While jetsetters beeline to Capri, Italians in the know have been flocking to the shores of neighboring Ischia for decades. The largest of the volcanic islands in the Bay of Naples, Ischia is prized for its rich natural beauty, thermal spas, and sandy beaches.
The island has everything from modern five-star resorts to tiny fishing towns that feel frozen in time. Regardless of your travel style, an escape to Ischia offers a glimpse of how sweet la dolce vita can really be.
The easiest way to reach Ischia is via ferry from Naples. Plan to spend an hour in bella Napoli to grab lunch at Da Michele, which is a 15-minute walk (or a 5 minute taxi ride) from the train station. Julia Roberts has her pizza epiphany here in Eat, Pray, Love, and the traditional pizzeria’s cinematic fame is well deserved. Before the food coma has time to take hold, jump in a taxi for the ferry terminal. Ferries and hydrofoils (which are simply slightly faster and slightly more expensive boats) leave from the ports of Naples and Pozzuoli about every hour during peak season. Book a spot on the next boat to Ischia Porto.
Arriving by sea provides an unforgettable first glimpse of the island and its characteristic port. If you are staying on this side of the island, drop your luggage at the hotel. Otherwise, some of the first shops near the ferry terminal offer “deposito bagagli” (luggage rooms) to store your bags for a few hours at a low cost while exploring the main town. Because you can never have too many Italian coffees, stop for an espresso and a rum-soaked babà pastry at historic Bar Calise.
INSIDER TIPIn Italy, ordering a coffee while standing at the bar is always cheaper than ordering drinks at a table. Don’t be surprised to pay a premium to sit – but it can be worth it to enjoy the ambiance.
Once well caffeinated, make your way to Castello Aragonese. Connected to Ischia by a bridge, the castle sits on its own rocky islet. The first structure built here dates back to 471 BC, but most of the current castle was built in the 15th century. It is now privately owned, but you can explore the buildings and the gardens for a small admission fee.
After taking in some of the local history, catch the sunset at Bagno Antonio on a small beach between Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte. Find a table overlooking the sand and dig into fried fish and calamari for dinner. Linger over local wine before making your way to bed.
After waking up in paradise and grabbing a quick Italian-style breakfast of a caffè e cornetto (coffee and pastry), it is time to explore. This is the day to discover Ischia by land or by sea.
Whereas Capri is known as the blue island thanks to its famed grotto, Ischia is called l’isola verde: the green island. See why by getting an early start in the village of Fontana as the starting point for an hour-long hike to the summit of Monte Epomeo. Even when Ischia’s beaches are buzzing with sun-worshipers, the verdant mountain trails are virtually deserted. Savor the views of the terraced vineyards and sparkling sea at the top of the 2,500-foot climb, which is the highest point on Ischia.
INSIDER TIPIf you prefer sea legs to hiking, Personalized Italy offers all day boat tours of Ischia that anchor in various small coves and tiny towns, including Sant’Angelo.
Stop for lunch at Il Bracconiere, a rustic restaurant set in the hills of Serrara Fontana. Island life might bring to mind platters of seafood, but here you will find the rabbit dishes that are an Ischia specialty. Try it in a sauce atop bucatini pasta while taking in the views of the hill and the sea.
Next, hail a three-wheeled taxi (known as an ape, or “bee” in Italian, thanks to its buzzing little motor), in order to wind down the hills towards Maronti beach. One of the largest beaches on the island, Maronti is a great choice for lounging because there are plenty of chairs and umbrellas that can be rented for a small daily fee, as well as a free area where you can spread out your own towel. If you are up for a bit more exploration, follow the signs to Le Fumarole Beach, where you can experience some volcanic activity. The beach is named for its fumaroles – natural openings where volcanic steam heats the sand.
INSIDER TIPMaronti is the setting for some of the most memorable scenes in Elena Ferrante’s acclaimed Neapolitan Novels – which conveniently make for perfect beach reads during a vacation on Ischia.
After soaking up the sun, spend less than €5 to take a water taxi from the beach towards Sant’Angelo. This is the southernmost tip of the island and no cars are allowed in the tiny fishing village. Sant’Angelo is known for its quiet squares, picturesque views, and brightly colored houses. According to local legend, the houses are so colorful because the sailors and fishermen who lived here wanted to be able to spot their homes from sea.
Sant’Angelo is the most charming corner of Ischia, but it can also be one of the sleepiest, so after taking a look around stroll back across the isthmus for a glass of wine and platters of cheese and salami followed by delicious pasta at Enoteca La Stadera.
After exploring the island’s most unique areas, it is time to the spend a day in relaxation mode. Ischia is a part of the Phlegraean Fields, a volcanic area west of Naples. The volcano is dormant, but there is still enough activity to keep things interesting. Most notably, Ischia is famed for its thermal spas that are fed by natural hot springs. For an indulgent day, check into the Poseidon Thermal Park. The park has 20 pools filled with heated water that is said to have healing properties. There is also a wellness center where you can add on hot stone massages after taking a dip in the mineral waters.
The park overlooks Citara beach, which is the perfect place for lunch. Find a table on the edge of the water at La Sirena del Mare and ask the waiter to also book you a beach chair to relax in after the meal.
INSIDER TIPMany of the beaches on Ischia are “private,” meaning you need to rent a chair to set up for the day. The cost is usually €10-15/day in the summer but it also grants you use of the showers and restrooms.
After a swim and a nap in the sun, head back to your hotel to dress up for dinner. Make a reservation at Ristorante Oasis and arrive early to catch the sunset. Enjoy the gorgeous views of Forio with a drink in hand while live piano music plays in the background. It is hard to go wrong with the modern seafood dishes, but there is also a wood fire oven and excellent pizza to tempt you during that one last island meal.
WHERE TO STAY
When staying in Ischia, the biggest decision to make is whether to book a hotel close to the lively main port town or opt for the quieter area on the other side of the island, where you’ll find better beaches and thermal spas.
For a unique stay not far from the port, try Albergo il Monastero, which has a luxurious rustic feel on the Castello Aragonese island. In Forio, thermal heated pools come nearly standard at most hotels, so picking a place to stay depends on how many extras you want to budget for. Check into Hotel Semiramis for a peaceful break near Citara beach and take advantage of the views from the panoramic terrace. In the same area, Il Gattopardo has more modern rooms with spa services ranging from massage to mud therapy.
Ischia is accessible only by ferry, hydrofoil, or private boat. The ports of Naples and Pozzuoli offer regular departures. The nearest airport is in Naples, though flying into Rome is also an option as the cities are only about one hour apart by express train.
WHEN TO GO
Ischia is best in early summer (June and July) when the weather and the water are both warm. August is the busiest point of high season, when accommodation and beach chairs are at a premium. However, the crowds disperse in September even though the weather remains ideal for a dip in the sea. Keep in mind that many of the hotels and restaurants close between late October and April.