espite some unruly weather weekends, spring has begun edging its way toward Rome following a sulking winter of financial and political discontent. The transformation it triggers is fascinating. At the first hint of warm weather Romans of all stripes slip into brightly colored trousers and make for the beach, with Fregene and Ostia their closest seashore options. They’re eager to reinstate their suntans and eat seafood in the sun.
If you’re interest in playing along the Roman coastline before the real heat sets in, here are my favorite seashore spots, with eateries to boot.
Fregene is a coastal development 20-odd miles west of Rome built up in the 1970s to cater to the city’s bourgeois, its elegant villas and manicured gardens contrasting starkly with the deserted umbrella pine forest that lie beyond the shore. Swimmers in the know stay out of the water, sadly polluted, but poolside dolce vita and dining is very much the thing. If you’re not driving to Fregene in your convertible Alfa Romeo, you can always catch the CoTral bus on the hour from the Cornelia Metro station.
Riviera: The canvas director’s chairs and polished teak timber planks that line the floors in this posh stabilimento lido restaurant are supposed to make you feel like you’re on a fantasy yacht. The galley is no less luxurious, with signature dishes such as hand-made bucatini with cozze (mussels) and pecorino cheese, wild catch of the day crudité, and chilled glasses of white wine. Riviera. Lungomare di Levante 70, Fregene. Tel. 06.6656.0475. Open March to October lunch and dinner.
Il Miraggio: In two decades, this iconic hangout has gone from fisherman’s dump to celebrity haunt and now serves some of the resort town’s best seafood. The house feather-light fried moscardini (baby octopus) come served in a paper cone, and the spaghetti with garlicky sautéed telline (wedge clams) may be the best on this stretch of seaside. Management provides childcare services and babysitting during mealtime, and for romantic dinners you can reserve a candlelit table for two at water’s edge. Il Miraggio. Lungomare di Ponente, 83. Fregene. Tel. 06.6656.0369. Open year round, lunch and dinner.
Levante 7.2: If you like the idea of an aperitivo served at sunset while you’re sprawled on white canvas throw pillows or under the billowing canopy of an Indonesian four-post bed, consider yourself welcome. I go less for the romantic mood (and the queen-size lounge chairs) than for the terrific tapas that come with drinks, the spaghetti with red prawns and Lardo di Colonnata, and the house desserts, which never disappoint. Levante 7.2. Lungomare di Levante, 72. Fregene. Tel. 06.6656.0705. Open year round morning to late night.
La Baia di Fregene: Here you can relax on beach lounge chairs, and then – wearing only your sarong and flip-flops – sashay over to your shady table for some tasty tuna tartare with fresh basil or amberjack carpaccio with toasted pine nuts. But the list goes on: fresh lemon-strewn anchovies, delicate fish croquettes with ricotta, and scallops with a crunchy crust of pistachios over a delicate scallion purée. La Baia di Fregene. Via Silvi Marina, 1. Fregene. Tel. 06.6656.1647. Open for lunch (except in December-January).
If the Fregene tattoos, silicone lips (and other body parts) overwhelm you, sidle over to other nearby seaside locations, where both the restaurant owners and the customers are more down to earth.
Fiumicino is Rome’s little-known seaport town, and home to the sixth busiest airport in Europe and the largest in Italy. Not far from Leonardo Da Vinci airport is the Museo delle Navi Romane and its a permanent exhibit of five Roman ships dug up from the Emperor Claudius’ ancient Portus.
Neri Village is a humble Fiumicino trattoria, pizza joint, beach lido and cafe that serves up hearty fare at value prices, minus the snooty Roman littoral ambiance (Lungomare della Salute, 80. Tel. 06.6421.1450). Free wi-fi, volleyball lessons, and a terrace overlooking the sea come with smiles and courteous service. The menu features attractive pasta dishes including gnocchi with saffron and shrimp and simple grilled catch of the day. Weekend nights are for disco people.
Initially developed as an agricultural project in the early 1920s, Maccarese is another lovely alternative to the Fregene scene. The village, unobstructed by pine forests, benefits from a breezy climate and is the coast’s chief windsurfing and kite-surfing location. Millions of colored crescent sails can be spotted on early spring days, dotting the shoreline.
Paradise Beach: After parking in the shady lot, you can suddenly feel like you’re in Yucatan. The ambience certainly drops a hint: swaying palm fronds, woven coconut mats, and ethnic music, not to mention tanned girls from Ipanema sipping mojitos at the scattered cafe tables. This unpretentious stabilimento is among the area’s best kept secrets, with welcoming service, great food and all sorts of beach sports facilities and children play areas. Sun drunk and windblown on the way home from lunch, you can stop at one of the four farm stands along via Monti dell’Ara for fresh local produce. Paradise Beach. Via Monti dell’Ara, 425. Maccarese. Tel. 06.667.1451.
Bau Beach: Bau as in bow-wow, this is the only private beach where pets call the shots. Here, all is geared to Fido. Dogs can run free on the spotless shoreline and splash in the waves, provided their human friends pay respectful attention to the dog-less patrons who like to share the same sandy spaces. Bins and disposable baggies are ubiquitous and two-legged guests can rent sun beds and chairs, which automatically come with a mini-umbrella and a water bowl for the pup. A small kiosk sells drinks, homemade gelato, organic dishes and quick snacks, including kibbles. The on-site veterinary and team of dog-attendants are another plus. Bau Beach Via Praia a Mare. Maccarese. Tel. 349.269.6461.
Locals historically regard Ostia as Rome’s “private” beach. The Roma-Ostia railway, built in 1924, led to an influx of city-dwellers, with Art Nouveau homes and villas going up along the waterfront. The nearby archeological Ostia Antica site is a must, as is a day spent nibbling on fresh seafood and people watching.
Med: This Mediterranean-cuisine restaurant, cocktail lounge, beach club and popular nightspot is open from early morning to the wee hours. Crisp white canvas deck chairs and shaded dining areas welcome guests for weekday breakfasts, midday lunches and delicious gourmet dinners featuring homemade desserts, tapas and fresh pasta. I dare you to pass up the tagliolini with lobster and shrimp bisque, the warm Martini flavored prawns served with almond butter, or the grilled scampi with cashews. Med. Lungomare Duilio, 40. Lido di Ostia. Tel. 06.5647.1080. Restaurant open daily year-round, morning to sunset; beach club facilities from May to September.
Nervi al Kursaal: This recently remodeled resort, vintage kitsch, boasts one of a spectacular high-dive structures whose design overseen by architect Pierluigi Nervi in the 1950s. Nervi is the same gentleman responsible for the Sala Nervi in the Vatican and the Palazzetto dello Sport built for the 1960 Olympics. An Ostia restoration project has brought this place back to life, adding a sublime gourmet restaurant that offers contemporary cuisine, decorative mise en place, a noteworthy wine list, and desirable homemade desserts. Nervi al Kursaal. Lungomare Lutazio Catulo, 36-40. Lido di Ostia. Tel. 06.5647.0164.