Just off the coast of Naples is the island of Ischia, a quiet paradise formed from volcanic rock. Though most overseas visitors have never heard of it, this beautiful island is known throughout the region for its curative thermal waters and ancient Aragonese castle.
Most visitors may head instead to the more famous Capri, but those who take the detour to Ischia will be rewarded by its relaxed atmosphere, fascinating history and beautiful natural spots. Here are a few reasons why you should consider a visit to this fantastic Italian island!
Ischia's Aragonese Castle dates back to 474 BC when Hiero I, the first ruler of Syracuse, received the island of Ischia as a reward for aiding in a battle against the Tyrrhenians. In later years it was the site of conflict between the Parthenopeans and the Romans, and was finally rebuilt by Alfonso of Aragon in 1441. By 1911 it had been used as a refuge during battles and volcanic eruptions, been home to monks, nuns & royalty, and been used as a prison.
Currently it's open to visitors for a €12 entry fee (current as of March 2022). You can walk to the top via an old mule track, or ride the elevator up. After exploring the castle, I recommend having a rest on the patio at Il Terrazzo for a refreshing glass of prosecco and stunning views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Ischia sits near some of the largest active volcanoes in the world, so it's no surprise that the volcanic activity of its own Mount Epomeo has created some great thermal pools around the island. The map below shows all the thermal pools on the island - the grey pins show thermal spas with paid admission and the four popular free natural sites are marked with blue pins. You can find detailed information on each site here.
Locally-produced cosmetic products made from Ischia's volcanic mud and thermal water can also be purchased from many shops around the island, and they make great souvenirs to bring back home.
Southern Italy makes some really good limoncello, and you can get locally-made bottles of it almost everywhere on the island. They also make some great variations of it, such as meloncello (my favourite), pistachiocello, and the strawberry-flavored fragoncello. You can also find a digestif called rucolino, an arugula-flavored drink created on Ischia. Personally, the rucolino wasn't quite to my taste, but my partner loved it.
Legend has it that during his epic battle with Zeus, the monstrous giant Typhus fled to Ischia where he was imprisoned under Mount Epomeo. It's the highest point on the island, standing at 789 meters above sea level, and gives 360 degree views of Ischia as well as the surrounding islands of Capri & Procida. On a clear day you can also see Mount Vesuvius across the bay.
The hike to the summit takes about an hour, and can be done on foot or by renting a horse at a souvenir shop on the way up. Also along the trail is the Chiesa di San Nicola, a 15th-century church built right into the side of the mountain.
I remember walking through the quiet cobblestone alleys of Ischia Porto on my first visit, the smell of pomodoro sauce wafting down from open windows. The island is home to a high percentage of year-long residents, so it isn't difficult to find fresh, authentic Italian food.
We ate most of our meals along Corso Vittoria Colonna, a popular street between the ferry terminal and the Aragonese castle. The street offers something for everyone, from cozy restaurants to open patios to clubs. It's also a great place to shop for clothing and souvenirs.
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