There’s no denying that most of, and often the best of, Italy tends to be overrun with tourists in the summer. And while having gained more popularity in the last few years, the IIsola di Ischia (Island of Ischia) is still pure, authentic, untouched Italy, which still retains much of that locals-only magic. Even though it is best known for its healing volcanic sands, natural water pools, and thermal spas, you can also find many a piazza filled with local families staying up late—talking, smoking and drinking (when in Rome!)— while their kids chase each other around fountains way past their bedtime. And chances are, if you pop into any of the small shops selling vintage books and oil paintings, you’ll spend your vacation trying to figure out how many you can squeeze into your suitcase. We love this place so much we almost don’t want to tell you about it.
The beautiful island of Ischia and its tiny neighbor, Procida, first caught the public’s imagination when they were used for the fictional town of ‘Mongibello’ in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Both islands reside in the Bay of Naples and can be reached by ferry from Naples itself. And since the film has become the stuff summer dreams are made of, here’s a little geography lesson: the ferry will take you to the island’s main port, Ischia Porto, but the bustling square where Ripley gets off the bus is actually Ischia Ponte, below the towering 12th century Castello Aragonese, which dominates the island’s northeast coast. It’s about a mile east of the ferry landing and is connected by regular bus service. The famous ‘Festival of the Madonna’ scene was held on the waterfront of Piazza Malcovati, and Dickie Greenleaf’s villa is Palazzo Malcovati, on Ischia Ponte’s main street, Via Luigi Mazzella.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the Naples airport take a taxi to the port to catch a ferry. Note which port your ferry or hydrofoil leaves from because there’s more than one port in Naples. Check local schedules to make sure your ferry isn’t cancelled.
From Amalfi or Positano take the hydrofoil – it’s cheap and takes about an hour. Pack your own food. For an awesome but pricey experience (worth it if you can swing it), you can hire a private boat from Ischia Charter Boats (ask for Roberto). They will pick you up from Amalfi, Positano, Ischia, or Naples. You can also hire them for day or afternoon to take you around. Roberto, an Italian local who lives in Brooklyn the rest of the year, will give you all the inside local spots and even take you there himself.
Book the locally beloved Davide as your driver (if you have the guts!). A bear of a man – imagine if Gandolfini was driving in The Italian Job. Davide takes curves on tiny roads that will make you squirm in your seat, but will get you there safely every time (someone in Hollywood really ought to hire him as a stunt driver). He is mute but makes himself understood. One call to his wife and he is there in minutes. Your hotel front desk will know him, as will any of the charter boat companies, and can book him for you. Years later we still talk about Davide as one of the best parts of our trip.
LAY OF THE LAND
The island is broken up by the following small towns, known by its geographical placements on the map. One our personal favorites is Forio in the Western part of the island, one of the busiest towns in Ischia—great for walking around at night, getting drinks and gelato. A few of our favorites below.
THE NORTHERN PART
Casamicciola. Lacco Ameno.
THE SOUTHERN PART
Maronti. St. Angelo. Barano. Serrara. Fontana.
Ponte D’Ischia. Porto D’Ischia. San Michele.
WHERE TO STAY
MEZZATORE HOTEL & SPA
Easily one of the most beautiful hotels of all time, and last we checked, at an affordable price. The rooms are low key, but get one with a balcony view. Go for the pool by the spectacular rocky ocean views. Simple Italian food at its very best. Prescribed diets for sensitive eaters can be catered for by the chef, but honestly just eat the pasta and shut up. You can work it off at the hotel’s private gym.
Via Mezzatorre, 23/d / 80075 Forio NA, Italy / 39.081.986111
HOTEL LA GONDOLA
A family-run hotel located right on Maronti beach, close to the Cavascura natural pools and views of both the Mediterranean Sea and lovely St. Angelo bay. The rooms have large terraces overlooking the views, and guests get to take advantage of the private beach and a thermal spa with natural sauna. You may find more luxury hotels on many best of Ischia lists, but this is the sort of spot where its guests have been returning to for years and has more of a local charm that feels out of an old Italian film.
Via Maronti, 57 / 80070 Barano D’ischia NA, Italy / 39.081.9900.76
WHERE TO EAT
Take a quick water taxi to Giardino Eden. The boat ride alone is worth it, and the restaurant is great. Great for lunch, gorgeous for dinner. If you get lucky, they’ll even have fireworks by moonlight.
Via Nuova Cartaromana, 62 / 80077 Ischia NA, Italy / 39.081.985015
Likely the best pizza in Ischia, and one we still dream about. Right in the center of Forio. Be sure to get a dinner reservation, then take a good, leisurely post-dinner walk through lovely Forio.
Via Marina, 18 / 80075 Forio NA, Italy / 39.081.986392
An institution in Ischia. A Michelin-starred restaurant with a seasonal menu and excellent wine list. Try the raw yellowtail with basmati rice appetizer, anchovy pie with cianfottina zucchini and eggplant, and the stuffed squids with shrimps.
Via Soprascaro, 17 Zona, Via Marina / 80075 del Porto NA, Italy / 39.081.998296
TRATTORIA IL FOCOLARE
In-the-know locals will tell you that you must come to this family-owned treasure located up in the hills between Casamicciola and the village of Fiaiano (consider taking a walking tour around Buceto Springs beforehand). Order the roasted meats or one of Ischia’s specialties, the rabbit. The vibe is warm, with the family chatting up guests—more like visiting a friend’s Italian relative who just happens to be a great chef. Guests are regularly invited to take a Limoncello in their wine-cellar.
Via Cretajo, 3 / 80070 Fiaiano NA, Italy / 39.081.902944
RISTORANTE LA PACE
Located between Ischia Ponte and Maronti Beach and can only be reached by sea, making it a great spot if you hire a boat for the day and are looking for an memorable spot to stop for lunch (which we highly recommend doing). You can take in a pre-lunch swim or grab a sun lounger post meal to take in a little (or a lot of) sun. Dishes vary depending on the catch of the day. The bay itself is one of the most picturesque locations in Ischia with startlingly crystal clear water. This is the opposite of a scene as its a spot mostly only locals know about.
Via Chiummano, Località Scarrupata / 80070 Barano D’ischia NA, Italy / 39.368.489.084
In the lovely village of Sant’Angelo, this family-run, romantic spot with a great view is a favorite on the island, and the owner Paolo is a great host. Make a reservation and sit outside.
Via Chiaia di Rose, 20 / 80070 Sant’Angelo d’Ischia NA, Italy / 39.081.999213
A double Michelin-starred restaurant located within the 5-star Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa, a 15 minute walk from the town center of Casamicciola. Serving gourmet cuisine with an unfixed menu that varies depending on the season, with each dish seen as a work of art by the head chef. Definitely get a reservation. While most restaurants in Ischia are all about the views, in-the-know guests choose to sit at one of the specially situated tables inside the kitchen in order to fully appreciate the experience and watch the chef do his thing.
Piazza Bagni di Gurgitello, 4 / 80074 Casamicciola Terme NA, Italy / 39.081.994722
Best known for its fumaroles: hot vapors caused by underground volcanic activity and known to treat a range of ailments. The beach itself is one of the prettiest on the island and is just a short walk from from the town of Sant’ Angelo, where signs will direct you along a pretty path surrounded by quaint and colorful little houses from which to get a picturesque view of the beach and its crystal clear waters. Close to a number of bars and restaurants.
Great swimming and great views at one of the biggest beaches in ischia, accessed via a steep, winding road reached by taxi or on foot. Great food at the nearby Belmare restaurant.
SAN MONTANO BEACH
One part of the beach is free and open to the public, while the other is owned by Negombo Thermal Gardens, one of the island’s best thermal parks (you’ll have to pay to get in). The beach itself has the softest sand and is situated in Lacco Ameno, with amazing views of San Montanto Bay and enclosed on both sides by tree-lined, rocky hills.
Next to San Montanto is Litoranea Beach, a smaller but lovely beach with soft sand and great views. From Lacco Ameno, walk in the direction of Casamicciola to find the beach on your left.
SAN FRANCESCO BEACH
Located in Forio, this is a great beach for families and kids, with the rocks and caves nearby making it ideal for snorkeling or hiring canoes or pedaloes. Also a lot of little restaurants nearby.
Aragonese Castle is a must in Ischia. A medieval castle built by Hiero I of Syracuse in 474 BC. Definitely the most touristy thing to do here but worth it. Great for its history of course, but after the tour, make sure to order a negroni at sunset. Make a reservation days ahead of time. From there, you can take a taxi boat post drinks to one of the other ports for dinner.
Ponte Aragonese / 80077 Ischia NA, Italy / 39.081.992834
One of the best things to do in Ischia, if you’re the active kind of vacationer that is, is hike its highest mountain, Mount Epomeo—a volcanic mountain reaching a height of 789 metres and towering above the rest of the island, with trails, caves, vineyards & a 15th century chapel.
NEGOMBO THERMAL GARDENS
14 different natural pools and a private beach, best known for its hydrothermal experiences. You pay an entrance fee then are welcome (and should) spend hours exploring the caves, waterfalls, natural healing water pools and partaking in the mud spa treatments known for its restorative, healing properties. The mud’s electromagnetic charge has been known to help with rheumatism, stress, and skin disorders, amongst other things. The gardens also have hammocks and sun chairs available, as well as cocktails & fruit juices.
Baia di, Via S. Montano / 80076 Lacco Ameno NA, Italy / 39.081.986152
The Park of the Spring of Nitrodi offers a hydro-aromatherapy trail which thanks to the direct contact with aromatic and officinal plants boosts the effects of the water. After having drunk the water and taken a shower, visitors can go for a walk in the Park and stop in the specially organised hydro-aromatherapy areas.
sorgente di nitrodi barano d / 80072 Barano D’ischia NA, Italy
THE SPA AT TERME MANZI HOTEL & SPA
Built around the most famous thermal hot springs on the island, the Gurgitiello Springs, the SPA at Terme Manzi (also a hotel and restaurant beloved by many) is known for its thermal indoor pool, thermal mud therapies, massages, and sauna.
Piazza Bagni di Gurgitello, 4 / 80074 Casamicciola Terme NA, Italy / 39.081.994722
Regardless of the wonderful beaches and thermal gardens, our favorite memories of Ischia are still ones of meandering around the piazzas at night, ordering negronis and gelatos and just people watching. This piazza in Forio is one of our favorites.
80075 Forio NA, Italy
Take a day trip to Procida, worlds away from the trendy restaurants of Capri and even quieter than Ischia. The ferry goes from Porto di Massa, while the hydrofoil goes from Molo Beverello. However, at Molo Beverello instead of looking for “Procida” you should look for “Ischia via Procida”. There is a shuttle bus between the two terminals.
Meander around the towns for local shops selling everything from vintage books to oil paintings of ducks.
Shop the antique prints and endless books in various languages. And don’t forget the pet the napping cat on top of the stack of books on the way out.
Palazzo dell’Orologio, Via Luigi Mazzella, 46/50 / 80077 Ischia NA, Italy / 39.081.985632
This “supermarket for readers” sells books, comics, and gadgets. Lots of odd little souvenirs to take home.
Via de Rivaz, 11 / 80077 Ischia NA, Italy / 39.328.9197591