Travel: Ischia & Capri

Living North Issue 125

Travellers' Tales

From the ancient home of a Roman Emperor to naturally healing thermal springs and dramatic cliff-top views, the islands of the Bay of Naples offer history, culture and adventure...

Nicknamed ‘Green Island’ owing to its abundant lush vegetation, Ischia is the largest of the islands nestled in the Gulf of Naples. An oasis of breathtaking scenery with picturesque coastal beaches and rustic hillside villages, the island has become as popular as its little sister, Capri. Ischia’s 21 miles of coastline were immortalised as the backdrop of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s performance in Cleopatra in 1963. An extinct volcano rises up from the heart of the island, its slopes providing the perfect terrain for the cultivation of the grapes used to produce the superb Monte Epomeo wine. For walkers and nature lovers as well as the adventurous, a hike to the summit is highly recommended to experience the island’s highest point, 789m above sea level, offering unforgettable panoramic views over the sparkling Mediterranean and fine sandy beaches.

The small villages of Casamicciola Terme, Lacco Ameno and Forio are surrounded by sweet scented pine and olive groves, and great cascades of pink and purple bougainvillea tumble over almost every wall and gate. On the east of the island, a thin stone bridge leads to the island’s most famous landmark, the medieval Aragonese Castle. Originally built as a garrison in 474 BC on an islet of magma, the rustic castle is a must-see for history lovers.

Ischia is easily accessible by ferry from the port of Naples, with three sailings a day, taking around 45 minutes. As an island of volcanic origins, the bubbling activity below ground has led to the creation of plentiful thermal springs and spa complexes, and given it the nickname ‘The Island of Good Health’. The balmy 40° waters of the 22 swimming pools at the famous Giardini Poseidon are said to possess beneficial healing properties, whilst the myth goes that a dip in the picturesque springs of the Fonte Delle Ninfe Nitrodi beautifies hair and skin. Wandering the rural paths that connect the towns of the island, it isn’t uncommon to come across white clay rocks emitting sulphurous steam jets.

Sample the natural springs in a luxury setting at the Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa, situated in the pretty town of Casamicciola Terme at the foot of Mount Epomeo. The hotel’s spa is built over an ancient thermal spring, the natural waters of the indoor pool providing an oasis of tranquillity. The interiors reflect a refined atmosphere whilst guest rooms and suites are impeccably furnished in an elegant, classical style. Il Mosaico is the hotel’s exclusive two Michelin starred restaurant, offering exquisite Italian cuisine, whilst the decor lives up to the restaurant’s name, with every surface shimmering with beautiful mosaic tiles. Surrounded by lush countryside and within minutes of the sea, the hotel encompasses the best of both worlds.

The finest Italian food can be found around every corner on the island, from deep red vine tomatoes grown under the scorching Ischia sun to sumptuous fish and seafood, fresh from the island’s surrounding azure Tyrrhenian Sea. If you happen to be travelling in July, indulge yourself at Vinischia, a glorious annual food and wine festival. Unearth the perfect spot for ultimate relaxation on a visit to the Botanical Garden, teeming with tropical plants and vibrant flowers, or try diving in the waters of Maronti. Enjoy the sunset from Forio Point, where the women of the island used to wait for their husbands to return from sea, gazing out to the horizon where a unique green-tinged optical illusion can often be seen.

Fashion lovers should head to the north east of the island to discover the prestigious stores and glamorous boutiques of Corso Vittoria Colonna. Adjacent to the elegant street is Il Moresco Hotel & Thermal Spa, a small piece of paradise with beautiful gardens and pools enclosed by lava stone. Tastefully furnished guest rooms boast terraces overlooking the stunning Bay of Naples, whilst a short stroll brings you to the hotel’s private beach.

A hop across the water on one of the regular Ischiasea ferries or hydrofoils to Capri is a must, whether for a day trip or a longer tranquil break. Contrasting with its emerald sister, Capri is named ‘Isola Azzurra’, The Blue Island, after its crystal clear waters. A day is sufficient to explore the beautiful island, being just ten square kilometres in size. Despite its modest proportions, it boasts a plethora of colourful gardens, mountainous summits and dramatic coastlines which are easily accessed by a series of picturesque walking trails.

From the Marina Grande, private boats are available for a tour around the island to marvel at the jagged caves in the rocks. The dazzling sapphire water of Grotta Azzurra or the ‘Blue Grotto’ is an awe-inspiring phenomenon, that was once used as an ancient bathing place. In the Roman period, Capri was home to the great Emperor Augustus and to his licentious adopted son, Tiberius. Villa Jovis, the residence of Tiberius, is one of the island’s must-see landmarks. Built in AD 27 atop Mount Tiberio, the island’s second highest point after Mount Solaro, the ruins are a fascinating insight into Capri’s rich past.

In Capri town itself, boutiques and cafes cluster around the pretty domed church of Santo Stefano. For lovers of contemporary literature, Capri hosts ‘Le Conversazioni’, an annual event bringing the most interesting English-language writers to the island. Take one of the regular buses across to the west of the island to explore the stunning landscapes and coastal pathways of the hillside town of Anacapri. With its white villas, boutiques and bars, it is the most exclusive and unspoiled part of Capri. From its hillside position on Mount Solaro, the town offers breathtaking views over the Bay of Naples.

As for hotels, you’ll be spoiled for choice on the island. Originally built in 1906 and still retaining its original charm and enchanting atmosphere, Hotel Excelsior Parco has long been a sought-after retreat for writers and artists. The delightful boutique hotel boasts a certain exclusivity, perfectly located within a five minute walk from the harbour. Or spend a night or two in the luxurious Capri Tiberio Palace, a stylish and contemporary hotel offering the kind of views that made the island the choice of emperors. Situated just a few minutes stroll from the buzz of the bars, boutiques and cafes in the Piazzetta, the serene Palace offers a luxurious starting point to explore the island.

If a spot of island-hopping from Italy’s dramatic Amalfi Coast is more to your taste, the town of Sorrento is the perfect base to discover the wonders of these two beautiful islands. Spend time soaking up the stunning simplicity of the narrow streets and landmarks of Sorrento, including the frescoes of Duomo Cathedral and the sun-drenched olive and lemon groves, as well as the leather workshops which line the cobbled streets. The arched Cloister of St Francis, filled with magnificent palm trees and great cascades of colourful flowers, is well worth a visit. The town’s astonishing cliff-top location marks the beginning of the famous coastal drive, winding along the cliff tops to Amalfi: every mile commanding views over the azure Bay of Naples to Vesuvius. Ischia and Capri are easily reached by regular ferries and hydrofoils from Sorrento port, and if you’re travelling in November, make sure you catch a showing at the annual Sorrento Film Festival, which attracts thousands of film fans to the city.

Whichever destination you choose within the Bay of Naples, visitors shouldn’t leave without experiencing one of the spectacular sunsets over the volcanic landscapes, be it Vesuvius, Epomeo, Tiberio or Solaro. Watching the sun set over the glistening sea will ensure your stay is unforgettable.

Travellers’ Tips... 
  • Time Difference: GMT +1 hour Currency: Euro (€)
  • Health and Safety: No compulsory vaccinations
  • Passports and Visas: No visa necessary for British passport holders
  • Flying time to Destination: 23⁄4 hours to Naples from London Gatwick
  • Highlights: In the Negombo Thermal Park, Ischia, the sea is exceptionally shallow and the water is warm.
    Visit the magical Blue Grotto in Capri, with its intense blue water.
    Discover the masterpiece of the beautiful baroque church of San Michele Arcangelo in Capri – the trick is to look to the floor rather than the ceilings or walls.
    Don’t miss a visit to nearby Pompeii, the famous Roman town destroyed by a volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.