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After a fabulous 4-day road trip through Ireland it was time to move on to our next stop, Italy! The plan was to spend the first week along the Amalfi Coast before working our way up to Tuscany (where we got married) for our anniversary.
We flew from Dublin to Naples via Paris and made the most of a 10-hour (intentional) layover to take the train into the city and enjoy a perfect summer day in the French capital. The only down side of spending the day in Paris was that we didn’t arrive in Naples until nearly 11pm, meaning that we’d have to spend the night before taking the ferry to our first stop, the island of Procida.
Procida has been on my radar since my well-traveled friend, Janice, visited several years ago. She posted days worth of drool-worthy pictures of pastel-colored homes cascading down a cliff to sparkling blue seas below. I immediately added Procida to my Bucket List and this seemed like the perfect place to start our Italian holiday.
But first, Naples
The only down side of visiting the Amalfi Coast is its gateway…the (in my view) seedy city of Naples. Yes, yes, there are some lovely parts to Naples. And I visited there alone on RTW #4 and had no issues. In fact, I quite enjoyed it.
But I’m afraid Naples isn’t the safest place for tourists these days. Pickpockets are rampant and we later even spoke to an Australian couple on the train who had seen a tourist mugged in broad daylight the day before. So, when you visit (if you have to), watch your back.
Due to the late hour we landed, we were lucky to find a taxi into the city at all. Only a handful of taxis awaited our full flight. We were grouped by a driver with another American couple going to a hotel near ours. We knew we’d pay more than we would have during the day, but were still slightly surprised when he later demanded twice the fare on the meter…from each couple.
Welcome to Naples…
A Sweet Sleep in Naples
But all was forgotten when we walked into our hotel. For our one night stay in Naples, we booked the Sweet Sleep B&B, located right across the street from the central train station. We were greeted cheerfully by the couple at the front desk and quickly given the keys to our room along with some directions for taking the train to the ferry terminal in the morning.
When we told them we were headed to Procida they said, “Oh, it’s so beautiful, we were just there yesterday!” They added that most of their guests head straight for Capri and they just couldn’t understand why everyone thought Capri was so wonderful with its fancy shops and hoards of tourists. They much preferred the tranquil beauty of Procida.
It’s always a good sign when a place is a local favorite and based on their glowing recommendations, we couldn’t wait to get there the next day. But first, some rest.
All of the rooms at Sweet Sleep have clever names instead of numbers. Our room was the “Joker Room” and it was circular in shape, modern – yet cozy in design – and incredibly spacious. But the best part was the bed with its sublimely-comfortable Tempur-Pedic mattress (hence the B&B’s name). We’d been subjected to a series of rock-hard beds in Ireland, so it was a welcome change, especially for Dave.
Getting to Procida
The next morning, we decided to sleep in a bit since we’d arrived so late the night before. We couldn’t check into our accommodations on Procida (a boat!) until the afternoon anyway. We enjoyed breakfast on the rooftop terrace of the hotel overlooking Naples and then booked the noon ferry. At 11am we walked across the street to the train station and hopped on the train for two stops to make our way to the Beverello Port.
We got a little bit lost finding the right ferry terminal, but managed to make it onto the boat just in time for departure. It was a pleasant 40-minute cruise across the Bay of Naples and as we approached the port in Procida, the chaos and grime of Naples melted into the horizon behind us.
Positively Perfect Procida
The second we stepped off the ferry in Procida’s Marina Grande, it was love at first sight.
We marveled at the Disney-esque pastel-hued storefronts along the water. It was like a dream. “How have tourists missed this incredible place all these years?” I thought. Wait, how have I missed this place all these years? After more than a dozen trips to Italy, it seems this magical country still holds some surprises.
We continued down the main street hugging the waterfront in search of the cinema where we’d planned to meet our hosts. “It’s the only cinema on the island” they said, “you can’t miss it.” And they were right, as we made our way toward the boats in the marina, we came upon the island’s lone movie theater.
Where to stay on Procida
For our stay on Procida, my friend Janice had highly recommended the island’s top boutique hotel, the Hotel La Casa sul Mare. But, not surprisingly, it was booked solid over our dates.
It was time to get creative. After an exhaustive search, we decided on a more unusual style of accommodation, a boat. Actually, you might even call it a small yacht. Though the word yacht makes it sound fancy…and expensive. It was neither. But it did turn out to be absolutely adorable!
While looking at hotel options on Booking.com, I’d discovered the “Malbicas Boat” and the pictures sold us on the idea. After all, can you get a better water view than from a boat? I think not! Not to mention the idea of sleeping on a boat while on an Italian island just seemed too good to pass up. (2020 Update: Unfortunately, this boat is no longer taking reservations.)
Dave and I have been working on a long-term plan to buy a boat to explore Europe or the Caribbean someday and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try getting our sea legs for a couple of nights to see if we’d even like it.
I admit we were a little nervous about choosing it as a hotel option for our stay. We’d never rented a boat before and were concerned about whether it would feel cramped or smell damp.
But we shouldn’t have worried. It turned out to be everything we had hoped for. Outside the theater, we met up with the couple who owned the boat and they walked us to the correct slip in the marina. Like the island, itself, we fell in love with the boat at first sight.
The boat was about 40’ long and had three cabins, a salon area, a fully-equipped galley and several deck spaces for sunbathing, watching the sun set or just enjoying the view. And what views! In one direction, spectacular views of Procida’s charming Porto; and in the other direction, Mount Vesuvius!
And the boat itself was as charming as it was immaculate. The owners gave us a brief overview of how to use everything (including a marine toilet!), showed us where we could pick up some groceries and then left us to enjoy the day.
As we unpacked and settled in, Dave and I were both stricken with a severe case of perma-grin. Neither of us could stop smiling, we had arrived in our own Italian paradise and we couldn’t wait to get out and explore.
We needed to secure some “provisions,” as the sailors call them, but the market the boat owners had pointed out was still closed for a few more hours (pretty much everything shuts down mid-afternoon on Procida) so we set off on foot to explore the town while we waited for the shops to open.
Getting around Procida
Procida is made up primarily of three harbors. The first is Marina Grande (or the Porto), where the ferries arrive and where we stayed. The second is the most famous and the one you’ll find on postcards of Procida, Marina Corricella. Marina di Chiaiolella is located at the far end of the island. It’s smaller and less crowded but also worth a visit.
It’s an easy walk between Marina Grande and Marina Corricella, though the narrow streets often mean flattening yourself to the side of the nearest building each time a car passes by. For the less adventurous, the island does have a convenient bus service which runs frequently. The little buses can be picked up by the church in the main port or near the ferry jetty. Tickets can be purchased directly from the driver but are less expensive if purchased in advance at a bar or tabacchi.
For our first afternoon on the island, we decided to stick close to our new floating home and explore the shops and restaurants of Marina Grande.
It was nearly 2pm and we quickly discovered that many of the restaurants were already closed for lunch service. We managed to find a waterfront restaurant called Fammivento that was still open and packed with a local crowd so we sat down for lunch before continuing on.
Our first meal on Procida was lengthy and superb and afterward we walked in and out of a few newly re-opened shops before making our way back to the market to pick up some groceries for the boat.
Limoncello – locally produced all over the Amalfi Coast region – was at the top of the shopping list and we selected a brand made right here on the island along with some other sustenance essentials before heading back to the boat for a post-lunch rest.
Before we knew it, the sun was beginning its descent and we couldn’t resist settling in barefoot on the forward deck with our now-chilled limoncello to enjoy the show. It was a stunning sunset and the 360 degree views from the boat made it even more spectacular. Yep, I’m starting to think we could really get used to life at sea.
Day #2 on Procida – Marina Corricella
The next morning there was just one thing on my list…I was dying to see Marina Corricella! We slept in a bit, took surprisingly comfortable showers in the small but efficient master head and made breakfast in the galley before heading out for the day.
We opted to walk since it was a lovely morning and we wanted to explore the streets of the city on the way. It was a short, somewhat hilly walk between the two ports, but easy to navigate thanks to well-placed signs.
While Procida isn’t known for any specific cultural attractions, the Terra Murata is considered the island’s best historic site. As Procida’s oldest settlement and the highest point on the island, it has served as a fortress, a monastery and even a prison. But today, it’s the best spot for those postcard-perfect views of the island.
Before descending the stairs down to the harbor, we headed up the hill to take in the island’s best viewpoint along the walls of Terra Murata. And WOW, what a view!
From above, the colorful, slightly ramshackle buildings brought to mind a swirl of cotton candy with their Pepto-Bismol pink, powder blue & lemon-yellow facades. Fishing boats bobbed lazily in the azure harbor below and as I looked around, the whole scene was like something out of a movie.
In fact, Procida has been the setting for several films including Il Postino and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Signs posted around the island proudly tell the story of their cinematic history.
After making the rewarding hike up and taking some frame-worthy photos of Marina Corricella, we made a stop at the Abbazia di San Michele. The main chapel is packed with art and guided tours (which weren’t available during our visit) take visitors down into the cliffs through the lower levels of the abbey. Like most things on Procida the open hours are limited and unpredictable, so it’s best to call ahead if the tour is high on your list.
From the Terra Murata, we descended the endless stairs down to the Marina Corricella. The picturesque fishing harbor is dotted with cafes and restaurants but its best feature is the relaxed, local vibe provided by the island’s fishermen tending to their boats and nets. They are assisted by an assortment of island cats who appear to spend their time choosing between napping in the sun and searching out their next free seafood meal.
We stayed in Marina Corricella for lunch by the sea and enjoyed another outstanding local meal – spaghetti with lemon, garlic and olive oil (they put lemon in just about everything in this part of the country!).
After lunch, we took a leisurely stroll through the main town and then spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and stellar views from the deck of the boat.
The evening brought another gorgeous sunset and one final delicious meal in town. By the end of day two we were certain about our decision to buy a boat. And even more certain that we would use it to return to this incredible island someday.
Leaving our Italian paradise
It’s difficult to put into words the shabby beauty of Procida. Sure, much of the island could use a fresh coat of paint. But that’s all part of its authenticity and charm. It’s real Italians living their daily lives and paying little, if any, attention to the few tourists passing through.
Due to frequent ferry service, most visitors arrive on a day trip from Naples, Ischia or Capri. They assume that due to its petite size, Procida can easily be seen in a day. Seen? Physically maybe, but to really appreciate the island’s appeal you’d have to spend a few nights.
Walk the quaint, narrow streets long after the day-trippers have gone or dine with local families in a seaside trattoria. Settle in with an early morning cup of coffee to watch the island’s fishermen return in their brightly-colored boats laden with the morning’s catch.
It’s a slower pace of life here and easily a place Dave and I could see spending weeks if not months. Hopefully someday on our own boat.
But for now, it’s time to board a different boat and move on to our next stop. We’ll be spending the rest of our week on the Amalfi Coast in Positano, but first, a ferry to the island of Ischia for an overnight stay on the way.
Ciao for now lovely Procida….we’ll be back.