Thursday, August 17, 2006

SIROLO (part II): Jewel of the Conero Riviera

JUST STEPS FROM THE SEA, Sirolo is considered by many to be the “Jewel of the Conero Riviera.”

The beautiful town is surrounded by steep cliffs overlooking long stretches of beach and white rocks covered in pinewood.
Upon entering the medieval town you will not fail to be greeted by Sparky, a local mutt. He sits on the windowsill of his owner’s store, a fruit and vegetable market, eagerly awaiting the arrival of tourists and locals on their way to town.

The main piazza overlooks the sparkling green water of the Adriatic. On the other side of the piazza are shops and cafes. The center of the town sticks out over a cliff similar to the way a balcony juts off the side of a building.

At night the many cafes and gelaterias fill with people and the shops buzz with action.

Upon entering the piazza, directly to the left, one can find the Tourist Information Center. This is helpful if one is planning on staying in the area for a while. They have a range of brochures advertising local activities such as wine vineyards, horseback riding, water parks and theatres.

To the right of the Tourist Information Center is an art gallery, which I have yet to see open but which looks very promising. Through the window I am able to make out several attractive looking paintings of sunflowers, apparently based on the local scenery.

The center of the piazza is comprised of several small cafes. My favorite being L’Oasis Gelateria. Although I have not tried the ice cream I came one evening for drinks and was pleased with the location and service.

Across from the L’Oasis Gelateria sits one of the many local alimentare, the Italian version of a small grocery store. The store is underwhelming from the outside but upon entering it feels as though you are in a different world. The small shop is meticulously organized and appears to be maintained by a perfectionist.

The tiny refrigerated section is directly to your left when you walk in. It contains various packaged meats and cheeses. In the center of the store sits an assortment of brown wicker baskets filled to the brim with ripe tomatoes, vibrant red and yellow peppers and a variety of other fresh fruits and vegetables.

The store overflows with the smell of new produce and the slightly less appealing tinge of dirty sneakers. The source of the less attractive smell can be attributed to the cheese counter in the back of the store. Through the glass case a wide range of cheeses can be seen. From your traditional mozzarella to your feta and parmesan, it appears to all be there. The owners are friendly and were not the least bit taken aback that I leave without buying anything.

Along the main street there are several gelaterias to chose from; nevertheless there is clearly a favorite in my mind. The Gelateria Artigianale is your typical Italian ice cream parlor; however the cones are what make it truly stand out.

Most gelatarias, in my experience, offer the cake cone, which has a consistency similar to that of a piece of cardboard.

Gelateria Astigianole’s waffle cones are freshly made and the taste attests to that. The shop’s gelato flavors range from your average vanilla and chocolate to your more interesting pistachio and Nutella.

As always I opt for my traditional yogurt flavored gelato and rejoice in the option of having a waffle cone.

The small narrow streets branching off of the piazza have a variety of clothing and accessory shops ranging from your typical Italian sunglass shop to your quintessential Italian tobacharia.

The first store I enter is called Ceramica “Sirolese.” The size of the shop is no larger than 20 by 20 feet. Crammed with small ceramic goods, the store appears overwhelming at first. Initially my eye is caught by the display being set up by the owner: sea horses, star fish, fish and shells hanging on a net over the front door. The ceramic creatures vary in size and the colors range from your typical sea blue to an iridescent moss green and a vibrant tangerine orange.

When assembled, the display is quite shocking and I am almost enticed to invest in my own net and collection of ceramic sea creatures.

Once out on the main street I pass an interesting looking store on my right. The door is wide open and an array of items can be seen displayed around the store. Tutto Arte is not your average store. It sells a wide variety of goods with a common element being the fact that they are all pieces of art.

There are various types of jewelry and pieces of furniture. The back wall is lined with paintings and small sculptural pieces. Initially I am drawn to a large crystal that can be hung from a cord and then worn as a necklace but at last minute I choose a small conch shell that is edged in silver. The bohemian artsy feel of the store is common in Italy and there always seems to be at least one store of its kind in every town.

Further down the main street I come across a longer side street, which leads me to a discount sunglass store. Every surface is covered in sunglasses and reading glasses for both men and women. The designers range from Escada to Calvin Klein. The store’s air-conditioning provides me with a nice break from the heat.

Towards the end of the main street I come across a small pizza store, Rosticeria della Pizza al Taglio. The piazza served is traditional Italian pizza in that the crust is very thin; however this pizza parlor opts to serve their slices as triangles rather than your more traditional square.

At the end of the street and just outside of the town, I walk under a large stone archway. Here I come across the towns well known theatre “Cortesi.” This theatre is also the box office box of the outdoor theatre “Alle Cave.” Both theatres are infamous during the summer for their lyrical operas. “Alle Cave” is also known to be used as a discothèque late at night.

Further down the street I enter a residential section of Sirolo. The houses are large and the gate of the first house is adorned with tiles spelling out Villa Giulia. The large yellow building is hidden behind a fence. From what I can see it is clearly a beautiful old building surrounded by lush gardens.

Various villas continue to line the street, which eventually leads to the main road which will take you through Numana, another town, and then to a long stretch of beaches.

- Berit Baugher


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