PONZA - There's no such thing as an undiscovered island in the Mediterranean. Or any other sea or ocean or bay or lake or other body of water in the world. Everything has been pretty much mapped and GPS'ed to death by now.
And you couldn't say this island is "off the beaten path," either, given that two ferry lines deliver hundreds of people a day from the port of Anzio, a one-hour train ride from Rome. But it definitely feels like a place that gets overshadowed by bigger, more famous cousins such as Sardinia and Capri.
It's just as well, as it's a treat to be in a place that doesn't appear to take itself too seriously. I've been here only a couple hours but the place feels decidedly working class, with tattered, battered boats in the harbour draped with fishing nets and floats and not laded with cases of Cristal or Dom Perignon.
There are lovely pink, blue and peach pastel buildings rising in the hills above the port, but the buildings just off the water's edge have almost as much paint peeled off their fronts as they do anything that sticks. But I like that.
And, as the girl at the front desk of my hotel, the Grand Hotel (a tad presumptuous given the fact my room is maybe 8 by 12 feet) Chiaia Di Luna, pointed out, it's not about the port. Or the promenade that sits just above the water. Or about the pizza or the restaurants or the inexpensive clothing shops or the souvenir stands selling garishly painted coral with blue dolphin shapes and a thermometer for seven Euros. No, it's about the water; blue-green Mediterannean magic that surges in and out of grottoes and laps against twisted, dark rocks and quietly rolls into the bay next door with chalky-cliffs that drop perfectly straight down from a height of a perhaps 200 feet or more and form a perfect half-circle.
It's a beautiful spot, even on a slightly murky evening with more clouds than sun on the horizon.
The town is just a town, but the cliffs and the grottoes and the water are beckoning me for a boat ride on Saturday. And I just might respond.
Anna Maria, the girl at the front desk, who grew up in Connecticut and speaks perfect English, thank goodness, tells me the island is mostly populated with Romans and Italians, with a sprinkling of folks from Northern Europe. A magazine I spotted on the boat on the way over had a spread on celebrity sightings, and mentioned that Jude Law and Sienna Miller were here a couple weeks ago.
The hotel here, the Almost Grand Hotel Chiaia Di Luna, does have a very nice pool with a deck all around it. Nice views of the harbour, too. Today they were quietly playing some Euro-beat versions of North American songs, including Stevie Wonder's wonderful "Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing" and, something I might not forgive them for in my lifetime, a bizarrely hip-hop flavoured version of "Free Fallin' by Tom Petty."
On the other hand, there was an intriguing song with a lovely Spanish guitar and electronic bird sounds, complete with that scratch-the-record/backward sound that deejays often use in dance halls, or whatever they're called these days, and, yes, that might possibly the worst description of a musical number in the history of western civilization...
Anyway, this is a cool spot. And if you're ever in Rome and need a quick, seaside break, I highly recommend it.