Procida postcard

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Procida Island, ItalyBrightly painted facades by the sea, with land rising steeply behind; fishing boats bobbing in the harbour; some ancient stone buildings?  Tobermory in Mull?  Add in some Mediterranean sunshine - perhaps Collioure in South-West France, home of the Fauvists?  But no - we have just experienced fascinating new examples of seaside colour– Porto di Marina Grande and La Corricella on the tiny and tantalising island of Procida in the Bay of Naples, where at the beginning of May we enjoyed 3 nights at the luxury La Suite hotel. Read my review 
As well as enjoying the colours and sights of the island, we also wanted to find out whether, for senior travellers, the island could be an alternative to Naples as a base for tourism in the Bay, including the archaeological remains at Pompeii and possibly Herculaneum – a tall order in the time available!
However, our first steps were 30 minutes walking from the hotel to the colourful Porto di Marina Grande, passing between high walls which provided welcome shade and allowed glimpses of gardens, with lemon and occasional orange trees. Cars and scooters passed alarmingly close and fast on narrow lanes, some cobbled, where tiny shops provided vegetables, flowers, caged birds, groceries and pottery to the local population. 

Procida Island, ItalyFrom the port, we climbed to the impressive fortress of the Terra Murata, highest point of the island, passing through the historic Piazza Dei Martiri (Martyr’s Place), where 16 republicans were hanged in 1799 by the Bourbons.  From near the attractive domed church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, steps descend to the exceptionally pretty fishing village of La Corricella, with its harbour again fronted by pastel-painted houses.

Climbing above the grim grey ruined citadel of the Terra Murata, we reached the 11th century Benedictine foundation of L’Abbazia di San Michele Arcangelo.   From its position, dominating the cliffs of the Terra Murata, we had superb views across the Bay of Naples, East towards a hazy Vesuvius, and South-East to Capri.

The Naples area is the home of pizza-making, and, back in the Porto, ‘Da Giorgio’ provided great examples of the craft, including a local Marina di Corricella recipe, well worth trying with a cold Peroni beer, or with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

After lunch, it was time to be off to Ischia by hydrofoil. (In general, though, we preferred ferries to the slightly faster hydrofoils, as there was more outside space and better views).  On approaching, the steep wooded slopes rising from the enchanting natural little harbour of Ischia Porto provided a striking contrast to the flatter Procida, and encouraged us to make an attempt on Monte Epomeo, at 787m, the ex-volcanic high point of the island. 

Procida Island, ItalyWe accepted the offer of a €35 taxi-ride to a point near the village of Fontana, which enabled us to reach the summit in good time. (A bus also circles the whole island). Our driver, Benedetto, pointed out the many vineyards on this ‘green island’, and as if to reinforce the importance of irrigation with upland water, we passed under a fascinating 16th century aqueduct (Acquedotto dei Pilastri), built by the Spanish in the style of the Romans, to bring water from a spring in the mountains. 

From our drop-off point, climbing steeply through Sweet Chestnut coppice, we emerged onto the amazing tufa (Tuff) rocks of Epomeo, derived from volcanic ash, and still showing signs of gas bubbles ‘frozen’ into the surface.  The relatively soft rock showed clear gullies from water erosion, and in places was carved into steps. There is even a disused hermitage (Eremo di San Nicola) carved out of the rock just below the summit.  Unfortunately, just as we arrived at the peak, a small cloud appeared out of nowhere, and enveloped us, blocking out much of the view. Around 45 minutes later though, we were enjoying the sun in the pretty village piazza of Fontana, sipping a fresh lemon granita, while waiting for the very useful bus service back to Ischia Porto.

Pompeii was our target for the next day, an attempt to test Procida as a base for wider exploration.  A hydrofoil cancellation, a long wait for the very overcrowded tram from Naples port to the Circumvesuviana station, and a missed train, unfortunately reduced our time at the ruins; and ruled out Herculaneum, which can be visited from the same line.

Procida Island, ItalyDespite the limited time, we obtained a strong impression of the character of this ancient city and its frightening proximity to the volcano which caused its annihilation.  From the very first entry through the double-arched Porta Marina, along the impressive highway of the Via dell’Abbondanza, with its massive cobbles, stone crossing points and intact drinking fountain, to the amazingly intact Odeon and Teatro Grande, it was possible to imagine the living community of Pompeii.  A brief taste of some of the buildings with their carvings, frescoes and artefacts, such as the Forum Baths, the Brothel and the Laundry, reinforced our desire to return for more.

And wanting more was the general feeling with which we regretfully said goodbye to the little gem of Procida, a bustling working community very welcoming to tourism, but not yet spoiled by it; a tranquil refuge from the city and a gateway to the Bay of Naples.  More time wanted to visit its nature reserve of Isola di Vivara, and Ciraciello beach; to try the thermal pools of Ischia; to investigate island-hopping by ferry to Ischia, Capri and Sorrento  - and to revisit those unique ruins.

Procida is a lively place but has a friendly, peaceful and safe feel, which makes it well-suited to Silver Travellers.  As we discovered, for the more active traveller, it can provide a good base for exploring other islands and even the mainland, using different forms of transport and on foot.  Many lanes are cobbled and narrow, but even for the less mobile, the cheap small buses which circulate both Procida and Ischia, and/or moderately priced taxis, can give access to many of the most interesting areas.  While buses are sometimes crowded, it is noticeable that locals do try to ensure that those with reduced mobility are given seats.  And the ferries provide a wonderful way to enjoy the best views in the Bay of Naples with little physical exertion.

Read Geoff’s review about La Suite Hotel, Procida

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Other Members' Thoughts - 2 Comment(s)

  • Su
    over 6 years ago
    We have just returned from Sorrento, staying at The Admiral Hotel in The Marina Grande. We fell in love with this area!
    We also visited Herculanium on the train. It was very busy on the train, but cheap way to travel to these sites.
  • DRSask
    almost 8 years ago
    I enjoyed reading your article and will definitely look into staying in Procida on my next trip to the area. I was there with friends a number of years ago in February but we stayed on the mainland. We arrived at the docks in Naples in time for a quick lunch before boarding the ferry to Capri. The crossing took 45 minutes and was quite choppy – too much for some people. [The next day it was too rough and the ferry was closed so we were lucky to make it when we did.] A local guide took us across on the ferry then by local bus (specially built for the narrow roads of the island) to the town at the top of the hill for a walking tour through the narrow streets to the Giardina d’Augustus. The views of the coastline were beautiful. We had time to wander through the streets and check out the houses and gardens – lots of lemon and lime trees.

    Our ferry back to the mainland took us to Sorrento, which was only a 15-minute journey. Our hotel for the evening was on the hill above Sorrento and it was a very picturesque drive by olive and lemon groves.

    I rose early the next day to spend some more time drinking in the view from my room while adding to my trip journal. The view was too good to waste sleeping! That morning we started driving through St. Peter’s Hills in the Milky Mountains (white limestone) with the Bay of Naples on one side of us and the Gulf of Salerno on the other. And the views that day just kept getting better as we went for a drive along the Amalfi coast to Positano. As the story goes, Positano got it’s name from a pirate named Tano who pillaged the town and took the statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue talked to Tano on the boat telling him to take her back “posi Tano”.

    We had another local guide at Pompeii. For the first time I realized that it wasn’t lava that had killed all the people, but a shower of rocks then another shower of ash and gas. It was very interesting to tour through some of the buildings that have been preserved – some with drawings still on the walls inside. Particular favourites were the House of the Faun (the largest house in Pompeii), the Temple of Jupiter, Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus (a sort of snack bar), and the Forum Granary, which is now used to store various archeological materials and a few plaster casts of victims of the eruption. There are very good English guidebooks describing the different buildings and their use. I would definitely go again and plan to spend the day there.