Travel to IschiaIschia – Italians Know Best
If the Italians do one thing well, besides Renaissance art, Chianti, and communicative hand gesturing, it’s vacationing in their own country. It says something when locals choose to get away so close to home. Obviously, Italy offers an abundance of cultural options, but what if you just want to kick back, drink wine, and knock a few years off your face? For that, there’s Ischia.
Good For: Couples, groups of friends, and families who are looking for long stretches of sandy beach (a rarity in Italy) and the equivalent of adult water parks in the form of thermal spas. Joan Rivers should wisen up and sub Ischia for her Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. Ischia is known to be the Fountain of Youth.
- Lounging poolside at the Mezzatore Resort & Spa, which is set on a dramatic cliff with one of the best views of Ischia. In this case, a picture is worth a hundred thousand words.
- Spending a day at the Regina Isabella doing mud treatments. The island is famous for its volcanic radioactivity, which is purported to heal everything from aging skin to major illnesses.
- Heading to Negombo Thermal Park. Yes, it is a grown-up water park, with acres of thermal springs, plunge pools, and chaise lounges.
- Chilling out for an afternoon in the pretty town of Sant’Angelo on a lounger at the tiny slice of beach, and then lunching on seafood that was just plucked from the waters that morning.
Suggested Stay: 2 Days; 3 if you need an extra day of detox
What to Know: Audacious displays of wealth that you’ll see in other Mediterranean ports aren't as common in Ischia. There’s virtually no pretension and even in the summer, you’ll find more Italian tourists than champagne magnum-drinking foreigners.
It’s not easy to get to Ischia, so make this part of a larger itinerary in Italy. Capri, which is the antithesis of Ischia, is an hour away by boat. For the hitters, you can chopper from Naples to Ischia or Rome to Ischia in a flash for between 1,600 Euro to 3,500 Euro with Heli Sorrento. Alternatively, skip the train, which is tortuously long and often delayed or cancelled with strikes, and hire a driver from Airport Taxi Transfers. Whatever you choose, make all your transportation arrangements ahead of time. There aren’t lines of taxis at the ferry, which is your only mode of transport to the island if you’re not helicoptering (or taking your private yacht). The ferry is reliable, but opt for the hydrofoil/high-speed boats. Don’t expect a luxurious ride, and do yourself the favor of packing light as the boats require a schlep up and down stairs.
Forget Fantasy Island; Ischia is Spa Island. Remember how The Talented Mr. Ripley (and Jude Law) made you want to move to a beachside European village, like, yesterday? Well, that village was in Ischia, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Think white sand beaches, subtropical gardens, and volcanic radioactivity. Yes, the biggest draw is the healing thermal springs – the stuff anti-cellulite dreams are made of. The thermal springs are set among adult-like waterparks, which are virtually everywhere on the island. The largest is Poseidon, but the coolest crowd is found at Negombo Thermal Park, tucked into San Montano Bay near the Mezzatore Resort & Spa.
If you’re hoping for something a little more drastic, you're in the right place. Ischia spas take a medical approach to pampering, so expect real results. Whether you’re after a miracle mud mask or an intravenous anti-aging treatment, the Regina Isabella Spa has been the secret of the likes of Sophia Loren for decades. We’ll have what she’s having. The atmosphere is as serious as the treatments, like a pristine Swiss clinic with medical doctors on staff. There’s a reason why social mavens come here to get their work done over the summer, in lieu of plastic surgery.
If you do only one spa treatment in Ischia, you’ve missed the cultural essence of the island. The Terme Manzi Hotel is worth a full spa day topped by a gourmet lunch. You’re not going to go wrong with Relais & Chateaux. If you’re looking for the cavernous spa atmosphere, soothing music, low-lit candles, and massages that put you into a state of bliss, the Mezzatore Resort & Spa is your place. Service is also one of the most polished on the island.
Just Another Day at the Office
Your hotel choice in Ischia is driven by the type of experience and proximity (or lack thereof) to the relatively quiet island towns. The Regina Isabella is in the center of the livelier Lacco Ameno, with common spaces that are a throwback to the days of when Clark Gable and friends frequented the isle for summer vacations. Make sure to book the newer hotel rooms, which are done up with ultra-modern bathrooms, sleek dark wood, and gorgeous linens. Non-renovated rooms are retro, and while updated over the decades, still feel like the 1960s.
The getaway luxury resort is the Mezzatorre Resort & Spa, on a bluffside perch about a five-minute drive from the town of Lacco Ameno. The hotel has one of the most stunning views in Ischia, along with the best selection of restaurants and poolside scene. The unique appeal is the perceived seclusion on the property, while being just a short drive to town and walk to the Negombo Thermal Park. It sure beats a day at the office.
For a boutique hotel option that’s gentler on the pocket, the San Montano does not get nearly enough of the hype it deserves. Views are just about equal to the Mezzatorre, and the pool has some nice talent for people-watching. Rooms are relatively modest compared to the other options, but some have balconies that overlook the stunning views.
Ischia is a relatively large island, with four major towns of interest to visitors, which include Porto Ischia, with the bulk of the shops and café restaurants; Lacco Ameno, a personal favorite of the Galavante editorial team, which is quieter and epitomizes 1960s glamour; Forio, where the locals go to party; and Sant’Angelo, the smallest town yet a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. You’ll need a car or driver to do the island justice and to take in the views and hidden coves for a spontaneous swim.
As you would expect, the Ischian chefs know their way around an Italian kitchen. However, for those who are well-traveled within Italy, cuisine is not groundbreaking, or nearly as glamorous as nearby Capri. Standouts are Umberto a Mare, where you can catch an intense sunset over antipasti and prosecco, and then move on to plates of fresh clams and pasta and fish. Service is impeccable yet warm – you’ll be challenged to find this level elsewhere on the island.
One of the most stunning settings in Ischia is at Giardino Eden, which has a view of the Piazzale Aragonese, the island’s famed castle. Giardino Eden is not going to win any stars for service, but the vistas and people-watching far compensate. Travel by boat to the restaurant, or you’ll have to descend what feels like a thousand steps if you arrive by car to the back entrance. The hotel next door to Il Giardino Eden often has music and dancing post-dinner, so stay for the beach-clubbing, preferably with a glass of wine in hand. After all, when in Italy...