Much has been said about Ischia in the past few years, thanks in part to the HBO-RAI adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and most recently, the reopening of the famed Mezzatorre Hotel. The largest island in the Gulf of Naples, it has long been overshadowed by the allure of Capri and the Amalfi Coast but the “Green Island” is finally stepping into its own.
There are a lot of things to love about Ischia, including its mineral-rich wines, long stretches of sandy beaches, thermal baths and excellent, affordable cuisine. The island is lush, wild and still remains refreshingly local – it’s not polished as Capri and therein lies its charm. Ischia is densely populated, and inhabited year-round, so it has a lot to offer in every season. The secret about Ischia is out but there are plenty of hidden gems left to discover on the island.
Albergo Il Monastero
The impressive Castello Aragonese, built in 474 BC by Hiero I of Syracuse, is the island’s most iconic landmark but the rocky islet is home to more than just a castle. A whole borgo exists within the fortification and you can visit ruins of a cathedral, panoramic terraces and numerous churches. The Castello is also the setting for Albergo Il Monastero, a discrete hotel built within a 16th century monastery. With impressive views of the island – and plenty of historic charm – it’s the most unique place to experience the magic of Ischia after sunset when the castle closes to outside visitors. While some guests prefer to stay in spa resorts, culture enthusiasts will want to soak in the atmosphere of this evocative property. You can also enjoy gourmet dining on the outdoor terrace with aerial views of Ischia Ponte, the bridge that leads to the castle.
La Cantinola di Zio Jack
Set high up in the hills above Forio, La Cantinola di Zio Jack is an unlikely place for dinner but makes for one of the most memorable meals on the island. Part of the beauty is in the arrival: the trattoria is located up steep, winding country roads that can only accommodate a tiny ape car, so you need to book ahead to arrange the shuttle service. Once you’ve arrived, you’re greeted by a canopy decked with lights and a view of Ischia’s coastline off in the distance (time your reservation so you can catch the sunset). La Cantinola di Zio Jack serves excellent interpretations of Campania’s best comfort food: you’ll find dishes like patate e provola served in a pizza bread bowl, eggplant parmesan, Ischia-style rabbit and pizza.
La Scannella is another destination that is worth your while. Set within Ischia’s rocky coastline, this idyllic beach club has awe-inspiring views of the sea but can only be reached by walking down hundreds of steep steps or via boat from nearby Sant’Angelo. Its remote location, though, is its greatest asset: with no phone reception down by the water and an enforced silent bathing area, the only sounds you can hear are the waves lapping at the rocks below and seagulls flying overhead. La Scannella has two cold salt-water pools, a heated swimming pool and easy access to the sea – and the protected cove is a perfect place for snorkeling. It also has 20 hotel rooms with sea views and the property can arrange fishing experiences and scuba-diving excursions for guests. Stick around for lunch or dinner to enjoy fresh fish, salads and pastas that come served directly in the pan.
Ischia isn’t well-known as a wine destination outside of Italy, but it will surely receive international acclaim soon. That’s because the island is home to hundreds of vineyards that grow quality indigenous varietals, including Biancolella and Forastera white grapes and Guarnaccia and Per’e’ Palummo (Piedirosso) red grapes. Ischia has excellent conditions for viticulture, including a mild climate, volcanic soil and mountainous terrain, and has been producing wine for thousands of years. While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to visit Casa d’Ambra, Ischia’s most scenic winery with sweeping views of the sea and the fishing town of Sant’Angelo down below. The winery dates back to 1888 and grows its prized Biancolella grapes, used for its Frassitelli label, at 600 meters above sea level on the slopes of Monte Epomeo, the highest point on the island. The winery is managed by Andrea D’Ambra and his two daughters, Marina and Sara, who lead tours and tastings of Casa d’Ambra’s 10 labels.
Set within a tranquil bay that looks out onto the Castello Aragonese, Gardenia Mare is one of Ischia’s most picturesque beach clubs. It’s a great place for sunbathing, swimming and even snorkeling, with ancient Roman ruins beneath the water and medieval remains in plain sight. Call to book a lounger ahead of time and then arrive by hailing a taxi boat near Ischia Ponte. Gardenia Mare also has two excellent restaurants: a more casual beach bar, with simple pastas and salads, and a gourmet restaurant overlooking the sea. Try the tasting menu or order à la carte and be prepared to enjoy the catch of the day, including dishes like spaghetti with clams or tuna carpaccio with strawberries. The gourmet restaurant is also open for dinner and makes for a truly romantic evening.
With hundreds of natural thermal springs, most travelers sail to Ischia for a dip in its sulfuric, healing waters which are thought to provide relief from respiratory diseases, rheumatism and dermatitis. While some hotels have spas, the locals head to Negombo, a thermal park and lush garden that features contemporary art by Italian sculptors. This wellness oasis has 12 thermal and marine pools with temperatures ranging from 65° to 100° Fahrenheit as well as a hammam, jacuzzi and access to a fine sandy beach. Special features include the “Templars” showers, designed to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders, and the Kneipp pool and Japanese labyrinth, which alternate hot and cold water to help detox the body. Spa treatments are available onsite along with numerous eateries, including a healthy bar, a casual trattoria and the upscale Al FuGà restaurant.