Last Tuesday was my first Ferragosto living in Rome. Although I had been warned, I had seriously underestimated the level of empty things would actually be the day of the holiday.
For those of you who don’t know what Ferragosto is, it is a religious and bank holiday which also marks the unofficial start of the summer holiday season in Italy.
I set out to run some errands, hoping to make my day off a productive one. Only to find out soon after that my neighborhood was an absolute ghost town. Not a store was open, not a person (or car) in sight. The sidewalks were completely barren –the only thing missing was the tumbleweeds. It was something straight out of a twilight zone episode.
Feeling somewhat frustrated and a little creeped out, I went back to my apartment to regroup. What to do next? Desperate to find some sort of life, I even contemplated visiting one of the major cultural sites in the city center. Normally, I would have reached out to my friends, but I knew that most of them already cut out for the holiday a week or two prior.
This was not like NYC where your options for nearby, short stays were more than a little limited. There were always a few people who decided to stick around over a three-day holiday weekend in the summer, reveling at how they had the city all to themselves. But even that didn’t compare to how desolate things could be in Italy during this time.
Many Romans sought refuge in the outskirts of the city – either driving off to their family summer homes or a beach town in close proximity. Some made it to the mountains where temperatures were cooler – something Italians had been doing for centuries. Others just made longer vacations out of their “ponti” (bridge) weekends, traveling as far as Puglia or even to other European cities.
I heard the myths when I was living in the states. People would jest that no one in Italy (or most of Europe for that matter) worked during the month of August. Something I know now to be slightly exaggerated. But this was also something that I had secretly coveted, always suspecting that the Italians may have been on to something the states had been missing, but I digress…
While in recent years (as in 5-10) this is becoming more and more uncommon as more people and companies are open the duration of the summer. Nevertheless, I was still in awe. I noticed the first signs in shop windows towards the end of July announcing their “Ferie” closures. Some even quoted not being back until the 3rd of September!
But here I was on the 15th, wishing I had planned better. It was at this moment that my two friends texted me. It felt like we were the last three people left in Rome. They were thinking of taking a drive to Fregene for a sunset aperitivo and invited me to tag along.
Fregene, situated near the mouth of the Tiber River and also Fiumicino Airport, was a Federico Fellini favorite. Although a bit out of date, this New York Times article sums things up very nicely here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/09/travel/09day.html?mcubz=1. More recently, this small town is frequented by Romans looking a beautiful day at the beach and a stylish aperitivo.
I had been to Fregene before. Last summer to be exact, however I missed the aperitivo portion. But since then, I had always vowed to go back. Also since then, I had been hearing about how their beach aperitivo was not to be missed – especially from these two friends in particular. But this wasn’t my first attempt to go this month, so I really didn’t want to give my hopes up.
Two of us would meet for a drink while we waited for the third. It was becoming dangerously close to sunset time, and we were still in the city center awaiting our third party. Luckily, by the time we were finished with our drink, he came along (with his car) and we were soon on the road. Fregene is only a 40-minute ride from Rome but nearly impossible to get there otherwise. I remember this fact all too well being the last time I visited, I found myself completely stranded there. You can take a train to a nearby station and then a bus but it’s close to a two-hour ordeal. Also, those options cease to exist after a ridiculously early hour (as in 8pm-ish). Something I did not know going there but will now always remember!
I was fortunate enough to hitch a ride with a lovely young woman named Claudia, who was just finishing up her shift at a bar I stumbled upon trying to figure out my options (or lack thereof) for returning home that night. This trip would be different though, as I had a guaranteed ride to and fro.
After what felt like no time at all, my friends and I arrived. I remembered the route like it was yesterday. Walking the short distance from the narrow main road to an even narrower side street, we spilled onto the beach to find out that this is where everyone was! The beach was totally crowded with people (smarter than we) who had been there all-day long. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to join them, or see the sun set, but all that mattered is that we made it. And by this point the sky had turned such a bright orange color – it didn’t look real. The three of us stood there soaking up that picturesque moment - as well as our feet in the still warm sea.
We were conveniently steps away from a place I had heard about, Singita, one of the most famous aperitivo beach bars in Fregene. I was soon able to tell why this spot was so popular. There were a variety of seating options from the oversized lawn chairs, to the beach blankets large enough to accommodate a group of 8 people, to the more romantic and cozy beach canopy beds.
A bit late to the party, we were fortunate enough to snag three chairs with a table and cute little hanging lantern fixture. Inspired by the group lounging next to us, we ordered a huge pitcher of white sangria sans fruit, as they had run out. Fine by me…I preferred my alcoholic beverages to be mostly liquid. After a few rounds of assorted fritti (which I soon learned was the perfect Italian beach snack) we noticed the DJ was now in full effect and a little dance party had broken out around us. After which, my friends and I had joined in. Sadly for us the party could not go on as we all had work early the next morning. But I was just grateful to have been swept away from the city to experience my first Ferragosto beach party in Rome.
Despite things having worked out though, I vowed that next year I would definitely plan a little better for the holiday!