Ahhh beautiful Ponza. A few months ago we hadn’t even heard of Ponza, much less thought about visiting. We first came across Ponza when leafing through Conde Naste and we were sold immediately. Ponza is a tiny island, 9km long, off the cost of Italy between Rome and Naples. It is the largest of the Pontine Islands and is supposedly the island of Aeaea in Homer’s Odyssey, where Circe lived. It is quite simply paradise – clear, turquoise water and rocky coast lines, full of hidden grottos. We were looking for somewhere that wouldn’t be spoilt by tourism, and it looked like we had found it. We travelled there in September 2017, and although we had one rainy day, the weather was otherwise gorgeous, certainly warm enough to sunbathe on the beautiful beaches. The tourist season actually runs until October, though one of our friendly waiters said he had spent three weeks on the beach in one very warm November.
We also have to shout out to the people. What an incredible group of people. We have limited Italian, and there were people almost queueing up to practice their English with us. And for anyone that didn’t have any English, we got by on miming and pointing perfectly.
The island has two parts, the port area, which is Ponza, and La Forna, which is in the middle if the island. The port area is more built up, and it is there you find the largest selection of restaurants, bars and B&Bs. La Forna is quieter, with fewer restaurants and bars, but the added benefit of being adjacent to both Cala Feola beach and the Piscine Naturali. We debated staying in the Port area, but couldn’t be happier we chose to stay in La Forna. Though the restaurants were fewer, the quality was outstanding, with some of the top restaurants in Ponza located on our doorstep, and the beach just a few steps away. If we were to go back, we would definitely stay in the La Forna area again.
There are some gorgeous hotels on the island, including Hotel Chiaia di Luna and Grand Hotel Santa Domitilla, but those looking for more budget friendly options, as we were, we were delighted to find a host of Airbnb accommodation on the island. There are also plenty of B&Bs to choose from.
Our Airbnb terrace…
Getting to Ponza
Ok so this bit is slightly tricky/time consuming (but stick with it, it’s worth it). You can fly into both Rome and Naples, then you need to take a train to one of the ports to take the ferry to Ponza. You can get the ferry from Anzio, Formia or Terraccina.
We flew into Rome, which was infinitely cheaper than flying into Naples, though we were limited by the fact we travelled on a Sunday. Our first choice would have been the train to Anzio and a ferry from there, but we unfortunately the trains to Anzio were very irregular. So, we took option 2, and the train to Formia-Gaeta. This was relatively easy from the airport, the first step is the Leonardo Express to Roma Termini which takes about half an hour, and from there it was one train to Formia, which takes about an hour and a half depending on which train you get. Once in Formia, the port is about a 10 minute walk, and we were on the ferry heading to Ponza by early afternoon. From Formia, you can take either a hydrofoil (the fast option) or the ferry, which takes about two and a half hours.
On the way back, we were luckier with the times, so took the ferry to Anzio which was about an hour and 20 minutes. It was about a 20 minute walk to the train station, and the train to Rome was an hour.
We would highly recommend you plan your timings around the ferry – and make sure you leave plenty of time!
These websites are very useful – use Tren Italia for train times and Laziomar for ferry information.
NB – it could be worth having a back up plan, our neatly timed plan was ruined by horrendous rain… after missing the first train to Roma Termini, the next train was cancelled so by the time we got to Roma Termini we had missed our Formia connection. Luckily there was another one soon afterwards, but this was then delayed, meaning we had a sprint through Formia to catch the 3pm ferry, which we made with seconds to spare. Which was good, given the later fast boat was cancelled due to aforementioned weather. Not a great start to the trip but it wouldn’t stop us going again and I do think we were ridiculously unlucky!
Getting around Ponza
Ponza has plenty of taxis in the port to help you get around, however we made use of the island minibus. This starts at the port and travels past La Forna, and is 1.50 euros per person. To get to our accommodation and to the Cala Feola beach, there is a shuttlebus that takes you further down the mountain.
On our first slightly rainy day in Ponza we made the most of the cool temperature with a long walk around the port area, then we decided to walk back to La Forna, and jump on the bus if we got tired. If you can manage it, definitely try and do this walk. It took a couple of hours, but the scenery was just stunning and the walk really gives you a change to appreciate the rugged beauty of the island. It is just the most beautiful place.
Ponza is definitely a place to make the most of the gorgeous beaches. Unfortunately, one of the islands main beaches, Chiaia di Luna, is closed for the foreseeable future due to the danger of rockslides. It’s worth heading out there to have a look from above though, as it is just incredible.
This is where we spent most of our time. It is one of the few sandy beaches on the island, and it was steps away from where we were staying. You can rent two sunbeds for 10 euros, there is a beach bar and probably the most incredible restaurant on the island, La Marina. Not to mention the crystal clear sea with incredible snorkeling opportunities.
Don’t miss a day at the Piscine Naturali. As the name suggests, this a pool cut into the rocks, and you can swim through a cave out into the open sea. The snorkeling is stunning, and you can also rent sunbeds, at the slightly pricier 20 euros for two beds.
There are definitely other beaches to explore that we didn’t get to. You can also do a boat tour to the nearby island of Palmarola or the grottos. We did want to do this but the sea was a little rough when we were there so there were no boats running – it’s top of the list for next time!
Due to some errant weather on Monday causing some rough seas, we were unable to embark upon a boat tour from our beach. And possibly the boat people on our beach were lazy towards the end of the season. However, we did see the boats departing on the day we left from the island – and they did look rather idyllic. You can take boat tours from the port of Ponza and from Cala Feola to explore the grottoes and other parts of the pontine islands, including Palmarola with prices starting from 25 EUR. This is definitely top of the list for next time!
Another thing we didn’t get around to was a guided tour of the island. By all accounts, if this is something you’re interested in you need to opt for Joe’s taxi, who does English-speaking island tours.
Ristorante Il Pescatore
Book this in advance. Do not confuse the name for any of the other Il Pescstore restaurants in Italy. This is THE ONE (and the only one in Ponza). Serving up the freshest seafood dishes, you can expect a warm familial welcome from the owners and waiting staff.
The food here is outstanding, with a similarly impressive wine list. It seems that the chefs here are magicians, wizards or gods when it comes to tuna. The tartare = outstanding, with incredible textures and seasoning running through the finely chopped flesh. The seared tuna = outstanding again! Perfectly seared, with a dark pink centre, served with an artichoke puree, this was the perfect main. The apertivo of house tuna steak in olive oil was also especially delightful!
Crab spaghetti, alarmingly served in a giant spider crab, was a delicious and fishy affair, with the spaghetti served daringly al dente. The monkfish tail main was well seasoned, showing off the beauty and taste of the white fish.
But if you come for one thing, and one thing only; BY GOD GET THE COURGETTE FLAN. Words can’t describe the sumptuous flavour that the restaurant managed to extract from the delicate vegetable, and pushed it further with a chewy and sweet Provolone to bind the whole thing together. We still dream of it even now…
Dessert changes daily – we were treated to an outstanding semi-freddo – and don’t miss a shot of Finocchietto – fennel liquor – to really finish the meal off in style.
For the love of God, dine here. If there is something that you must do in your lifetime, it is to make a pilgrimage to this Mecca of seafood. The journey will be eventful, and you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of the emerald green sea in the enclosed beach of Calle Feola. Sat opposite this sight, you must tuck into a huge plate of Fritto Misto. The assorted fried fish here is quite simply amazing. We’ve never had calamari and prawns like it. Freshly caught, freshly fried in a light batter, with lashings of fresh lemon. Washed down with a fresh house white… have I said the “f” word enough yet? What are you still doing here?? GET GOING. Maybe have a look at the pictures below if you aren’t convinced… SERIOUSLY THIS PLACE IS AMAZING
Great views. Great stuffed squid, in the Pontine way. The seared tuna, encrusted with walnuts and breadcrumbs was perfectly done. But here, the tiramisu was the killer. Strong in its coffeeness and sweetness, it was the perfect dessert to finish the meal off.
We were drunk (blame the Bar Termini negronis as below…) We ordered pasta. It was amazing. The plethora of 6 different kinds of bread was delicious. The sea urchin pasta had the requisite strong meatiness of that mollusc. The spaghetti with prawns and tomatoes was great. The waiter was super friendly. We were still drunk. Definitely check it out sober next time! One of the more expensive options and located in the port area, an incredible experience.
Bar Gelateria Panoramica
It would be rude not to stay in Ponza and eat gelato from here. The numerous awards festooning the walls are testament to the flavours offered here, and it all looked spectacular. The chocolate fondant and tiramisu gelato were beautiful and glossy to look at, and even more sumptuous to eat! We ate coffee granita here on our last day, in true Sicilian fashion – and it did not disappoint!
We have to confess, we don’t know the name of the delicious pizzeria that you can place your order from whilst you are at the supermarket. All we know is that their salami pizza was AMAZING, with the perfectly charred dough and melty melty mozzarella helped by the punchy tomato sauce, all topped with lashings of beautiful salami. This helped us to while away our rainy first night in Ponza (as did a rather amazing bottle of wine). Thank you, mystery pizzeria!!!
Let’s be serious for once. Wherever you go in the world, it is worth taking stock of what the local produce is like. What specialties does this place have to show you? And with this in mind, you should try and make a meal showcasing the amazing produce! We opted for the dreamy burrata and local sweet tomatoes in a salad, with a drizzle of honey – and a rather delicious pesto and roasted courgette pasta. It was a nice way of appreciating what Ponza had to offer, and I’m still haunted by the beauty of the bullet-shaped tomatoes- sorry we cut so many of you up!
We also made our own breakfasts using a selection of meat and cheese from the local supermarket, bread, tomatoes and the juiciest plums we have ever eaten. Our Airbnb had the most incredible terrace so would have been rude not to take advantage…
If you plan your travel right, you may end up with a few hours to spare in Rome. And we would highly recommend you haul your ass over to…
As the sign clearly says, they do not have a license to be a restaurant. You will collect your food and drink. You will set your own table. You will get googly-eyed over the porchetta. The ultra friendly staff here welcomed us, and made an amazing selection of an antipasti board for us to start. The meats were fatty, salty and umami. The porchetta was the standout, with a flavour that matches its sex-appeal as a slab of meat.
We followed this with the quattro formaggi pasta, creamy and strong in its deliciousness, and served in a portion that you could actually manage. In fact, we managed it so well, we ended up ordering a plate of melanzane parmigiana, which was really the standout dish here. The supple aubergines were steeped in a strong tomato sauce, and ended the meal on a filling and vegetable high.
Why not trek halfway across the city to sample the best Tiramisu Rome has to offer? We did. You should hit up PanDivino, you will not be disappointed. Two Sizes, although excellent was slightly too sweet and not coffee-y enough for us.
Most of our drinking was done with dinner or at the beach, or at home before we went out etc… but if you do head to a bar it has to be Bar Termini in the port area. Probably the best (and strongest) negroni I’ve ever had, and easily the best aperitivo of the trip. Amazing tuna open sandwiches and courgette bread, crisps and balls of scamorza (smoked mozzarella).
We also stopped for a drink at the Hotel Chiaia di Luna overlooking the deserted beach which was great, as well as our local Bar Cala Feola, which did a perfect aperol spritz.