When the idea first came to me to tell you all about the Italian islands I have visited throughout my (now rather long) life, I would never have guessed there would be so many to talk about! I’ve obviously been around the block more than I realised, because here we are already on our ninth whistle-stop tour: and the journey isn’t over yet!
Today’s newsletter teleports us on over to “my” Ponza, that is, that part of my heart that I left behind on this beautiful island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the coast of Lazio and Campania.
Just like in Carloforte, here too I got the sense that time was suspended, as if I had stepped into another era. Being separated by the sea probably helps to protect the unique aspects of a place, of people, from outside influence: customs, food, ways of speaking.
I remember the accent of the locals, for example: although they live in the region of Lazio, they spoke more as though they were from Naples rather than Rome. Of course, Ponza was ceded to Charles III of Bourbon, King of Naples, in 1734. And over the three hundred years since, that inflection has remained a hallmark of the local accent.
But I digress – back to my memories.
As usual, I visited out of season, late in September – every now and then they do actually manage to tear me away from my shoes, the office, work trips... That weekend in Ponza I experienced a bittersweet end-of-summer atmosphere; the weather was still beautiful but there were only a few of us around, and only a handful of activities were still up and running before closing for winter.
I remember flourishing vegetation: like a carpet of Mediterranean scrub full of myrtle and broom, but also agaves and prickly pears. Here, nature is truly wild, softened only by the pastel colours of the houses.
As for the rest of the landscape, there were countless ravines, bays, rocks and caves: it is difficult to describe the Mediterranean charm of this island, whose volcanic history is told by the now-extinct but easily recognisable craters – so perfect they look as though they were drawn using a compass...
Chiaia di Luna – the most popular beach – is crowned by a towering white cliff, which reflects in the sea, making the turquoise hue of the water even more dazzling. A true sight to behold…
And then I remember chatting with the host about local customs and traditions. For example, travelling with a posy of freesias when leaving Ponza: isn’t that a beautiful idea, being able to take part of your home with you through the scent of flowers?
Another tradition is celebrating the Day of the Dead – 2nd November – with the “Rabbit without ears”. No, this isn’t a meat feast: in fact, it is a dish of boiled broad beans and tomato.
And that’s what rabbits have to do with Ponza!