Travel Itineraries: Ponza, Palmarola and Zannone

A little history

The ancient Romans also frequented Ponza as a vacation spot. It is also true that some noble patricians were exiled there, but it was a golden exile.

During the Punic Wars, Ponza, the largest of the archipelago, was promoted to municipality and actively contributed to the defense of Rome from the Carthaginian fleet.  The Romans built impressive water and port works to supply the ships of the fleet at Cape Misenum with water.  They dug into the soft tuff of its soil to make aqueducts, cisterns, tunnels and docking piers.

In the Middle Ages the islands became depopulated, only a few fortified monasteries resisted, with alternating fortunes, the raids of pirates until the advent of cannons. New colonization of the islands occurred only in the early 18th century by first the Farnese family and then the Bourbons, who rebuilt the village and port.

Before the advent of tourism, the islands, inhabited by farmers and fishermen, served as a political confinement.

Deodat de Dolomieu, forerunner of modern geology, visited the islands and was amazed at the great concentration of minerals in such a small area. The color of the rocks varies from yellow ochre to red, white, green and pearl gray; quartz rhyolites and improbably shaped tuffs make it a magical and beautiful place. Even oceanographer Jacques Cousteau included the islands among the world's ten most beautiful archipelagos.


Despite its surface area barely touching 10 square kilometers, the island develops 25 kilometers of coastline. Its crescent shape allows good shelterings from the sea and wind, so much so that its name probably derives from the Greek Pontos, "harbor," so many anchorages are protected by the various quadrants. We point out the harbor bay, protected from sirocco to tramontana but almost always cluttered and busy; Traversia from Greek and levant, which sometimes comes like a cannonade in the middle of the night. In case you need to set sail as soon as possible and shelter on the western side of the island, also because steep waves form in a short time.  The same applies to all bays on the eastern side of Ponza.

Next to the harbor bay is the Frontone, which is wide and has good sandy bottoms, except for the southern side, with rock and shallows. It is the closest anchorage to the town.  Exposed to siroccolevante and grecale.

Continuing the circumnavigation counterclockwise we meet Cala Del Core, a beautiful turquoise sandy bay surmounted by very white cliffs, and following Cala Inferno, also splendid.

The next large bay is called Arco Naturale, an arched stacks dominating the first bend; around it the high cliffs change color to brown.

Doubling the islet of Gavi we pass on the western side of Ponza and encounter Cala delle Felci with emerald water and veins of sulfur on the overhanging rocks, sheltered from southerly winds. The island continues southwest with high inaccessible cliffs, a few bays with rocky bottoms and irregular depths, to Cala dell'Acqua, a wide bay ridged by grecale to noon. The color of the cliffs varies from bright yellow to white.

Next to it opens Cala Feola protected by a breakwater of boulders that protects fishermen's boats. The craggy hills are teeming with brightly colored houses; a fine sandy beach and natural pools carved by nature into the gray tuff make it an ideal stopover with easterly winds. Ashore a few restaurants and several steps to get to the village for supplies.

Continuing south we encounter the superb Lucia Rosa Bay. Turquoise water and Polynesian landscape.

The stretch of coastline beyond the Lucia Rosa stacks presents some pitfalls for navigation, continue with lookout on the bow and reliable electronic charts, there are shallows offshore and ashore to Capo Bianco, full of beautiful caves carved by the waves into snow-white tuff.

Beyond the cape is the large and beautiful bay of Chiaia di Luna, topped by a tall, eggnog-colored cliff. Its beach is magnificent but interdicted because of the danger of landslides. An excellent shelter from the fearsome Levante, the bay was used by the ancient Romans as the island's western port.  They dug a long driveway tunnel in the tufa to connect it to the eastern port, a few hundred meters away as the crow flies.

The seabed is fine sand and the depths gradually decrease offshore allowing plenty of room for anchorage spots even coming at night.

On moonlit evenings the cliff reflects the moonlight illuminating the bay.

Continuing south we round Capo della Guardia with its powerful lighthouse and return to the eastern side of Ponza. Beyond the Faraglioni del Calzone Muto opens the Parata, yet another anchorage of turquoise waters. Offshore are the Formiche rocks, ideal for fishing and diving. Doubling the following Punta della Madonna we return to the bay of the main harbor.

Ponza's younger sister is only 3 miles from Lucia Rosa Bay; same geological nature and cliffs of multicolored rocks. The island is uninhabited in winter but in summer a restaurant is open that rents some cave houses dug by ancient settlers in an attempt to cultivate the little available land.

We start at the Cala del Porto, dominated by the Faraglione di San Silverio and bordered by a beautiful beach where the restaurant is located.  The cove faces west and there are often waves,

with easterly winds it is a unique place.

A somewhat challenging path leads up the mountain. It is well worth the hike. In the extreme southern part of Palmarola stand the Faraglioni di Mezzogiorno with caves that are worth a visit with a tender. The passage between the stacks and the island is possible only by tender (1 meter bottom).

Turning the cape opens into the beautiful Cala Brigantina, so-called because the Bourbons ordered the stationing of a brigantine to keep out the pirates who had found refuge here.  Protected from the west, mistral and grecale, it also allows partial shelter from the east behind Scoglio Suvace.  The place is magnificent, overlooked by a pearl-gray cliff of more than 200 meters.

Continuing the counterclockwise turn we point out to keep well wide (at least 500 mt) for the presence of many almost outcropping rocks hardly visible (Secca Zirri -30 cm).

The eastern side of Palmarola is a good shelter from westerly winds with turquoise waters. The mountain draws multicolored spires and overhangs hemmed in by a few beaches.

Turning Punta Tramontana opens up the scenery of Cala delle Cattedrali, so-calledfor the shapes of the rocks resembling a Gothic cathedral, with caves accessible by swimming. The seabed is challenging because it degrades rapidly, but in good weather the bay is worth a stop.  It feels like being in Polynesia.

Turning northwest point we return to the western side of Palmarola, turn wide for the presence of submerged hazards. Passing the stacks of the Galere, we return to the Cala del Porto.

Palmarola, like Ponza, will be best appreciated by sup or dinghy, going exploring along the shores.

Unlike Ponza and Palmarola, long and narrow volcanic faults, Zannone is much older.  It is one of the few places where the Tirrenide, the ancient continent that sank into the sea millions of years ago, still surfaces. The island of Montecristo, Corsica and Sardinia are also part of it.

It is a circular "panettone" with no bays and can be visited only in declared good weather. On its eastern side one can anchor partially ridged from the west.

The island is uninhabited and is part of the Circeo National Park; its vegetation is lush because it has not been cleared and terraced for cultivation like neighboring islands. Its seabed is rich in fish, less disturbed by summer traffic.

It is very interesting to walk the path that leads to the ruins of the ancient Benedictine monastery; it passes through a forest of holm oaks and then reaches the top of a ridge overlooking the entire island. Oaks, fig and strawberry trees, a colony of mouflon imported from Sardinia in the 1960s.

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