Move over Capri, Ischia is the island to go in Campania (with better beaches too!)
Most Brits who fly into Naples airport, head for the resorts of Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi Coast or to the spectacular ruins of Pompeii. Or those looking for some island fun head for lavish Capri.
Although I have wanted to visit many of the above resorts, I wanted an affordable mini-holiday in the area and its safe to say they aren’t exactly renowned for being cheap… in fact quite the opposite. I like to travel off the beaten track and prefer to spend more time surrounded by locals of a destination, rather than being surrounded by fellow tourists. As I booked a cheap last-minute flight to Naples, I discovered an island in the Gulf Of Naples called Ischia. Despite having backpacked around Italy 12 years ago, I must confess I had never actually heard of it, nor had anyone I spoke to. I was intrigued. After some research I found out it was near Capri, but with better beaches and frankly a lot cheaper. Ischia is also home to an international film festival in July, which has been growing in popularity every year. I have always wanted to visit Capri, but have been put off by the extortionate prices. Definitely a destination for the rich so I’m told. Ischia is only a 50 minute hydrofoil ride or 90 minute ferry ride via Procida (another island) from Naples’ port Beverello (takes 30 minutes to get the Alibus from Naples airport), with prices ranging from €14 to €19. I personally would recommend the Alilauro Hydrofoil as it was a more pleasant journey and a cleaner vessel than the ferry.
From Naples, you can get ferries/hydrofoils to the ports of Forio (resort on west coast), Casamicciola (north coast) or Ischia Porto. After plumping to stay in Ischia Ponte, when it came to looking for accommodation, we were spoilt for choice to find a range of three star hotels for around the £35 (€40) per night range (Early June 2012 rates, including B&B), most boasting swimming pools and sea views. My friend and I ended up booking a twin room at the Parco Cataromana Hotel in Ischia town. Main Ischia town includes Ischia Porto (the port and where the nightlife is) and Ischia Ponte (the old town with the Castello Aragonese), near our hotel. We arrived at Ischia Porto via ferry and it was a short walk to the bus station (the smallest and most chaotic bus station I have ever seen!), where we boarded a No.12 bus only 10 minutes ride to right outside our hotel. You must buy a ticket before getting on the bus or risk getting fined (we saw plain clothed inspectors travelling on the buses so be warned!). A 90 minute ticket costs €1.40 and should be validated when you get on the bus (or 24 hour ticket for €4.60).
Our hotel was situated on a high hill, 10 minutes walk from the old town Ischia Ponte below. The views were stunning – the main reason we chose the hotel. Hotel Parco Cataromana is spread across several terraced levels on the steep hill above Cataromana Bay and included two outdoor swimming pools (one thermal) and one inside. It also includes a sauna and spa, 24 hour bar (!) and restaurant. Our room included two very comfortable twin beds, lots of storage and ensuite, with doors opening to a shared patio with our own deckchairs. As well as surrounding the two pools, there were plenty of sunbeds to go around. The hotel clientele appeared to be predominantly German and Italian, which was reflected in the food selected for the continental breakfast. The spa was very good value – I got the Venus package for €25 which included body massage with chocolate and a mud facial.
Anyway, not to linger too long on the hotel, what has Ischia got to offer? Being a volcanic island, Ischia has lots of thermal waters and its many thermal parks are one of the main attractions. We spent the day at Negombo, one of the most popular thermal parks. It included swimming and thermal pools at varying temperatures spread over terraces overlooking a secluded bay with its own beach. Although it costs €30 to enter, ask your hotel as they may be able to do a deal for reduced price tickets, or if you arrive later in the day it’s cheaper. The beach was lovely and the pools were a great way to relax and soothe any aches or pains you may have.
Ischia Ponte was a 10 minute walk from where we were staying and a very charming place. We loved ambling around the cobbled streets and looking at the old buildings of the town, where we ate dinner most nights. I can recommend the Cocò restaurant, situated at the beginning of the causeway leading to the Castello with great sea views, good seafood pasta dishes and nice house wine. However, my favourite was the family-run restaurant Al Pontile, located at the end of the old town’s main road Via Luigi Mazzella. Although it looks tiny from the street, it opens out on the other side to a terrace by the sea. We were impressed by the affordable and tasty menu. I ate pomodoro and mozzarella to start (simple starter, but the best) and spaghetti with tuna and tomato sauce. I have to mention the Quid prosecco they served us, which was only €16, quite possibly the best prosecco I have ever drunk in my life.
The main focus of the old town is the Castello Aragonese, a large rock covered in ruined and restored houses, churches, cathedrals and prisons from the 12th to the 18th century, which is joined to the island by a causeway. We paid €10 for a ticket to the Castello and spent four hours on the rock. It was fascinating and had stunning views of Ischia Ponte, Mount Epomeo and the Gulf of Naples. It also includes the Il Terrazzo restaurant with an amazing vista of the sea.
Sant’Angelo on the south coast is probably the most picturesque place on the whole island. An old fishing village split in two by a small causeway with beaches either side of it. Similar to Positano on the mainland, the village includes lots of building of different colours, including lovely boutiques, restaurants and hotels. We got the CD bus (took an hour due to winding mountain roads) from Ischia Porto to Cava Grado, from there is a short walk downhill to Sant’Angelo. We got there just in time for sunset and were not disappointed. When the village starts to turn its lights on, it really is stunning. The night in particular we were there was a low, orange moon – I don’t think I have ever seen a moon so low. We ate at Il Pirata – one of the island’s most renowned restaurants. It was slightly more expensive than average prices on the island, but the food, service, setting and seats (very comfortable!) made it worthwhile.
Ischia has beaches all over the island, but Citara on the west coast is generally regarded as the best. We took a 30 minute bus ride there from Ischia Porto – which also stops at Casamicciola, Lacco Ameno and Forio on the way. The beach is a long, slim strip of golden sand with several restaurants and cafes nearby, as well as the thermal park of Poseidon. The day we were there, the waves were particularly high and the sea was rather choppy, so I was a bit scared of swimming.
Although many claim Ischia is for more mature holidaymakers due to the thermal pools, there is a lot of young adults on the island too. For those wanting a nightlife, Ischia Porto is the place to be. A string of restaurants and bars are dotted along Via Porto on the east of the port. This is where all the yachts park up so is a great place to people watch. We ate an amazing meal at La Bitta, before sinking a few cocktails at the ZeroOttoUno 081 bar a few doors down. We also enjoyed some cocktails at the Alchemie Friends Club bar on Corso Vittoria Colonna – the main shopping street in Ischia – which had a very good soundtrack.
And if there’s not enough to keep you occupied on the island, there are also plenty of excursions to the islands of Capri and Procida or trips to Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento or Pompeii on the mainland. We used Ischia Sea to do a day trip to Positano and Amalfi Coast for €40. As the two destinations are quite far, we had two hours at both so it’s not very long, but enough to get a flavour of the place. Both were beautiful, scenic towns, but were incredibly touristy and the higher prices in restaurants and bars reflected this. An ice cream in the main square in Amalfi cost me €5 for two scoops, compared to €2 in Ischia Ponte – quite a difference!
As we were only on the island for five days, we didn’t get the chance to hike up Mount Epomeo. It is apparently only a 3km (30 minute) walk from Fontana and you can get 360 degree views of the island and the Bay of Naples. A company also does horse-riding trips up here.
So if you’re looking for an Italian holiday a bit off the beaten track and not so touristy, I would highly recommend Ischia. The islanders were very friendly, the food and views were amazing, and it is very good value compared to other resorts and cities in Italy. I can’t wait to go back…
Grazie per i bei momenti passati insieme!
For Metro Girl’s blog post on the Venice carnival, read Venice Carnival 2013: A masquerade on the City of Water.
For Metro Girl’s other travel posts, check out the You Can Take The Girl Out Of London section