This week’s dream: Italy’s mythical island of Ponza
Having twice spent time on the island of Ponza, “I’m fairly sure it exists,” said Carla Power in Condé Nast Traveller (U.K.). I say so because for thousands of years the speck of land off Italy’s west coast has occupied a space between fantasy and reality. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus landed on a fictionalized Ponza and was seduced by the beautiful sorceress Circe after she turned his men into pigs. Even today, the place has a “trippy magic.” Returning recently, 20 years after my first visit, I needed no sorceress to be seduced once more. “For proof that I’d been transported to an enchanted island, I just had to open my bedroom curtains and look out at the abalone-shell sea, glowing iridescent in the dawn sun.”
Little changed during my two decades away. Yes, iPhones and the odd Hollywood star have come to the island, but it remains a rugged, low-key place with none of the tourist crowds that clutter the nearby isles of Capri and Ischia. Ponza has just 13 taxis and no luxury boutiques or five-star hotels.
Those looking for a large spa have only one option—unless they do what I did one afternoon and head to Cala Felce beach. Copying the locals, I scooped handfuls of gray-yellow rock from the crumbling cliffs, mixed it with seawater, and slathered the paste on my face and arms. Within half an hour, I was convinced I had turned “as soft and smooth as Circe herself.” Such transformative experiences are common on this mystical coastline. Out on a motorboat one morning, I watched the color of the water change from emerald to turquoise to lapis within minutes. The psychedelic shapes of the cliffs were equally unreal: One looked like a sea lion stretching, another like “the hawk-nosed profile of the great poet Dante.” Still another approximated sea spray, “carved in bone-white stone.”
On my last day, I finally distilled the island’s spirit, eating lunch at the hotel-restaurant Gennarino a Mare, where the furniture on the all-white terrace is made from loading pallets. The simple pasta I ordered, a “ballsy and salty” blend of anchovies, lemon, mint, and pecorino, was, to me, “Ponza in a mouthful”—and an excuse to look out at the butter-yellow crescent of harbor and, like Odysseus, “contemplate the pleasures of exile.” At Ponza’s hotel Gennarino a Mare, doubles start at about $100 a night.