The Italian island of Ischia lies at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples, about 30 km from the city of Naples, a neighbour of the better known island of Capri and it is the largest of the Phlegrean islands. Ischia is almost entirely mountainous, covered in greenery and fringed with white sand beaches, lapped by Mediterranean waters.
Relatively unknown, it combines excellent beaches with challenging inland walks, superb dining experiences with top shopping experiences, a huge choice of days out with endless romantic pursuits, or just lie around in the thermal pools of the island’s many spas.
Ischia’s volcanic hot springs are at the heart of its popularity as a spa destination. They feed a number of beachside spa parks, including the famous Negombo Spa adjacent to the beach at the beachside town of Lacco Ameno, with numerous hot pools, relaxing park-like grounds, spa treatments, massages and water therapies. A day’s entry costs from 25 euros.
Top historic spot
Giuseppe Garibaldi’s marble bath sits in entrance of the Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa, a luxurious five-star hotel built right above Ischia’s Gurgitiello hot springs, which flow down into the sea. The father of modern Italy is said to have taken respite in the healing waters, though legend says he was beaten to it by Ulysses himself when he visited Scheria (Ischia) island.
Unlike neighbouring Capri, Ischia is far more of a working island, though surprisingly stylish designer chic can be found in Ischia Town, in the Via Roma, Corso Vittoria Colonna. For a more rustic shopping experience the neighbouring port at Borgo di Ischia Ponte is full of artisans, shops, restaurants and jewellers. Combining shopping with a pleasant stroll, are the seafront streets of Casamicciola and Lacco Ameno and the pretty fishing village of Sant’Angelo, dotted with designer boutiques and craft shops.
A number of the exotic plant species in the world famous Mortella gardens, created by British composer Sir William Walton and his Argentinian wife, Susana, will certainly give a narcotic high. But the highest geographical spot on the island is Mount Epomeo (789m, 2589ft), which towers above Ischia. A path leads to the summit from the traditional village of Fontana, giving spectacular view of the island and the Bay of Naples.
Tomatoes, rocket, beans, peppers, aubergines and courgettes all thrive in the island’s fertile volcanic soil and for the tastiest tomato bruschetta try the hand-kneaded bread from the town of Buonopane (`good bread’), still made in wood ovens as it has been for centuries. But most visitors come in search of the island’s sea food, such as linguine with sea-urchins or the traditional paranza fry, a medley of fish from the fishermen’s catch, while “Coniglio all’Ischitana”, local stewed rabbit, recalls the ancient farming traditions of the island.
Thanks to the fertile volcanic soils and cooling sea breezes, Ischia’s reputation for wine production dates back to 700 BC, in fact in Roman times the island was called Enaria, meaning land of wines. The best known wines are the full flavoured white wines, produced from the Biancolella grape variety, which is exclusive to Ischia. The islanders also enjoy their home produced version of the Italian digestive, Limoncello, made by steeping thick lemon rinds in alcohol, with water and sugar.
Ferries and hydrofoils ply all day long from Naples to Ischia, some calling into neighbouring Procida before calling into one or more locations on Ischia. Be aware that the island’s tourism thrives from April to October, but outside those dates the ferry timetables may be disrupted by bad weather. Another top tip is to pay attention when getting off the boat, many vistors accidentally disembark too early, in Procida!
Top for romance
The pastel-coloured, traffic-free fisherman’s village of Sant’Agnelo is a favourite spot for couples to stroll around its narrow cobble lanes. Stop for a meal or a drink in the main square (La Piazzetta) and take a walk along the beach and over the Punto d’Sant Angelo, the large rock that forms this picturesque peninsula, for beautiful coastal views of the southern part of Ischia.
Top quirky experience
Cook dinner in the sand. A good spot for a hot picnic is the `Spiaggia delle Fumarole’, literally a volcanic beach with hot fissures in the ground. Simply dig a hole beside one of them, bury your meal in the sand, wrapped in aluminium foil, and head off for a swim while dinner cooks. The beach is wide, clean and uncrowded, can be reached by boat-taxi and the water is blue and refreshing.
Top day out
Take a boat trip around Ischia and see this beautiful green island from the water, looking back to its volcanic peak, flanked with greenery and sandy beaches fringed with palms. Dive into the clear waters that surround Ischia and spot distant Vesuvius, beyond the Bay of Naples, and the neighbouring islands that include cosmopolitan Capri. Ischia Charm arranges all-day boat trips for about £34, including lunch and cocktails (00 39 081 997 206)