The Italian islands of Procida and Salina are individually charming, justifying their role as locations for famous romantic films such as 'Il Postino'
In one year the postman knocked twice. One of my favourite romantic films is Michael Radford’s Il Postino (The Postman, Miramax DVD) and I was inspired to visit the film's two main locations. Could these Italian islands live up to the charm and atmosphere of the original film?
Procida, a small island of four square kilometres, lies in the bay of Naples and is reached by a 40 minute hydrofoil journey from the Molo Beverello quayside in Naples. Carrying little luggage, we had the luxury of strolling past the fishing boats up the winding streets which snaked to the cluster of pink houses that overlooked the harbour of Marina di Corricella on the other coast. Nearby, our hotel, La Casa sul Mare (double with breakfast and sea view €99) had a restrained entrance that was at odds with the expansive, warm welcome we received from the manageress. Am I exaggerating in claiming that the breathtaking view from the terrace down to the Bar La Taverna del Postino and harbour below, while eating the sumptuous breakfast, challenged any in the Mediterranean? For us it was the perfect room with a view, and the photograph tries to capture the scene.
In the film most of the love story is set in the bar and it is easy to imagine how the relationship would prosper whilst sitting outside it, in the sun, sipping prosecco. Next door, Graziella’s Bar (Marina Corricella, 14; +39 081 896 74 79) develops the cinematic theme in the form of the flamboyant owner, Vincenzo, a former film extra. Lunch of bruchette, mozzarella, peppers and aubergines was an hors d’oeuvre to anecdotes about stars like Sophia Loren, Matt Damon and Jude Law. Around the village we enjoyed spotting the square of Piazza dei Martiri where they had mocked up the post office and frequently wandered along the Via San Rocco, the setting for political meetings in the film. Close by also was the church of St Michael the Archangel with its spooky crypt and musty sixteenth century library. The village was steeped in tradition and also doubled for key locations in The Talented Mr. Ripley. At night the scene becomes even more attractive with the fishing boats chugging away from the harbour and the locals performing their ritual evening stroll.
Some of the best restaurants were in Marina Grande such as Il Cantinone, Via Roma 55/58 (+39 081 896 88 11). We had delicious starters of smoked swordfish, tuna, and marinated anchovies followed by pasta with courgettes and mussels, as well as grilled calamari. With salad and Ischian wine it came for both of us to a reasonable €55. Night time entertainment is appropriately low key, with people-watching, from bars like Capriccio’s, Via Roma (+39 081 896 95 06) being high on the agenda.
Beach scenes are significant in the film and we caught a bus in Marina Grande to Marina Chiaiolella’s black volcanic sands. From here, after stopping off for a tasty lunch at Hotel La Tonnara, (Via Marina Chiaiolella 51, tel +39 081 810 10 52, www.latonnarahotel.it ) and visiting the nature reserve at Vivara, we walked to the ‘Postino beach’, Spiaggia del Pozzo Vecchio. It was very pleasant sitting on the beach but it did not seem to quite tally up with our memories of it in the film. Where were the cliffs and the steps?
The mystery was solved when later in the year we travelled to Salina, one of the Aeolian Islands situated off Sicily. We had flown to Catania with British Airways (www.britishairways.com) stayed overnight at the friendly San Placido Inn (double with breakfast €55) and then caught a bus to the port of Milazzo. A two hour journey by hydrofoil brought us to the port of Santa Marina from where it was a short taxi ride to our hotel, Hotel A Cannata. Our decision to choose the half-board option was fully justified with delicious home-cooked meals like pasta with vegetables followed by fried fish with capers, green salad, fruit and local Malvasia wine.
The next morning after purchasing a day ticket for the SITA bus, we headed off, via the village of Malfa, to find the other ‘Postino beach’ at Pollara. As the bus plummeted down the steep hillside road, the driver pointed out the house that was used as the home of the poet Pablo Neruda in the film and when prompted, launched into humming the catchy theme tune. Immediately we joined in, creating a scene reminiscent of Cliff Richards’ film Summer Holiday. Fortunately, as there were only four of us on the bus, including our friends, any possible embarrassment was minimised.
We climbed down some steep steps towards the beach to a ledge by some fishermen's huts. At this moment we realised that the director had selected the picturesque elements from here and the Salina location to create a composite beach. Memories of the postman (Massimo Troisi) recording the sounds of the sea on the beach came to mind and we also reflected on the poignant fact that the actor died a day after the film was finished.
With mission accomplished, there was time to explore an island rich in vegetation with orchards and olive groves. Picnics on the cliffs and a few days exploring the villages and beaches concluded our stay in a distinctive Italian tempo.
Nevertheless, we were not just cine-tourists. Procida was a stepping off point for Ischia and Capri, whilst Salina was en route to Stromboli. Visiting these film locations made us appreciate why these islands starred in Il Postino. Being there was an opportunity to pay homage to a great film and to allow these islands to work their film magic in real life.