Ponza: the secret summer hotspot for Italians


Its air of shabby-chic nonchalance keeps the madding crowd away while those in-the-know just cannot stay away.

Arriving on Ponza island through one of its few ferry services that pushes off from either Anzio or Naples, the first thing that strikes you is the absence of foreigners, except maybe for you. The jam-packed ferry port is a cackling of fast-paced Italian conversations as the new-arrivals decide on what to eat or which boat to hop on for the day’s adventure. A smattering of others will be wheeling their luggage to the local police station – the designated pick-up outpost for almost all the hotels on the island.

An hour away from mainland Italy by boat, Ponza is notoriously local as a summer holiday destination. While Capri, Almafi and Sardinia captures the attention of romantic-getaway hopefuls from around the world, Ponza and its shabby-chic nonchalance is almost never heard of outside of Italy. On the few occasions where it is gets a mention, it is mainly because some celebrity had anchored their boat in one of the bays for a couple of hours, while on their way to the glitzier islands.

Though it is easy to see why Ponza is often overlooked – there are no big hotel chains offering the standard tune of luxury resort life, or starred-gastronomy experiences, or streets of designer stores with valet parking. In its place instead, charming independent hotels whose owners will suntan with you, tiny restaurants with daily fresh-off-the-boat seafood and an unending coastline of secret bays and cliffs that are begging to be explored. It is all the things that define an Italian summer packed into one island, which is why it appeals to Italians who disappear from the big cities for all of August to revel in. Here, the concept of ‘dolce fare niente’ (the joy of doing nothing) reaches its glorious height with days of just eating and soaking in the natural marvels of the island.

STAY

Hotel Chiaia di Luna

Overlooking the Chiaia di Luna white-washed cliff is this marshmallow-coloured property sprawling down the main street that loops around the island. Ilia and son Giuseppe Stile are the friendly hosts that will more than likely chat and share island gossip with you over a coffee. Rooms are small and basic but on this island, it’s not about the rooms but about the space and facilities – there’s plenty of space here to find your own private corner to soak in the sun. (book early! this place has blocks of rooms booked out by regular guests every summer)

Grand Hotel Santa Domitilla

Steps away from the island’s main center, the hotel boasts its own heated jet-pool and hammam facilities as well as a fancy restaurant, Il Melograno. Service is tip-top and they can arrange just about anything from boat excursions to spa therapy and treatments. If there's one thing that you must experience here is a massage session - the therapists are amazing! Beware the crowd though - you get quite a bit of a 'nouveau rich' vibe here.

Villa Laetitia

Gorgeously appointed bed and breakfast styled property that is situated among the homes of the local. It is a choice jewel for a many of the more design-inclined guests because of its prolific owners – the Fendi family. (just stay here already :))

EAT

Ristorante L'Aragosta

A favorite with the locals, be sure to ask for the Italian menu and take your time with some help from the Internet. The English menu is an abbreviated version with many of the specials missing, leaving you with just some basic choices of pasta and pizza. Order the fish of the day cooked ‘aqua pazza’ style – a simple poaching technique that retains all the fresh flavours.

Trattoria Un mare di sapori

A family-run joint where the menu is literally whatever came off the fishing boat for the day. Picking the seafood as the base, the kitchen will whip up the dishes to your preference. The owners are very friendly and will take their time to get to know you so get ready for a long social meal. But then again, on Ponza, there is no rush to get anywhere.

Mamafé

Located right up north of the island, it is an excellent spot to catch the sunset. Throw on a nice dress or shirt to blend in with the crowd as this is one of the few places on the island where the night continues with low-key house music and party vibes.

EXPLORE

Get On a Boat

The big charm of Ponza is its gorgeous natural cliffs, beaches and bays and the best way to see all of this is to be on a boat. If you are already arriving to Ponza on your own charter, then you can plan your own itinerary to cover the different spots but there are plenty of day-trip hires on the island that will take you out for a full-day adventure. Hop onto the boat with a group of other Italians and get ready to make some friends as you dive into crystal-clear waters and share pasta at lunch.

Rent an Electric Bicycle

There is one main street that loops around the island and because of the island’s winding terrain, an electric bicycle is the best bet unless you are up for a fitness challenge on a traditional bike. For about QR100 a day, you can take the electric bike out and ride from one end of the island to the other with plenty of time in between the explore the few parks and archaeological sites.

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