I got my first taste for the Italian island life when I was 7 years old. My mother’s best friend had married an Italian, who had taken it upon himself to show us his country’s hidden secrets. He was rather eccentric and very patriotic with one aim only: to prove to us why Italians did it better. It was impossible to argue with this then, and it is still impossible.
He took us to Ponza, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Anzio. Arriving by boat and spotting tiny colour dotted houses from afar, lit up by a sunset that made a rainbow look pathetic, it was just the beginning of my heart-thumping, excitement-ooozing holiday. The Bay of Ponza, peppered with fishing boats, is a miniature mirror image of Naples, but with a steeper more intimate group of houses climbing up the sharp little hills. The town is stripes of umber, red, yellow and cream with the occasional dot of blue, right up to the crest
Growing up in England, I had been exposed to chocolate or vanilla ice cream, with a 99 flake the extent of our luxury. Ponza introduced me to fresh, light-as-air, artisanal gelato. I was hooked. Stracciatella for breakfast, Pistacchio after lunch and if I could escape my parents at any other given hour I’d run straight back to Geletaria Blumarine and gobble up a Nutella-laden crepe with only a chocolate smudged face for proof.
We swam off rocks and dived into the island’s natural-made rock pools where I insisted with much adamance and a few punches to my mocking older sister, that I had spotted pink-tailed mermaids. We ventured into caves. Thankfully we only learned afterwards that they were once used to cultivate sea snakes. We rented little dingy boats, and went off to explore the island, with picnic bags packed full of pizza and peaches, so delicious that ‘da dio’ (from God) was the only explanation.
I left the island weeping, begging my equally sad mother, to stay, insisting that I could enrol into Ponza’s ‘Scuola Elemantare’ and live a gelato-guzzling, mermaid-watching life forever.
20 years on, my farfetched dream of becoming a true ‘Ponzese’ may not have entirely materialised, but I am not far off. I am writing this, while sitting on Frontone beach, Ponza’s largest stretch of golden sand, having sailed here for the week with my very own eccentric and patriotic Italian boyfriend.
I may no longer see mythological aquatic creatures, nor do I dive so daringly from six meter cliffs. My daily crepes are now replaced by Aperol Spritz, drank at the charming Bar Tripoli on the port, and my dinners are accompanied with a glass or two of the island’s locally grown wine, Fieno di Ponza.
But for the rest, two decades on, the island remains the same. The same shop or cafe owner welcomes me on each return, now helped by his rather taller daughter and son and will always ask of my mother and her friend. The same smells of salty sea and fresh oven-cooked Pizza fill the air as I wander the port’s many idyllic shops. The same restaurants serve the same dishes, and the same boat takes me to the various beaches the island has to offer.
And this is Ponza’s magic – it’s raw unchanged beauty. The excitement that poured into me on arrival as a seven year old kid remains with me on each visit, as I yearn to re-live the Island once more.
Restaurants: Da Enzo, Da Assunta, La Marina (Cala Feola)
Drink: Bar Tripoli, Chiaia Di Luna
Bakery: Pasticceria Gildo