main source of income is from tourism and that is reflected by the number of boats in the harbour offering lake tours.

Bolsena is very much a town of two halves. Down by the waterside is the more stylish, modern half of the town with it’s many hotels, restaurants, holiday homes and lakeside leisure activities while behind that area, clinging to the surrounding hillside, is the attractive old medieval town.

These old town streets, filled with dark stone houses reminiscent of a medieval fishing village, are as interesting and full of character as any in Italy and walking them it is easy to believe you have slipped back in time.

At the very top of the town is the 13th century Castle Rocca Balsena. By the 15th century this imposing castle (it towers over Bolsena) was in an advanced state of decay but the Monaldeschi family committed to it’s restoration and as a consequence the finished product was renamed the Castello Rocca Monaldeschi. The castle currently houses the Territorial Museum of Lake Bolsena and while I wasn’t too impressed with the museum contents (there doesn’t seem to be any real focus to the contents – they are as diverse as Etruscan pottery, medieval paintings and fish from the lake), it is well worth the 5 Euro entrance fee for the views from the battlements alone.

Having explored the castle and checked out the museum I was keen to visit the local church, the Basilica of Santa Cristina but it was closed. It is said that the church was the scene of a miracle in 1263 when a Bohemian priest, in doubt about the doctrine of transubstantiation (i.e. the conversion of the eucharistic bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ) was convinced of it’s truth by the miraculous appearance of drops of blood on the Host he was consecrating at a mass in the crypt of the church. The marvel is commemorated in the Vatican by Raphael’s fresco “The Miracle at Bolsena’ and the Pope, Urban IV, subsequently built Orvieto Cathedral where a blood stained altar cloth from the Basilica of Santa Cristina is stored.

While exploring the old town I found a small restaurant-bar where we would take dinner later that evening and I spent what was left of the afternoon in that bar sampling the local white wine (a Lazio ‘Vermentino’) until it was time to collect Vanya.

Despite not being able to walk at all well (her hip was playing up) Vanya was as entranced with Bolsena as I was and the meal was great. Oh, and Vanya loved the Vermentino although, upon the recommendation of the waiter, we switched from the Lazio Vermentino to one from Tuscany. It proved to be better.

A little bit more about the Vermentino because I don’t doubt that we’ll be taking a fair few bottles back to the UK. It’s a hardy yet thin skinned white wine grape which thrives in warmer climates because of it’s tendency to ripen quite late in the growing season. It is believed the grape originated in Piedmont but, because it is easy to grow and resistant to drought and disease, it is now found all around the world (particularly Provence in France where it is known as Rolle) and across a broad swathe of Italy (Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio and Sardinia). We’ve since tried quite a few and so far I favour those from Bolgheri in Tuscany with some from Sardinia coming a close second.

And then it was back to the Van, passing all kinds of critters on the way, one of which (down by the lake) frightened the life out of Vanya. She didn’t half scream. Lol.

We’d have stayed longer in Bolsena except the facilities at the campsite we were using (Camping Internazionale Il Lago) are so badly in need of modernising. We love the location (in terms of it’s proximity to the lake and the town centre) but we wanted a decent shower block.

Anzio next…

Rome (Lazio), Italy – Feb 2018

By early afternoon I had left Pompeii and was en route to the Hotel Bell’ambriana in Rome, arriving just at the end of a thunder storm. I met Steve there and we stayed three days, with the Van parked up in the hotel car park. Oh, and the weather wasn’t at all bad except for that moment when I arrived.

This was my fourth or fifth time in the Eternal City but it didn’t stop us doing the usual sites that one associates with a rugby or football weekend in Rome – the Fiddler’s Elbow, Finnegans’s Bar, the Druid’s Den (except the Den has closed down) and a couple of Italian bars too – Sorry, I should have said – the Colloseum, St Peter’s Square, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, etc:-

The usual tourist photos; all so well known, I suspect, as not to require any introduction or description:-

… and then, best of all (given the 46 – 15 scoreline and the way Anthony Watson and Sam Simmonds sparkled against Italy), the Olympic Stadium…

Of course, the majority of the long weekend was given over to eating and drinking and, without any doubt, it was a fruity full bodied red Solento Negroamaro which proved a clear winner so far as the wine was concerned (which goes to show I made excellent use of my time in Puglia). The food? Rome has the best pizzas in the world but my favourite meal was a simple Lasagne which I ate, sitting in the sunshine outside on the day of the match in a restaurant I cannot even remember the name of, let alone where it is.

… I don’t remember the name of the restaurant or even the square it was located in but I do recall the wine we drank was a Puglian Primitivo

Thanks again, Rome. Thanks again England Rugby. Somewhere quieter next, I think.