Ischia, the largest of the Phlegrean Islands, is a volcanic island that sits just off the coast of Naples. While many flock to the famous jet-set island of Capri or the quiet fisherman's island of Procida, my dear husband has always preferred Ischia for its unpretentious appeal to the commoner and its natural beauty. We spent a week there with some friends at the end of July.
Getting there :: We took a ferry with Medmar from the port of Pozzuoli to Ischia Porto and were able to purchase tickets right at the port without issue, though it appears reservations can be made online in advance. While we elected to bring our car to the island, it is also possible to travel without a car and use either public busses or taxis once on the island.
Exploring :: Richard is not a "sit at the beach all day" kind of guy (me either, really), so we decided on a bit of exploring / activities for this trip that extended beyond the beach nearest our hotel. There is A LOT to do and see on this little island, much more than I remembered.
Favorite Beach :: Cava Grado is an intimate beach at an inlet near St. Angelo that includes a full service bar and chair & umbrella rental that can be reached from out hotel only by climbing millions of steps. Every step is worth it once you arrive! Gorgeous. It's small scale, with maybe twenty umbrellas on about a third of the beach. Calm and tranquil. Perfect for us.
Strolling :: The town of Forio includes a pedestrian area complete with a romantic fountain and street musicians that is perfect for strolling and people-watching. We visited on a particularly overcast day, and, well, be warned...everyone on the island is strolling or grocery shopping on overcast days. The white stuccoed Chiesa del Soccorso sits high upon a cliff near the sea in Forio.
Thermal Springs :: The island is world (?) famous for her thermal spring waters. Many, many people believe in the curative and healing power of these natural, heated mineral waters from within the Earth and flock to places like Ischia in search of well-being. While it is possible to access some of these waters in public spaces, Ischia is covered from end-to-end with thermal spas offering pools of waters at varying degrees as well as a host of spa treatments from foot massages to nasal treatments.
The first spa we visited, Parco Termale Aphrodite Apollon, is situated just above Maronti Beach around the corner from St. Angelo. This place provided incredible views of the sea with Capri in the distance. Although Young One is pictured below in the thermal pool, children are not allowed to partake. (It's bad for them?) We arrived early, and she took a dip before anyone noticed. Otherwise, she spent the day at the connected beach or in the chlorinated pool for kids.
Castles :: Ischia is home to Castello Aragonese, which sits upon a little island connected to the main island via foot bridge. The beautifully restored castle dates back to 474 BC and has changed hands and served many purposes during those years. In fact, its charm was a bit of a surprise to us once we entered. A brochure in English we received when purchasing our ticket took us on a guided and informative tour of the castle, including stories of dying nuns and princesses in towers. I would highly recommend a visit to the castle and a stop at the bar for the view pictured below (and I'm not one big on castles ;)
Motorino :: And on the fourth day we rented a pair of scooters for the entire day, which undoubtedly was Young One's absolute favorite part of the week. We circled the island and simply explored up and down alleys and paths, stopping for refreshment breaks (coffee and gelato) when the mood hit us. This, too, is top of my list of recommendations for anyone visiting Ischia. Next time I plan to rent a boat, too!
Thermal Spa #2 :: Negombo Okay. Really. I could have just spent the week here and been a happy woman. I'm thankful that we saved it for the last day as no other place could really compare to it. This is one of the two most popular spas on the island and is just a perfect piece of paradise in our eyes. Starting with the private beach at the cove, to the olympic-sized salt water pool for the children, to host of thermal pools including a Japanese rock pool and cascading, massaging waterfall pool to attendants on duty everywhere to the flora to the cleanliness to the grass umbrellas to the SUSHI bar ... I will be back. This is living, my friends. I think I had a few moments of "Pinch me, I must be dreaming!" throughout the day.
Other thoughts ....
:: Not many Americans visit Ischia. Negombo was full of Italians and the other spa was full of Eastern Europeans (as was our hotel.) It's also quite popular with Germans at other times of the year.
:: We stayed in a 2 star hotel with half board. I can safely say we will never do either of those again, at least not in Ischia.
:: Everyone uses the bus system. Not everyone buys a ticket.
:: St. Angelo is our favorite part of the island; we first visited it years ago on Richard's scooter, before Young One arrived on the scene. It is, however, not nearly as romantic when visiting with six adults and three running, screaming, gelato-seeking children.
:: There is a volcano to hike here, too: Mt. Epomeo. We had our fill of volcanoes with Vesuvio the weekend prior.
:: Just about every beach has a public spot, but don't expect that spot to be so meticulously maintained. Though I read horror stories of dirty beaches and water before arriving, we did not encounter this. Of course, we rent the chairs and umbrellas on the beach, giving us access to the private areas.
:: I carried my point and shoot instead of my DSLR throughout most of this trip.
:: I would love to spend a romantic spa weekend here sans Young One. Ready to book, Richard? It's just a short plane ride away!