Choose Ischia Italy for an island escape. It's in the Bay of Naples and busy Capri is nearby, but pretty Ischia is crowd-free, packed with history and close enough to Procida for some island hopping. Take a closer look at Ischia with Natasha Foges. The information below is taken from The Rough Guide to Italy, your travel guide for Italy.
In the first century BC, Emperor Augustus looked at the Bay of Naples and decided to give his island of Ischia to Naples in return for Capri. Since then, low-profile Ischia has always been overshadowed by its more famous neighbour.
Capri has attracted an endless number of rich and famous over the years, while Ischia tends to attract a loyal clientele of wellness tourists attracted by its thermal springs and spa hotels.
There's no doubt Capri is beautiful but for a chilled island holiday, Ischia is a much better bet. Even as the ferry slips into the horseshoe-shaped harbour of Porto, you can see this is a special place.
Towering over the island, Monte Epomeo is Ischia's highest peak. A rugged volcano, now dormant and dense with pine forest, it looks so lush it could almost be in Central America, rather than on a small Mediterranean isle in the Bay of Naples.
But get off the ferry at Porto and everything is emphatically Italian. Bronze ragazzi lounge on scooters, looking at the girls and cheeky local children shout "complimenti" at the owners of sleek yachts in the harbour.
Housewives pack local shops, critically squeezing plums and sniffing lemons. While older men hang out in cafés, playing cards and drinking caffè corretto - espresso livened with a shot of grappa.
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Ischia is known for its 103 volcanic springs which treat a variety of ailments, from rheumatism to gout. And taking the waters is so serious here, the Italian public health service directs patients to Ischia's therapeutic springs.
Book San Montano Resort & Spa for a discreetly luxurious bolt hole with seven pools, and a garden fragrant with lemon, lavender and jasmine where you can enjoy soothing alfresco spa treatments.
Alterntively, nearby Negombo is one of the island’s biggest wellness attractions. Almost like a thermal spa-park, it sports 14 pools dotted around grounds dense with jungle-style foliage, exotic blooms and modern sculpture.
Or for a more budget-friendly spa experience, head to Il Sorgeto, near the village of Panza in the scenic south east of Ischia. Here bubbling, natural rock pools attract locals who come to share a beer and watch the sunset.
The best way to get to know Ischia is to catch a local bus which circles the island stopping off at the main towns. The journey is an experience and you can expect to get familiar with other passengers as you all attempt to stay upright in the speeding vehicle.
But if you're lucky and bag a window seat, the views are mesmerising. Bougainvillea drapes sun-bleached houses by the road, gardens pop with cactus and exotic blooms, and vineyards scattered with wild poppies gleam in the sunshine.
Most of the main towns clustered along the north coast are a picturesque mix of faded spa hotels, beachfront trattorias and promenades lined with palm trees worthy of the Caribbean.
But on the south coast, charming Sant’Angelo is the chic corner of Ischia, where whitewashed houses top high cliffs and you can take a water-taxi to Spiaggia dei Maronti, the best beach on Ischia.
If you like the sound of Sant'Angelo and want a little Capri-style glamour in your Ischia island adventure, think about staying at beachfront Hotel Ferdinando Terme.
Just a 15-minute ferry ride from Ischia, the pint-sized island of Procida is refreshingly tourist-light (except in August, when Italian holidaymakers pack the sandy beaches).
Visit for the kind of irresistible sights that have you constantly reaching for a camera, like pots brimming with geraniums by the roadside and trees laden with Procida's famous lemons.
Don't miss Marina Corricella. One of the most beautiful places on the island, if not the entire Bay of Naples, it's known for gently faded sugar-almond-coloured houses and a harbour where fishermen still sit and patch nets in the sun.
No surprise that the town represented a 1950's Italian idyll in films like The Talented Mr Ripley and Il Postino. Have lunch at Taverna del Postino which celebrates the latter film and is famous for herb mussels or zeppolins, "small zeppelins".
Should you find yourself in no hurry to catch the ferry back to Ischia, think about staying over for a night or two at La Suite Boutique Hotel which has a gorgeous garden and is close to several or Procida's prettiest beaches.
Ischia has a chequered history and in ancient times it was colonised by Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Turks, and Aragonese. You'll find some small museums on the island but the main historic reference point is magnificent Castello Aragonese.
Sitting on a promontory in Ischia Ponte, this medieval castle is a wonder. Stroll its walkways for sea views, then head indoors for some very intriguing architectural features which will undoubtedly be a first for you.
Chief among these is a little room lined with stone seats. Back in the day these were occupied by the bodies of dead nuns, propped here so the living sisters could visit them and reflect on the nature of mortality.
After that, you may want to order a Campari at the bar up top in the castle, the views are amazing. Or if you want a more in-depth look at Castello Aragonese, it's included in a day tour of Ischia from Naples.
No matter where you are in Ischia, you can't escape 789m high Monte Epomeo volcano. Its summit is about an hour's walk from the village of Fontana, and above the forested slopes you're rewarded by open views over the Bay of Naples.
If this was Capri, you'd be fighting tourists to get to the top, then queuing for lunch at an overpriced restaurant. But as it's Ischia, you may have the views to yourself and you can eat at family-run La Grotta on the way down.
This charming local restaurant has a view-rich terrace and nearby vineyards are a reminder of Ischia's ancient wine heritage, fertile landscape and lovely, temperate climate.
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