A beach vacation in Sperlonga, Italy

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Popes and emperors left Rome every summer to get away from the heat. So I did too.

I spent three days at Sperlonga, a charming old hill town on the Tyrrhenian Sea, about halfway between Rome and Naples.

There are popular beach places closer to Rome, but nothing as nice as Sperlonga, with its pedestrian-only old town (Sperlonga Alta), winding staircases that lead down to the ocean and the Grotto of Tiberius and the nearby archaeological museum.

Long beaches spread to the north and south, lined by bathing establishments where you can rent a chaise and umbrella for about $20 a day.

The sand gets so hot you have to run from your chair to the water, but once you get in you know why you came.

The sea is clear and cool, with little waves. Right away I bought a rubber raft and paddled out past the break, then stayed put for the rest of the afternoon.

At dinnertime, the beach people get dressed and climb up the hill to town for a drink in the little piazza, followed by dinner. The area is a fresh fish haven. I had some form of calamari with almost every meal.

Too soon, though, I had to go back to Rome. Driving into the city, I saw a thermometer that said it was 97 degrees Fahrenheit at 6 p.m.!