If you are in Rome and want to escape the heat and hectic of the city for a day or two, or just wish to alternate your cultural-historical itineraries with total relaxation, the island of Ponza makes a wonderful break.
Ponza is a little miracle; one of the few little Italian gems that has managed to remain unchanged for the last thirty years, despite the fact that it is only two hours away from Italy’s capital and a favorite week-end retreat of the bella gente from Rome and Naples. One of the reasons why the island managed to keep its authentic character is that the Ponzese don’t like show-off people and they certainly don’t want to change anything for them. See: The miracle of Ponza in our Ponza article on Italy Bit by Bite.
The island has a lovely little port and a wonderful car-free car-free waterfront promenade, lined with just the right number of little shops, bars and restaurants so as to not make it too busy, yet creating a pleasant and charming atmosphere. Have a look at our Ponza photo tour on foot, by Mehari jeep and by sea.
Ponza Photo Tour on foot
Touring Ponza by car
Touring Ponza by boat
Our secret address book
For breakfast or a coffee break head to the Pasticceria Caffetteria Napoletana on the main street in the center of Ponza. They have the most delicious sfogliatelle (ricce AND lisce), wonderful cannoli and other totally yummy pastries.
Bar Maga Circe, the see-and-be-seen place where to relax in the evening, sipping your aperitif, while watching the sunset over the little port of Ponza. The name of the bar refers to the sorceress Circe, who detained Odysseus on the island of Aeaea (possibly the same island as Ponza), in Homer’s Odyssey.
L’Aragosta is one of our favorite restaurants, together with the nextdoor L’Acqua Pazza. They are two of the better fish restaurants of the island, the first with a more laid back atmosphere, the latter being a Michelin-starred restaurant has a more refined and ambitious feel. Recently, the owner of l’Aragosta stopped taking reservations, so make sure to arrive early as you get a table on a first-come-first-served basis. L’Aragosta is one of the oldest restaurants of Ponza, still run by the same family (since 1943). During the day you will see no tables and the place looks like abandoned, but in the evening tables are being dressed and by 21:00 the venue becomes very lively, with habitués dropping by for a chat with the clients having dinner on the terrace. Then you have, as we mentioned, L’Acqua Pazza, a top-notch fish restaurant, famous for having invented the Pesce all’acqua pazza recipe.
For a unique experience we recommend Orestorante, going up the stairs at the end of the waterfront promenade towards the church. From its terrace with different levels, Orestorante offers breathtaking views over the bay. The cuisine served here is a little more creative and innovative than the one served in the fish restaurants in the port, so if you are looking for the typical, authentic Italian fish dishes, this may not be the first place to try. But if you do like to try something different, book your table in time (and do check the weather forecast), because on windy evenings sitting on the very exposed terrace may become a little too challenging. Note that many restaurants open only in the evening, especially outside the months of July and August. (Update 2017: currently closed)
We definitely recommend to rent a boat at least once during your stay (even if only for a couple of hours) to tour around the island, because the island is really wonderful to admire from the sea. To rent a small 2 to 6-people motorboat, we suggest Arcobaleno, down at the port (the first one in front of the fisher boats going down the stairs at bar Maga Circe). You can rent a boat for 50 to 70 euro a day depending on the season and the size of the boat (you will be charged for petrol separately). No license is needed, but please respect the recommendations you will be given, as the sea can be very tricky and change abruptly within a couple of hours, but the Ponzese people know their sea very well so they will tell you what the predictions are for the day. Depending on the sea and winds the owner will tell you whether it is preferable to tour clockwise or counterclockwise around the island or whether it is safe to tour all around the island or if that day it is best not to go beyond a certain point. Also respect the minimum speed when approaching the coast and otherwise remain at a safety distance from the coast in order to avoid rocks. Take some drinks and food and organize a little picnic at sea, but please (please!) bring all waste back with you and do not throw anything into the sea (not event things that you assume are biodegradable).
If you wish to explore the island a little further we recommend to rent a Mehari jeep at the Noleggio Agostino Pilato (right after the pedestrian tunnel on the main street). Count about 35 euro for 4 hours (20 for the first hour and 5 euro for each additional hour. Petrol is included in the price).
Getting to Ponza
You can reach Ponza from Anzio in 1hr 15 min by Aliscafo (www.vetor.it) or 2 hr 1/2 in ferry. The tiny and refined town of Anzio is at about 1h in train or car from central Rome and is worth a day trip in itself (more about Anzio in an upcoming article). You can also get to Ponza from Formia (ferry 2hr30min, or aliscafo 1hr10min) or from Terracina (ferry 2 hrs).
With a little planning the excursion is doable from Rome as a one-day excursion, leaving Rome from Termini station at 7:15 in the morning, arriving in Anzio at 8:15 for the Aliscafo of 9:00 and getting back around 23:00 in Rome taking the Aliscafo from Ponza at 19:00. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from Anzio station to the Aliscafo, leaving 30 min to check in, so do use their website to buy your tickets beforehand, which will save you time at the check in. However, even if this is doable, we definitely recommend to stay at least one night over to visit the island in a Slow Italy mode and enjoy the beautiful evenings there. Ideally you could combine three to four days in Rome with another three to four days on Ponza, reserving a little extra time to visit Anzio (where you take the Aliscafo) and nearby Nettuno.
Where to sleep
Ponza counts a few 4-star hotels, but unfortunately we must say that the prices they charge are completely unrelated to the quality you get. Rooms are small and outdated and service is not up to standard. (Update 2017: Hotel Chiaia di Luna has done some big improvements in recent years, both in terms of infrastructure as in terms of service. We have stayed here four times since we wrote this article and can definitely recommend them). So Ponza is one of these places where you definitely get a much better quality/price rapport in a 2-or 3-star-hotel located at the heart of Ponza’s life. However, you may prefer to stay in a B&B or rent a room or small apartment. Here are two of ‘our’ addresses:
Via Scotti 2
Villa Ersilia is located in the center of Ponza, but higher up on the island. The B&B offers wonderful views over the island and the bay of Ponza. The lady who runs the B&B is very kind. Really a place we enjoyed staying and like to recommend. There are also apartments for rent. The only drawback are the (long) stairs to get to the place.
A place where to rent rooms/apartments is:
V. Madonna 16
We have not stayed here, but we have personally visited the place and the apartments looked really very well appointed. The house is located on a promontory, a short walk outside the center of Ponza. One of the very nice things of this place is the large common terrace offering an amazing view over the bay.
See also: Ponza and the Pontine archipelago
Photos top to bottom: all photos © Slow Italy, except Chiaia di Luna by *Luca*.