Procida – the charming island of Naples Bay

The territory of Italy has roughly 450 islands, that means there are still many hidden enclaves to discover. A trip to the lovely islands of the Bay of Naples is definitely one to be added to the bucket list. This time we are travelling to Procida, the smallest of the Phlegraean Islands (Gulf of Naples), situated between Ischia and the promontory Miseno. The island can be reached by hydrofoil boat or ferry from Naples.

Name Procida comes from Greek prochyo (Latin profundo), as the island was raised up from the bottom of the sea or from the depths of the Earth and forced into the volcanic area.

The island was inhabited since the prehistoric times. It was not only a stopover for the routes connecting the eastern part of Mediterranean with the coast of Etruria and the iron mines of Elba, but it was also an essential base for the craftsmen working with raw materials (blacksmiths, artisans, decorators). Among the first island’s inhabitants were the Greeks from the Euboea island. In the Roman times, the island was popular with the aristocrats (including Cesar, Augustus and Neron) and considered as a great holiday resort.

The island’s distinctive feature is the architecture. It’s particularity brought here many movie directors, and the island became known as a film set for movies such as:

  • “Il Postino” (The Postman) a story about a postman who is delivering mail to a famous poet, learns the art of poetry and uses it to impress a local girl.
  • “L’ Isola di Arturo” (Arthuro’s island) based on a book by Elsa Morante (Arturo is growing up on an island, far away from the rest of the world, and has a complicated relationship with his father).
  • “The Talented Mr Ripley” (psychological thriller) by Anthony Minghella, about Tom Ripley, who is sent to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, a spoiled millionaire playboy.

Procida is also the primary location in the book written by Penelope Green – “Girl by Sea“. A memoir of an Australian girl who lived on Procida one year and described it from the local point of view. You can follow her favourite spots (for example Bar Capriccio) during your stay. Penelope writes: “With a little imagination, Procida looks a bit like a three-legged bull or a headless dog, with the islet of Vivara forming a tail. The remnants of the island’s four extinct volcanoes form a series of crescent-shaped bays along the jagged coastline. Pretty beaches with dark, grainy sand, lazy fishing ports and isolated rocky points with phenomenal views over the island and across the mainland or the nearby islands of Capri and Ischia are all on offer for my walk.”

After arrival from Naples, we started our exploration in Marina Grande, the commercial harbour, where all the boats enter. Upon disembarking you will notice the typical architecture that stands out – especially noticeable is Palazzo Montefusco from XII century (In the past it was the summer residence of the king, then the building became an ancient convent and today it is inhabited by Procidani). The port itself is a social place where locals and tourists mix, grab a coffee with a view, or simply have a walk. You will find here plenty of bars, restaurants and shops where you can buy lovely souvenirs. We recommend stopping at the local bookshop Nutrimenti, Luigi Nappa gallery, and a little shop Fine House – selling local handicrafts and ceramics.  Our first stop was at bar Dal Cavaliere for a cappuccino and cornetto. It’s a historic pastry bar, a great place to relax while enjoying the excellent Italian-style breakfast.

Next, we followed Via Roma and arrived in Piazza di Sent’ Cò, which is the main area for important public events. Nearby stands Church of Santa Maria Della Pietà. We visited the interiors which features a single nave inside along with a series of side chapels decorated with multicoloured marble altars.

From the port we started climbing up onto Via Vittorio Emanuele, passing by the Church of San Leonardo. On this street, at number 53 you will find adorable, little perfume shop called Profumi di Procida. The owner Rosaria creates fragrances derived from the extracts and essential oils of local plants and citrus groves. A great spot to buy a local product like shower gel or body cream and indulge yourself with lemon scents. The walk continued until reaching Terra Murata – the highest point of the island. From here you can admire a breathtaking panorama of the Gulf of Naples. Terra Murata was an old village with its strategic point that became an inhabited area in the IX century after the barbarian invasions. In Via del Brogo you can still see the homes that represent a typical example of local architecture. 

Nearby we find D’Avalos Castle, from the 16th Century, also known as Palazzo Reale. The construction of this building was initiated by Cardinal Innico d’ Avalos d’Aragona. It was a residence of d’ Avalos family until the beginning of XVIII century. From D’Avalos Castle it was transformed to Palazzo Reale and then to military school and finally adjusted to become a prison.

The place we were interested in and heard a lot about was Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, (the patron saint of the island). This impressive complex was raised from a Benedictine monastery. It is possible to have a guided tour of the underground part including a library (cataloguing around 8000 volumes of printed texts and manuscripts and) some of them dating back to the XVI century.

In the Abbey, you can admire many works of art, including a painting depicting St. Michael defeating Satan that decorates the central part of the ceiling. Also, notice the terracotta floor from the XVII century that reveals tombstones that grant access to the underground.

After the visit, we moved towards Piazza Dei Martiri where we found a beautiful panorama and Sanctuary Santa Maria Delle Grazie”. The church was built in 1679 by the Archbishop Innico Caracciolo. And you can admire here the canvas of Madonna Delle Grazie. Nearby we found typical houses enclosed within the Casale Vascello. The complex is built around a large central courtyard to protect the population from Saracen attacks. Discovering this hidden gem was very special. We noticed that this medieval architectural construction and its houses have few characteristics: few openings to the outside, little balconies, external staircases, many arches and all are painted in colourful pastel shades.

Today’s walk was ended in Marina Corricella, an enchanting little port. The Corricella (from the Greek: kora kalè, “the beautiful place”), often has been chosen as the favourite set for film directors. It is a fishermen’s village, a small harbour but mainly a perfect refuge to stop by, grab a drink and soak in the atmosphere. The houses are all clustered together and feature their own terraces, flights of steps communal verandas, and all painted in pastel colours: yellow, pink, blue and green. The reason for the diversity of colours goes back to ancient times, when the fisherman and sailors, before returning, could see their own house from afar, easily distinguishing it from the others. Here in Coricella after exploration, we grabbed an aperitivo and then we had an excellent seafood-based dinner. It’s a must-stop on the itinerary, so make sure to make a reservation at one of the restaurants. We chose La Gorgonia. Then off to sleep. However, if you like nightlife, we would suggest you walk down to the port after dinner and have a few drinks. Marina awakes even more at night, with buzzing crowds of locals and tourists enjoying warm weather. 

For the second day, we planned a morning stroll at the beach Chiaia, our favourite beach. We were just chilling and had a quick swim with a fantastic view of Coriccella and Terra Murata. The scenery is truly outstanding, and it makes the whole experience unique.  In the afternoon we scheduled a visit to the Lemon farm, located near the old lighthouse. This is a special treat and a lovely experience to see the typical garden with lemons, oranges growing all around it. Included in the tour of the grounds was a tasting of local produce: Limoncello, Crema al Limone and Babà al Limoncello.

These products make a great souvenir so ensure to get a few bottles for yourself and loved ones. After the visit, we passed through vineyards and orchards and got to the top of the hill where we came upon a spectacular view over the Bay of Pozzo Vecchio (one of the ancient craters). Here located is the beach called “Spiaggia del Postino”, named in honour of the scenes shot in the film by Massimo Troisi. 

Today we continued the lemon experience and dined in La Pergola – located in a charming garden, consisting of an outdoor lounge under a beautiful lemon tree pergola. A quiet and cosy spot, where you are surrounded by nature, and try local cuisine.

Our third day started with a visit to Chiaiolella that has been the island’s tourist harbour for several decades now and is well-equipped for small boats (the touristic port is called Marina di Chiaolella). Here you come across not only beautiful boats but also stunning cliffs and cute restaurants and bars—an excellent spot for a pleasant stroll.

From this spot, we “jumped” onto the small, wild island of Vivara (or Vivaro), an environmental resource which since 1956 has been connected to Procida by a small bridge. In the past Vivara was visited a lot by hunters and artisans, now it’s popular with ecologists and archaeologists.

Vivara is a State Nature Reserve since 2002 and home to protected fauna and flora (protected since 1974). It is hosting 800 certified biotypes of plant, with hundreds of species of birds that that pass through or stay here. There is only one building, constructed in 1681 by Duke of Bovino, as a hunting lodge. If you are a nature lover and want to escape the rest of the world for a few hours, make sure to book a visit to Vivara and immerse yourself with its greenery.

This fantastic experience made us want to relax even more, so we head to Chiaollela beach. The beach is sandy and has incredible scenery you will immediately notice 2 Faraglioni rocks that stand out of the sea. We recommend stopping at Da Girone for a nice lunch by the sea. We tried their pizza that was super delicious. Then we went back to the beach.

In the evening, we still hanged around Chiaollela and had an aperitivo watching the sunset. We stopped at a spectacular spot called Maresia Solarium, a lounge bar, beach club and a garden on the Chiaollela beach. A real oasis of tranquillity and greenery. You can also come here during the day and enjoy their swimming pool with hydro massage, sunbeds. And private access to the sea.

The fourth day on the island began with breakfast at Bar Grottino. At this famous bar, you get the excellent “Lingue di Bue”, the traditional, local delicacy prepared with puff pastry filled with classic cream, usually flavoured with lemon. Then we hopped on a boat and took “giro di isola” an organised trip around the island. You can also rent a small boat or gommone (an inflatable boat) yourself or join a catamaran journey to nearby island Ischia or Capri. After that, we dined at Fammivento – at the port and then got farewell drinks at bar Capriccio. We took the evening boat back to Naples.

A few organisational things to point out:

  • Boats to from Naples: Take a hydrofoil (aliscafo – ticket office Snav) from Molo Beverello or ferry (traghetto – ticket office Caremar) from Calata di Massa
  • As for transport on the island, there are many possibilities. For us walking was the best option, but occasionally we took a local bus. There is also a possibility to rent a scooter or bikes.
  • Accommodation: Hotels: 

Albergo La Vigna – a 4-star hotel, overlooking the sea, situated a few steps away from Marina Grande. Its location is stunning, surrounded by lush vegetation and beautiful garden. 

San Michele Boutique Hotel – set in the colourful fishing village of Marina Corricella, brings an authentic luxury bohemian experience. Live in harmony with nature during your stay, in the rooms featuring a style of simplicity and comfort: raw wood furniture, wicker accessories and textured rugs and tapestry.

Le Suite Boutique Hotel – is a unique and stylish boutique 5-star hotel that combines luxury, design and comfort perfectly. Besides the luxurious amenities and historical value the spacious rooms, you will also find panoramic views and peaceful outdoor spaces.

Now it’s time to mention the local cuisine and highlight some dishes you should try. Procida as an island gets every day a large amount of fresh fish and seafood like anchovies, octopus, gilthead, sea bass, shell-fish and many more. So seafood platter is a must-try. Our favourite dishes are stuffed squid, grilled squid or an octopus salad. Another typical recipe is “Limone al Piatto”, also known as “lemon salad” (mix of lemon pith, garlic, chilli, mint & oil), very simply, regenerating and full of vitamins. Procidan lemons are very special, as they are quite big and have very thick rinds. 

As for meats, chicken and rabbit are the most popular. Try Coniglio Alla Procidana – rabbit with lots of onions, tomatoes and wine. Vegetables usually are used in pizzas, such as the one made with endives or artichokes. Our favourite vegetarian dish is “parmigiana di melanzane” (fried aubergines layered with cheese and tomato sauce) an absolute must! As for the sweets: try some biscotti al limone and finally a digestive liquore degli agrumi (citrus-based liquor).

We loved Procida for its genuine beauty, unpolluted nature and simplicity of life. It was quiet, full of charm and unique architecture. If you dream of a small oasis of tranquillity, make sure to plan a visit next year.