The Pontine Islands
23 September 2022
Ponza is the most frequented of the islands – a mere 3.1 square miles of terrain, it is a concentration of both rocky and sandy beaches, natural arches, faraglioni or sea-stacks, pristine waters, romantic coves and landfalls for mooring, and magnificent, hilly scenery.
But it is also concentrations of tiny, rambling streets, artisan workshops and typical restaurants and cafes buzzing with tourists each evening. Some houses sport slightly-barrel vaulted roofs and some sit right on the port and shine like the sun with their bright, pastel colors.
Upon coming here, any sea lover immediately understands that the Pontine Islands are the ideal vacation setting. Numerous beaches and tiny harbors define the coast of Ponza alone: the most famous is Chiaia di Luna, marked by abundant sand and rocky bluffs in ethereal tones of white, yellow and, almost as if reflecting the sea, a rare blue-green. Not to be forgotten is the beach of Lucia Rosa, where seaside revelers and romantics flock to watch the sunset; Fèola Cove, with its natural shallow pools; and Frontone Beach, happening spot that many reach in the smallest of boats to enjoy early-evening aperitivo.
With not only beaches to offer, the Pontine Islands hold much more under the surface: marine landscapes at which scuba divers and snorkelers will absolutely marvel.
They will find an underwater isthmus connecting Ponza to its neighboring isle of Zannone, and deep and variegated seabeds bearing such relics as ancient Roman ships and sunken World War II steamship remnants.
Among them is the Italian ferry-boat, the Santa Lucia, bombarded by an English torpedo-bomber stationed near Ventotene in 1943.
Ventotene is another little gem in its own right; it features very little development, just a few houses hugging the port and an ancient past as an island of exile: for Roman Imperial families and even opponents of Fascism that, while on Ventotene, were constructing and advocating what would eventually contribute to our concept of Modern Europe. Ventotene, in conjunction with the Island of Santo Stefano, is also a lovely nature reserve (as is Palmarola) and a Marine Protected Area.
For its spectacular coast and natural characteristics, Palmarola is thought to be one of the most beautiful islands in the entire world. Add to the mix the typical homes dug into the rock and a charming little restaurant on the beach, and nobody could disagree!
Uncontaminated wildlife also sprawls over Zannone, the southernmost island in the chain, a piece of the National Park of Circeo since 1979. Uninhabited, it was once the seat of a Cistercian monastery whose vestiges remain.
Finally, the miniscule Island of Gavi (2300 ft x 1,150 ft), completely devoid of beaches, proffers up its giant boulders alone; they dot the jagged coast, to accompany Gavi’s only grotto, the Grottone di Gavi.
Just one piece of advice for those day-tripping here: as soon as you disembark, make a reservation at one of the local trattorias or restaurants. That way you'll be sure to have a spot at the table to enjoy the Pontine culinary tradition, one of the oldest and most flavorful, mixing Roman cooking with typical seaside cuisine.