How to Plan a Weekend Break in Ponza (Hint: Don’t Plan Too Much)

| Mon, 06/19/2023 - 10:52
Colored houses in Ponza

Legend has it that Romans have been vacationing in Ponza since earlier than 300 BCE. They saw it as a secluded place to exile people they didn’t want around the empire — and also exile themselves when they needed a break from imperial life. Despite being a centuries-old holiday spot, it took me three stifling summers stuck within the Aurelian walls to discover the locals’ tightly guarded summer getaway. 

Ponza is a speck of an island, yet still the largest of the Tyrrhenian Sea’s Pontine archipelago. With its candy-colored facades and craggy cliffs jutting out of turquoise waters that look tailor-made for mermaids, this little fishing village is likened to Capri without the crowds.

And Ponza’s low-key status is the way Romans have always liked it. Only about 3,400 people call Ponza home, giving it a friendly, small-town feel. (Carlo, our bed and breakfast owner and host, also turned out to be the Maitre d’ at our favorite local upscale restaurant.) People get around primarily by foot or boat, and you’ll barely hear a word of English on the whole island.

Ponza is the perfect place to do absolutely nothing. I’ll tell you how.

How to do nothing in Ponza — and do it well

Dawn at the port of Ponza / Photo: Simone Angelo Ferri via Shutterstock
Dawn at the port of Ponza / Photo: Simone Angelo Ferri via Shutterstock

The one thing you need to “do” is rent a boat! That’s it. The best part of visiting Ponza is that there’s no need to plan anything — all you’ll want to do every day is go down to the port, rent a boat and explore. You don’t even need a boating license to drive the boats. We were lucky to meet Joe the Taxi Driver, a long-time American resident of Ponza, who gave us a quick rundown on how to navigate a dinghy. Renting the boat was a questionable decision for us, with zero boating experience, but one well worth the risk.

If a beach is what you seek, the most exclusive spots are only accessible by boat. We ended up skipping most of the beaches and just throwing down our anchor when we spotted a secluded cala (cove) to swim in. The perspective of being on the boat allows you to peer into all the island’s nooks and crannies, like otherwise ordinary homes built into the side of precarious volcanic cliffs. Ponza’s Chiaia di Luna, famous for its towering pearlescent cliffs, can only be enjoyed by boat. 

Other notable sites seen boat-side are the Arco Naturale, an arch-shaped rock formation, and human-made wonders, like Grotte di Pilato (caves carved out by the ancient Romans). The nearby uninhabited island of Palmarola, another Pontine island, should be on your list of must-sees. These places can also be visited on a boat tour that departs from the port.

There’s still plenty to do if you’re not into boating, though. The most popular option is Spiaggia Di Frontone, which is the closest beach to the city center and is reachable by a quick ferry ride. A lower-key option is Spiagga Cala Feola, near the island’s Le Forna area. It is one of Ponza’s few sandy beaches and is near many piscine naturali (natural saltwater pools.) 

If you’re not much of a swimmer, Ponza is also great for light hiking. Check out the lighthouse and catch a panoramic ocean view at Punta della Guardia on the island’s southernmost point. Nature lovers will enjoy hiking to Punta di Capo Bianco, a dramatic tuff cliff on the western coastline that is home to the peregrine falcon, a species all but lost in Italy until recent years.

What to eat in Ponza

In Ponza, the answer to the perennial Italian question of “what to eat?” is always seafood. The island’s cuisine is a fusion of Roman and Neapolitan influences with Ponzans’ special twist. Try the shrimp carbonara at Ristorante L’Aragosta or a tuna tartare spin on cacio e pepe at Ristorante Chiaia di Luna. 

This tiny island has two Michelin-star restaurants, Acqua Pazza and Eea, both in the city center and both sporting gorgeous dining views of Ponza’s port and iconic cliffs.

For a more laid-back dining experience, try La Marina, made popular by its bohemian vibe and convenient spot next to Cala Feola beach. Indulge in the parmigiana di fico d'India — their take on parmigiano using prickly pear shovels in place of eggplant (you’ll see it posted on many Instagram stories, but this one’s worth the hype).

Near the port, check out Ristorante Il Melograno for a secret garden vibe or Ristorante Pizzeria Il Timone for a no-frills, elbow-to-elbow pizza joint.

Most visitors will only need to order food for dinner, since most of the day you’ll just need to pack a picnic for the boat. Pick up fresh fruit from one of the alimentari and snag delicious sandwiches from the Boulangerie Ponza. I suggest the rosetta-bun caprese for a light on-board lunch.

If you go

A corner of the city center of Ponza / Photo courtesy of Miranda Mullings
Corner of the city center of Ponza / Photo courtesy of Miranda Mullings 

Ferries to Ponza leave from several seaside towns between Rome and Naples, but the easiest option depends on where you’re coming from. From Rome, take a train from Roma Termini station to Anzio, which is a short walk to the port. Check the ferry schedule and buy tickets here

In Naples, you can take a direct ferry from the main port. Check the schedule and buy tickets here

Ponza should be relaxing, so I recommend staying at least four to five days. We stayed at B&B da Laura; I already mentioned our fantastic host, Carlo. Don’t worry if he’s sold out, though — there are tons of bed and breakfasts around the island. If you’re looking for a larger hotel, consider staying at the dreamy Hotel Chiaia di Luna.

Topic:Travel Travel