Many years ago when I lived in Rome, I asked an Italian friend to recommend her favourite place in all of Italy. ‘Ischia’, she answered without hesitation. I hadn’t heard of this little island in the Gulf of Naples, but I trusted my source – a lady of exquisite taste and judgement – and placed it on my bucket list. Years later, I went there with family, and now, when people ask me to recommend somewhere special in Italy, I too can answer ‘Ischia’ without hesitation.
Some refer to it as the poor relation of Capri but this is a good thing as it means Ischia has the beauty of Capri without the bling or ostentation. You won’t see Ferraris and Porsches but you will see cute Cinquecentos with surf-boards precariously balanced on the roofs!
You go to Ischia for a Mediterranean summer, stunning coastal views and lush, verdant landscape at every bend in the road; a small island that is easily covered by its very cheap and regular public buses; fantastic, inexpensive restaurants that exude charm and character; beaches and relaxation; to experience Italian life away from the grit and grime of the cities and their mass tourism.
Ischia is not really about clubbing and partying. It’s a quiet, relaxing holiday with leisurely dinners over a carafe of wine while watching glorious sunsets sink over the ocean. It’s popular with Germans; most of the staff there speak German, not English. This means the prices of food and drink are reasonable – as opposed to the exorbitant costs in Rome or Venice – because Germans, in my experience, are pretty sensible and will not stick around if they are being ripped off.
Poseidon Gardens – thermal baths, sulphur springs with healing properties, treatments, restaurants and wine grottos. (Deeply tanned elderly men in thongs!) The damage: admission costs 32 Euro for a day so it’s a bit of a treat but worth every penny to indulge yourself. http://www.giardiniposeidonterme.com/en/homepage
Castello Aragonese – This medieval castle was built to protect Ischia’s inhabitants from invasions so it was much more than a castle and functioned as a fortified but thriving town with living quarters, shops, a market, a convent and a chapel. As a result, it’s well worth spending at least half a day there to take it all in, enjoy the breathtaking views and take a break at restaurants and coffee shops.
They also host occasional concerts and events so look these up before you go. http://www.castelloaragoneseischia.com/en/
The Mortell Gardens – I went to see them but they were closed and I was gutted! (They open about three days a week.) These landscaped gardens sound incredible and are reason enough for me to go back to Ischia.
Ischia can be visited on a day trip from Naples but it deserves so much more of your time. If you are arriving from outside Italy, it does take a bit of time to get there: we landed in Naples Airport, got a taxi to the port, a ferry to Ischia port, a taxi to our hotel. If you book hotels in advance, most will send a driver to pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel.
Taxis are prohibitively expensive but buses are super cheap and go everywhere. You can easily get around the whole island on public buses.
Accommodation is not cheap and gets booked up fast. The Hotel Sorriso is a 4 star, family-run establishment with phenomenal ocean views, a great restaurant and lovely staff and management. http://www.sorrisoresort.it/en
Even today, not that many people have heard of Ischia which is part of its charm. You may have seen it on The Talented Mr Ripley with Jude Law or in Antony and Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor. Many visitors will see Ischia on a day trip from Naples or Sorrento but it deserves so much more of your time, especially if you like beach time, stunning views of land and sea, sunsets and a taste of southern Italian food, wine and life.