Isola d'Ischia: Italy's emerald isle

By Peter D'Attoma

Ischia, ItalyIschia è il luogo ideale per una vacanza rilassante. Una sensazione di tranquillità e armonia vi pervaderà dal momento in cui arriverete in questa magnifica oasi. Sicuramente lascerete Ischia rigenerati, dopo aver goduto di una delle più belle isole d’Italia! Caratterizzata da una vegetazione lussureggiante, Ischia è la più grande isola del Golfo di Napoli e una delle sue principali attrazioni. Situata a 12 chilometri a sud-est di Pozzuoli e a circa 20 km da Napoli, Ischia è emersa dal Mar Tirreno a causa di centinaia di esplosioni vulcaniche. Se siete alla ricerca di una località bella, autentica, non commercializzata e non sovraffollata da turisti, assicuratevi di includere Ischia nella vostra prossima visita in Italia.

When travelers think of visiting an island in the region of Campania the one that comes to mind most is the Isle of Capri. Often overlooked is the magnificent Island of Ischia. Known as the Emerald Island because of its luxuriant vegetation, Ischia is the largest island in the Bay of Naples -- and one of its major attractions. If you are looking for a location that is beautiful, authentic, non-commercialized and not overcrowded with tourists, be sure to include Ischia on your next visit to Italy.

In June 2007 I was invited by the region of Campania to attend a SPA workshop held on the Island of Ischia. I was amazed at its varied landscape, lush greenery, statuesque mountains, pristine clear beaches with shades of blue and green waters, magnificent subtropical gardens and a lovely climate.

The island was one of the first Greek colonies in the eighth century BC, named Pithekoussai after the pithos (pottery clay) found there. An important stop on the trade route from Greece to northern Italy, it was renamed Aenaria by the Romans, who followed Pliny’s and Strabo’s advice and soaked in its thermal springs.

Located 12 miles southeast of Pozzuoli and about 20 miles from Naples, Ischia rose from the Tyrrhenian Sea from hundreds of volcanic explosions. Ferries and hydrofoils from both ports reach Casamicciola Terme and Ischia Porto, which is Ischia’s major gateway and tourist hub. The approximate time by ferry from Naples to Ischia is one hour and a half. From Capri there are daily hovercraft crossings that take approximately 40 minutes and from Pozzuoli it is just a little over one hour.

Over the years many celebrities from Michelangelo to Elizabeth Taylor have vacationed on this island. Gods and mythological heroes rested here too. Ulysses visited the king on Castiglione hill, while Aphrodite soaked in its thermal waters. Aeneas beached his boat in Lacco Ameno. The archangel Michael gave the picturesque fishing village of Sant’Angelo its name.

THERMAL BATHS
The thermal baths of Ischia are a long-standing tradition on the island, dating back to the Roman Empire. Remains of the Roman baths can be found in the National Archaeological Museum, along with various artifacts that suggest that the spring water from the island was once believed to cure various physical ailments. These days, the baths are used by many to cure the mental conditions of modern day life. Many of the hotels in Ischia feature thermal spa pools in which you can relax and even enjoy a pleasant massage. If you chose to stay outside to take in the fresh air, you may wish to explore the island’s natural thermal spas. For the best spots, take a walk down to any one of the Cartaromana, Maronti or Citara beaches.

MONTE EPOMEO
At nearly 2,600 feet, Monte Epomeo is the highest mountain on the Isle of Ischia. This mountain was once an active volcano and has been known to shake the island from time to time. It is a lovely uphill walk of nearly one and half miles from the village of Fontana. If you are not physically fit to take this uphill walk, you can rent a mule in Fontana.

Formed by underwater eruption, once you reach the top you will be amazed at the superlative panoramic views of the entire island and the Bay of Naples. The dramatic landscape was the cinematic backdrop for The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The little church near the top is the fifteenth-century Capella di San Nicola di Bari, which features a pretty majolica floor. There are fruit trees and vines growing on its picturesque slopes.

SANT' ANGELO
A world away from the north coast crowds, tiny Sant’ Angelo is the most chic spot on the island. A peaceful fishing village clustered around a small harbor, Sant’ Angelo offers quiet laneways that spill down the hill, galleries, chic boutiques, cafés, restaurants and frangipani.

At the Piazetta Ottorino Troia, vacationers sip Campari soda and take in the late-night summer music concerts. Artists, such as painter Wernes Gilles, flocked here back in the Fifties, declaring it “the most beautiful place in the world.”

From the pier you can catch a brightly painted water taxi that will take you to some of the island’s best beaches including the sandy Spiaggia dei Maronti and the intimate cove of Il Sorgeto with its steamy thermal spring. You can also reach Sorgeto on foot from the village of Panza.

If you are looking for a fabulous spa experience, catch a water taxi to Cavascura and follow the signs down a rocky gorge to Terme Cavascuro. Positioned between soaring cliffs, Terme Cavascuro is Ischia’s oldest spa. You can soak in old Roman baths, sweat it out in a grotto and top it all off with a mud wrap. The sulphurous waters are reputedly beneficial for rheumatic, bronchial and skin conditions.

ISCHIA'S BEST BEACHES
Punta Caruso - This beach is located on Ischia’s northwestern tip. It is a secluded rocky spot and perfect for a solitary swim in clear deep water. To get here, follow the walking path that leads off Via Guardiola down to the beach.

Il Sorgeto - You can reach this beach by taking a water taxi from Sant’Angelo or by foot from the town of Panza. At the bottom is an intimate cove complete with bubbling thermal spring.

Spiaggia dei Maronti - This is a long sandy beach that is very popular. You can reach it by bus from Barano, by water taxi from Sant’Angelo or on foot along the path leading east from Sant’Angelo.

Spiaggia dei Pescatori - Situated between Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte, Spiaggia die Pescatori is the island’s most atmospheric seaside strip with colorful fishing boats, a looming castle perched high above in the distance and soccer matches on the sand.

Baia di San Montano - Just outside Lacco Ameno, this gorgeous bay is the place for warm, shallow, crystal-clear waters.

WHERE TO STAY
My favorite hotel on this island is the Mezzatorre Resort & Spa, located on the Via Mezzatorre 23, Forio. This is a luxurious seven-acre pine wood resort perched high above the sea. It houses a magnificent, world-class spa, tennis courts and an infinity pool above the beach. Rooms are large and decorated in earthly colors; some have its own private garden and Jacuzzi.

WHERE TO EAT
For the best fare try Umberto a Mare, located on Via Soccorso 2, Forio. This is a great waterside restaurant offering great local foods. Try the ziti with fresh tuna, tomatoes and peperoncino or penne pasta with lobster and asparagus.

Lo Scoglio, located on the Via Cava Ruffano 58, Sant’Angelo, this restaurant is dramatically located jutting out over the sea beside a picture-perfect cove. This is a great place to watch the sunset and enjoy its fresh seafood.

Trattoria La Brocca, located on Via Rome 24, Lacco Ameno, serves simple local fresh seafood.

Be sure not to miss a walk around the Castello Aragonese, and step back in time in the secluded fishing village of Sant’Angelo. You can also do a complete tour of the island, which can be done in just a few hours. Ischia is the ideal location for a relaxing vacation, whether you prefer sightseeing, relaxing in a spa or a leisurely walk. There is a feeling of peace and friendliness that will overtake you from the moment you arrive here. You will certainly leave Ischia feeling relaxed and refreshed, having enjoyed one of the most beautiful island in Italy!

Author’s note: Isola D’Ischia will be one of the featured stops on the 15 days/13 nights tour of the Best of the South and Sicily on September 16-30, 2010, which I will be personally escorting. For more information and complete day-to-day itinerary, visit www.davincicustomtravel.com or email peter@davincicustomtravel.com.

Peter D’Attoma is the president of DaVinci Custom Travel & Tours. He has over 25 years of planning and designing independent, custom and escorted tours of Italy for individuals, groups and incentives. For more information call 330-633-2292.