Guide to Ischia: the best things to see and do
This summer I went on a press trip to the Island of Ischia with BSO Group. We spent 5 days discovering this beautiful Italian island off the coast of Naples. I knew Ischia was famous for its thermal baths and seaside retreats, but I had no idea it was such a unique island with so much variety. People tend to flock to the famous nearby Island of Capri, but Ischia has nothing to be envious about and is a great alternative (especially for its more budget friendly prices). It’s the largest volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples, full of history, myths, beautiful sceneries, mineral-rich thermal waters, vineyards, towns, delicious food and fun activities. If you’re searching for a few days in the sun, Ischia is the perfect place to visit. So buckle up, here’s my ultimate travel guide to Ischia, from where to stay, to where to eat and what to do in this Italian gem.
Getting to Ischia
Getting to Ischia is very easy! Especially if you’re coming from Naples or Rome. Luca and I hopped on Trenitalia’s high-speed Frecciarossa train from Roma Termini Station directed to Naples, where we met the rest of the gang of BSO Group. We stayed in business, but economy is perfect, too. We had one of the Trenitalia staff showing us around the train. I fell in love with the meeting room in the business lounge.
After arriving to the Napoli Centrale station, we had Imperatore Travel World organize our transfer to Molo Beverello, where we took the Alilauro hydrofoil to Ischia. It was amazing because they even took our trolleys, so we didn’t have to take them around. We stayed around 30 minutes inside the Alilauro lounge (thank you AC, midday under the sun isn’t the best idea) and then we boarded the hydrofoil which took just 1 hour to reach the port of Forio.
Where to stay in Ischia
There isn’t one perfect place to stay, Ischia is full of beautiful towns. It just depends on the type of vacation you’re looking for.
Where to stay in Ischia’s Sant’Angelo area
Ischia is made up of 6 comuni, each offering something different. But I have to say, if I were you, I’d go for the exclusive and picturesque Borgo di Sant’Angelo. This beautiful fishermen village is known for its chic restaurants and boutiques, charming accommodations and sensational views of the sea. It has a relaxing vibe and it’s great for couples or groups that want to have a relaxing stay – in between thermal baths, beaches and yummy food. I recommend staying at either the Miramare Sea Resort or the boutique hotel Casa al Sole.
Waking up in Ischia is a special sensation. But waking up to this view at Miramare Sea Resort is as good as it gets. It’s truly everything one could wish for: unique rooms and villas with seaside views, a remarkable restaurant, a thermal park and even a private beach. You’re completely immersed in nature and it’s the perfect place to unwind. Our villa was wow: Mediterranean style rooms, beautiful tiled bathrooms, AC and this stunning terrace.
While Casa al Sole is a small boutique hotel in Sant’Angelo boasting only 9 rooms and 3 suites – each named after a famous Neapolitan woman. Come here for that homey feeling we all like, designer accommodations and … breakfast in bed everyday! Before going to bed, fill in your breakfast menu, choose the time you’d like to have breakfast and slide the sheet under your door. Easy peasy! They also have a sensational rooftop bar/restaurant where you can enjoy sunset aperitivos or dinners. Feel like relaxing even more? Book a massage! Plus, with the 24-hour service, you know you’ll be looked after!
Where to stay in Ischia’s Forio area
While if you’d like to be more in the heart of the hustle and bustle, the Forio area is a great place to stay. But instead of staying right in the center of Forio, get the best of both worlds – stay at Botania Relais & Spa to enjoy some tranquility. Immersed in a 30,000sqm park, surrounded by flowers and plants, this resort is the ideal place to recharge the mind and body. The villas, the rooms, the pool and the spa are the perfect places for a relaxing stay in Ischia. And wait until you wake up each morning to delicious homemade food, pancakes, herbal teas, cappuccinos and fresh fruits in the beautiful outdoor terrace of Il Corbezzolo restaurant. It’s heavenly! If a relaxing stay immersed in nature is what you need, Botania Relais & Spa will over deliver.
The best restaurants in Ischia
As in anywhere in Italy, delicious food is part of the package. And Ischia over delivers on this front, too! From indulging in perfectly-made Neapolitan style pizza, to tasting fresh local produce; from savouring fresh seafood to trying the traditional “coniglio all’ischitana”, Ischia sure has a wide variety of culinary options. So buckle up, here are some of the best restaurants in Ischia.
Ristorante il Mare
Whether it’s a romantic dinner or a special occasion, this restaurant inside the Miramare Sea Resort has to be on your list. We had our gala dinner here, and it was an unforgettable one. The first star on the list is the magnificent setting: candlelit tables on a panoramic terrace offering jaw-dropping views of the sea. The service is professional and friendly, and the menu is top notch. The highlight of the menu? The spaghetti aglio, olio, peperoncino su battuto di gambero rosso. A must-order!
Casa al Sole
This rooftop bar and boutique hotel in Ischia has completely left me speechless. We dropped by for sunset aperitivo where a sensational terrace was there to greet us: music floating in the air mixed with the sound of the waves, the sun setting, colorful maiolica tiles from Vietri sul Mare, and a view that would take anyone’s breath away paired with a glass of bubbly prosecco, home-cooked food and the most wonderful service. Baramare is truly a gem for sunset happy hour and even for dinner where you’ll be served fresh local products that change daily!
Get ready to dine in a terrace that appears to be located in a tropical forest. Il Corbezzolo is the restaurant inside Garden & Villas Resort led by Chef Lo Giudice. The setting is relaxing, the menu is a twist on Ischian cuisine, and it’s the perfect place if you want to be immersed in nature.
Apollon alle Fumarole
We had our first meal in Ischia in this restaurant inside the Miramare Sea Resort called Apollon alle Fumarole. Outdoor tables dotted on a terrace boasting stunning sea views. An informal atmosphere and genuine cuisine that will leave you craving for more. Staying at this restaurant was a breath of fresh air. We indulged in what they called a “light lunch” (but it resembled more to an Italian wedding lunch)! Some fresh seafood and focaccia to start, followed by amazing Neapolitan pizzas, melanzane alla parmigiana, fried cod (like I’ve never had before – and I’m from Rome), stuffed zucchini flowers and much more! The company, the view, the food and the friendly service made it a lunch to remember.
Trattoria il Focolare
During our stay in Ischia Trattoria il Focolare was one of my absolute favorite places. It’s a completely different cuisine and setting in comparison to the other restaurants we had been to: characteristic food with deep roots in Ischia’s traditional cuisine. And the biggest rule? No seafood! Only food coming from the land! We started out with a tour of the grounds, from the kitchen where Riccardo D’Ambra’s son leads the show, all the way to the winery. The winery was something spectacular. It’s a tunnel-like area carved into the tuff where all the wine bottles are stored. We never stop to think about it but it’s not till the 20th century that we had fridges! So how would people keep their wine cool in the past? In Ischia they would store it in these cool areas inside the tuff where a small window would be located in the Northern part, offering fresh air. Genius! This is how Riccardo D’Ambra started his amazing tale of Ischia’s culinary culture, from wine to traditional dishes such as the famous “Coniglio all’Ischitana” aka Ischian style rabbit. Just think that there is one recipe and 33 different way of cooking it, each area of Ischia varies the type of spices they use during the cooking process. The passion Mr. D’Ambra has is something that struck me so much. He loves his land and its tradition, and makes it his mission to allow them to survive through the ages. And if you think about it, food is a way of communicating culture and tradition. So he offered us wine from his wineries, delicious food cooked by his son and afterwords off we went to our dinner table. A huge rectangular table awaited us, where we tasted everything from simple pasta dishes, parmigiana alle melanzane, cheese and more. But the star of the show was the Coniglio all’Ischitana, served inside these beautiful pots! The whole experience was spectacular, and the family running the restaurant is so genuine and authentic, it was such a pleasure dining here. You’d think that after all the food we ate, it would be time to go home. But no, around midnight they served us spaghetti with aglio, olio e peperoncino (which were maybe the best ones I ever had).
On our last day in Ischia we had lunch at the sensational San Montano Resort. Perched up on a hill in Monte Vico, this luxury resort and spa offers dreamy 360-degree views of Ischia, the Bay of Naples and the sea. Sip on a refreshing lemontano, unwind in Ischia’s only spa with views of the sea in one of the resort’s 8 thermal pools, or indulge in delicious food and drinks at one of the two restaurants and two bars.
We had lunch at the famous Franco’s Restaurant where an exceptional lunch buffet awaited us for the appetisers, followed by a series of yummy dishes served at the table. The highlight of our lunch? Franco Pepe in Grani’s pizza. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Franco Pepe is Italy’s best pizzaiolo, and his pupils work at the San Montano Resort! Admire the master pizza maker in action, look at the view and enjoy life. And don’t forget to order the torta caprese!
Ristorante Lo Scoglio
Come to this restaurant in Ischia’s Sant’Angelo area if you want to get jaw-dropping views of the sea from a panoramic terrace set on a rock. The atmosphere is sensational, the wind breezing through your hair, a glass of cold wine. But while the view is perfect, I have to say the food wasn’t my favorite. But if it’s a great view you’re after, this one’s to put on your list.
The best thermal baths in Ischia
Ischia is known for its thermal baths and healing waters, making it the European capital of wellbeing. So much so that there is a cool legend behind it: legend has it that the giant Tifeo, son of Hades and Gaia, was imprisoned by Zeus inside Ischia’s Mount Epomeo, as a consequence for rebelling against him. After hundreds of years of punishment, Tifeo implored Venus to request his pardon from Zeus. Regretting what he did, hot tears ran from the giant’s eyes. The tears moved Zeus so much that he decided to pardon him and transform Tifeo’s tears into natural thermal waters.
On our second day we headed off to the Giardini Poseidon Terme, the biggest thermal park in Ischia with over 20 pools offering sensational views of the Bay of Citara. We had a BLAST here! We relaxed, had fun and enjoyed the scenery. My favorite baths were the natural sauna (a steam room inside a grotto carved into the tuff), the Japanese Bath (a path alternating hot and cold water with pebbles to walk on) and the Kneipp groups (alternating baths with 40°C and 15°C)! It’s a must-visit to relax the mind and body immersed in a stunning scenery. What an incredible day.
While if you’re in Borgo Sant’Angelo, don’t miss out on the dreamy Thermal Park and Spa Aphrodite Apollon. If you’re staying at the Miramare Sea Resort you’ll already have access to this thermal park, otherwise you’ll have to pay a small fee to enter. Boasting 8 pools with varying temperatures immersed in 7,000 sqm of vegetation, it’s the perfect place to recharge your batteries.
Must-do experiences in Ischia
Ischia is filled with great things to see and do. But since we only stayed 5 days, here are three more activities I highly recommend you do (apart from eating and going to thermal baths)!
Visiting & buying wine at the Cantine di Crateca
Our second day in Ischia we explored the stunning Cantine di Crateca winery. This place was truly a dream. Ischia is known for its thermal baths and seaside but trust me, there is so much more to it! We visited these family-run vineyards that extend for 2 hectares at an altitude of 250m on panoramic terraces with views of Mount Epomeo and the sea. Then we stopped for lunch out in the open where Chef Lo Giudice of Il Corbezzolo restaurant prepared genuine Italian food with top quality produce. The star of our lunch was the Crateca Biancolella – a dynamic, fresh and savory wine with great texture that has the perfect balance. Super recommended!
Boat excursion of the Island
On our last day in Ischia we were able to go on a boat excursion of the island organized by Imperatore Travel World. We saw terrific places and stopped for a swim in the Grotta degli Innamorati (they say you enter in two and leave in three)! One of the coolest parts of the excursion was noticing the strange-shaped rocks along the rocky coastline (most of them related to the myth of the giant Tifeo). One that I particularly loved was the rock that resembled the foot of the Giant Tifeo called “Piede di Tifeo” or “Tifeo’s Foot”. There was another one that looked exactly like an elephant. So keep your eyes open, the coastline has such beauties to see (and great coves for going for a swim).
Visiting the Castello Aragonese
As I said before, Ischia is filled with history. And we had a very passionate guide from Platypus tours taking us around the iconic Aragonese Castle. Located on a small island within the island, the Castello Aragonese allows you to travel through 25 centuries of reigns, conquests and stories. Visit the castle’s convents, its many churches and panoramic terraces, not to mention its beautiful gardens and eerie prison Bourbon Prison where polictical prisoners of the Renaissance were also imprisoned along side by side with criminals.
One of the most interesting (yet creepy) things we visited were the macabre “death chairs” inside the convent of the order of St. Clare. Located below the Church of the Immaculate Conception, you’ll find a series of rooms covered by low barrel vaults, that appear to be toilets but are known as “death chairs”. The nuns would use these chairs to place the dead nuns, and let their bodies decompose and drain after death. Their remains were collected in special vases and the dried while the skeletons were piled up in the ossuary. This macabre practice was based on the need to highlight the futility of the body as a simple container of the spirit; the rejection of an individual burial once again underlined this conviction. Creepy, if you ask me.
Visiting the Gardens of La Mortella
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit this stunning garden, but the guide that was taking us around talked about it with such passion that I recommend you visit them! The Giardini La Mortella is a splendid Mediterranean and subtropical garden created from 1856 by Susana Walton, the Argentine wife of Sir William Walton. It’s considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy and you’re able to visit these them from April to October.