Ischia is the largest island in the bay of Naples and is considered by many to be the most beautiful, (though Capri is considerably more famous).
The island is 10 km from east to west and 7 km north to south. It has a coastline of 34 km and covers an area of 46.3 sq km. It has a permanent population of approximately 58,000. Up to 6 million tourists (principally from the Italian mainland and Germany) flock to the island for its volcanic thermal spas and as well for its beaches and food.
Several towns are located along the island’s coast. The largest city in Ischia is actually (and often confusingly, for tourists) called Ischia. The town of Ischia, however, has two different centers: Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte. Ischia Porto is the commercial center of the island and is named after the main port. Ischia Ponte (“ponte” meaning “bridge” in Italian) is named for the area surrounding and including the footbridge that was constructed to connect the Castello Aragonese with the island. Beside the town of Ischia, some of the other centres are Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola, Forio, Barano, Sant’Angelo, and the jointed town of Serrara-Fontana.
- Ischia Ponte
- Ischia Porto
- Lacco Ameno
- Lacco Ameno
Ischia — historically called Pitecusae — has been colonized in turn by the Greeks, Syrausansa, Romans, Saracens, Turks, and Aragonese; all of whom were interested in its excellent strategic position as well as its therapeutic hot-spring waters and of course its attractive landscape. The result of all this varied history can be seen in the ruins of various outposts, towers, and “tufa” rock shelters hidden all over the island.
More recently Ischia has become a frequent backdrop for Italian and American movies such as “Vacanze ad Ischia”, “Appuntamento ad Ischia”, and “The Talented Mr.Ripley”. The island has also been used as a cinematic stand-in for the Island of Capri.
The best time for the traveler to visit Ischia is from April to October, however, the weather in Ischia is always changing and visitors should expect both sunshine and rain — whatever the season. Summer, the main tourist season, combines long, hot days with lengthy evenings. Winter can be bitterly cold and wet, with short daylight hours.
Flora and fauna
Also called the “Green Island”, Ischia enjoys hot and dry summers and mild winters along with a pronounced fertility which is a result of having almost an entirely volcanic soil. These factors allow Mediterranean plants to thrive all over the island, and sub-tropical and tropical species to successfully occupy niches in the warmest areas.
On the Southern side of the island, the continuous exposure to direct sunlight favors tropical and desert vegetation which is mainly represented by palms, cactus’ and agave plants with Mediterranean trees hiding in the shade of inlets and bends. On the Northern side of the island in the shade cast by Mount Epomeo, you’ll find chestnut trees, as well as typical Mediterranean trees such as the holm oak, cypress, and cork trees as well as cultivated almond trees, vines, and olive trees.
Ischia mud originates from the geologic evolution of the island where, over the centuries, many hydrovolcanic eruptions and earthquakes changed the soil composition. The hot waters and muds, all “thermal” or “hypertermal” i.e. they are at the same time hot or very hot and very rich in minerals content. In spite of their diversity, all the muds have the same standard features: sodium, chlorine, potassium, calcium and sulphur in the form of sulphates and sulphides. Because of the variety of different chemicals found in them, different waters and mud are recommended for different treatments. The Italian Ministry of Health produces a document that has updates on which waters and muds are suitable for therapeutic treatments and illness and diseases which can be treated. According to this document, disease which can be treated are: rheumatic diseases such as arthrosis; respiratory diseases; dermatological diseases such as psoriasis, atopical dermatitis, eczema (except for exudative bladdery forms), chronic seborrhea; gynecological diseases such as pelvis tissue sclerosis; diseases of the gastroenteric apparatus such as gastroenteric or bilious dyspepsia, and intestinal disorders associated with constipation.
Cavascura and Olmitello Thermal water
While traveling around Sant’Angelo there are several footpaths that can take you up the hilltops. One of these is a footpath that goes to the thermal springs of Cavascura and Olmitello. To get there, take a taxi boat from the square of Sant’Angelo to the Fumarole beach. Here, with the beach behind you, take the footpath from the right side of the beach which is flanked by oleander trees. The first stretch is steep, with a few houses on both sides, then it levels out and there are Mediterranean bushes and a variety of plants such as figs, capers, prickly pears, etc. On the right, there is a view of the Maronti beach. Passing under a natural arch, turn right to reach the beach. Here is the entrance to Cavascura. There are all types of typical restaurants and at the back of the canyon are the antique thermal springs of Cavascura. Going back, climbing the steps through the vine yards, you will arrive at the antique establishment of Cava Olmitello, which sadly to say is in disuse. Here, as you make your way through the bushes, with only the croaking of frogs, you can imagine yourself traveling back in time when the world was a much simpler place.
Villas, Parks and Museums
- Villa La Colombaia (Forio) – The Villa, which is surrounded by a superb park, was the residence of the movie director Luchino Visconti. It is now the seat of an cultural Institution dedicated to Visconti, which is involved in promoting cultural activities such as music, cinema, theatre, art exhibitions, work-shops, and cinema reviews. There is a museum dedicated to Luchino Visconti as well. The Villa and the the Park are accessible to public visits.
- Villa La Mortella – (Forio – San Francesco) –
La Mortella Gardens – Forio d’Ischia
This park is located at Forio d’Ischia and was originally the property of the English composer William Walton, who lived in the Villa next door with his Argentinian wife, Susanna. The composer, arrived on the island in 1946, planting wonderful tropical and Mediterranean plants, some of which have now reached amazing proportions.
- Giardini Ravino – (Forio – Citara Bay) – Botanical Garden with one of the richest collection of cacti and succulents cultivated outdoors in Europe. The garden, along with the mature areas around Villa Ravino, is the result of 50 years of great passion and loving work of Captain Giuseppe d’Ambra, the owner of the Villa. The exotic trees include palms, olive, lemon and orange, surprising scenery and rare and precious botanical specimens. Giardini Ravino is located at Forio d’Ischia. A rich collection of cacti and succulents cultivated outdoors, constantly enriched with new species from all over the world and embellished with the extraordinary presents of the Woolemi Pine, the most sensational discovery of the century. .
- The Castle – Castello Aragonese (Ischia Ponte) – Is one of the most striking monuments on the island. It stands on a small island near Ischia Ponte and is reached by crossing a stone bridge. The castle is about 113 meters high and the climb can be made on an old mule track or by using a modern elevator that was installed in the seventies. The castle was built in 1441 by Alfonso D’Aragona on top of the ruins of an old fort that dated back to 474 B.C. This fortified castle was used to protect Ischia’s population from pirate attacks. One of the exhibits in the castle is dedicated to various forms of medieval torture.
- Guevara Tower – Ischia Ponte – The tower represents as well as Castello Aragonese one of the best known symbols of the island. It is called Guevara or Michelangelo’s Tower and is located in front of the Castle, and is surrounded by a lawn and facing the Sant’Anna rocks. The tower was rebuilt over the ruins of an earlier ancient fortress: it is likely one of the defence towers built from the 15th century to protect the Castle and the coast against enemy attacks. The tower derives its name from the Dukes of Guevara who were the owners since 1800. Its second name derives from a legend that Michelangelo, who was a friend of the poet Vittoria Colonna, stayed in the tower when he was visiting the island. The tower is nowadays used as arts exhibition centre.
- Il Torrione – Forio – Since at least the 9th century many towers were constructed along Ischia coastline to provide warning and to defend the island from raids by pirates. One of those tower, called “Torrione” still exists. This tower is located in Forio, near the harbour. It was built in 1480, and has two floors: the ground floor has no access from outside and was used as for storing weapons and munitions, and a rain-water tank; on the upper floor, there was accommodation for the garrison (about 10 people) led by a “torriere” that had the task of quickly sighting of any enemy ships and sounding the alarm. On the top, there was a terrace provided for four cannons. Historians notice that many similar towers were built in Forio until the 18th century, however although many of them were now used as private residences of noble families. Sixteen similar fortresses have been counted between 1480 and 1700, plus five more towers built in the district of Panza, some with a squared base and others with a circular base. Many of these towers are still standing and are mainly private residences. The “Torrione”, after it had been restored, became a municipal Museum (on the lower floor) while the upper floor was the home of the artist Giovanni Maltese from Forio and is now an art gallery hosting his pictures and sculptures collection.
- A. Rizzoli Museum The Angelo Rizzoli Museum is located in Villa Arbusto and contains a picture gallery about Angelo Rizzoli’s stay on the island. He used to stay in Lacco Ameno where he promoted the restructuring of the ancient Santa Restituta baths and sponsored the construction of a series of large luxury hotels which in the 50’s and 60’s were the much loved destination for cinema stars and international jet-setters.
- Pithecusae Museum – Lacco Ameno – The Pithecusae Archaeological Museum is located at the main building of Villa Arbusto, in Lacco Ameno. The Villa was built in 1785 by Don Carlo Acquaviva, Duke of Atri, in the same place where a farm called “dell’arbusto” (“arbusto” means “ shrub” , in this case the reference is to a particular plant growing in the garden surrounding the building) existed. Over the years the Villa had many owners, until 1952, when it was purchased by the publisher and movie producer Angelo Rizzoli who sponsored the reconstruction of the ancient thermal bath, the construction of some large hotels and the restoration of Piazza Restituta in Lacco Ameno’s main piazza. Villa Arbusto also has a splendid public garden. The museum houses many archaeological exhibits dating from the Prehistory to the Roman era. On the ground floor there is also a geological section, which explains how the presence of the volcanoes affected life on the island.
- The Soccorso’s church – Forio – This church is devoted to “Santa Maria della neve” (Saint Maria of the snow), and was built on a steep promontory from which it takes its name. As with the “Torrione” tower, it is the symbol of the town of Forio and it is one of the most original architectural structures on the island. The Soccorso was founded as an Augustinian convent in about 1350 but it was suppressed in 1653, with its present form going back to 1864. The church is accessible by 20 steps of piperno, which leads to a small atrium with five crosses of pipernio. This church is world famous not only for its location but also for its singular facade, which is white and adorned by precious 700 majolicas representing saints and scenes of the Passion of Christ. The Soccorso’s style is very original, it reassumes some architectures as Greek-Byzantine, Moorish and Mediterranian in harmonic shapes. The inside is very interesting because of the many types of volta. In the left chapel there is a thaumaturgical cross, a sculpture of Catalan inspiration, surely made on the 16th century. Close to this cross there are two marble medals, that were found in a medieval sarcophagus that was found in the castel of the antique cathedral of Ischia. This church retains various artifacts such as a shovel made by Cesare Calise that represents Saint Augustine, and a small basin of pipernio dated from the 9-10th century. On 05 May 2002, during his Pastoral Visit, Pope John Paul II met with many young people in a square adjacent to the church of Our Lady Help of Christians.
Ischias thermal springs have been renowned since ancient times and have been tested by many Italian and foreign scientists, for their therapeutic features. Not only are the thermal waters used in baths and thermal gardens, but they can found in small springs on some beaches and streams of spouting that feature hot water gushing into the sea as well as steam spouts (fumaroles) with gases gushing from cracks in the soil. Fumaroles can also be observed on the slopes of the Mount Epomeo, particularly on cold days, or are located into small caves, called “stoves”, and idiomatically “sudatori” or “sudaturi” (from the Italian verb meaning “to perspire”) which are used as a kind of sauna in baths and thermal gardens. Springs and spouting steam can be considered as the manifest sign of Ischia’s volcanic origins and of the still persisting volcanic activity. The particular features of the subsoil, due to its structure and chemical composition affect the minerals content and the degree of dilution by sea and rain water. According to many scientists, the location and features of the springs are affected by the combination of the above mentioned factors. The most ancient springs are those of Casamicciola, consecrated to the god Apollo, those of Lacco Ameno consacrated to Hercules, those of Citara in Panza consacrated to Venus Citarea, and those of Barano consacrated to Nitrodi Nymps.
As described above, there is a tiny white-washed church located in a truly spectacular position: in the square on the Punta del Soccorso in Forio, that looks out onto the crystal clear sea – a typically Mediterranean site of astounding beauty.
- Chiaia – Forio: the perfect beach for children;
- Cava dell’Isola: Forio, the most important beach for young people;
- Citara – Panza: This beach is at the foot of Epomeo, and is one of the most popular on the island. The crystal-clear water that laps the beach mixes with the thermal water spas in several points, allowing you to bathe in the sea and reap the benefit of thermal water at the same time. However, much of this beach is prviately owned and the public areas are small and often overcrowded. In this bay there is also the Poseidon Thermal Garden;
- Bay of Saint Montano: Lacco Ameno. Is a bay where the thermal park Negombo is located. This unusual beach, located between Mount Vico and Mount Zaro, is unique compared to the island’s other beaches. The clear sea water is very hot and the water is extremely shallow;
- Cartaromana: Ischia Ponte. This beach is located between Castello Aragonese and the Sant’Anna cliffs. The beach also offers one of the best views of the island. Cartaromana is well-known for its natural hot thermal water springs that spill out onto the shore, allowing tourists to swim in the sea even during the winter;
- Marina dei Maronti: Barano -At 3 km, this beach is the largest on Ischia and can be reached by taking a charming panoramic road that starts in Barano and descends towards the sea, or by foot via the picturesque port of Sant’Angelo. Another great way to reach the beach is to take a water taxi (€3 euro approx) from Sant’Angelo. The beach at Maronti is full of thermal springs, natural spas and fumaroles;
- Spiaggia degli Inglesi: Lovely small beach located in Ischia, suitable for enjoying a peaceful rest, far away from crowds;
- Cava grado: small cove located near Sant’Angelo; hydrovolcanic activity occurs in outpourings of hot water which can be used for relaxing baths. To get here, there is a steeply sloping foot-path starting at Succhivio;
- Bagnitiello: series of sandy beaches along the sea front road, equipped with car parks and bathing establishments;
- Sorgeto: Sorgeto is a shingle small bay, in Panza, lying at the foot of cliffs covered by agave plants. Here thermal waters gush from springs into the sea. On the hill behind, is an important archaeological site, known as Punta Chiarito, which was where the first Greek colonist planted vines and a hut village.; and
- Fumarole Beach This beach is supposed to be the island’s finest. It’s long, wide, clean and not too crowded; it’s also of a dark colour, since it’s of volcanic origin. It can be reached in 30 minutes by taking a footpath from Sant’Angelo, or in a couple of minutes by boat-taxi. There are some fumaroles here, and locals often go there and cook dinner in the sand. The beach is also a popular hangout at night.
One of the many things that make Ischia such a great place to visit is the variety of events from musical events and festivals to the handicrafts markets in the historical center and sports events. In spring and summer, the various villages organize several events: many of them religious festivals, which are an important part of the island’s tradition and cultural identity. Here follow the events calendar of the Estate Ischitana 2006:
- Festa della Ndrezzata – April: Easter Monday – The Festa della Ndrezzata is held in the village of Buonopane, near Barano every Easter Monday. The Ndrezzata is a typical island dance. It is a kind of rhythmic, violent and picturesque fight where the dancers are dressed in traditional island costumes and fight each other with wooden swords;
- International Festival of Classic Music – May – October Forio: The first edition of the festival International of “Classic” music: a series of concerts that were held in the churches and the basilicas of Forio;
- Foreign Film Festival – June: A cinema festival with premieres and retrospective themes dedicated to European films, especially Italian. Ischia, for example, has used as a location of Italian films from the 1950s onwards. These include the films Vacanze a Ischia with Vittorio De Sica, the colossal Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and the more recent film The Talented Mr Ripley with Matt Damon and Jude Law;
- Vinischia – July: An event that is entirely dedicated to food and wine and Campania regional crafts. It has been organized each summer since 1999 at Torre Guevara at Ischia Ponte. Shows, concerts and dances are organized around the exhibitions and the food and wine tasting;
- Festa di Sant’Anna – 26 July; The Festa di Sant’Anna in Ischia Porto is held each year in the borough of Ischia. On that occasion, there is a sea parade of figurative boats from the island’s various boroughs and also from Procida, under the Castello Aragonese. The parade ends with a prize-giving ceremony and fireworks. The festival is watched by an enthusiastic public;
- Settembre sul Sagarato – August and September; This is a festival held every year since 1988 in the village of Piazzale Battistessa, opposite the Church of San Pietro. The festival lasts for two weeks and is filled with painting exhibitions, parades of traditional costumes, wine tasting, fagiolate (bean stew tasting), concerts and shows; and
- Ischia White Night (La notte Bianca a Forio d’ Ischia) 24 December; Museums, churches, shops and restaurant stay open while the Ischia Notte Bianca stages music, dance and theater events.
Island Trips by Boat
An trip around the island of Ischia by boat allows you to see the coast-line that otherwise is not visible. Boat tours leave from Forio, Ischia, Sant’Angelo, Lacco Ameno and Casamicciola. If leaving from the port of Sant’Angelo, sailing westwards you can see the Elephants Grotto then in front of you there is a deep inlet which is low and sandy in one part and in others high and rocky which continue until you reach Punto Chiarito, passing the beaches of Cava Ruffano, Cava Grado and the Green Grotto. At Punto Chiarito there is the Bay of Sorgeto with its hot water and muds. Then the coast-line becomes very high, deeply articulated, with rockfaces, precipices, recesses and promontories of: Capo Negro, Punta Pilaro, and Chianare Spadaia with its rocks like the Boat Rock, until you reach Capo Imperatore with its lighthouse. At first the coast-line is high and steep, then it drops and there is the long and winding beach of Citara. Then it rises softly towards Punta Soccorso and Forio. Passing the coast-line is low and sandy opening onto the beach of San Francesco, which laps the offshoots of Monte Caruso. Here the coast-line is high bare rockfaced, jutting out, then curving inwards before arriving at Punta Caruso and Punta Cornacchia. Between Punta Cornacchia and the offshoots of Monte Vico, with its point of the same name, there is the delightful Beach of San Montano, and Lacco Ameno. Lacco Ameno is noted for its characteristic rock of tufo, shaped like a mushroom. Along the coast there are the houses of Casamicciola Terme. A little farther along there is Punta Scrofa with the English beach, then the bay of Ischia Porto. Past Punto Molino formed from the lava flow of the Arso, there is the Pescatori beach, from here you can admire the island with its castle and the Aragonese bridge. After the bridge there is an inlet for the Cartaromana beach. In the middle of the sea the rocks of Sant’Anna emerge, and going southwards is Punta Pisciazza. The section of the coast that concludes the southern side of the island is high, rocky and marked by the promontory jutting out of Punta Lume, Punta Parate and Punta San Pancrazio. On this side of the island there is the Mago grotto and other grottos. From Punta San Pancrazio the coast-line continues for a few kilometers until Capo Grosso: This stretch of coast-line is commonly known as The Scarrupata. After another small stretch of coast-line there is the beach of Maronti, where the small island of Sant’Angelo can be seen, which was the starting point of the round trip of the island.
A Trip to Monte Epomeo
Arriving at Fontana by foot or by riding a mule you can reach the peak, which is about 800 metres above sea level. Monte Epomeo is an enormous rock of tufa, in which rooms of an ex hermit and a church which is dedicated to San Nicola (recently restored) have been carved into its sides. During the day the view is marvellous, you can see the whole island of Ischia, Capri and the bay of Naples. At night you can see the town of Forio in a candid light, like an oriental city with the stars slowly fading into the sea, and dawn slowly breaking with its famous green ray.
Many of Ischia’s best dance clubs are in Forio and Ischia Porto