This week’s dream: the wild enchantments of Circe’s isle
Rearing from the Tyrrhenian Sea midway between Rome and Naples, the island of Ponza has the same “rough magic” today as in ancient times, says Carla Power in Condé Nast Traveller. Homer knew it as Aeaea, where the sorceress Circe seduced Odysseus and turned his men into animals. The emperor Augustus banished his daughter Julia to it, but on discovering its delights, built his own villa on its towering cliffs. In the 20th century, Mussolini was exiled here. Today, it is a “low-key playground of the cognoscenti”, lying close to Capri and Ischia, but a world apart from them – an “elemental” place, free of bling, tourist crowds and Berlusconi lookalikes “comparing the length of their yachts”.
An hour by hydrofoil from the mainland, the island welcomes the occasional “megastar” guest, such as Beyoncé, but otherwise it is favoured largely by “elegant Romani”. The Fendis, the famous fashion family, have a b&b here: Villa Laetitia, “dark- chocolate hued” and bristling with cacti. Building was banned in 1967, so many of the island’s 3,500 inhabitants still live in cave houses, and there are no five-star hotels, and no big spas – indeed, the best beauty treatment is the sand on Cala Felce (one of the many tiny beaches that “scallop” the coast), which the locals mix with seawater and lather onto their arms and faces. The Acqua Pazza restaurant recently earned a Michelin star, but otherwise this is a place of anonymous trattorie serving local dishes such as grilled saberfish and stuffed courgettes.
For the visitor, there is blissfully little to do. Climb the cliffs above the beach at Frontone to the Museo Etnografico (stuffed with items from scythes to babies’ cradles). Take a boat trip around the coast to admire “the psychedelic shapes and shades” of its cliffs and rocks. Then retire for a Campari at Bar Tripoli and, like Odysseus, contemplate “the pleasures of exile”. Bellini Travel (020-7602 7602, www.bellinitravel.com) has a week for two at Hotel Chiaia di Luna from £1,950, excl. flights.
Ponza, off Italy’s west coast: an “elemental” island