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