Discover Ponza, a slice of paradise in Lazio
When you think of Italian islands, popular destinations like Capri, Sicily, and Sardinia probably come to mind. But when Italians plan their island vacations, they look to the many lesser-known (and less traveled!) islands that sit just off the country’s coast.
One favorite among those in the country’s capital of Rome is Ponza, a small island off the coast of Lazio with indescribable beauty that has been touted for millenia. (The enchanting island was described in Homer’s Odyssey as the mythological home of the sorceress Circe!) The crescent-shaped island is only about 5 miles long and boasts magnificent cliffs, rocky bluffs, and secret coves of crystal-clear water with dramatic faraglioni, the rocky structures that famously also surround Capri. About 2 hours away from the mainland by ferry, it’s an idyllic getaway for locals and in-the-know tourists alike.
A Brief History of Ponza
The island of Ponza has been inhabited for thousands of years, dating back to the Neolithic era. Ponza is the largest of the Pontine islands, an archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea that also includes Palmarola, Zannone, Gavi, Ventotene, and Santo Stefano. Because of their remote nature, Ponza and Ventotene were used as prisons and places of exile for political prisoners both in ancient Roman times and during the fascist era in the 20th century.
Today, Ponza is anything but a prison, as Italian tourists flock to its shores as soon as the weather turns warm and the ferry begins to run. The island is quintessentially Italian–while some staff in busier restaurants and stores may be able to speak English, you’ll find that on most of the island, Italian is the only language spoken. Ponza is truly the place to visit to marvel at the beauty of the Mediterranean, relax, and experience a truly authentic Italian vacation.
How to Get There
Ponza can be accessed via ferry from ports near Rome from June through September. The slow ferry, which takes about 2 and a half hours, leaves from the seaside towns of Terracina and Formia. The fast ferry, or hydrofoil, leaves from Terracina, Anzio, or Formia and takes between an hour and an hour and a half (be sure to book tickets ahead of time, as these fill up). Take note that if water conditions are too choppy, the fast ferry will not run! If you plan to take a train from Rome to get to the coast, we recommend making Anzio or Formia your departure point, as the ferry is only a 10-minute walk from the train station in these towns. For tickets and ferry timetables, visit Laziomar.
What to Do
Go to the Beach
A variety of beaches run around the entire perimeter of the island, from sandy beaches like Frontone Beach, Cala Feola, and Spiaggia di Ponza right in town to rocky, cliffside outcroppings such as Cala Fonte, Bagno Vecchio, and Cala Felce. You’ll often see Italians at the latter lounging on precariously balanced beach chairs or laying their towels on the boulders as they take a swim in the clear Mediterranean waters. Whichever type of beach most appeals to you, take a dip in the sea and marvel at the island scenery from the water. Note: while some of these beaches can be accessed from land, a few can only be reached by boat.
The best way to see Ponza is from the water. Rent a vessel (and a driver, if you want), and you’ll easily navigate around the entire island in an afternoon. You’ll pass by secret beaches, coves, and unique rock formations that are indescribably beautiful. There are also a variety of caves and grottos that you can swim in and explore, like La Grotta di Capo Bianco, a vivid blue grotto that hides under cliffs that have been turned a gorgeous bright white color from the sun. The experience is sure to give Capri’s blue grotto a run for its money! There are a variety of options for boat rentals available at Spiaggia di Ponza. Our favorite is Diva Luna, which allows you to book ahead of time (a must) and explain all the ins and outs of boating in English.
Shop on Via Carlo Piscane
Ponza’s small city center near the port is a quintessentially Italian summer town. Filled with colorful buildings, narrow streets, and archways, exploring here is a must. Walking along Via Carlo Piscane, you’ll find a variety of shops selling jewelry, art, clothing, and summer essentials (linen, anyone?). After shopping, stop at one of the many bars along the path, like Ponza institution Bar Tripoli, to enjoy a coffee or a cocktail and watch as fishing boats dock at the marina.
Watch the Sunset
As Ponza lies to the west of Italy, the sunset, or il tramonto in Italian, is not to be missed. The sight of the bright orange sun setting over the cliffs into the sea’s aqua waters is an experience you’ll never forget. Head to the top of Chiaia di Luna on the western part of the island, or make a reservation to enjoy drinks or dinner at Terraza Chiaia di Luna or the aptly named Ristorante Il Tramonto for a taste of la dolce vita at its finest.
Enjoy the Fresh Seafood
As on many Italian islands, Ponza’s fresh fish and seafood are not to be missed. Tuna, swordfish, squid, and so much more await in the island’s many restaurants. Our favorite is Ristorante Il Tramonto on the western side of the island, with fresh, innovative, local cuisine and a perfect view of the sunset. Other standouts include Eea and Da Enzo Al Frontone, but you truly can’t go wrong when eating seafood amongst Ponza’s gorgeous scenery.