This week’s dream: the wild en­chant­ments of Circe’s isle

The Week Middle East - - Travel -

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.bellini­ has a week for two at Ho­tel Chi­aia di Luna from £1,950, excl. flights.

Ponza, off Italy’s west coast: an “el­e­men­tal” is­land

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