Augustus Caesar banished his libertine daughter, Giulia to Ventotene, tiny Mediterranean island just south of Rome and north of Naples.
The exiled Giulia might not have relished the peace and natural beauty of Ventotene but today the island (3 kms. long and 700 m. wide) attracts those who seek a sort of “self-exile”: a move out of the fast lane into a world of all things “slow”, from the island food to the idle pace of Ventotene life.
When the ferry from Formia slides into the Ventotene harbor, I always feel a sense of total lassitude, anticipating the “exile”. The Romans found this inlet a secure place for the docking of their ships and now sailboats rock gently at anchor here.
Not far from il Porto Romano, you’ll pass Mare Pizza where Candida makes pizzas and the buonissimo escarole focaccia typical of the area and nearby, her mustached, white-haired husband Enzo sells jams, sauces, oregano, wild fennel bunches and his own fresh seasonal produce from his small Ape truck.
On the other side of the narrow port-side road, boats rocky gently at anchor and some have placards and tables at the prow advertising boat rides around the island and to the island of Santo Stefano just across the water. The ferry and hydrofoils from the mainland pull in at the end of the port.
Hotel vans meet arriving guests but most visitors walk up the characteristic ramps – lined by the pastel houses typical of Bourbon French 18th-century architecture – constructed in a switchback grid and leading to the two piazzas which are the heart of island life: Piazza Castello (seat of civic power) and Piazza della Chiesa (symbol of religious power).
Paths wind from both piazzas right to the aquamarine sea, where swimmers dive off the rocky outcrops, vestiges of the volcanic eruptions which long ago gave birth to the island. Best island swimming spot is the rocky promontory just beneath the lighthouse, not far from the ruins of the 1st century A.D pescheria (fish hatchery – for fresh fish for the emperors), a gem of Roman engineering carved into the volcanic tufo rock. Across the sea is the island of Santo Stefano, where the 18th century Bourbon rulers built a “model” prison, based on justice and humane treatment of prisoners.
Boat rides to Santo Stefano attract the visitors and fishing boat rides around the island with stops to swim and snorkel in the island coves. Nocturnal guided tours of the Roman acqueduct and cistern – which have been used continuouly over the years – fascinate. The significance of cistern frescoes mystifies: “wrapped in a mysterious aura”, our guide said.
The aura of Ventotene itself cannot be put into words: one has to choose self-exile there to experience it.
Read more on good Ventotene eating
Read about Ventotene, the “literary island”
Read more on Ventotene goodness
Read about – and see – Ventotene’s splendid sea
Read about a Ventotene spot we love
Read about – and see! – pizza goodness (and not only) on Ventotene
Read more on Santo Stefano and on Ventotene and why we love it
Read about Ventotene’s many enticements
Read about Ventotene’s bakery
Read about good eating at the “scooter truck”
Read about “palate poetry” on Ventotene