Neapolitans have visited for generations; poets and artists have long espoused its beauty; the Mediterranean’s most impressive megayachts constantly pepper its coastline, and the iconic Capri is right next door… And yet, Ischia continues to fly under the radar as one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
This is no coincidence. Ischia is the kind of place that you want to keep to yourself, but it’s so magical that you can’t help but gush about it to anyone who will listen…
‘My thanks are for you, Ischia, to whom a fair wind has brought me rejoicing with dear friends’
My first experience of my now-beloved island was not a happy one – no ‘fair wind’ accompanied my voyage. As with many of Italy’s best-hidden hotspots, getting there can prove testing. I was not prepared for a journey so maddeningly long and stressful: the crack-of-dawn flight to Naples, the bus to the port, the running around said port, lost and burning under the midday sun, and having to fight my way onto the aliscafo (hydrofoil). A good half day after first leaving the house, I was rather rudely dispensed onto Ischia’s distant shores, sweaty and furiously mumbling to myself, “this had better be worth it.”
Needless to say, it certainly was. I’ll never forget that first breath of salty sea breeze, that first glimpse of the imposing Castello Aragonese, the sparkling waters that beckoned, and Vesuvius hazy but majestic in the distance, watching over it all. But most memorable of all was that first plunge into the sea – the water momentarily taking my breath away as it hit my body: crisp, fresh and smooth like Acqua Panna, dissolving away life’s stresses and replacing them with peace.
There truly is something in the water in Ischia. A volcanic island, it boasts natural thermal springs with healing qualities that have lured travellers since antiquity. Many visit the island purely for this reason, decamping to the Giardini Poseidon or Negombo thermal parks for their annual dose of wellness – while a younger crowd favours post-party moonlit dips in the natural springs at Sorgeto or Cavascura. Whichever you choose, Ischia’s water acts as a much-needed tonic for the life-battered soul, lulling you into the island’s deliciously idle rhythm with every bagno.
‘How well you correct our injured eyes, how gently you train us to see things and men in perspective underneath your uniform light…
Your ambient peace… is a cure for ceasing to think of a way to get on, we learn to simply wander about’
As a lifelong city dweller, accustomed to a frenetic existence, the mindless go-go-go of productivity and endless plans, I arrived in Ischia with an itinerary of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to do. Within hours I had scrapped it entirely. Ischia was the first place that truly taught me the value of il dolce far niente. Here, one must do as the regulars do: as little as humanly possible. Wake up early, have a coffee, head to the beach, read until lunch, eat a variation on seafood pasta, play cards until dusk, have a Spritz, go home, shower, supper, sleep, and do it all again.
This sublime routine is something that Italians have perfected over the years, going to the same place on their summer holidays for generations. And when people visit Ischia for the first time, they quickly understand why. Since my first visit, I haven’t changed a thing. I stay in the same apartment in Citara, go to the same beach (Il Galeone), reserve the same lettini (prima fila, of course), eat in the same place for lunch (again, Il Galeone)… And I’m never happier. There is a certain comfort – and bliss – in knowing what you’re going to do every day, and knowing that it will, without fail, be wonderful.
‘The boiling springs… betray her secret fever’
Perhaps it’s the volcanic energy, the strong sun, the delicious yet dangerously inexpensive wine, or a combination of all of the above – but in true Italian style, Ischia’s calm is punctuated with moments of euphoric joy.
First of all, the food: that gloriously fresh fish, the discovery of coniglio all’Ischitana up in the hills, the fragrant tomatoes and garlic, which make even the simplest dishes unforgettable. Then there are the sunsets, a dream-like orange-pink, best observed from Citara Bay – so beautiful that even the most excitable child falls into a muted hush – which give way to a vast sky of stars, which here seem to shine just that little bit brighter. And, of course, the endless parties – Thursday nights flirting in Forio, Fridays bar-hopping in Ischia Porto, Saturdays dancing at Valentino, and the legendary Sunday aperitivo at Bagni Teresa which goes on past midnight and inevitably ends in a stealthy skinny-dip. Even the best-behaved holidaymakers have found themselves swept up in a passionate romance with the lifeguard or boat captain du jour…
Ill-fated though such romances inevitably turn out to be, this 17-square-mile patch of heaven keeps a sizeable portion of my heart, safeguarding it until next year. My final days on Ischia are always filled with dreams of abandoning everything for a life on the island – perhaps my favourite restaurant will hire me, perhaps I will sell all my belongings and open a beach establishment of my own, or perhaps aforementioned lifeguard will fall in love with me and we can live here happily ever after…
The return to reality is always cruel, life a little less sparkly, the mornings painful as I wake from dreams of gliding through those wonderful waters. But almost as soon as the winter has passed, that magnetic pull gets stronger – I can make out summer on the horizon, and with it, la mia Ischia. My soul begins to soar, knowing that soon I will see her once more.
TRIED & TESTED TIPS FOR DOING ISCHIA RIGHT
- Take a boat trip around the island with Salvatore from Blu Life IschiaBlu Life Ischia. Stock up on suncream, and prepare for a party.
- Spend a day (or the whole time) at Il Galeone Lido in Citara. Book the front-row sun loungers, and for lunch, make your way through the daily-changing specials. Beware the lifeguard’s charms.
- Decamp to Spiaggia dei Maronti at least once, the longest beach on Ischia.
- Visit the spectacular botanical gardens at Giardini La Mortella.
- Make sure you book well in advance to bag a table at La Cantinola di Zio Jack for a rustic and unforgettable dinner – including Marco Pace’s legendary pizza creations.
- Do as the youths do, and hire a motorino to drive around the island in style.
- Bring Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels to read on the beach – the second book is partially set on Ischia.
- Flirt your way onto a nighttime boat trip to the hot springs at Sorgeto. Beware wandering hands.
- Go to the recently opened Mezzatorre Hotel for the ultimate dolce vita-esque swimming, sunbathing and people watching.
- Look the part in handmade beach cover-ups from Antica Sartoria in Forio.