In the living room of Villa Beatrice is a bookshelf with guidebooks and maps to various Ischian and other day-trip attractions such as Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculeum, Paestum, Capri, Procida and the Amalfi Coast.
Although I can understand not wishing to leave the island, it is worth mentioning that the easily accessible central train station in Naples offers frequent and convenient trains and buses to these attractive spots, as well as to destinations throughout Italy. For example, Rome is a comfortable and frequent two-hour ride away, and Florence is four hours away. In the town of Ischia Porto, on the main via Roma, are tourist offices where abundant information may be obtained from courteous and multilingual personnel regarding these excursions as well as numerous island activities. The lovely island of Ischia, historically known as the “green” island due to the abundance of fresh water, is a two-hour drive or train ride south of Rome, then accessible by frequent ferry service from the port of Naples (45 minutes by hydrofoil, 75 by car ferry). Ischia, where many scenes from the movie “The Talented Mr. Ripley” were shot, is situated in the Bay of Naples right next to the lovely small island of Procida, where “Il Postino” was filmed and to Capri, both short ferry rides away.
Initially settled by the Greeks as a trading post, Ischia became a resort area known to Europeans for centuries, achieving its earliest fame through Roman Emperors who frequented its abundant natural hot springs, showers, mud baths and steam rooms carved right out of the face of the ancient lava. Today beautiful health spas use these waters and trained medical staff to treat circulatory, skeletal, muscular and nervous disorders, as well as general therapy, skin care and relaxation.
Following is a brief description of the Ischian places I find most appealing. The nearest beach to the villa, the Maronti, is a five-minute drive away from the villa. It is a popular sand beach with restaurants and cafes, wind-surfing, traditional wooden fishing boats converted to water taxis and paddle boats. At the end farthest from the parking area, near the picturesque town of Sant’ Angelo, are large rocks from which rises natural steam, said to be helpful in sweating impurities from the body and cleaning the respiratory system. There are also thermal baths and steam rooms at the various beach-side hotels and spas, where there may be a modest charge for daily usage.
Sant’ Angelo is a beautiful small town known for its arts and crafts. It is also home to some of the best gelato on the face of the planet. Along the coast, past Sant’ Angelo, lies the beach known as Sorcetto, accessible by water taxi or by driving up past Barano and ensuing towns, and descending towards Sant’ Angelo. A small road cuts right before arriving at Sant’ Angelo (see map in bookcase). It is a delightfully tranquil and panoramic setting; a small bay with high cliffs rising on either side. There is a walk down from the parking area, but the beauty, serenity, and excellent swimming make it well worth it. To the left are natural hot springs at the very edge of the sea, with porous rock for mud masks. These waters are said to be very good for the skin, are very relaxing (especially after an ocean swim), and are free. Of the many spas on Ischia, I think three are particularly worth noting: Nogombo Terme, Poseidon Gardens and Casigliano Terme. All have many pools of various sizes and temperatures varying between the extremes, water massage facilities, pools especially adapted to facilitate blood circulation, natural steam rooms and, at additional cost, mud masks, thermal stretching instructions, respiratory machines, massage, medical analysis and restaurants and cafés. All have access to beaches and have bountiful gardens. The primary difference is that Poseidon has more pools, is flatter and has more people. They all have a day or half day flat entrance fee.
At the center of the island is the mountain Epemeo (790 meters), affording tremendous walks on all flanks, with stunning views on all sides. At the summit, most improbably, there is a centuries-old monastery (now converted to a café) with a chapel carved out of the rock, dedicated to Saint Nicholas. One can drive fairly high up or take a mule to reduce the walk. Various routes can be undertaken, depending on the wishes of the walker.
More accessible to the villa is the Mountain Rotaro and its many side hillocks (trail head five-minute drive). Exiting the driveway to the right, take a right at the main road, straight into Fiaiano, a left at the big tree in the center of the road, in the center of town. This road curves sharply up and around to the right then left before flattening out on a straight-away. Park to the left on this flat area and walk up the trail to the left. You can also rent horses here. (You know you are on the right trail when the trail turns quickly from dirt into cobblestone.) The car can in fact be left at the villa, in which case merely walk through town, then prior to the first sharp curve to the right, cut left on the small, cobble-stoned path. Here is located a map showing various trails. This increases the otherwise vigorous 35-minute walk straight to the top by about 15 minutes.
Semi-tropical vegetation and chestnut groves make these various trails an extremely convenient and pleasant excursion. Near the oldest town on the island, Ischia Ponte, is the small fortified island of Castello Aragonese. Currently connected by a walkway, for centuries it was the virtually impregnable primary place of refuge for the Ischians in the event of piracy or state sanctioned pillaging ventures. Later converted to a nunnery, it is now a beautifully and traditionally maintained national monument.
The most active dining, shopping, dancing and strolling scenes are found in the towns of Ischia Porto, Forio and Lacco Ameno. The many small towns dispersed throughout the island have their own unique charms, and make for delightful explorations. Please refer to the various guide books for more details.