When travelers consider visiting an island in the region of Campania, the one that comes to mind most often 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 and most developed island in the Bay of Naples and one of its major attractions. If you are looking for an ideal island that is beautiful, authentic, has fantastic beaches and is not commercialized or overcrowded with tourists, be sure to include Ischia on your next visit to Italy particularly, if you plan to visit Napoli, Capri or Sorrento. In June 2010, 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 beaches that lead to clear blue and green waters, magnificent subtropical gardens and lovely climate.
The island was one of the first Greek colonies in the 8th century B.C., 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. Ischia arose from the Tyrrhenian Sea from hundreds of volcanic explosions. The soil is volcanic, and there are many hot springs with various medicinal properties.
The island sits 19 kilometers southeast of Pozzuoli and 33 kilometers from Naples. Ferries and hydrofoils from both ports reach Casamicciola Terme and Ischia Porto, Ischia's major gateway and tourist hub. Travel by ferry from Naples to Ischia takes about one and one half hours. From Capri, there are daily hovercraft crossings that take about 40 minutes, and from Pozzuoli it is just a little over one hour.
Over the years, many noted celebrities from Michelangelo to Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, 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.
The thermal baths of Ischia are a long-standing tradition and a major attraction dating back to the Roman Empire. Ischia has the largest concentration of spas in all of Europe, with nearly 100 springs and spas. Remains of the Roman baths can be found in the National Archaeological Museum, along with various artifacts that suggest that the island's spring water was once believed to cure many physical ailments. Today, vacationers from all over the world use these baths to cure the mental stress that is so prevalent in modern-day life. Many of the hotels in Ischia feature thermal spa pools in which you can relax and even enjoy a massage. If you choose to stay outside and enjoy the fresh air, you may want to explore the island's natural thermal spas. For the best spots, take a walk down to Cartaromana, Maronti or Citara beaches.
This is the highest mountain on the Isle of Ischia at nearly 2600 feet above seal level. 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; or you can rent a mule in Fontana and ride up the mountain. Monte Empomeo was formed by an 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 15th-century Capella di San Nicola di Bari, which features a pretty majolica floor. The rich soil means that lush vegetation thrives on the island. You will find beautiful orchards, fruit trees and vines growing on its picturesque slopes.
A world away from the north coast crowds, tiny Sant' Angelo is the most chic spot on the island. Here you will find quiet laneways that spill down the hill, galleries, chic boutiques, cafés, restaurants and frangipani. This peaceful fishing village clusters around a small harbor. At the bottom, on the Piazetta Ottorino Troia, vacationers sip Campari soda and take in late-night summer music concerts. Artists such as painter Wernes Gilles flocked here back in the 1950s, declaring it "the most beautiful place in the world." From the pier you can catch a brightly painted water taxi to 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. This is Ischia's oldest spa, positioned between soaring cliffs. You can soak in old Roman baths, sweat it out in a grotto and top it all off with a mud wrap. The sulfurous waters are reputedly beneficial for rheumatic bronchial and skin conditions.
ISCHIA'S BEST BEACHES
Punta Caruso - Located on Ischia's northwestern tip, this beach is a secluded, rocky spot, 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 on foot from the town of Panza. An intimate cove with a bubbling thermal spring is at the bottom.
>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 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 of Lacco Ameno, this gorgeous bay is the place for warm, shallow crystal-clear waters.
ISCHIA'S FINEST HOTELS
My favorite hotel on this island is the Mezzatorre Resort & Spa, located on the Via Mezzatorre 23, Forio. This is a luxurious five-star, deluxe seven-acre pinewood resort perched high above the sea. It houses a magnificent spa center, tennis courts and an infinity pool above the beach. Rooms are large and decorated in earthly colors, some with a private garden and jacuzzi. Other recommendations are the Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa, a grand hotel near the Casamicciola Terme, Grand Hotel Punta Mulino Beach Resort & Spa and L'Albergo della Regina Isabella near Lacco Ameno.
ISCHIA'S BEST RESTAURANTS
Umberto a Mare, located on Via Soccorso 2, Forio. This is a great ocean-side restaurant offering delicious local foods. Try the ziti with fresh tuna, tomatoes and peperoncino or penne pasta with lobster and asparagus.
Il Mosaico, located at the Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa located at the Piazza Bagni 4.
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.
Indaco, located at L'Albergo della Regina Isabella, Piazza Restituta 1.
La Brocca Trattoria, located on Via Rome 24, Lacco Ameno. Serves simple local fresh seafood.
Be sure to walk to the astonishing medieval Castello Aragonese, a fortress 600 feet above the harbor. Step back in time in the secluded fishing village of Sant'Angelo. You can also do a complete tour of the island in just a few hours. The island is ideal for a relaxing vacation, whether you prefer to sightsee, relax in a spa or leisurely walk on the Emerald Isle. There is a feeling of peacethat will overtake you from the moment you arrive here. You will certainly leave Ischia feeling relaxed and refreshed, having enjoyed some of the most beautiful sights in Italy!