Ischia: The paradise island offers a taste of the real Italy

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(CNN) — A calm and idyllic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Ischia offers a heartwarming dose of Italian beauty, spirit and hospitality, with a generous dash of nostalgia for Italy of yesteryear.

Here, five-star hotels and luxurious hot springs are juxtaposed with scenes of Italian grandmothers doing laundry, religious parades through the streets, and children strapped to the backs of adults speeding by on Vespas.

Its unspoilt beaches have long been popular with Italians, but international visitors were more likely to be drawn to the glitzier shores of Capri or the Amalfi Coast.

Ischia, however, still has something its more polite neighbors perhaps lack. You don’t need to dig deep here to find the real Italy. Ischia is a little less made, a little more in your face, and ultimately, a little more authentic.

And now, finally, it’s been a while.

The rise of what the Italians call “the green island” is something like that. First, its famous tuff rocks, narrow streets and bougainvillea-draped landscapes became one of the backdrops for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, global bestsellers turned hit TV shows.

Then came the investments and the promise of bigger things to come when the luxury group Pellicano Hotels bought the island’s five-star Mezzatorre Hotel and Spa.

And finally there is the new Ischia is more campaign, led by a community of hotels and local businesses who want to revive the fortunes of the island after two difficult years for tourism.

Michele Sambaldi, group president and general manager of Pellicano, says he wants to position “Ischia as one of the most prestigious destinations in Italy while attracting and retaining the international jet-set”.

Here’s what the island has to offer, all year round.

Sunsets, views and thermal waters

The beauty of Ischia is that the landscape and traditions change from town to town, so you can have a different experience each time you visit.

Ischia Porto is the bustle and commercial heart, while nearby Ischia Ponte has an old-world vibe.

Casamicciola Terme is on the north coast and has the highest concentration of thermal springs, while Barano di Ischia is best known for Maronti beach, the largest on the island.

Lacco Ameno, with its pretty marina, and Forio, with its picturesque old town, are perhaps two of the most charming towns.

The island has several must-see sites, including the medieval Aragonese castle which sits on its own volcanic rock formation accessed by a footbridge.

This symbol of Ischia was a royal residence and, during the Renaissance, a hive of activity for artists and writers.

A guided tour through the rooms and gardens can be followed by a rest at the Terrazzo Café, with its views of the Gulf of Naples.

For more vistas, the Church of the Madonna del Soccorso in Forio is a whitewashed hilltop stunner with incredible sunset views.

Private sunset and even all-day boat trips can be arranged from most ports here and are a great way to orient yourself to the island’s scenery, even when bathing in the crystal clear waters. .
For swimming and the real Italian summer vibes, a day at a beach club is a must. The Giardino Eden is a quiet oasis where you can have lunch with local dishes and then swim from the beach platforms with breathtaking views of the Aragonese castle. And La Scannella Beach Club is everything you’d expect from an island beach with three pools and beach access from loungers literally hanging from the edge of the rock.
For stunning mountain and sea views, hikers will love the hike up Mount Epomeo, a reminder of the island’s volcanic past. And on the subject of history, Villa Arbusto which houses the Archaeological Museum of Pithecusa is worth a visit for its fascinating collection of Roman and Greek artifacts, including amphorae, ceramics and jewelry.

Ischia has no shortage of gardens or spa parks. The manicured botanical gardens of La Mortella were created by Susana Walton, wife of English composer William Walton, and often host events and concerts. With exotic plants, bay views and a zen garden, it’s a peaceful break any time of the year.

A soak in the healing thermal springs, including the Nitrodi Nymph Park spa, which claims to be the oldest in the world, is also perfect for all seasons. For multiple pools, spa treatments, and dining options, spend the day at Negombo or Poseidon Gardens.

An ice walk might just be the best way to experience the quaint old fishing village of Sant’Angelo. Closed to cars, it’s a kaleidoscope of flowers, vines and white houses and, above all, one of the best granitas from Enzo’s kiosk.

A dynamic cuisine guided by land and sea

Forio is on the west coast of the island.

Balate Dorin/Adobe Stock

Being so close to Naples, it’s not hard to find Neapolitan treats across Ischia, like great pizza or a pasticceria to serve sfogliatelle (pastries filled with ricotta and candied orange peel) or the emblematic baby (a small soft sweet sponge usually soaked in rum).

Many bars and beach clubs will also serve a zingara ischitanaa toasted sandwich made with country bread, fior di latte cheese, prosciuttotomato, lettuce and mayonnaise – it is said that two guys created it in their pub in the 1970s and it can be eaten around the island to this day.

Piennolo is the most popular tomato here, grown in the rich volcanic soil that makes them extra sweet and special. In fact, it is guaranteed that if you eat a pomodoro pasta around these parts, it was the variety that was used.

As it’s a Mediterranean island, you’d be forgiven for assuming the local specialty must be seafood. Instead, it’s Coniglio all’Ischitana, a rabbit stew cooked in an earthenware pot with tomato and local spices. The best of the island can be found at Il Focolare restaurant, perched on the heights of Casamicciola Terme and Barano. They specialize in slow food and for their famous rabbit dish you have to call ahead.
Of course, Ischia also does extraordinarily good seafood—some of the most creative on the island can be found at Saturnino in Forio, where foodies encounter the freshest catches of the day. Also in Forio, foodies will appreciate Umberto a Mare’s raw selection with panoramic sea views to pair with lunch or dinner.
For those who want to have an elegant sunset aperitif Right on the beach, Seasons is the place to be with expertly blended creative cocktails served with gourmet canapes. Stay for dinner where you can choose from a variety of contemporary seafood tasting menus with matching wines.

For hearty, rustic seasonal cuisine, head to La Vigna di Alberto In Barano. Locals flock here for a no-frills dinner in a wine-growing setting with genuine family hospitality. You’ll have to call ahead to order the rabbit, but there’s a lot more choice between pasta, seafood, and meat. Impress the locals at the end of your meal by asking for a Pipernaan infusion of locally made thyme and herbs digestive amaro.

Foodies will love the two-star Michelin restaurant Danì Maison where multi-award-winning chef Nino Di Costanzo delights with his culinary prowess and tasting dishes that are works of art. And at Indaco, located right by the sea in the Hotel Regina Isabella, Michelin-starred chef Pasquale Palamaro focuses on sustainable catering and impresses diners with his innovation. salumi di mare (dried seafood charcuterie).
For those looking to combine food and action on the road, local operator Custom Italy offers a fun food tour around the island with the much-loved Italian icon, the three-wheeled Ape Calessino.

Elegant getaways

Ischia Ponte has charming narrow streets and is crowned by the Aragonese Castle.

Ischia Ponte has charming narrow streets and is crowned by the Aragonese Castle.

Tomasz Czajkowski/Adobe Stock

Ischia’s five-star luxury hotel game is strong. The offer ranges from classic to chic design to contemporary design. With natural thermal waters everywhere, most hotels have a day spa and natural pools.

To be immersed in nature and three acres of manicured gardens, the newly refurbished Botania Relais and Spa is an adults-only retreat with whitewashed suites and villa-style rooms. They now own the only all-vegetarian gourmet restaurant in the area, Mirto, with a true garden-to-table philosophy. The historic Regina Isabella Resort and Spa is ideal for families and groups and offers a variety of casual and fine dining options, including the Michelin-starred Indaco, and has its own private beach.
If old-world vibes are more your thing, then the former aristocratic mansion that houses the Excelsior Belvedere Hotel and Spa in the heart of Ischia Porto won’t disappoint.
Overlooking the sea in San Montano Bay is the San Montano Resort and Spa. It has a breathtaking infinity pool and some suites with their own infinity pools. Their lawned terrace is the perfect place to watch the sun go down.
And then there’s the Mezzatorre Hotel and Thermal Spa that oozes Italian beach sophistication. If you could distill The good life and 1950s Italy, it would look like the Pellicano Hotels group. The retro peach umbrellas and private view of the bay, all set against the backdrop of the shadow of a 16th-century watchtower, are sure to stop you in your tracks.

In Ischia, it could be one of the many things that capture your heart: an unforgettable meal, a breathtaking sunset, the mesmerizing panoramas or the spellbinding blues and greens of the waters. This magnetic island has the gift of bewitching you. And one thing is certain. It’s not just a moment. Ischia is the real deal and here to stay.


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