This jewel in the Tyrrhenian Sea is one of the Romans best kept secrets and one that I have also guarded for many years until now! It is Ponza, the largest of the six islands in the Pontine Archipelago, a string of volcanic crags scattered across the sea, between Rome and Naples, 23 miles off the coast of Lazio.
Most tourists haven’t yet realised that there is an escape far from the madding crowds and the summer heat of the Eternal City and that they can combine a big city stay with one of these craggy retreats and enjoy a slice of paradise.
From Rome take a train to Anzio, a coastal town an hour’s ride away (www.trenitalia.it) and then jump on a ferry or hydrofoil (www.vetor.it) to Ponza. As soon as you step off the ferry you are instantly transported to a more tranquil dimension, a sort of full immersion in the ‘real’ Italy you didn’t even know existed.
Its raw beauty has been carved by the sea air over millennia and it has also helped whittle Ponza’s cliffs into sprawling bays, many of them only accessible by sea. Once you have settled in, rent a small outboard boat from DivaLuna at the beach of Sant’Antonio (www.divaluna.com) in Ponza’s main port, and set out to explore Pilate’s Grottoes, three caves where apparently the ancient Romans dug fish pools to raise their seafood supper.
Without a doubt Ponza’s charm lies in its breathtaking landscape, shoreline and atmosphere and it’s hard not to fall under its spell. Underwater there are wrecks to discover, while ashore there are mule-tracks to wander and ruins to visit, including the remains of a Roman port at Santa Maria.
But life here revolves around the sea and its crystal clear waters, so the best way to fully appreciate this island is to circumnavigate it by boat and stop off along the way to explore its many secret coves. Throughout its long history, Ponza has been known as an island of exile, housing political prisoners. In 1908 Norman Douglas wrote that the prisoners exiled on Ponza so appreciated the climate that often when they were set free, they would commit another crime in order to return there!
Despite its lively atmosphere, especially during the months of July and August, enchanting landscape and rich and rugged shoreline, Ponza is only just starting to be discovered as a holiday destination by many foreign travellers. However this lovely island inspires its regular visitors with a fierce sense of loyalty combined with a desire to keep its many charms a secret and once you have been there even once, it’s easy to see why!