procida-the-gulf-of-naples-best-kept-secret

Unspoiled by tourism, Procida lacks the crowds of Capri yet rivals the beauty of Positano and Portofino. In a mere 24 hours, Italy’s off-the-radar island seduces us with la dolce vita.

Tucked in the Gulf of Naples, the small islet of Procida is often bypassed by those making a beeline for Capri. Yet for in-the-know travellers, its pastel-coloured houses and cobblestone streets offer respite from crowds of Italy’s more popular islands. It’s small wonder that Procida was chosen as the romantic backdrop for the 1999 film of The Talented Mr Ripley.

After an hour’s boat journey from Naples, I disembark at Marina di Procida where my friend Nico – the founder of Visit Procida – picks me up in a small Fiat, naturally. The streets here are so narrow and steep that locals drive with their side mirrors tucked in – if they haven’t been knocked off already. You can’t be too precious about your car on this island.

After a short ride, Nico leads me down a maze of steep steps to the centre of Marina di Corricella, a picturesque fishing village accessible only by foot. Dating back to the 17th century, it’s the island’s oldest neighbourhood. Houses here cascade down the cliff, forming a pastel-hued jigsaw puzzle that rivals the beauty of Positano and Portofino. Fishermen, Nico tells me, paint the houses in such vibrant colours so they can identify theirs from the sea.

I’m staying in a refurbished traditional fisherman’s house managed by Gioia Apartments, and I couldn’t ask for better views. Looking out, I see the yellow dome of the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie rising from behind colourful houses.

Dinner time. On my doorstep is a host of family-run restaurants, each with menus offering a bounty of fresh local produce. As I tuck into a plate of sea urchin spaghetti at Ristorante Gorgonia, I know I chose a good one; each forkful marries the essence of the sea and of Italy.

I’ve fallen hard for Procida. From the restaurant terrace, I gaze out at fishing boats bobbing on the sea and feel a salty breeze as the sun sets on the horizon. There are a few people out and about, but the atmosphere is calm and peaceful. I breathe in Procida’s authenticity, beauty and simplicity, and wonder to myself how it has escaped most travellers’ radars.

In the morning, I rise to the sound of seagulls, church bells and the chit-chat of the first fishermen heading out to the sea. After a coffee on my rooftop terrace, I head out to explore the island. My first stop is the hauntingly beautiful Palazzo d’Avalos, the ruins of a 16th-century fortress which served as a royal palace for the House of Bourbon before being converted to a prison in 1830 by Ferdinand II – it continued to function as such until 1988. There’s no ticket office on site, so I meet my guide at the main gates and she opens the prison just for me.

Later, as I walk down the hill on which the Palazzo d’Avalos sits, I stumble upon what is considered the best panoramas of Marina di Corricella. At the top of Via Salita Castello, I find two rusty canons aiming, somewhat framing, a view that stretches across the island. This is my Instagram shot.

When hunger strikes, Nico and I decide to visit Prodica’s oldest restaurant: Crescenzo. Set in Marina Chiaiolella, it’s on the opposite side of the island to Marina di Corricella – thankfully barely more than a mile away, so our walk takes just 30 minutes.

Every step is worth it. After a veritable feast, I sit on Crescenzo’s terrace, my glass of wine backdropped by small fishing boats mingling with luxurious yachts in the marina. Beyond that I spy the natural reserve of Vivara, a separate island connected to Procida by a long bridge. The reserve is privately owned with no official public opening times, so you’ll need a little luck to be able to visit it.

On the return to my apartment, I amble through the tangle of streets, stopping at some shops on the way. A pair of earrings from Hipster Customize, which customises vintage pieces, and a bottle of Italian wine from Enoteca Borgo Antico seem like the perfect souvenirs.

With just a few hours left on the island, there’s no better way than to say goodbye than by having a drink at Marina Grande, the island’s main port. I meet Nico at Bar Capriccio, frequently chosen by the locals for its wide selection of craft beer. The owner can help you choose your poison and, with luck, he may have some of his own homemade beer for you to try. Not into birra? It serves a great Aperol spritz too.

As I head back to my apartment, aware that this is my last time strolling around the alluring streets of Procida, I realise that this island has truly won my heart. I was only here for a day, but I felt as if I was lost in the pages of a beautiful novel.

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