Ponza The Pontine Islands Italy

By Sylvie Hogg

The principal island in Italy's Pontine archipelago is one of the most naturally gorgeous and downright fun islands of Italy, and just far enough from the mainland to be an impractical destination for mass tourism. So much the better for those who do go to the trouble of making a trip here, because what you'll find is a rare Mediterranean gem that has kept its Italian identity intact and undiluted. It's not that Ponza is "undiscovered." On the contrary, it's a summertime escape that enjoys feverish devotion among the bella gente of Rome and Naples, who descend by the hordes here in July and August.

Going to Ponza is all about living and breathing il mare. You either own or rent a boat (small, easy-to-pilot motorboats abound), and you spend your days puttering up and down the coast, swimming in coves and grottoes that aren't accessible by land, picnicking under the unrelenting Mediterranean sun, and developing a killer tan. By sunset, everyone goes for the evening passeggiata on the same street and for aperitivo drinks at the same bars.

If you want to avoid the holiday scene altogether, just come in the gorgeous shoulder months of May, June, and September -- locals will tell you this is when their island really shines.

Two other islands in the Pontine archipelago not served by regular ferry, Palmarola and Zannone are classic day trips from Ponza, each just 30 minutes away by boat. To the west, Palmarola is an unexpected slice of Robinson Crusoe in the Mediterranean; its turquoise seas and splendid coves, evocative of pirates and castaways, seem like they've been transplanted from the South Pacific or the Caribbean. To the northeast, Zannone is a nature reserve with quiet hikes, dense forests, and wild sheep running free.

Sylvie Hogg has been dutifully traipsing the bel paese in the name of research for American and British travel guides for more than a decade. The Eternal City and all things ancient Roman are her first love, though she also confesses a serious weakness for the natural splendor of the Bay of Naples and the wine of southern Tuscany. Sylvie lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her bambino and her husband, Tim.