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Ventotene Italy Travel Guide

Ventotene Italy Travel Guide

Ventotene Italy is a slice of paradise. An island located in the Lazio region, this little-known island is packed with adventure, nature, and history and you will not want to miss it on your next trip to Italy.

Ventotene is part of the Pontine Island Archipelago. You may have heard of the more popular Ponza Island, which is part of this network of islands. Ventotene is not far from Ponza and if you wanted to explore several different places on your trip, you could easily visit both in a week.

I visited Ventotene Island for a week to learn about the island’s Roman history, catch some of the migrating birds that stop along the island, swim in that beautiful turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea, and see what makes this place such a popular summer destination for Italians from Rome and Naples.

It’s worth noting that if you plan to visit the island on your own, very few people speak English. International tourism is still quite new to the island, although word is spreading fast.

You can certainly get by with Google Translate (be sure to download the dictionary so you can use it offline!) and simple English, but if you want to get deeper into the culture and history, you’ll want to hire a guide.

How to Get to Ventotene Italy

Getting to Ventotene Italy is easy, but perhaps slightly time-consuming.

You can easily tack it onto a trip to either Naples or Rome. If you want to experience the high speed train, it’s also not that far of a journey from Milan, Florence, or Bergamo.

If you are coming from Naples, you can hop straight on a ferry from Naples to Ventotene. It takes two hours to get between the two.

The ferries run five times a week, so it’s not ideal if you are time-sensitive, but you can check the ferry schedule on Ferry Hopper.

It’s a bit easier to get to Ventotene if you are coming from Rome. You will take a train from Rome to the city of Formia-Gaeta. From here, it’s about a 10-minute walk from the station down the hill to the ferry port. 

Ferries operate three times a day from Formia to Ventotene Italy. You can check the ferry schedule here. 

Of course, you can also take the train from Naples to Formia and then take the ferry from there if you want to get to the island on a day when ferries aren’t operating from Naples.

formia train station sign

The best way to get to Ventotene Italy is to catch the ferry from Formia. You can pretty easily get to Formia from Rome.

Getting Around Ventotene Island

Ventotene Island is quite small. At its widest area, it is 800 meters wide or about half a mile. It is about 3km in length or about 1.8 miles.

All this to say, it’s a very small island and 80% of the best thing to do in Ventotene are located around the same area near the main port.

Everything is walkable and you can get to most places in about 10-15 minutes walking. There are taxis available on the island if you want to get to the far end and you don’t want to walk.

You can take a car onto Ventotene Island. There is a car ferry at least once a day in either direction, but it is really not recommended. The roads are incredibly narrow. Most are really just one-lane roads and it tends to take even longer to drive on the island than it does to walk.

rocky land sticking out into the blue sea

The views from all over Ventotene Island are pretty incredible.

Climate in Ventotene Italy

The climate in Ventotene Italy is mild in the winters and nice and hot in the summers. The busiest time of year to visit is in July and August when temperatures hover around 25-30 degrees Celsius (77-86 Fahrenheit). There are days when you can expect it to feel much hotter, but thanks to the sea breeze, it tends to cool down after sunset.

I visited in May and it was already 21-23 Celsius (70-74 Fahrenheit) during the day. The sun was strong and it was a great temperature for swimming in the cool Tyrrhenian Sea. You can expect similar temperatures in September as well.

October and April are still quite warm, not changing too much except for in the evenings when you’ll want to grab a pair of trousers and a sweater or light jacket.

In the winter you can expect temperatures to hover between10- 13 degrees Celsius (55 Fahrenheit) during the day and slightly lower at night. There is usually a chilly wind in the air at this time of year.

It’s also worth noting that many places aren’t open in the winter months. May-October is when you will be able to visit most restaurants and hotels without a problem. 

views of the sea and island from B&B in Ventotene

The views from breakfast at our B&B in Ventotene, Le Parracine.

Best Ventotene Hotels

For a small island, there are actually quite a lot of Ventotene Hotels. 

I stayed at the absolutely stunning B&B Le Parracine. To book the hotel, you have to fill out a request form on their website, so booking isn’t totally guaranteed, but it’s worth trying to find availability for your dates. You can find the form and book the hotel here.

The B&B is a little bit away from the town, but still only a 5-minute walk down to the beach. Breakfast is served in the most incredible setting with views back over the ocean and nearby Santo Stefano Island. Unlimited coffee, a bowl of fruit, toast with homemade jams, and homemade cakes which varied each day.

A few other Ventotene hotels that have top reviews and are close to both town and beach are listed here.

  • Hotel Agave e Ginestra: For a true island escape, this hotel is tucked away closer to the other side of the island. You can still easily walk everywhere with the beach being about a 15-20 minute walk depending on how quickly you want to get there. The views out over the sea are breathtaking. Every room has a hammock outside to relax in the shade. A large buffet breakfast is included each morning. Rooms start at $95 USD per night. Book a stay at Hotel Agave e Ginestra here.
  • Hotel Villa Iulia: I walked past this hotel each morning in jealousy at the balcony views that this downtown hotel has. If you want to be right in the mix of the downtown area close to all of the restaurants and bars as well as a two-minute walk from the beach, this is where you’ll want to stay. Rooms are simply decorated, but you’ll be far more interested in the view out the windows than looking in at your room anyway. Breakfast is included each morning. Rooms start at $180 USD per night. Book a stay at Hotel Villa Iulia here.
  • La Casa in Piazza: If you plan to stay in Ventotene Italy for several days, you may want to consider an apartment like this one that allows you to self-cater a little bit. It’s located right in the main square which sounds like it could be busy, but unless you are visiting in August, then it’s a pretty mellow spot. You’re close to all of the best restaurants and the beach. In the off-season, you can snag the apartment for less than $90 USD per night. Book a stay at La Casa in Piazza here.
pink hotel building in ventotene island

Beautiful Hotel Villa Iulia that is perfect for getting between the restaurants, bars, and beach.

Brief History of Ventotene Italy

The name Ventotene was given to the island thanks to the near-constant winds that blow. “Vento” meaning wind and “tene” was the local dialect for there is.

Roman History in Ventotene Italy

Under Roman occupation, the island was called Pandataria. We first hear of the island in history when Roman Emperor exiles his daughter Gulia here for alleged adultery charges.

Don’t feel too sorry for her though, she lived in a palace with views over the sea. She had three entrances from the house out to the sea where she could swim.

She had a sauna, a swimming pool, and an ice bath to keep her healthy and there were slaves living in a separate part of the property who cooked and cleaned the palace while she was in “exile.”

First Settlers of Ventotene Italy

The modern history of Ventene begins on June 15th, 1772 when 28 families arrive to the island from the Campagna region. These are still some of the names that you find living on the island today.

It was something of a trick to send these families here. Their homes around Vesuvius were constantly being ruined and the government promised if they came to the island they would be given a house, land, and they wouldn’t have to pay taxes.

Well, they showed up and were indeed given land, but there were no houses on that land. They had to build the houses themselves. They were then exempt from paying taxes for only the first three years of living there. 

20th Century History in Ventotene Italy

In the 1920s, Ventotene once again became an island where exiles were sent. This time, they were political exiles.

Those that disagreed with the Fascist regime in any way were sent to Ventotene to live as prisoners. It was here that two political prisoners, Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, first came up with the idea that would launch the European Union that we know today. 

They wrote what is known as Il Manifesto di Ventotene, the Manifesto of Ventotene and it was snuck off the island by locals, piece by piece. Each tucked into a different pocket, down a sleeve or a trouser leg, in a sock.

If you visit Brussels and the European Parliament, you’ll notice that one of the main buildings takes its name from one of these men, Altiero Spinelli.

santo stefano island in the pontine islands

The views of Santo Stefano and the prison on the island are visable from the beach in Ventotene.

Best Restaurants in Ventotene Italy

There are so many wonderful restaurants in Ventotene, it is a tough decision if you’re only on the island for a short time. These are my absolute favorites and a few recommendations for what to try while you’re there.

Un Mare Di Sapori

Tucked away in the walls of the old Roman Port, this is not only a very cool setting in which to dine, but the food is exceptional. The family who own this restaurant also farm much of the land around the island, 10 hectares of it in fact. They grow lentils in particular as well as fava beans (broad beans), zucchini, fennel, and wild arugula.

I highly recommend the fava bean stew if you are visiting when they are in season. Any of their lentil dishes are absolutely divine. The zucchini parmesan is a nice lighter option that feels far more indulgent than it is and you absolutely must have their Torta Caprese. I loved it so much that I bought a slice to take home for Luke to try.

See its location on Google here.

zucchini parmesan

The incredible zucchini parmesan at Un Mare di Sapori.

La Terrazza di Mimi

If you’re looking for a restaurant that offers incredible food and the best views on the island, La Terrazza di Mimi is the spot. Grab a table by the window and enjoy a glass of Pandataria by Candidaterra (made right on the island by a local family!). 

The seafood is an absolute must at this restaurant with the locally caught scorpionfish being my absolute favorite. It’s a tender white fish that they cook to absolute perfection and mix with tagliatelle and a good swig of olive oil. You’ll be mopping it up with the fresh bread and perhaps ordering seconds.

The best dessert that I tried here was a lemon mousse. The mousse is slightly acidic, and slightly sweet, with a good balance of both. It has a crumbly base and then a coating of white chocolate to give a real melt-in-the-mouth feeling with each bite. 

See the location on Google here.

lemon shaped dessert on a blue plate

The amazing lemon dessert from Terrazza di Mimi that you absolutely must have when you visit Ventotene Island.

Restaurante Il Giardino

You’ll need to make a reservation here, especially if you are visiting in the high-season of July and August. But it is well worth the advance planning.

This is one of the best meals I had on the island not only because it tasted incredible, but also because the staff went above and beyond and the setting is magical at sunset.

We had an absolute feast here with canapes of smoked mackerel and cheese mousse. Then we had a light salad which was made with the most fragrant and flavorful greens that came from their garden.

There was fennel, mint, rocket (arugula), and spinach and they were all so packed with flavor you almost didn’t need a salad dressing.

Then there was the lightly cured hake and the main event that followed, a scorpionfish which was deboned tableside. It felt like I was at my grandparent’s house and the show that was put on when the fish was brought out and tossed with the pasta was almost as good as the flavor of the dish.

I can’t recommend this spot enough and I will without a doubt be taking everyone here when I return to this island with family and friends.

See the location on Google here.

man holding a plate of fish in Ventotene restaurant

The tableside showing of the delicious fish at Il Giardino.

Mar Pizza

For a quick and cheap meal, this is a fantastic option. You can’t come to Italy and not have a little bit of pizza.

For something a little bit different, try the tiella. Made with the same dough as the pizza, it is stuffed in the middle with scarola (a local chard), onions, and anchovies. 

I also really loved the focaccia that was topped with onions and potatoes. You can’t go wrong with any of their focaccia or pizza options. It’s a great stop before you have to get back on the ferry to the mainland.

See the location on Google here.

Best Things to do on Ventotene Island

There are so many wonderful things to do on the island. However, as I mentioned above, many of these things are best done with a guide rather than on your own. In fact, some of this are only possible to do with a guide.

I cannot recommend K’Nature Wildlife enough for any of your plans for visiting Ventotene (as well as a few other locations around Italy). Andrea of K’Nature has been spending his summers on the island for his entire life. He is basically a local and he will show you a side of the island you will never be able to see on your own.

woman holding a bird in her hand

Learning about the bird migration and the way that scientists are tracking the migrating birds was such a fascinating experience.

1. Bird Watching

Ventotene Italy is one of the most important places for migratory birds between North Africa and Northern Europe.

Each spring Ventotene is one of the first stops for migratory birds on their way North. Thanks to the abundance of fields and fruit, it is the perfect pitstop to refuel and rest for many different birds. 

As birds head south in the autumn, you can get a glimpse of birds that are very rarely seen in this part of Europe as you see the young birds on their first migration often getting a bit lost along the way.

Thanks to its location in the Mediterranean and along this migration route, it is a perfect place for bird watching and more importantly, for studying migration patterns. On the island, you can explore the Migratory Bird Museum.

If you head here with a tour (like the one I came on with K’Nature), then you may actually get a chance to have an up-close glimpse at the process of tagging the migrating birds and learn about what data is being collected on the birds. 

Check out the Bird Weekend on offer with K’Nature here.

inside the roman cisterns in Ventotene

Paintings and a small altar inside the Roman cisterns in Ventotene.

2. Roman Cisterns

When I first heard we were going to see some Roman cisterns, I wasn’t really expecting to see much. Cisterns are just big containers for water, right?

Never underestimate the Romans. 

This is so much more than that and so historically significant for the island as well.

This is a network of tunnels that took 25 years to complete and learning about how the water was cleaned (and kept clean as it sat still underground) and how it was delivered to the different locations around the island was so fascinating.

The tunnels were used as a hideout and home for many over the years following the time of the Romans. There are beautiful drawings and even names of people who have worked underground here as well as altars that were chiseled into the walls by monks who found refuge here.

This article goes into quite a bit of detail with regards to how the cisterns worked so well on the island if you want to learn more.

If you speak Italian, you can book a tour with Silvana by calling or messaging her here: +34 6299 69146. Otherwise, you will need to book with a local tour operator who can translate for you.

entrance to the ocean through roman ruins in ventotene

One of the entrances in the Roman ruins of Villa Giulia out to the sea.

3. Villa Giulia

Villa Giulia is without a doubt one of the coolest places on the island if you are interested in Roman history. 

I spoke a bit about the villa above in the history section, but this is the home where Giulia lived when her father, Emperor Augustus, sent her into exile for supposed adultery.

The villa sits at the edge of Punta Eolo with sweeping views of the sea in three directions. Eolo was the Roman god of wind, so you can imagine how it must’ve felt here each day.

The villa was really more of a complex than a single home. There were slave quarters that were hidden well behind a water feature that had been built to look like a waterfall. 

The villa had easy access right out to the sea with doors designed to be in specific places to allow for easy viewing of the sunrise and sunset. There was a hot room, a cold room, and a swimming pool. 

The ruins remain just that, mostly ruins that have not been rebuilt except for in a few places. However, Elena is a wonderful guide who speaks English quite well and is an excellent storyteller of this history. 

You can visit Villa Giulia as part of the bird watching weekend with Andrea of K’Nature

reconstructed area of roman ruins

Some of the reconstructed pool and sauna area in Villa Giulia.

4. Cala Nava

The main beach on the island is the perfect place to spend the day. If you visit during the shoulder season in May or September, you’ll likely have the beach almost completely to yourself.

When you are above it in the town, it looks quite far down, but it’s about a two-minute walk from the main square and it’s not quite as steep as it seems at first.

The cove is perfect for swimming because the water is incredibly calm, so you can swim a few laps, float in the sea or just pop in to cool off.

I highly recommend heading over to the far left side of the beach (if you are facing the sea) so that you can discover the Roman pools. They carved deep holes into the rocks and used them to make salt.

The water would crash up onto the rocks and collect in these pools and when the tide went back out, the sun would evaporate the water leaving behind salt.

The larger of the two rocks in the bay is also a nice place to swim to if you feel confident about swimming out that far. There are steps on the rock to allow you to easily get out of the water and take a little break in the sun.

See the exact location of Cala Nava on Google here.

view of cala nava beach ventotene italy from above

Views of Cala Nava from above as you make your way down to the beach.

5. Snorkeling or Diving

Thanks to being a marine protected area, the waters around Ventotene Island and Santo Stefano are a wonderful place to see marine life.

I went snorkeling with Diving World Ventotene. They had a very friendly and professional team with a boat driver as well as a guide in the water. The equipment was in excellent condition.

Depending on the time of year, I recommend going for a full-length wetsuit, even if you are just snorkeling. There were a fair few jellyfish in the water that day, but it also started to feel quite cold by the end. If you plan on being in the water for more than 20 minutes or so, you’ll want a full-length wet suit.

You can contact Diving World through their website here. Even though the website is in Italian, they spoke quite a bit of English here and I would feel perfectly fine going on a dive with these guys if I return to the island.

view of ventotene from the water

The brick structure you see is Villa Giulia and I snapped this photo while we were on a boat trip around the island.

6. Boat Trip Around the Island (and Santo Stefano)

At the time of writing this, it is currently not possible to actually get onto Santo Stefano Island. The island is uninhabited but is home to a derelict prison that seems like a very cool place to explore.

It hasn’t always been closed and there is talk that the island will open again (a luxury hotel even wants to purchase the property where the old prison currently sits!).

However, you can take a boat trip around it or snorkel the area. A boat tour around Ventotene usually includes a close-up of Santo Stefano as well so you can get a better look at the prison.

The boat tours tend to leave from the new port where the ferry comes into and you do a counter-clockwise tour of the island looking at private inaccessible beaches, learning about the different volcanic rock that makes up the island, and doing plenty of bird spotting along the way as well.

If you want to take a boat tour and you speak Italian, you can book directly with Francesco by contacting him on Instagram here.

You obviously don’t need to speak Italian to simply enjoy the views as you explore, but if you want to learn all that Francisco has to teach you about the island, you’ll want to bring a local guide to help you translate.

volcano rock island in italy

Taking a boat ride around the island was such a wonderful way to see a different side of the island, to enjoy a bit of sunshine, and to learn more about the history and geology of this volcanic island.

Ecotourism on Ventotene Island

I visited this island with the MEET Network and this program, in particular, is part of the DestiMED PLUS program.

The MEET model of ecotourism development is driven by the protected area where the tour is located. In this instance, that is the Ventotene and Santo Stefano Marine Protected Area.

All decisions that go into creating the itinerary of the tour are based on sustainability, conservation, and benefiting the local community as much as possible. 

These ecotourism packages are completely unique and are not offered elsewhere in the area. They have been crafted specifically for the DestiMED Plus program and are focused on using only local guides, hotels, and restaurants.

They are nature-based and focused on local cultural activities to give you a truly immersive experience. All of the components of the tour including transportation, food, tour activities, and even hotels are measured to minimize environmental impact and maximize socio-economic impact in the community.

This really is everything I try to focus on when I plan my own trips, so to be able to find a program that is aligning so much with my own travel philosophy was really wonderful and I can’t wait to check out some of their other tours as well in the future.

You can read more about the different MEET Network programs here.

Watch My Video From Ventotene Italy Here