Iconic Ischia

by bella |
Published on

Rugged good looks and captivating charm make this Italian island the dreamiest destination

Isle of paradise

Set in the Gulf of Naples, the island of Ischia is four times the size of neighbouring Capri and offers plenty to explore. With a dramatic landscape, stunning sunsets, therapeutic thermal waters and beautiful botanical gardens – plus a view across the bay that takes in the Amalfi Coast and the silhouette of Vesuvius – it’s full of natural wonder. Whether you want to switch off and slow down, fill your mind with fascinating history or put your body through its paces with invigorating expeditions, there’s something for everyone. Travel to its different towns – from the hustle and bustle of Ischia Porto to the seaside charms of Casamicciola or Forio – and luxuriate in its perfect climate. Ischia’s rich volcanic soil makes it uniquely placed for home-grown produce, so you’ll be able to enjoy the freshest fare and award-winning local wines, too.

Eat and drink

Ischia is incredibly self-sufficient and most of what is served in local restaurants is grown, farmed or fished locally. For seafood, head to Un Attimo di Vino on the Rive Droite in Ischia Porto, where chef Raimondo will serve the finest fish dishes. If you’re craving pizza, check out Ristorante Pizzeria da Ciccio – we were blown away by its humble margherita. For something special, make a reservation at Il Mirto (Ilmirtoristorantevegetariano.it). Awarded a Michelin Green Star, the entirely vegetarian menu makes for a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience. Faro Punta Imperatore is similarly unique. The lighthouse is accessed by over 150 steps down a cliff, but rewards you with an unbeatable setting and delicious food. Arrive in time for sunset and enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail on the terrace.

Wine lovers will appreciate a trip to Antonio Mazzella winery, where you can explore the steep, terraced vineyard and sample the produce (Ischiavini.it). For a local liqueur, pop into Distillerie Aragonesi, where you can try and buy their artisanal products, including Figaro, a delicious fig liqueur, or Gerone, a carob brandy (Distilleriearagonesi.com). Finally, if you fancy kicking back with a beer or a cocktail while a DJ soundtracks the experience, head to Rena (@rena_ischia). 
This laid-back beach bar serves great food and drink in a truly stunning setting.

Step back in time

Ischia is steeped in history, and you can get a good overview from the Archaeological Museum of Pithecusae, the Latin name for Ischia (Pithacusae.it). Housed in a villa with gardens overlooking the bay below, the museum is home to artefacts dating back to 5,000BC – including some of such significance that they’ve previously been loaned to the British Museum. Celebrated for millennia thanks to its terracotta, you can gaze upon vases and pots, and be inspired to shop for your own ceramic souvenirs at Ceramiche Keramos D’Ischia afterwards.

Of course, you can’t visit Ischia and not take a trip to Castello Aragonese (Castelloaragoneseischia.com). An island on 
the island, it’s accessed from Ischia Ponte via a steady climb up the slopes and steps. Follow in the footsteps of noblemen, nuns and monks, take in the eerie atmosphere, admire the beautiful frescoes, shop for artisan souvenirs and take every opportunity to look out over the castle walls to appreciate the stunning views across the sea back towards Ischia’s pretty coastline.

Glorious gardens

There are orange and lemon trees around every corner, but in order to fully appreciate the island’s greenery, take a trip to one of the beautiful botanical gardens. Giardini Ravino (Ravino.it) is home to an impressive cacti collection and its whitewashed curved buildings offer a beautifully fragrant sanctuary. Tour the grounds, explore the sensory garden and then kick-back with a delicious cactus cocktail.

Elsewhere, Giardini La Mortella (Lamortella.org) is a spectacular garden developed by Susana Walton, the wife of British composer Sir William Walton. A labour of love, the gardens are home to many rare and exotic plants. Escape the blazing summer sun in the lower Valley section, take in the tranquillity of the Thai House, stop for a refreshing drink or just admire the view from the top. Orchestras play on certain dates and you couldn’t imagine a more spectacular setting to enjoy a performance.

Self-care with a view

Known for its rejuvenating thermal waters, the island boasts plenty of places to de-stress. One of the most stunning is Poseidon (Giardiniposeidonterme.com). Sloping from the beach up the beautifully landscaped hillside, it has over 20 pools to explore. Switch from hot and soothing to icy and invigorating, pummel those muscles with hydrotherapy massage or step into the sea for a swim. There’s a restaurant, wine bar, and possibly the classiest pool snack bar we’ve ever come across – Caffè a Mare has a grand piano, a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea, and is the perfect place for an aperitivo. There are loungers scattered all over the park, so take a good book and wile away the day – you’re sure to leave feeling blissed out. A full-day adult pass costs from €41 (approx £35).

The waterfront area is home to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, which is full of exhibitions displaying the best of modern African art. Close to this area is where you can catch a boat to Robben Island, the high-security prison that famously held Nelson Mandela for 18 years.

We finished our trip with a visit to Blaauklippen vineyard, which dates back to 1682 and is one of the oldest wine farms in Stellenbosch. Cheers!

Need to Know

  • We stayed at the four-star Hotel San Lorenzo (from £80 per night), which has thermal pools inside and out. Go to Albergosanlorenzo.com.

  • Travel by ferry from Naples (1 hr 20 mins), or hydrofoil, which is faster.

  • Ischia roads are daunting, and car rental isn’t advised. Taxis, although pricey, are widely available and there’s an excellent bus network, too.

  • Peak summer can get very busy, but October is perfect. The sun still shines and the sea is warm.

  • For more information, check out Visitischia.info and Italia.it/en

Words: Jo Chapman

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