The mozzarella cheese on my pie is still bubbling. Behind us, a huge pizza oven is heating the entire room – no easy feat in mid-January in a space enclosed by glass windows. Gazing past our table, I take in the view far below. Rick Steves won’t come here. Nobody comes here in the winter, and in the summer it takes far more patience and time than the average tourist will commit. We are alone in a pizzeria overlooking a popular waterfront destination, normally bustling with activity. Today, it is clear and quiet. Perfectly, beautifully, quiet.
The waterfront southwest of Naples is the stepchild of the Amalfi Coast to tourists – relatively unexplored by out-of-country visitors but revered by locals. Those lucky enough to be here right now – on a sunny, clear day in the dead of winter – can soak up the big views uncluttered by buzzing scooters, lumbering tour buses or car loads of families headed for the beach.
The twisting, winding road from the Tangenziale to this perch high atop Via Panoramica in Monte de Procida, morphs from two busy roundabouts and a ghastly long, dark tunnel laden with obtrusive speed bumps to a narrow waterfront boulevard at sea level.
The road curls along the marina with views of the harbor boat slips and Aragonese Castle of Baia on a promontory in the distance. Built on the edge of two volcanic caldrons in 1495, the castle was a military fortress occupied throughout the centuries by different warring factions. Used as a military prison in World War II, it currently houses the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegraean Fields.
Eventually the road narrows and gains elevation, climbing above the ocean, past the Aragonese Castle on Via Castello, a road that curls in half-circle around the promontory, suddenly offering a small view point harrowingly located on a blind corner. For those deft enough to cross the road, two arches frame hypnotic views of the bay of Baia below. From the scenic overlook on Via Castello, the road descends again through the tiny shops and the village atmosphere of Bacoli.
Sitting side-by-side, Bacoli and Monte di Procida are neighbors whose boundaries blend at a glance. What they share is a sheltered location that is both time consuming to reach – and completely worth it. We come here often in the winter and soak up what we avoid in the summer. Our destination in Monte di Procida is a scenic drive that frames the coast. Via Panoramica is an uncharacteristically wide road that traverses a cliff side overlooking the Gulf of Pozzouli, Baia Marina, Lago Miseno, the island of Procida and an expanse of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Most prominent in the ocean landscape is Cape Miseno.
A gently curved peninsula, Miseno was the site of Rome’s largest naval port, and housed the largest fleet of Rome’s navy ships, and many luxurious Roman homes in ancient times. Occupied by the Germans in World War II, it has a rich history as a military stronghold. Today the Cape attracts thousands to its beaches and restaurants in the summer months.
From above, the colorful arrays of beach umbrellas mark the individual private beaches where sun worshipers pay 10 Euro for a chair on the sand.
Along Via Panoramica several restaurants are perched on the cliff with patios and dining areas that overlook the vast view below. They vary in quality, but all feature casual dining, reasonable prices and the same vista. Today we’ve picked a favorite and have joined friends to share a Sunday in January eating pizza and drinking Prosecco on a terrace overlooking a part of Italy many people only dream of seeing. It’s our little secret - what we call the winter magic of Monte di Procida.