UPDATED! My aversion to fancy things is almost as intense as my attraction to that which is unpolished. It is both of these factors that draw me to Procida, an island off the coast of Naples, again and again. On my first trip here with with Mamma Parla back in 2005, it felt like a little slice of Naples had broken off and floated into the bay. The chaotic, soulful, and colorful place had so much in common with the nearby mainland, much more than Naples’ other island neighbor, Ischia.
The port is loud and raucous, with backfiring scooters and old women shouting from windows. Up and over the hill in Corricella, Mamma Parla and my hotel La Casa Sul Mare overlooked the quiet marina, which had served as the set of Il Postino. The balcony of our room looked up at the adjacent Terra Murata, the medieval fortification that was once the heart of Procida.
On subsequent visits, I have mainly stayed around L’Olmo, a little cluster of houses and shops above Chiaia beach. The rooms and apartments rented out by Ristorante La Conchiglia were simple accommodations and conveniently located near the island’s main bus route and 195 steps above the sea. This trip, I am staying in the center of the island at a friend’s apartment, which is surrounded by citrus groves, fruit trees, and crowing roosters.
Getting to Procida is easy. Hop on a train from Rome to Naples (book early to get the best deals on the new-ish Italo train), then walk 25 minutes to the port, or take a cab, depending on your luggage situation. There are regular Snav hydrofoils from Molo Beverello and Caremar ferries from Calata Porta di Massa. There are also connections from Pozzuoli and Ischia. FYI, Procida is a popular weekend destination for day trippers from Naples, so the hydrofoils can get crowded or booked up on Saturdays and Sundays.
Check out La Panetteria at Via Vittorio Emanuele 155/157 for amazing baked goods. Their pizzas, savory breads and torte rustiche are incredible. They also do sweet shortbread crust filled with an eggy and hammy filling. Insane. In the morning, swing by for a lingua procidiana, sweet and flaky pastry filled with custard.
In addition to the stellar offerings at La Panetteria, I always eat at La Conchiglia. The food is decent, it is conveniently situated 10 steps above Chiaia beach, and the tables look across the bay to Corricella. The antipasti are very good, especially the antipasto di terra, a selection of excellent island produce cooked in rich olive oil based sauces. The cappelletti (pasta filled with provolone and eggplant) and stracci cozze e broccoli (strips of pasta with mussels and broccoli) are house specialities.
It makes sense to visit Chiaia beach in the morning, because it has the best sun exposure at that time of day and by 4:30pm, the tall cliffs above the beach start blocking out the sun. In the afternoon, head over to Pozzo Vecchio (aka Il Postino Beach), where the sun doesn’t hit most of the beach until 12:30pm. The the beach is good for catching rays as late as 7pm and it is a gorgeous place to enjoy the sunset. Both Chiaia and Pozzo Vecchio beaches have small beach clubs where you can rent chairs and an umbrella from €15 a person, but the free beaches next to the clubs are perfectly nice and the big volcanic sand grains make a pleasant foundation for a thick towel.
Swimmers will prefer the calm waters in the protected bay around Chiaia beach. For me, there is nothing in the world more tranquil than swimming the nearly half mile bay in near solitude early in the morning or after 5pm when the Chiaia beach-goers have packed up and gone home. The water at Pozzo Vecchio is rough and not really ideal for swimming some days. It is worth nothing that the food at the bar is inedible.
Another favorite dining spot, this time for dinner, is Girone on Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo in Marina Chiaolella. It’s nice to grab a drink near the port then take the short walk to Girone, a popular place that serves excellent fish. I am partial to the antipasto “sfizioso” with a little bit of land, a little bit of sea, and whole lot of fried stuff. The mussels are fantastic and the spaghetti ai ricci (spaghetti with sea urchin roe) is delicious. If you can stand the idiosyncratic service, you’ll never want to eat anywhere else on the island.