Procida, known as Prochyta in ancient days, was used as a setting by the French writer, Alphonse de Lamartine for his novel, Graziella. Now the promotionally minded fathers call the place the Island of Graziella and stage a Grazielle festival the end of every August. The best inn is the new Hotel Pif, set on the heights above the sea in a garden of lemon trees and white geraniums and banana fronds. The outdoor bar curls around an old olive tree, there is a brown sandy beach far below, and the seaside rooms look across the water to the circus isle of Capri.
Grottoes galore greet the skin-diver who makes his way to Ponza, largest island of the Pontine archipelago, 20 miles offshore, halfway between Naples and Rome. A place of myths and legends (Aeneas is said to have stopped there), treeless Ponza in this space-conscious age is more apt to be compared to the landscape of the moon. Great rocks jut from the sea along its rock-hewn coast, and iridescent caverns glow there, luring the scuba set to cool caves, clear coves and a freighter sunk in World War II. One plain hotel ($3 a night double, $1.75 single), one good restaurant, one jukebox nightclub and one gravel beach are what Ponza has today, but more is in the offing. By the time a new hotel, more eateries and a few shops have been set up, Ponza's connection to the mainland will also probably be less tenuous (at present, the ferry goes thrice weekly in the season from Anzio and Formia, and Sundays from Naples) and with American visitors already arriving along with the Continental steadies, old-time "naturalists" are beginning to look for new horizons.
North of Rome, in the sea that rolls between Corsica and the Italian west coast, tiny islands are in orbit about the earth of Elba. Somnolent since that day in 1815 when Napoleon sailed for Cannes to end his exile and commence upon the Hundred Days, Elba roused itself suddenly after World War II. Forty hotels have sprouted in the last 10 years, at least half a dozen of them offering beachside luxury at $10 a day. Like Ischia it has grown too fast and become too well known to be a Little Known Island. But its satellites in the Tuscan Archipelago still qualify—Gorgona; Capraia, once a Genoese colony and still equipped with a 15th century castle; Pianosa; Montecristo, with its memories of Dumas; Giglio; and Giannutri, which I came to think of fondly as Gene Autry. The first three are still prison islands with ideas of future tourist grandeur. Montecristo was once the summer repose of the Italian royal family, who came there in the royal yacht. It has but two residents—the caretakers of the castle, is bereft of inns but is reachable by chartered speedboat from Elba. Giglio is the pick, the new little-known darling of the cognoscenti, with the best rooms facing the sea, private bath, three meals a day to let at less than $6 in the top of the summer, less than $5 a day early in June and late in September.
Train or car will carry you the hundred miles from Rome to Orbetello, just beyond the new fashionable resort at Ansedonia. Orbetello sits on a spur of land leading to a hill called the Monte Argentario. On either side of it are salt lakes where the Fascist Italian aviator, Italo Balboa, experimented with flying boats and took off on a historical flight to the U.S. in 1933. A turn to the left leads to Porto Ercole, which looks like a stage set for a picturesque fishing village. A turn to the right leads to Porto Santo Stefano, a village curved around a harbor dotted with fishing boats and gorgeous summer villas. From Porto Ercole the boat leaves for Gene Autry. From Porto Santo Stefano a big white yachtlike shuttle departs for Giglio 11 miles offshore, a land which Stendhal called the Mermaid's Isle.
I spied no mermaids in my days on Giglio, but the entire village called Giglio Porto tumbled out of its houses when our ship came in, and I can only suppose that they perform similarly each day and twice on Sundays, which is the summer schedule. The Porto people live in houses that huddle shoulder to shoulder, beige and pink and umber. Some have lacy balconies, and bright green shutters are uniform on all. An old Saracen tower guards the harbor entrance and two lighthouses show the way. Behind rises the mountain, its outcropping of rocks breaking through the fields of green broom like knees in threadbare pants. Cafés put out squares of geraniums to plant the flag of their domain on the harborside walk. And whatever real estate hasn't been spoken for is covered by day with endless strands of fish net hung to dry and be repaired. The village sports thunder up the back streets on their motorcycles and all of them wear blue jeans which sell in the stalls affixed with labels that depict a bucking bronco and say "Confection F-Bell. Sturdy. Well. For Weekend. For Worker. For Sport." At night sporting types and workers and village wives all gather in the cafés and sit on rows of benches to watch the television. The island favorite: Perry Como.
Anchoring one end of the harbor is a boxy bulk known altogether as Demo's Hotel la Nuova Pergola. Since there also is a Pergola that is not so nuova just next door owned by the same family, one must insist on the real goods. Though called a hotel, Demo's new Pergola is, in true fact, a pensione of first category. But its appointments are comfortable enough, its atmosphere amiable and its food extraordinary. Fish is the dish-triglia (red mullet), dentice (like a toothy striped bass), nasello (whiting) and, above all, lobsters. Since grilling lobster is about as outrageous an idea in Italy as serving cream with espresso, you might try lobster cold with olive oil and ground pepper. It is not only a tasty departure but it avoids mayonnaise, a recommended sidestep in European areas where the refrigeration is questionable. The bill here will come to $5.70 a day for room and meals from June 15 to September 15, $4.40 a day before and after. Demo's brochure, which quotes Stendhal, also describes Giglio as "All that a subaquatic fisher can desire." I was not quite as much taken with the Saraceno, built over the boulders on the opposite side of the harbor, even though each of the 20 rooms has a terrace and bath and there are steps that will lead the subaquatic fisherman right down to the sea.
Taxi or bus will take you back over the hulking mountain through the broom and the steeply terraced vineyards and the stone huts for grape-pressing on location. Campese is a sleepy village on the east side of the island flanked by a Medici tower and an iron mine. In between is a fine sand beach that glistens in the sun with particles of pyrite, glows with ampolas that grow in the sand, and in summer echoes to the polyglot babble of the French, the German, the Swiss and the English who all but burst the little 18-room Albergo Campese. The hotel has only one accommodation with private bath, but the broad windows of its lesser suites all face the beach, and the price, all meals and taxes and tips included, is about $3.50 a day. The one with private bath costs 35¢ a day more. Make your bid early.
The pastimes of those who seclude themselves at Campese are to bathe all day, to take excursions to a tree-shaded glen in the hills called Franco on treks to Allume, a small beach a kilometer away, and to contemplate the tower which dominates town, beach and local conversation. Built by Ferdinand I, of the Medici, it is now the weekend villa of the Conte Rodolfo della Piane, a Milanese cotton merchant. The della Piane décor varies from 2,000-year-old Etruscan vases and Greek busts in the gardens to television, tiled baths and a ping-pong table in the tower. The walls are 10 feet thick, there is one room on each floor, and the whole place came complete with a legend that an underwater passage leads clear to the mainland.
The most curious, incomprehensible settlement on the island is Giglio Castello, a scrubby town of dark stone houses all huddled inside the old protecting walls on the very top of the highest point on the island. The alleys are too narrow for cars. The inhabitants, who live off the mines of Campese, live all their lives looking at gray rock only now and then relieved by a stray growth of green broom burgeoning out of the stone. The fields around Castello are a popular Italian place for fall shooting, and a popular dish of the mountaintop is hare cacciatora.
A place of modern refuge is Giglio's charming hideaway called Pardini's Hermitage Hotel, an inn reachable by a 20-minute boat ride from Giglio Porto. Perched high on a hilltop in view of nothing but the sea, the place is run in great taste by Frediano Pardini and his wife, who also have a hotel at Viareggio. There are just eight double rooms and two singles, and not much to do but play boccie, skin-dive and sunbathe, usually in the altogether, on sun decks thoughtfully scattered a few yards from each other around the fringe of the mountain. There is a private spring for drinking water, and Pardini likes to say, "I am autonomous for eggs and chickens." Everything else has to be imported from Giglio Porto, including the customers. The price per person with meals is less than $5 a day in April, May, June, September and October and less than $6 a day in July and August.