Procida – the enchanting isle!

…There are orchards and vineyards that look like imperial gardens. There are beaches of fine white sand and smaller beaches covered with pebbles and shells, hidden between great cliffs that overhang the water.  Seagulls nest in the rocks there, and wild tortoises, and in the early morning, you can hear the birds cries… On calm days the sea there is gentle and cool and touches the shore like dew.  If I could only get back there to splash about in those waters, I’d gladly become any sort of creature… Arturo’s Island – Elsa Morante (translated by Isabel Quigley)

The small island of Procida is part of the Partenopean islands that lie in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Gulf of Naples.

This enchanting island is only a 30-minute ferry ride from Naples however, it may as well be a million miles from the bustling mainland.

campania-map-8001
Map of Campania courtesy of Wandering Italy and James Martin

Steeped in mystery and legend, the island is full of beautiful panoramas and an old world romance that dials down any travel weariness in an instant.   Whether it’s the simple pleasure of swimming in the sea,  wandering the streets photographing the light between colourful buildings and sun-filled alleyways or its wild coastal beauty, Procida stirs something in the soul and is a place that a free-spirited heart can’t help but fall in love with.

Marina Grande

History

Like neighbouring Ischia, Procida has had a rich and turbulent past.

Procida was one of the first islands in the Gulf of Naples to be inhabited.  The small island of Vivara, linked to Procida by a bridge has been inhabited since around the 16th century BCE.  Procida was settled firstly by the Greeks of Mycenae and later the Cumani.

Following the Samnite wars, a series of battles between the Roman Republic and Samnites between  343 – 290 BCE,  Procida was ruled by the Roman Empire for over 700 years and became a fashionable resort and hunting reserve for the patrician class.

With the Western Roman Empire crumbling and the Byzantine reconquest, Procida remained under the jurisdiction of the Duke of Naples.  From 300 CE the island fell prey to barbarian invasions and was attacked by the Visigoths of Alaric,  the Genserico Vandals and  Lombards.

The Islanders would retreat to the fortified citadel on the promontory called Terra, to better defend and preserve the island and her inhabitants.

Palazzo d’Avalos – Terra Murata

From the 9th century, vicious attacks by the Saracen Pirates forced the Islanders to relocate to the peaks of Terra. Many islanders were captured and sold into slavery during these attacks.

In the 11th Century, with the Norman conquest of  Southern Italy, Procida came under the rule of the Da Procida family, who maintained control over the island for more than two hundred years.

In the 13th Century, Johnn III of Procida,  son of the Lord of Procida (John II) was a conspirator and leader in the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 which resulted in the division of the Kingdom of Sicily.

In 1339, the last descendants of the Da Procida family sold the feudal right (with the island of Ischia) to the Cossa family loyal to the Dynasty of Anjou, then reigning over Naples.

In the 16th Century, under Charles V, the island was confiscated and gifted to the family of d’Avalos d’Aquino of Aragon (1529), loyal to the House of Hapsburg.   Around this time Saracen Pirates continued to attack the island including the infamous pirate Barbarossa (1544). The d’Avalos family built a  wall to surround the fortress and protect the Islanders against invasion. The walled area later became known as Terra Murata (‘walled land’).

In 1734 the Bourbons confiscated the castle and  King Charles III of Spain turned the island into a royal hunting lodge and game reserve.  King Charles III also founded a thriving shipbuilding industry on the island and by the middle of the 1800s, about one-third of ocean-going wooden ships built in southern Italy were from Procida.

In 1799, Procida took part in the revolts that led to the proclamation of the Neapolitan Republic. **

In 1806, the Napoleonic Wars brought French occupation to the island as battles were waged at sea between the French and English, the French destroyed anything displaying the Procida family arms in retaliation for their murdered countrymen during the Sicilian Vespers.

In 1812 the French Romantic Poet, novelist and politician Alphonse Lamartine visited Naples where he met a young woman from Procida, a tobacco-leaf folder with who he developed feelings for.  Lamartine was recalled to France and learned his love died shortly after, her death at such a tender age affected the poet and Lamartine immortalised her in his novel Graziella – It tells of a young French man who falls for a fisherman’s granddaughter when they meet taking refuge during a storm on the island Procida.  Their love blooms but Graziella dies of sorrow when he returns to France and appears to have cast her aside.

During Procida’s naval domination, the population grew to around 16,000 inhabitants and by 1885, the small island provided a quarter of the country’s Merchant Navy.  The island is still famed for its shipbuilding, sailors, and fleets and the Istituto Tecnico Nautico Francesco Caracciolo is the oldest school for nautical studies in Europe.

In 1860, the year after the demise of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, the island became part of Italy.  Procida entered a golden era based on commerce derived from shipbuilding, it grew in reputation for its Captains, sailors and quality of shipbuilding.

The 20th century saw a decline in shipbuilding due to competition with large multinational industrialists.

Today, Procida remains an island of sailors and fishermen.  Many islanders are still sea captains on cargo ships, tankers and cruise ships or at the helm of their own ships as fisherman.

Tourism is a growing industry,  many families are renting out rooms and setting up business to cater for the increasing number of visitors who want to stay on the island.

Procida’s Beauty

Not as touristy as Ischia and often known as the anti-Capri, most of the islands idyllic villages are the Italy of your dreams, it is a place that has enticed writers, photographers,  artists and filmmakers to its shores.

With its open landscapes and beguiling sea views,  it has played a character in its own right in a number of contemporary novels such as Arturo’s island and Girl at Sea.

Procida’s  harbours and towns have provided the backdrop for films including Il Postino, the 1994 Oscar-winning Italian tale of love, poetry and politics.   The Bay of Corricella has been a location for scenes from the sinister story of obsession in the  Talented Mr Ripley and more recently the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

It is through film where I  fell in love with Procida; its tumble down coloured buildings, glittering harbour and rocky beaches in The Talented Mr Ripley piqued my interest and I knew I wanted to visit someday.

I am so glad we did visit,  as this wonderful island is a rare mix of tradition,  beauty and charm that doesn’t break the bank.

Marina Chiaiolella

On the ferry ride to the island on our first afternoon,  a sliver of crescent moon rose in the distance above Ischia and Procida, I turn to see the shadow of Vesuvius rising darkly against the glittering sunlight which casts the bay of  Naples in a golden glow.  I was completely awed by the beauty of it all.

Procida – Main port – Marina Grande

Arriving in the port of Marina Grande, the pretty decaying pastel buildings and glittering lights dance in the picturesque harbour dotted with fishing boats.  Bikes, scooters and taxi’s zoom along the streets.

 Locals say that the houses are painted by the fishermen in bright colours so they can easily see where the harbour is when they are out at sea; The romantics say they paint their houses in colour so their eyes can always find their way home to those that they love.

Procida – Main port – Marina Grande

For a small island, around 4 km’s, Procida has a large population (pop. 11,000-12,000)  living and working on the island.  It is not overrun with tourists, simply because there is no room to build large resorts or expand.  A fact which I think the local Procidani are quite happy with. Its lack of mass tourism,  resort developments and highrise towers have allowed the island to retain its rustic charm.

The winding streets of Procida

It is an idyllic island dotted with pretty lemon groves, orchards and vineyards.  The vines are mainly the forastera grape varietal which produces a soft, dry white wine. The lemons thrive in the volcanic soil with thick sweet skins and are sought after all over Italy.

The maze-like streets are perfect for finding pretty alcoves and sweeping panoramic views to photograph. There are handpainted mosaics everywhere and the colourful buildings provide endless Instagram inspiration.

Alcoves of hand painted mosaics are everywhere

A great way to spend an afternoon is meandering around the charming villages finding churches, shops and restaurants amongst the winding alleyways and hidden stairways.

Houses of Marina Corricella

One of my favourite afternoons was spent in Marina Corricella, the oldest village on Procida.  It is full of pretty pastel houses that look as if they are tumbling into the sea.

The architecture is pure Mediterranean, a blend of Roman and Byzantine design that is predominately arches and vaulted ceilings, with external staircases to maximise space.

High above the village, up on the cliff of the Terra Murata, the highest part of the island,  lies the deserted prison Palazzo d’alvalos.   Once a Royal Palace for the Bourbon family,  a military academy and a prison (1830-1988) it is now closed and its imposing walls and empty buildings stand as a silent sentinel looking out over the bay, a stark contrast to the cheerful homes below.

Marina Corricella – Fisherman

The pedestrian-only footpaths are dotted with buoys, fishing nets and ropes. Fishermen repair their nets as their boats sway with the tide and the seagulls cry above.  Lazy cats lie on the drying fishing nets or laze in windowsills amongst the flower pots.

The cafes and restaurants have written signs advertising the fresh catch of the day.

The happy cats of Procida

Food

If you are a fan of seafood Procida is a paradise.  Since many of the islanders are fishermen, the seafood is fresh and often purchased directly from the boats each afternoon.   The best part is, it is also cheap.

Seafood of Procida

The cafes and restaurants serve up uncomplicated dishes such as spaghetti marinara and limone al piatto (lemon salad) that are full of flavour.

The lemons of Procida are a perfect accompaniment to the seafood (and for making Limoncello !).

Each dish we had was delicious as a bonus we always had a table with a gorgeous view overlooking the water. Marina Coricella and Marina Grande have plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from.

Seafood of Procida

I still dream of the meals I had here and long to savour their delicate simplicity again.  As a seafood lover, I was in heaven.

One of our most memorable meals was had after a morning wandering around the island.

We found ourselves in Marina Corricella and liked the menu at  Ristorante Bar La Graziella.   Mr 77 and I had a long lazy lunch and the most spectacular fresh seafood feast.  Our waiter was funny and charming, the day was hot and hazy, the meal, the wine, the ambience made it pure perfection.

Ristorante Bar La Graziella

Other options to dine at are  La Locanda Del Postino a cafe/restaurant strewn with pictures and memorabilia from the movie Il Postino and where Jaime Oliver stopped to film a cooking segment.

For pretty views over the harbour and for great food, there is also the lovely Lampara 

Beaches

When you have had your fill of seafood and vino and need to sleep off your food coma,  or if you have just had enough exploring and want to relax, Procida has 6 beaches to choose from and all are lovely to while away the hours.

You can choose from Chiaiolella the longest beach, Il Postino  ( “Pozzo Vecchio”) named after the film, Cirracio, Chiaia is the best for families as it has shallower water, Silurenza is the sandiest beach and is located a short distance from Marina Grande and Lingua Beach which has views to the mainland.

Mr 77 and I liked Chiaia as after lunch it was a short walk from Corricella, although it was a bit of a hike down some steep steps.

Chiaia Beach

In peak times, you can hire a lounge chair and order beer and snacks from kiosks that open along most of the beaches.   Be warned the Summer days are hot so don’t forget your sandals or thongs (flip-flops) as the stones can get really hot and burn your feet!

We visited out of peak season in late September.  The beaches were uncrowded, the sand and water warm and an afternoon on the beach was the perfect antidote a few busy days exploring Naples.

Chiaia Beach
The stairs to get to the beach – definitely works off that lunch!

Procida is an easy day trip from Naples, yet I really think it deserves more time.

Like most islands, the pace of life on Procida is pretty laid back.  It is a wonderful place to stay to unwind.  I’d recommend 2-3 days if just visiting Procida or you could base yourself on the island for a week or two and alternate between day trips exploring  Procida, Ischia,  Capri and Naples.

After a few days unwinding on Procida, we found our mind and bodies relaxed and our hearts full of the romance of this enchanting island.  I hope you find it too.

How to get there:

Procida is a short ferry ride and easily accessible from  Naples and the island of Ischia. There are frequent ferry/hydrofoil services from the ports of Naples, Pozzuoli and Casamicciola on the mainland.

Procida does not have an airport or train station. You will need to fly into one of the mainland cities of Italy.   Most budget carriers fly into Rome.   Check out deals on Skyscanner

You can then catch a train to Naples from any major city.  The man in seat 61  will help with routes, times and prices.

You can get a car ferry from Naples and Sorrento out to Procida.

There are a number of lines and routes.  Prices vary depending on times and the season.

We used Caremar & Gestour Ferries and they were usually on time and efficient (unless of course, Naples are playing in the soccer – then there may be delays in service to allow people to get home from the game).  They service the Neapolitan islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida.

The ferries depart from Naples, Pozzuoli and Sorrento.    For all the latest information on all ferries check  www.ferriesonline.com

The trip takes about 30-40 minutes from Naples.

Car Ferries to Procida

Where to stay:

There is plenty of accommodation on Procida, the locals often rent out a spare room or apartment to make extra cash.

Mr 77 and I stayed in a  lovely  home of a local family  we found through Bookings – Procida Accommodation

Our accommodation consisted of our own room with bathroom, we shared a beautiful garden, filled with lemon groves, vineyards and orchids with our hosts.

 

Part Hacienda, part garden of Eden.

We’d start the day with a breakfast of fresh lemon preserve, eggs, bread, coffee and sweet pastries.

For a full list and reviews of the accommodation options on the island, click on the links below:

Bookings – Procida Accommodation

Bookings.Com

Airbnb Procida

Tripadvisor – Procida Accommodation

Where to eat:

Make sure you get to Marina Corricella if nowhere else.  There are a number of cafes/restaurants to choose from including the Cafe Il Postino and Ristorante Bar La Graziella if you don’t mind walking up the hill a little  Lampara offers gorgeous views over the town and harbour.

What to do:

Swim, explore, practice your photography, eat, drink and be merry.

Events & Festivals:

For a small island, the Procidani celebrate big.

Easter  – the Procession of the Mysteries or of the Dead- there are many easter processions in the Gulf of Naples, however, Procida’s Good Friday procession is the most famous in the region.

8 May- the island celebrates the anniversary of St Michael’s apparition to the villagers with a night procession.  The festival commemorates the night in 1535 when the Islanders were besieged by pirates, they retreated to Sant’Angel (Benedictine abbey) and prayed for salvation.   The patron saint heard their pleas and appeared in the sky with a fiery sword in hand to save his beloved Islanders.  At the first sight of a fiery sword-wielding angel, the pirates fled!

June – June sees the Procida Film Festival which was founded in 2013 –

August – Festival of the Sea – also known as Sagra del Mare Flegrea is a festival where a  procession called “Graziella” amongst the women of Procida compete to create the best dish and it commemorates the protagonist of the book “Graziella” that Alphonse Lamartine wrote in 1852.  The election of Graziella celebrates the gentle grace of the women of Procida dressed in old Greek-style costumes for the occasion. There is plenty of music, food and fun!

September – 29 September marks the celebration of St Michael, Procida’s Patron Saint.

November/December –  the  Festa del Vino is usually held.

Best time to go:

Mr 77 and I visited in September, the days were hot and languid,  the only downside was that it was a little hazy.   All the cafes were still open and trading.  It is a great time of year as the days are still warm, but not withering heat like August and the crowds have left so you almost have it to yourself!

August is the busiest month on Procida.

Tips for families:

It is a great island for walking, especially with older children and the beaches are relatively safe as there weren’t any big waves.

If you are travelling with smaller children and a pram, the streets of Procida are very narrow and scooters and cars whizz about, so you need to be careful of wayward toddlers.

Further Reading:

Some of the best information about the island can be found at the website Visit Procida.  Everything from transfers, attractions, restaurants, and museums, you can also book through this site. It also comes with a free mobile app with information on locations and an offline map, perfect for when the internet drops out!

Procida Net

For a great review of the history of Procida the Cadogan Guides Bay of Naples and Southern Italy give a wonderful overview of the whole region.

This site has a great 24 hours in Procida itinerary The local it

For local news, you can translate this site Il Procidano

 Map of the Island

Map of - cartina-procida

Books set on Procida:

Arturo’s Island

Girl by Sea: Love, life and food on an Italian island

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Graziella – A story of Italian Love

It tells of a young French man who falls for a fisherman’s granddaughter when they meet on the island of Procida taking refuge during a storm.  Their love blooms but Graziella dies of sorrow when he returns to France and appears to have cast her aside.

**Source Revolvy

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