When asked to name some of the islands off the coast of Italy, you will immediately think of places such as Sicily, Capri and Sardinia. Similarly, when asked to choose some interesting day trips from Naples, you would probably offer-up Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Herculaneum. However, there is one destination that comfortably falls into both categories. An island that is, as yet, fairly unfamiliar to UK travellers – Ischia.
This sun-drenched paradise lies just a 45-minute hydrofoil journey from Naples harbour. Just 18 square miles in size (one-tenth of the Isle of Wight) and home to only 65,000 people, it’s relatively easy to explore in a few days and offers many different ways to take it easy.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing end to your holiday or you want to spend your entire trip in beautiful Ischia, here are 10 things to know before you travel.
It’s A Volcanic Island
Ischia was created by volcanic activity around 65,000 years ago and you can see plenty of evidence of this today. The highest point on the island, Monte Epomeo, is a volcanic horst, although there hasn’t been an eruption since 1302. This historic activity helped to create the island’s rugged and mountainous landscape and means there are thermal waters bubbling under the surface, escaping via a number of manmade vents. The lava flows have also caused the land to flourish with beautiful flora, some of which is only usually seen in hotter climates.
As well as the soothing spas that you will read about further down, the thermal activity creates an interesting quirk at Le Fumarole beach. Here, the sand is so hot (sometimes up to 100 degrees) that the locals use it to cook food. Eggs, potatoes and even whole chickens are wrapped in tin foil, buried and left to be slow-cooked by the heat.
Tourism Is Relatively new
It’s not just UK holidaymakers that are unaware of the delights Ischia holds, tourism as a whole is relatively new – though the locals are keen to encourage more visitors. It is only in the last few years that more people have started to discover this wonderful destination but, if our trip is anything to go by, this is surely set to change.
The season currently runs from April to October, with the hotels taking five or six months of downtime outside of this period. Many use this for renovations or a chance to upgrade facilities, meaning there is often something new to look forward to when summer rolls around again.
The Wine Is Some Of Italy’s Best
Italy is well-known for its much-loved food and wine and this is something that definitely extends to Ischia. Seafood is abundant on most restaurant menus but the celebrated dish amongst the locals is actually rabbit.
Plus, if you want to pair your dish with award-winning wine, you’re in luck. All of the local wines we sampled during our trip were fantastic, but one, in particular, has been named the Best Wine of Italy for 2018 – something of which the people of Ischia are very proud. The volcanic soil is perfect for growing grapes and you will see vineyards lining the slopes as you travel around the island. In fact, Ischia’s Roman name (Enaria) literally meant ‘Land of Wine’.
It Has A History Of Fighting Off Pirates
You may wonder why an island that has been involved in very few conflicts has an abundance of fortifications, but these point to a history of invasions. First came the French and Spanish, in 1503, and, as the 16th century rolled on, pirates from Greece, Africa and Turkey began attacking and taking people as slaves. As a result, a number of towers were built to help defend the island – the best-preserved example being the Torrione in Forio.
Another noticeable defence is the dramatic Aragonese Castle, joined to the mainland by a stone bridge. This may have been built hundreds of years earlier, in 474 BC, but it still provided safety for the 200 families that once lived inside.
The Mushroom Rock Is A Popular Landmark
As well as the castle, one of the most popular landmarks on the island is known as The Mushroom. This natural rock formation can be found off the coast of Lacco Ameno and is made from Tufo, a green stone that can be found all over Ischia. Due to its soft nature, Il Fungo, as it is known in Italian, has been eroded severely over the years. Our guide told us that it was once ten times bigger and local fishermen would host a market around its edge.
There’s An Abundance Of 5-Star Hotels
When it comes to choosing where to stay during your holiday, you will be positively spoilt for choice. Five-star hotels complete with luxury suites, Michelin-starred restaurants and unrivalled views beckon you to relax and take it easy for the duration of your time on the island. Plus, thanks to the thermal waters, many of them have large spas attached where you can bathe in the warm waters, pamper yourself with treatments or address ailments such as varicose veins, poor circulation and psoriasis.
Of the hotels we were lucky enough to see, San Montano Resort and Spa seemed to be the group’s favourite. Here, you can lie by the pool and admire the panoramic sea views, venture down to a private beach, watch the sunset from your own personal infinity pool or enjoy a casual pizza from the authentic ovens of the Acropolis Bar. We have many other options available, though, to suit a variety of budgets.
Hydrofoil Connections Are Regular
As we mentioned at the start of the article, getting to Ischia involves sailing across the Gulf of Naples. However, this shouldn’t be a reason not to visit as the connections are fast, frequent easy to use. There are two options, hydrofoil or ferry, with the former being a much quicker choice. The port in Naples may seem chaotic, but there are regular PA announcements in English and finding the correct boat is simple enough. Plus, you can always ask us to arrange a transfer for you and someone will then guide you on and off. Hydrofoils departure roughly every 20 minutes and speed through the journey in less than 45 minutes.
There’s A Beautiful Botanical Garden
Another result of the nutrient-rich volcanic soil is Giardini La Mortella. This botanical garden lies in the region of Forio and was created by William Walton and his wife, Susanna. Spread over two different levels (a valley garden and a hill garden), you will see colourful orchids, tranquil fountains, secluded spots where Lady Susanna would admire her surroundings, giant trees, and ponds filled with frogs hopping from lily pad to lily pad.
There are lots of different areas to enjoy, including the Victoria House, Temple of the Sun and the Thai Pavilion. In his role as Patron of the William Walton Trust, Prince Charles has been delighted by La Mortella’s magnificent blooms in the past.
The Town Of Buonopane Has Its Own Traditional Dance
As we toured Ischia, learning of its interesting traditions, we learnt about the ‘Ndrezzata’ of Buonopane. In this village – with a name meaning ‘good bread’ – the men are taught a ritualistic dance involving wooden batons and traditional dress, said to simulate a fight between two men over a beautiful woman in the 16th century. One man was from Buonopane and other from Barano and the story goes that they (and their fellow villagers) fought with each other until, on Easter Monday, a Bishop managed to create peace. Today, La Ndrezzata is performed twice a year to commemorate the end of the fighting.
The Panoramas Are Breathtaking
This one needs no explaining, just take a look for yourself…
If you would like to plan your own trip to Ischia, we can tailor-make something to suit you. Call our team on 0800 988 3369 or click here to submit your online enquiry. We would like to thank ImperaTours for their hospitality and the chance to explore such a wonderful undiscovered destination.