When American writer Truman Capote visited Ischia for the first time in 1949 in search of some peace and quiet so he could work on his novel, it didn’t quite go to plan in the beginning. Upon disembarking from the ferry, he tripped and broke his wristwatch. Rather than letting this incident sour his mood, he saw it as a sign that time wasn’t important on the island of Ischia.
More than 60 years later, this mentality still rings true for many travellers that make their way to this fascinating island. Here, people tend to move at nature’s pace, relying on the sun rather than the ticking of a clock that dominates on the mainland, just an hour’s sail away.
In the eighth century BC, the ancient Greeks settled in Ischia, drawn to the island for its beautiful landscape, fertile soil and its many thermal and natural sources. Thermal spas, which were created by volcanic activity, have made Ischia famous throughout the world.
But travellers need not worry about hot lava ruining their stay, the last eruption occurred in Ischia in 1302. The island has benefited from the natural wonders that have resulted from past eruptions – with wells, basins and springs with natural hot water to be found in every corner.
By 1588, Ischia’s thermal baths were already receiving acclaim for their therapeutic benefits, when local doctor Giulio Iasolino published the book De’ remedy naturali che sono nell’isola d’Ischia (Natural cures on the island of Ischia).
In his book, Dr Iasolino describes the island’s 35 natural water sources, along with their chemical compositions and the diseases that could be cured by soaking in various pools. His pioneering work initiated this paradise’s reputation as the island of thermal baths.
Throughout the 19th century, European royal families, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie of various countries visited the island to enjoy its waters.
Unfortunately, this leisurely tourism came to an abrupt halt in 1883 when an extremely powerful earthquake struck Ischia. A single minute of tremors set Ischia back several decades and became the worst natural disaster in Ischia’s modern history, killing 1784 people and injuring over 500.
Today, hundreds of years after Dr Iasolino’s famous publication, Ischia’s image as a fascinating thermal island is still fully intact. The island is the ideal destination to spoil your body and soul, offering 29 natural volcanic springs and more than 100 hot springs. A visit to some of the island’s most famous spas is a truly extraordinary experience.
The Negombo spa, located in the Lacco Ameno district, opened in 1972. Over the years, it has grown into a paradise for pampering. There are 29 pools of various sizes filled with water of assorted therapeutic properties. Some of the pools are built on the cliffs and surrounded by vegetation. A unique Japanese-style pool allows guests to massage their feet and take in the waters. The floor of this winding, shallow pool is covered with pebbles and the water temperature fluctuates from cold to hot. A pool with bubbling jets has a fixed temperature of 38°C, and the Templar Basin offers water at 30°C that pours out of several water sculptures to provide bathers with a thorough neck and shoulder massage. Most of Negombo’s basins are located high above sea level and offer stunning views of the beach and the azure water of the San Montano Bay.
Giardini Poseidon and Cavascura are some of the island’s other popular spas.
Aside from its beautiful spas, Ischia has numerous other features that continue to attract tourists from near and far, among these are intriguing little fishing villages including Sant’Angelo on the south side of the island.
Cars are prohibited in Sant’Angelo so the best way to explore this postcard perfect village is by foot.
If you get thirsty, try a freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice from Il Piccolo Chiosco (The Small Kiosk). Established 50 years ago, this kiosk has become an institution.
Enzo Mattera is the owner of Il Piccolo Chiosco. His mother started the business in the early 1960s. Around Easter, Enzo opens the kiosk’s shutters and presses on until November. The lemons he uses are organic and many are grown in the wild on the island. Organic oranges used are sourced from Calabria and Sicily. “They are of course pressed without any kind of electronic or mechanical means, using only hand power as in the old days,” Enzo says proudly.
Social life in Sant’Angelo is centred in the small Piazzetta Ottorina Troia on the mainland. From here, a narrow, sandy path beckons visitors toward Mount Sant’Angelo which rises up off the mainland, near the small marina.
Years ago, commercial vessels would dock here and, in the distant past, pirates swash buckled around this port. Today, eye patch-wearing criminals have been replaced by recreational sailors drawn to the gorgeous setting.
Sant’Angelo’s beauty, tranquility and laidback charm has also captivated tourists and VIPs. The village’s guest list includes the likes of actor Peter Sellers, film director Vittorio De Sica, writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, actress Sofia Loren, Sting, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen amongst many others. Italian writer and filmmaker Pierpaolo Pasolini and the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda both loved to swim around Sant’Angelo’s rocky cliffs.
The small Piazzetta Ottorina Troia contains chic boutiques, waving palms, cosy cafés and several restaurants that offer tempting sea views. Without a single car in sight, it is reminiscent of southern Italy in the 1960s.
Water taxis can be boarded from Sant’Angelo to reach one of the island’s best beaches, Spiaggia dei Maronti. Stretching for three kilometres, the pristine water is inviting.
La Sorgente della Cava Scura (The Black Grotto’s Well) is the island’s oldest cave with a hot spring and is also worth a visit.
Casa d’Ambra has a long history in wine production that extends more than 100 years.