We all know the experience of seeing that photo of an incredible European island with a picturesque coastline and excitedly booking our trip to paradise before being rudely disappointed upon our arrival.
Instead of calm beaches and pristine surrounds, we find that the magic of Photoshop has led us astray into a tourist circus very different from how we hoped we would spend our holiday.
But there are places where expectation meets reality. You just need to know where to look; Ponza, Italy is one of them.
The biggest island of the Ponzine archipelago, Ponza has the wild, rugged cliff sides and crystalline waters you’ve been dreaming of while playing host to a modest but flourishing local tourism sector to ensure you’re not left short of things to do.
The multi-coloured homes hugging the limestone hills provide a striking welcome as you draw close to Ponza, an island of just over 3,000 people.
Ponza is just a day trip from Rome, with plenty of local businesses providing the means for you to get there without needing your own skipper.
But if you don’t want to jump aboard one of the day tours, you can get your own way to Ponza with a two to three-hour boat from Anzio or Formia. Both ports are just over an hour away from Rome.
Alternatively, you might be able to catch the ferry from Naples, which makes the journey a few times a week depending on the time of year, but it’s best to call ahead rather than relying on lady luck.
Hop from cove to cove
Unlike the coastlines of Australia, Ponza isn’t known for its long stretches of sand. With its dramatic cliff-sides beginning almost from the water’s edge, the island is best enjoyed by boat.
If you do hire a boat from somewhere on the island, you can easily spend the day hopping from one cove and lagoon to another, from Cala del Core to Arco Naturale.
Whether it be yachts, an antique built-in 1950s or a good old-fashioned canoe, there’s a range of ways to enjoy this spectacular island.
Stroll to a beach
If you’re a landlubber, a handful of beaches are reachable by foot, including Cala Feola or Spiaggia del Frontone.
The largest beaches on the island, both are the closest you will come to crowded shores while visiting Ponza.
Soak in the natural pools
Besides the stunning cliff faces and turquoise waters of the Ponza coastline, the island also flaunts natural pools — or Piscine Naturale — which are protected from the ocean beyond.
The pools still contain salt water but are circled by protective rocks that keep the waters still and clear while you bob off into your own world of total bliss.
See the Grotte di Pilato
While natural pools have formed over centuries into the limestone of Ponza, there are also sites on Ponza that capture the ancient marks of man.
Grotto Di Pilato comprises a system of tunnels dug in the Roman era and is believed to have been used as fish farms at the time.
Due to sea level rise, the tunnels are now mostly underwater, but most boat tours will stop to show off the striking passageways gaping out at you from the cliff face of the island.
Where to eat
For a relatively small island, Ponza has dozens of eateries to choose from.
One of the best seafood restaurants in Ponza is Acqua Pazza, which boasts breathtaking views from multiple levels looking down onto the ocean below.
Eea is an older and more established venue just four minutes down the main strip, with a large open area and a strong rustic atmosphere to enjoy the authentic Italian cuisine served here.
For something a little more casual, try Oresteria. Its bright tables and crockery make for an endearing family establishment that is hyper-popular among locals, so book ahead.
Where to stay
Hotel Chiaia di Luna, named for the crescent-shaped cove where it sits, isn’t only one of the most popular hotels to stay at on Ponza, but it’s also home to a beloved restaurant sought after by guests and day-trippers alike.
With its colourful suites reflecting the bright shades of the homes that greet you when you arrive by boat on the island, the hotel captures the charm of Ponza while having all of the amenities you could ask for, including a deluxe swimming pool overlooking the ocean and cliffs beyond.
A popular wedding venue, Grand Santa Domitilla is bursting with character and luxury, with a “wellness program” that consists of various pools set at different temperatures and relaxing massages to help you unwind.
Independent provider Piccolo Hotel Luisa prides itself on being part of Ponza’s history. Set up in the 1950s, this boutique hotel proudly boasts former Italian president Alessandro Pertini as one of its most famous guests. With a smaller staff and cozy atmosphere, Piccolo Hotel Luisa is one of those places you feel you could enjoy a whole chapter of life in.
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Lead image: Dionisio iemma