36 miles from Formia, 23 miles from the Circeo promontory. Off the Gulf of Gaeta, in a Tyrrhenian Sea talked about in various myths, a tuff siren stretches placidly on the horizon. Whispering, to the sailors of May, a thousand good intentions for the coming summer. We talk about Palmarola, the westernmost of the Pontine islands: wild, collected, enchanted, suspended on motionless mirrors of emerald water. But above all uninhabited: given that the 7 miles away from the older sister island Ponza, once covered in half a day by rowing or latin sail (today 50 minutes of goiter are enough) have been enough over time to make it inaccessible, at least in the bad weather season.
136 hectares of surface, declined in a series of very green hills, not a village, not a road, a single safe landing place, that of the large pebble beach of Cala di Porto, a single restaurant with a handful of rooms; a single one, very private villa. Stable inhabitants established over the centuries, (small group of hermits apart): one, San Silverio, glorious pope sent into exile by the Byzantines and died here in 538 d. C. To whom a special stack and a small chapel are dedicated: from where every first Sunday in June the celebrations in honor of him begin in a suggestive ceremony on the sea. Became in the meantime, by popular acclaim, the patron saint of the archipelago and keeper of shipwrecked and sailors: to the point of appearing to help them. In short, Palmarola as an island “that does not exist”, a former volcano with an imposing nature, a safe haven from the madding crowd. Even considered by Folco Quilici, certainly not the last freshwater sailor, "one of the most beautiful emerged lands on the planet".
And in fact, the crystal water of Cala Brigantina, a true natural swimming pool sheltered by the long Suvace rock (the fish sole, in Ponza dialect), leaves you speechless, going to sea in the warm spring air. But also, further south, the intense blue of the Grotta di Mezzogiorno, inside the stack of the same name. Together with the bright black of obsidian, the object of precious trades in antiquity, set in spots (unique in the Mediterranean!) On the majestic rocks of the Galere, on the west side.
Everywhere Palmarola, in revealing itself by navigating below the coast, shows off its volcanic DNA: from the gray basalt of the rocks to the imposing flying buttresses of the Cathedral (le Cattedrale), a "Gothic-style" rock formation near Cala Tramontana that rises from the blue of the seabed. Higher up, along the cliffs, when the ocher of the tuff is overwhelmed by vegetation, the green of the euphorbias, heather, mastic, dwarf palms / palme nane (hence the name!) And, everywhere, the yellow of the local broom explodes, so tough that it deserves the name of 'uastaccetto, ruina hatchet, because of its very hard wood.
Possibilities of trekking on the island? Very few. Of the four paths of the past, only one is still partially practicable. Not signposted, it starts from Cala dei Vricci (breach / breccia, brecciolina in Ponzas dialect) and climbs up through the dense vegetation up to a belvedere overlooking Cala del Porto, on the western side. Scratches aside, the yield is worth the effort: because from up here, thanks to the amazing blue water, the stones of the bay can be counted one by one.
But how has Palmarola been able to remain Palmarola over the decades? The distance from the mainland has undoubtedly played its part: helping to make any type of construction works difficult, with almost 80 km of open sea. But the ponzesi contributed a lot, very attached to their rocks. And to their lands: divided into very parceled properties, Palmarola, although not permanently inhabited, was regularly cultivated up to 50 years ago, especially by women. Who, with sturdy hands and steel hardening, drew wheat, barley, grapes, fruit and lentils from the well-tended terraces. Even catching lobsters.
As evidence of their ancient presence, the cave-houses scattered in some parts of the island, dug into several rooms in the friable rock, now fairly equipped, second home to many Ponza families, rarely rented to Spartan tourists. The same applies to all of that 'ncoppa Vardella, above Capo Vardella, in a super panoramic position overlooking the water and for this reason called il Nido del Gabbiano / the Seagull's Nest. Where on spring Sundays it is easy to come across groups of young Ponzesi, who arrived the night before with boats, intent on fishing or cleaning wild asparagus. "Ponza? For us it is the mainland: the island is Palmarola", explains one of them. "Our origins, our freedom are here ... and we return here as soon as possible, even in winter". Time permitting, of course: because even in times of powerful outboards, storm surges can prevent crossings back home. But in these cases we rely on the only true inhabitant of the island.