Ischia, Italy’s island of legends and love stories, has been welcoming pleasure seekers since the days of Ancient Rome.
According to ancient Greek legend, the island of Ischia in Italy’s Bay of Naples was created when Zeus and the Titan monster Tifeo clashed. Mighty Zeus won the battle and buried Tifeo under a pile of rocks, where the Titan continued to flail, creating volcanoes. That is just one of the many legends and love stories that Ischia’s dramatic landscape has inspired. The alluring island, rich with thermal springs, inviting beaches, fabulous gardens, and vineyard-covered mountains, has a happy history of attracting pleasure seekers—from ancient Greeks to La Dolce Vita starlets. And as its neighbor Capri becomes evermore crowded and pricey, the charms of Ischia beckon all the more.
Poseidon Thermal Garden
Set amidst lush greenery and an enchanting bay, is Ischia’s biggest thermal water park, named for the Greek God of the Sea. Taking the waters and soaking up the sun on Poseidon’s private beach is following a great tradition that stretches back over thousands of years of pleasure seekers. The park is a perfect set-up for bliss: twenty thermal spring-fed pools cover a terraced hillside, accented with gorgeous landscaped gardens, restaurants, and a spa, offering a range of treatments.
INSIDER TIPInvigorating Matrix Rhythm massages are Poseidon’s unique specialty treatments.
Archaeological Museum of Pithecusae
This former villa turned museum offers eight rooms of astounding archaeological finds from Ischia’s Greco-Roman history. It’s called Pithecusae, inspired by Ischia’s ancient Greek name, meaning “Isle of Monkeys”, from the legend that Zeus turned cercopes, (mischievous forest creatures) into monkeys and banished them to this island. Among the many ancient clay vessels, the star of the collection is Nestor’s Cup, (eighth century BC), that Homer wrote about in The Iliad. It’s inscribed with one of the oldest known examples of the Greek alphabet, and reads: “Whoever drinks from this cup, him straightaway the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.”
INSIDER TIPGuided tours can be booked through the museum website, which makes the experience more fulfilling.
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Greeks named Ischia’s highest peak Epomeo, from their verb “epopeus,” or to look around. Stunning panoramic views of the sparkling sea, Capri, Naples, and Mount Vesuvius reward hikers at its summit. Add deliciousness to the experience at the mountain’s family-run restaurant, La Grotta da Fiore, which offers refreshing drinks and Ischia’s specialty, roast rabbit.
INSIDER TIPThe 4.5-mile hiking trail up and down Mount Epomeo, through vineyards and chestnut forests, begins in the village of Serrara and ends on the mountain’s other side in Fontana.
Following Greeks who planted Italy’s first vineyards in Ischia, Romans came and named the island “Aenaria,” or Island of Wine. The island’s winemaking tradition continues, thanks to the rich volcanic soil, sea breezes, and mild temperatures. Top varieties, made with white Biancolella or red Piedirosso grapes, are praised for their distinctive floral aroma and dry, elegant finish. Cenatiempo, a family-run winery on the slopes of Mount Epomeo, practices “heroic viticulture”—cultivating grapes on narrow mountain terraces for maximum sunlight exposure, using no machines. It’s a joyful place to take a tour that includes a vineyard walk, a visit to their 18th-century cantina, and a tasting in the garden with local specialties.
INSIDER TIPCenatiempo’s white, Bianco Superiore, consistently receives top ratings from wine critics worldwide.
Nitrodi Hot Springs
Tucked in the middle of the island are Nitrodi’s curative hot springs, that for over 2,000 years have been praised for miraculous healing of skin ailments. Romans believed these waters were a gift from the sun god Apollo and brought votive offerings to the nymphs who guarded them. The modern Nitrodi Hot Springs complex is a tranquil, hillside oasis, offering thermal showers, gardens of medicinal plants to use for aromatherapy rubs, and sun beds with sea views for relaxing. There’s also a spa for massages and a bar that serves drinks of thermal water mixed with herbs.
INSIDER TIPIt’s worth it to pay extra euros for a Nitrodi DIY face mask, made with specially selected herbs grown on the property.
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The Roman god of the sea inspired the name for Ischia’s surrounding waters, when they were designated a Marine Protected Area in 2008. Divers here find an amazing underwater kingdom rich with multi-colored coral, seagrass prairies, and rare breeds of dolphins. If you’d rather not submerge, take a glass-bottomed boat ride to discover sunken remnants of the ancient Roman settlement of Aenaria.
Castello Aragonese is the iconic symbol of Ischia, covering an islet off the main shore with an impressive mix of watchtowers, churches, and monasteries that represent 2,500 years of the island’s storied history. A romantic highlight of the complex is the Baroque Cattedrale dell’Assunta, where poet/noblewoman Vittoria Colonna married Ferrante d’Avolos in the 16th century. Vittoria lived in the castle while her husband was away in battle and transformed it into an elegant court where poets and artists convened. Among her admirers was Michelangelo, who called Vittoria his “spirit of grace,” celebrating her with poetry and drawings. As well as being Ischia’s top tourist attraction, the castle is a popular choice for destination weddings.
INSIDER TIPYou can sleep inside the Castello Aragonese, at Albergo Il Monastero, a former 16th-century convent that offers simple rooms with beautiful views.
Fans of Elena Ferrante’s best-selling Neapolitan Novels will recognize Maronti as the setting for the main characters’ teenage love affairs. It’s one of Ischia’s largest beaches, backed by stunning cliffs, opening to mesmerizing views of clear turquoise waters and the island of Capri. There are also plenty of beachfront cafes and restaurants to enjoy Ischia’s delicious food and wine, including Nettuno, which serves fabulous seafood pasta.
INSIDER TIPSome parts of the beach are free; many are connected to bathing areas where you pay a fee (around 15 euros) to swim but provide sun beds, umbrellas, and towels.
La Mortella Gardens
La Mortella, an exotic, terraced wonderland, is a labor of love created by Lady Susanna Walton. It’s been praised as one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe, where visitors discover a spectacular mix of orchids, ferns, palms, water lilies, fountains, a tea house and amphitheater for musical concerts. When Susanna and her husband, British composer William Walton, moved here in 1949, Susanna called in landscape architect Russell Page to help her create a dream garden, inspired in part by her native Argentina. The project took 50 years of work, and Susanna opened it to the public in 1991 as a living monument to her late husband.
INSIDER TIPThe garden is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. This schedule was Lady Walton’s idea—she believed her plants needed rests between visitors, so they could thrive.
Bar Maria Caffe Internazionale
In the 1950s and ’60s, Ischia experienced a glamorous tourist renaissance. Its major watering hole, where celebrities from all over the world gathered, was Bar Maria in the village of Forio. Among regulars were Sofia Loren, Jackie Kennedy, and Ava Gardner. In 1962, the scene heated up when paparazzi flocked here to capture the legendary love affair that had just begun between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who were on the island to film Cleopatra. Though the Forio scene is less star-studded today, there’s still a La Dolce Vita vibe at Bar Maria and live music on summer evenings.
INSIDER TIPBar Maria is a great place for an aperitivo, and to try bruschetta al pomodoro, Ischia style—large toasted bread topped with delicious cherry tomatoes grown on the island.