Even Ischia, the largest of the Flegree islands, experienced the glorious 1950s. Director Luchino Visconti loved the island so much that he bought Villa La Colombaia, which is not open to visits. However, it was Angelo Rizzoli, publisher and film producer, who built the Regina Isabella Spa Hotel and attracted a bunch of celebrities to Ischia. We are referring to Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Maria Callas and William Holden. Today, if Capri is wrapped up in its aristocratic cloak, Ischia has slipped it off, while remaining elegant, evergreen, healthy and sought after. It is a mosaic of different environments: the cliffs overlooking the indigo sea, secluded beaches, picturesque towns and unspoiled nature with bougainvillea skeins and luscious Mediterranean vegetation. Castello Aragonese stands proudly on the opposite island of Ischia Ponte: 25 centuries old, its walls conceal churches, prisons and gardens. It is the venue of the Ischia Film Festival in June. Forio is the widest village on the island, with narrow streets enlivened by artisan shops and restaurants, and the unmissable La Mortella gardens, an enchanting botanical garden with a large variety of species, created by the passion of Susana Gil (aka Lady Walton, wife of the composer William Walton). And, then, you can’t miss Sant’Angelo, Ischia’s refined village. Located at the south end of the island, you will appreciate all its charm only after a long and tortuous descent. The pastel-colored houses, the small marina, the square with the refined boutiques and the restaurants recall Capri. However, climb up to the Madonnella, the highest point of Sant’Angelo, and from there descend to the Maronti beach, one of the most beautiful on the island, with a multitude of fumaroles, a volcanic phenomenon that gives rise to gas bubbles at 100°C and releases steam jets from the sand. Along with the Bay of Sorgeto (Panza, near Forio) with its natural spa pools, these two sites are the free spas of Ischia. Yes, spas are Ischia’s main tourist attraction. Some have made history and are still intensively visited for their natural environment, which is always lush and well kept, and for the healing and beneficial properties of the water. Poseidon Gardens in Forio have 20 spa pools; Lacco Ameno, in the bay of San Montano, has the Negombo Spa Park; and Barano d’Ischia features the Fonte delle Ninfe Nitrodi Park. And, finally, you will find walks with various levels of difficulty to explore the island and enjoy its magnificent views. The most beautiful climbs will take you to the top of Mt. Epomeo, at the highest peak of Ischia. The path makes it way along scenic vineyards with wonderful views of the Gulf of Naples and of the neighboring Campi Flegrei. On the way, stop at the Church of San Nicola at the hermitage, excavated in the tuff.
Caves, bays, inlets, breathtaking views, good food and a wonderful climate. From Naples or Sorrento, from Amalfi or Positano, those looking at the horizon can see a triangle of rocky shapes emerging from the sea in the distance. It is the first meeting with the gems of the Gulf of Naples: Capri, the mundane; Ischia, the island of well-being; and Procida, the conservative.
Capri, Ischia and Procida leave behind the histrionic Naples, with its hustle and its contradictions, basking in their overwhelming beauty. Scattered on a sea of a saturated blue, they have made an eternal pact with the sun and the mild climate, the lifeblood of the luxuriant nature that adorns them all year round. Yet, the three enchanting islands of the Gulf of Naples present features and characteristics that are anything but homogeneous. Capri with its pointed shapes is an ephemeral elite living room. Large, kaleidoscopic Ischia with luxuriant vegetation and rounded profiles treasures its sulfurous waters. Finally, small, simple, colorful and authentic Procida. Luscious meals, golden and black beaches, wellness treatments, walks and trekking, romantic sunsets: what else do you need?
Ah, Naples is nothing without its islands: Capri, of course, Ischia and even Procida.
(Tahar Ben Jelloun)