Ponza is a small and hilly island off the western coast of central Italy, between Rome and Naples. A picturesque and low-key holiday destination, it is popular with Italians, especially Romans or celebrities keeping a low profile, and also visited by a few adventurous foreigners. If you like pretty fishing villages, island atmosphere, boats, the sea, and exploring, Ponza is an ideal stop on a tour of Italy, or a base for a relaxing break.
The largest and most varied of the Pontine islands, Ponza is relatively straightforward to reach, but on arrival it feels a long way away from modern Italy.
Ponza tourist information
In Roman times Ponza was one of the Empire’s prison islands, used to house illustrious exiled figures including members of the Imperial family. Later, monks inhabited the island, before repeated raids by Saracens led to its abandonment. In the 18th Century, under Bourbon rule, the island was re-populated with colonists from the island of Ischia.
Interested visitors can seek out several traces of Ponza’s history. Unfortunately, as the island’s tourism is mostly summer-only and not especially cultural, its heritage is rather neglected and not much of a ‘feature’ of Ponza’s tourism offering. But boat tours will point out the ruins of the Roman clifftop villa, of caves and of an aqueduct running through the cliffs. Adventurous explorers can scramble along a path to see ancient tombs carved into the cliffs, while a visit to the beach can be combined with a dip in an old Roman fish-pond dug in the rock. A Roman tunnel connecting the island’s two shores was still used in modern times to access the famous moon-shaped Chiaia di Luna beach, though more recently tunnel and beach have been closed for safety reasons.
Boating is one of the most popular activities with Ponza’s annual Italian visitors. You can hire small boats to go fishing, tour the coastline or visit nearby islands. One of the classic Italian island activities is to join an organised boat tour, and Ponza offers a choice of these, including circuits of the island and trips to the smaller islands of Palmarola and Zannone. Palmarola is beautiful and fascinating, its bay thronged with pleasure boats in summer, while Zannone is a nature reserve. Boat tours head out from Ponza for day-long trips including swimming opportunities and pasta on board.
Like most Italian islands, Ponza is rocky so doesn’t have many sandy beaches. The dramatic Chiaia di Luna beach, beneath tall cliffs, has been officially closed for some years at the time of writing, though it is still visited in boats, as are other out-of-the-way coves and swimming spots. Swimming from the rocks is a popular activity, and one of the most popular sites is the Piscine Naturali, at the settlement of Le Forna halfway up the island, reachable by bus. The Spiaggia di Frontone is the handiest beach for Ponza’s main town and port, and a little boat ferries beach-goers to the beach from the harbour. This is the beach where you can discover Roman fish-ponds, as well as a little rustic museum of island life.
Practicalities: where to stay on Ponza, how to get there and how to travel around
Ponza is long, thin and hilly. The island’s main town and port, just called Ponza or the Porto, is at the southern end of the island, facing eastwards towards the Italian mainland. Other dwellings and settlements are scattered to the north, and a regular little bus runs up the length of the island and back (very frequent in summer). It isn’t recommended to bring cars to the island at all, and non-resident cars are banned in summer, though tourists can hire small vehicles.
The best place to stay on Ponza, for most purposes, is the main town, within reach of the port. The town is picturesque, with a historic harbour front and nucleus, and is convenient for ferries, buses, eating and other services. If you want to see a bit of island life, go on boat excursions, enjoy bars and restaurants and save hassle with transport connections, this is by far the easiest area to stay in. Some of the lodgings in town are in an elevated position with splendid island views. For a break that is more ‘getting away from it all’, it may be worth considering booking a villa or B&B in a more remote part of the island, and then just staying put – or relying on taxis, hire vehicles or the bus if it stops nearby.
Ponza accommodation, like most of the island’s tourist industry, is mostly aimed at Italians, providing fairly simple and basic accommodation for sun and sea lovers. There are quite a few apartments to rent, mostly with fairly poor reviews. The island’s small number of full-service hotels and its better B&Bs have the advantage of on-site facilities, plus assistance and advice – which can be invaluable on an island, where you may want help with booking boat trips, ferry information and all sorts of other things. Hotel Mari is on the upper level of the harbour-facing ‘amphitheatre’ at the port, with constantly fascinating views of harbour life and the island’s comings and goings. I’ve stayed there and absolutely loved the position and my harbour-facing balcony. Hotel Chiaia di Luna, a four-star with a noisy bar on summer evenings, is a fairly standard four-star hotel looking over Chiaia di Luna bay, a short walk from the town centre, with the advantage of a swimming pool. A stiff climb up steps from the port, but with amazing views, is Villa Ersilia, a friendly B&B with garden terraces overlooking the town and island.
Ponza has fairly good ferry connections to the mainland. Most connections are to the port of Formia, a town on the railway line between Rome and Naples, with a few seasonal services to Anzio, Terracina and to Naples (via the islands of Ventotene and Ischia). For most of the year, depending on timetables, the easiest way to reach the island is to fly to Naples or Rome airports. From Naples, unless there is a convenient ferry from Naples on your day of travel, take a bus to Stazione Centrale and a train to Formia. From Rome Fiumicino airport take the Leonardo Express train to Stazione Termini and a train to Formia. The port in Formia is around 10-15 minutes walk downhill from the railway station.
Ponza is in a group with the smaller islands of Zannone, Palmarola and Gavi. Gavi is privately owned but Palmarola and Zannone can be visited on boat excursions. The other two Pontine islands are further south. Ventotene is a lovely place to stay, with a picturesque village, a Roman harbour and villa ruins, and a pretty beach. Santo Stefano is a small ex-prison which can be visited from Ventotene on fascinating tours. There are direct ferries from Ponza to Ventotene but they are not always conveniently timed, so check ferry timetables beforehand if you want to visit both islands; you may find you have to return to the mainland inbetween.
On this site
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Useful external links
Cooperativa Barcaioli Ponzesi – boat trips
- About the Lazio region
- Castel Gandolfo
- Castelli Romani
- Pontine islands