Shhhhh. Don't let the word get out. Ponza, an island escape off the Mediterranean coast between Rome and Naples is a hidden gem -- at least as far as foreign tourists go. And we who've enjoyed the island for years for its unique natural beauty, its bountiful fresh seafood and local vegetables, its impossibly clean aqua waters, its open-air bars and restaurants with jawdropping views, its cute shops open until late...well, we'd like to keep it somewhat hidden. Here, wandering the steep and winding streets, one hears almost exclusively Italian, with its various dialects, Neapolitan and Roman being the most pronounced. And this is refreshing in Italy, a country with so many gorgeous and enchanting spots that seem to have been discovered and sometimes overtaken by foreign tourists.
And what an enchanting and gorgeous spot it is. Ponza is one of the group of isole pontine, and along with its nearby sister island, Palmarola, offers some of the most beautiful landscape off the coast of the Italian peninsula.
Palmarola isn't really an inhabited island, but you can take giri (tours) around the island by day, stopping for swims along the way. There are plenty of places to drop your anchor, countless gorgeous coves and charming spots to share with other visitors, or in which to find oneself alone, in pace. Those arriving in sailboats can even stay the night in one of these beautiful coves, and wake up in the morning to an invigorating swim in crystalline waters teeming with tiny fish. On Palmarola, there are also a couple of lunch spots that serve up the fresh catch of the day, and do excellent pastas and specialty items. We indulged in a local zucchine in scapece (sauteed and cured in vinegar, garlic, and a bit of peperoncino), and an insalata di polpo, fresh-caught octopus salad, a classic antipasto from Italy's central coast on down to Sicily.
The Chiaia di Luna beach is a stunning stop-off, with various grottoes and a vista from the water where you can take in the vertiginous limestone cliffs that drop down into the sandy beach below. The sapphire water that meets the white cliffs offers a truly stunning juxtaposition of color and light.
When returning from an island boat trip, the thing to do is to share aperitivi with friends in the main piazza overlooking Ponza's harbor. Italian pre-dinner drinks, like the classic spritz, or any variation on alcohol or soda with a bitter like Campari or Aperol, are a must. The scene at our favorite, Bar Tripoli, is always lively -- and you're sure to make new friends with vacationing neighbors, sailors, and various ponzese (Ponza locals) as colorful as their island houses. Plus, the view at dusk is hard to beat.