The Pontine islands (Isole Pontine) are a pretty archipelago off the Italian coast south of Rome. With a long history, attested by Roman ruins and cave-tombs, the islands are nevertheless little-known to international tourists. With lots of authentic Italian atmosphere, great views and a range of activities, this is an ideal destination for getting off the beaten track.
Pontine islands tourist information
There are only two islands large enough to offer accommodation possibilities and regular ferry connections: Ponza and Ventotene. The other islands in the Pontine archipelago, including the nature reserve of Zannone, can be visited in boat trips from the two larger islands.
Ponza is the main tourist destination, and is popular with water-lovers; the island offers good swimming opportunities, particularly for those who hire boats. Around 5 miles long, the island has two principal settlements, connected by bus. Ponza is very popular with Italian holiday-makers in August. Palmarola, Zannone and Gavi are all close to Ponza.
Ventotene is 22 nautical miles south-east of Ponza and is much smaller, at less than two miles long. This island is more suited to those looking for some serious peace and solitude. The island’s Roman port was dug out of the volcanic rock. The small island of Santo Stefano, offshore, is dominated by a prison, built by the Bourbons and in use until 1965.
Palmarola is smaller still, craggy and almost uninhabited. There’s a small landing-place for boats and a restaurant (summer only). The green isle of Zannone is a nature reserve, and also the site of a ruined monastery, built in 1213. The remaining island is little Gavi, which is private and inhabited year-round only by wild rabbits.
Ventotene and Ponza have several archaeological sites; the Emperor Augustus exiled his embarassing daughter Julia to Ventotene (then known as Pandataria); and Nero later did the same with his wife Octavia. The remains of the Roman Villa Giulia can be seen on the tip of the Eolo headland by the port. Over the centuries many other notable exiles arrived on the Pontine islands, including the early saint Flavia Domitilla, Sandro Pertini (a prisoner of the Fascists and later President of Italy) and Mussolini (confined here for a few days in 1943).
Fortresses and prisons mostly date back to the period when the islands belonged to the Bourbons, ownership having passed from the aristocratic Farnese family in 1734. In 1813, Ponza was briefly captured by the British during the Napoleonic Wars before being returned to the Bourbon dynasty.
As well as swimming and sunbathing, the islands offer heaps of opportunities for boating and diving. If the action gets too much, there are restaurants and bars for unwinding after dusk, while pleasant daytime hours can be spent exploring the islands’ dramatic landscapes, hunting out scattered ruins and breathtaking views.
Pontine islands travel information
Get to the Pontine Islands
The Pontine islands lie off the coast between Rome and Naples, and either of these airports is a good jumping-off point for travel to the islands. Ferry schedules change frequently, so visitors should research the latest timetables and double-check a few days before travel. At the time of writing the principal Italian port for ferries to Ponza and Ventotene is Formia. Formia lies between Rome and Naples, and is reachable by direct trains from both cities. The port is a short walk downhill through the town from the railway station. Other ports with connections to the islands – depending on the season and timetables – are Anzio, Terracina and Naples itself. An occasional summer service connects both islands with Ischia, in the bay of Naples. Tickets can be bought at quayside offices or ticket kiosks.
Ferries include fast catamarans and hydrofoils (listed in timetables as aliscafo/mezzo veloce) and slower, cheaper car ferries (navi). Although both Ponza and Ventotene are, thanks to their resident populations, connected year-round with the mainland, there are limited options for travel between the two islands and travellers should check the latest updates. All ferry services are significantly reduced outside the main tourist season (which runs roughly May-September). See the links panel (right) for the websites of ferry companies serving the islands.
Both Ponza and Ventotene have helipads, allowing those who can afford it to arrive on the islands by helicopter after a short flight from Rome or Naples.
For travelling around the coast, or between the islands, boats are the obvious option. If you haven’t arrived in your own yacht, small boats can be hired on Ponza and Ventotene, with or without a skipper. There are also organised boat tours around the islands’ coastlines. From Ponza you can book excursions to Palmarola (usually including the circular Ponza tour) or Zannone. These tours usually last the whole day, with a pasta lunch included and breaks for swimming or exploring. From Ventotene harbour you can book island tours or trips to Santo Stefano. On Ponza a bus service runs the length of the island, connecting the port town, Ponza Porto, with Le Forna and the island’s other scattered settlements. A ferry shuttle service connects the town with a nearby beach.
Pontine islands accommodation
Hotel Mari, Ponza
By the port in Ponza, Hotel Mari has a great location both for convenience and for harbour views. A comfortable and practical place to stay.
Villa Iulia, Ventotene
There are more fabulous views from the terraces of Villa Iulia, a comfortable guest house just off the main square in Ventotene.
Useful external links
Laziomar ferries (see Area Passeggeri for timetables)
- About the Lazio region
- Castel Gandolfo
- Castelli Romani
- Pontine islands