Suzy and I arrived in Italy on Thursday. We were originally scheduled to arrive on Saturday, but had been away since April, so when a couple of cheap business class seats opened up on a flight to Rome’s Fiumicino airport we pounced and left two days ahead of our original schedule.
So what to do with two found days in Italy? The farmhouse was occupied, so we had to come up with a Plan B. Somewhere we could relax, overcome jet lag and have an adventure. Where should we set up camp, in a country that has so much to chose from? A nearly thousand mile long peninsula, expanses of coastline, mountains, volcanic islands, forests, medieval fortresses?
So we decided to spend our two day vacation within a vacation ten minutes down the road from the Rome airport, in the village of Fiumicino for which the airport is named. Perhaps that doesn’t sound so adventurous but it promised everything we were looking for. A reasonably priced hotel with wifi so we could stay up with work, good food and some new surroundings.
One of the things Suzy and I love about traveling in Italy is that there is almost always an unexpected adventure around the corner. But we welcome and even encourage the unexpected, which is part of the reason we decided to spend our two bonus days in Italy in Fiumicino, a place we had visited a couple of times before for a good meal, but a place of which we had not really scratched the surface.
Our two day sojourn was certainly not an action-packed adventure ride. We spent a lot of the time catching up on work, catching up on sleep and eating the fresh catch from the village’s fishing fleet. Along the way we managed to create our own adventures, most notably stinking up our hotel with a bag of festering fish that we had stored in our mini fridge. We had planned to visit the impressive Roman ruins at Ostia Antica, the ancient port town of the Eternal City, but time got the better of us. But it’s always good to leave an adventure for your next trip, so stay tuned.
Wanting to mix things up a bit, our final night we opted against another seafood dinner. Earlier that day I had taken a walk around the town, along the strip of privately managed beaches that run south from Fiumicino’s center, in an area called the Isola Sacra. This “island” was created by the Emperor Trajan in the first century A.D. by building the canal that runs through Fiumicino, but enough lessons in history. Along my stroll I came across a restaurant that held promise for our final night’s dinner, a large, modern structure called Provalo (which means “try it”). Underneath the name is what caught my attention – spiedficio or skewer restaurant. What could be better than eating dinner served on spears. Why you can eat and pick your teeth at the same time!
Provalo certain proved to be worth a try. With a menu that featured skewers of sausages, skewers of cheeses, fried potatoes cut into a continuous spiral on a skewer and a whole section of arrosticini, grilled meats including lamb, veal, angus and chicken, roasted in a special contraption that allows one to cook a whole slew of skewers at once. Provalo is definitely the place to go when you’re all seafooded out.
But adventure takes many forms, not just eating, and our biggest adventure that evening was our chance encounter with the restaurant’s manager and chef. No promises, but perhaps you’ll be seeing a visit to Via Umbria in the not-too-distant-future by this duo to do a little guest chef stint and to introduce Washington, DC to spiedini and arrosticini.
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The final adventure of our brief stay in Fiumicino was our visit to the beach. For those who have not visited an Italian beach, particularly a crowded public beach like the ones in Fiumicino, which is, after all less than an hour from Rome – think the Rehoboth of the Eternal City – it is an experience worth, well, experiencing. Just be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and a pair of sandals, because the sand can be hot as lava. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. Each beach is run by a private management, typically a family affair, and rents chairs and umbrellas. You pay an admission fee and rental fee for the chair/umbrella and an attendant will set up your space for you. Most beaches have a private restaurant or snack bar although many beachgoers seem to bring their own picnic lunches.
The beach around Fiumicino is nothing to write home about (and who writes letters nowadays anyway), but the experience can be a memorable one, with families and friends playing, sunning, eating and drinking and laughing with one another, generally in very little clothing. It’s a way to see another side of Italy that we highly recommend. Particularly for those who call landlocked Umbria home, a trip to the beach is another excellent adventure.
A ten minute cab ride from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport is the seaside town of Fiumicino, for which the airport is also named (Rome Fiumicino or FCO to the seasoned traveller). As most flights to the US depart from FCO in the morning, overnighting in Fiumicino the night before one’s return flight can be a good alternative to a pricy hotel room in Rome. And given this fishing village’s impressive roster of restaurants, it can be an excellent way to celebrate your send off with a memorable meal.
But Fiumicino can be more than just a place to kill time and have a good meal. With Ostia Antica, the main port of Imperial Rome just a few minutes away and the town itself steeped in history, beaches and an impressive commercial fishing fleet, those seeking to escape from the bustle of Rome for a day or two would be well served to encamp in this delightful, if overlooked area.
Suzy and I took this message to heart this week, starting our Italy adventure with two days in Fiumicino to decompress and get over jet lag. We had visited the town on previous trips, but only for dinners, opting on those previous visits to stay at the airport’s Hilton hotel and taking a short taxi ride to the Via della Torre Clementine, the road that runs along the town’s wharf, from which the fishing fleet daily heads to sea. Across from the wharf stretches seafood restaurant after seafood restaurant.
Over our two day visit to Fiumicino we had three excellent seafood meals. Two were at restaurants along the main drag – the Ristorante Fronte del Porto and la Perla Ristorante. There we ate deliciously fried fritto misto, an assortment of small fried fish, shrimps and calamari, as well as some exquisitely fresh crudo, or Italian style sushi, thinly sliced raw fish, typically marinated with light extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with subtle sea salt. Needless to say, the fish served in these restaurants is about as fresh as it gets. Talk about zero kilometers – it literally has to travel a hundred feet from the boat to the table.
But for a special treat, for great seafood in a beautiful setting and with top notch service, hop over to Bastianelli al Molo. Housed in a whitewashed modern constructed building at the very end of the pier, al Molo (at the pier) is the cream of the crop. We enjoyed a leisurely (four hour) lunch there our second day, a fresh, gentle breeze rolling off the sea and cooling the ferocious heat of the summer.
We started our seafood odyssey with a half dozen oysters from France, disobeying the “months with an r” rule that proclaims that you should not eat oysters in hot weather months. We had been disabused of this notion on a previous trip to France and besides, this is Italy, where you’re not being a good citizen if you don’t break most of the rules.
We followed the oysters, which we enjoyed with a bottle of Lis Neris “Lis” wine from Friuli (pinot grigio-chardonnay-sauvignon blanc) with the only real disappointment of the day, a tartare of ricciola (variously translated as amberjack or yellow tail – we struggle greatly translating Italian fish words to English, as we really are not that familiar with the English words to begin with). The ricciola was served with a dollop of oyster gelato, a concept that sounds more interesting than it is in reality. We honestly preferred the more subtle, thinly sliced crudo of the Fronte del Porto and la Perla and could have skipped the milky, briny, gelato.
Now about an hour into our meal, with the breeze picking up and the Lis having its desired effect we were served what turned out to be the highlight of the meal, a ravioli filled with fresh fish, served in an unlikely sauce of asparagus and pancetta and garnished with slivers of asparagus. We’ve been schooled in not combining sea and land food (no cheese on that seafood pasta, please), but this combination was simply magical, worth the price of admission.
Our main course was not so much a let down as it was superfluous. By the time our whole spigola or sea bass baked in a salt crust arrived, we were ready to head back to the hotel and bask in the glow of our ravioli and take a nap. Baking a fish or any meat in a salt crust, however, is a technique that you simply must try. The fresh bass, baked in its salty sarcophagus, came out incredibly moist and flavorful, asking to be drenched in the light extravirgin olive oil from Lake Garda that adorned the table. We probably should have brought back to our hotel the uneaten portion, but our mini fridge had other plans, which we’ll tell you about later.
There are so many excellent restaurants to choose from in Fiumicino, ranging from the simple to the memorable. Along with Pascucci al Porticciolo (Viale Traiano 85, Fiumicino, tel. 06 6502 9204), Bastianelli al Molo defines memorable. So next time you are at Fiumicino take a detour and enjoy a treasure that is hidden right under your nose.
Bill and Suzy
Bastianelli al Molo is located at Via della Torre Clementina, 312 in Fiumicino. The telephone number is 06 650 5378 or you can email them at email@example.com. They speak English. Do it for yourself.
I would describe our hotel in Fiumicino, the Hotel Tiber, as “perfectly adequate.” The staff was nice and accommodating, the rooms quite spacious and modern. The air-conditioning and wifi worked well, a particularly important feature (at least with respect to the former) given the hellish heat the country is currently experiencing. I really can’t think of anything in particular to complain about about the Tiber. Except, perhaps that their rooftop pool which had no umbrellas, rendering any poolside lounging either impossible or an exercise in how to get melanoma in one easy step. But come on, complaining about a rooftop pool in Italy? First world problems.
The hotel is well located just across the canal where the village’s fishing fleet ties up. In the morning the boats rig their nets and head out to sea. In the afternoon they return and set up an ad hoc seafood market, where local restaurant owners shop for fresh fish and good deals.
With our two day sojourn coming to an end, we decided to pay a visit to the market with an eye to bring some fresh catch with us to Umbria the following day. The timing was perfect as we came stumbling up the quay from our four hour seafood extravaganza lunch at Bastianelli al Molo. Much of the fleet had just returned for the day and each boat was displaying their catch on ice in styrofoam boxes lined up along the pier.
Now seeing the selection, we were determined to make a purchase, but where to store our treasures overnight? I ran across the street to our hotel and asked the front desk if we could store a flat of seafood overnight in the hotel restaurant’s refrigerator, to take with us when we checked out the following day. The reception promised to get an answer and phone me back. So back out to the market I went, optimistic that the answer would be yes.
After speaking with one of the captains and learning that the price of a flat was only €5, I went ahead and consummated the deal. The following night, I imagined, Suzy and I were going to enjoy a heaping platter of fritto di paranza, or mixed fried fishes, which are not normally found in Umbria, Italy’s only landlocked, coast-less region.
Just moments after the transaction was finalized and the dozens of tiny fish put into a bag with ice, my phone rang.Buona sera, signor. Unfortunately the kitchen cannot accept . . .
Not to worry, we thought. This very nice, modern hotel has a mini fridge with lots of space. So we headed back into the hotel, bag of fish hidden from view of the front desk and headed up to our room. There we discovered that the mini fridge did indeed have plenty of space for our bag of swag. Our plan was proceeding perfectly.
The next morning we arose without incident and headed to the Tiber’s breakfast room, a light filled room on the top floor of the hotel with views of Fiumicino town, the beaches and the sea. We enjoyed a very nice breakfast before heading downstairs to our room where we planned to pack up, pick up our rental car and arrange to spend the day at one of Fiumicino’s beaches before driving up to Umbria.
When the elevator stopped on our floor, even before the door fully opened, we were hit by it. The powerful stench of rotting fish that was clearly emanating from our room, located just across from the elevator. When we opened the door to our room one glance and one sniff confirmed our suspicions. The fresh catch from the afternoon before had turned fetid in a mini fridge designed to keep small cans of Coca Cola tepid, rather than for preserving in fresh condition the fruits of the sea. A sickening slick of goo trailed under the refrigerator door and onto the floor. And a powerful smell filled the entire room when I opened the small glass door of the mini fridge. Apparently overnight the fish gradually went bad, the odor slowly accumulating so that we slept through it and our senses acclimated to it. Fortunately our breakfast break allowed us to escape the room for a half hour, enabling our olfactory machinery to reset, or we may have never been aware of what everyone else who used the third floor elevator must have been thinking. Where is that smell coming from?
Our first order of business – or oder of business – was to remove the source of rankness and to do what we could to eradicate the smell. Thoughts ran through my mind of nicotine addicted guests being charged €250 for smoking in their rooms. What would the Tiber charge us if we didn’t fix this problem pronto?
I quickly found every plastic bag and trash can liner I could assemble and dumped our former treasure into this container, hoping against hope that I would not leak a trail of liquified fish from our room through the lobby and to its final resting place. Fortunately, the bags held and I was able to make a dash through the lobby without arousing too much suspicion. I was on the street. Now where to dispose of Nemo and company?
Typically Italian towns have plenty of public trash cans but the ones close to the hotel were all jammed full of refuse and I wasn’t about to leave a bag of rotting fish on the ground. There were plenty of privately owned bins but too many witnesses. So after about ten minutes, spying a cluster of cans that looked promising I veered off the main street into a residential neighborhood. I made one pass past the bins, aborting my attempt as a neighbor eyed me suspiciously. But after she went back inside her apartment I made an about face and, pulling the offending package from our plastic tote bag was able to subtly open and deposit it in the can, not even breaking stride as I did so. A whiff of the tote bag turned up no noxious residue, so it was back to the hotel for a final site cleanup. Things were looking up.
When I stepped off the elevator on the third floor I was again greeted by the strong odor of fish, even though we had started to air out the room a half hour earlier. I grabbed a couple of hand towels and started scrubbing and cleaning the slick of sickening fishiness that was still in the bottom of the mini fridge and after about 10 minutes it was all gone, the towels rinsed and soaking in the bath tub. A bit of fishiness lingered in the air, but nothing that late checkout during our visit to the beach wouldn’t take care of.
Later that day we returned to the Tiber after our trip to the beach. When we returned to the room to close up our suitcases and check out, only the tiniest wisp of fishiness remained. We visited the front desk to check out, receiving no lecture about storing fish in the mini fridge or finding an extra room cleaning charge. It appeared that we had survived Salt Watergate unscathed, although I’ll keep monitoring our American Express bill for additional charges in the future.
Talk about a fish story. And so, it’s onward to Umbria!