Imagine an island that embodies the best of Italy – breathtaking landscapes, beautiful beaches, and delectable cuisine, all without pretense. Welcome to Ischia, the hidden gem located in the Campania region of southern Italy. Ischia is a perfect choice, easily accessible from Naples with a short ferry ride, offering a plethora of exploration opportunities from charming villages to a genuine castle, geothermal hot springs, and mountain hiking trails. Here, culinary delights abound, featuring excellent Neapolitan pizza, fresh seafood, and a variety of appetizers and rabbit stews from local agriturismi.
Reflecting on my travels across approximately 15 Italian islands, Ischia stands out as one of my top favorites, alongside Salina in the Aeolian Archipelago. What makes Ischia particularly appealing is that its visitors are predominantly Italians, specifically Neapolitans. The island isn’t geared towards luxury yacht boutiques or cheap souvenirs for hurried tourists. Instead, Ischia boasts genuinely stylish mid-range fashion stores and outstanding restaurants, reflecting the Italian love for dressing up and indulging in fine cuisine.
Ischia can be a place to lounge on the beach, enjoying ice cream – if that’s your desire. However, it’s almost a disservice to the island’s richness because Ischia is so much more than that.
Island Boat Tour:
Experiencing Ischia from the water is a must! A boat tour around the island is one of my personal favorites. It provides a unique perspective of Ischia’s volcanic geography from every angle, offering opportunities for swimming and snorkeling. Whether opting for an organized tour with stops at gems like Maronti Beach, the picturesque town of Sant’Angelo, Grotta Verde (Green Grotto, where you can swim inside), or Solchiaro Bay, the island’s beauty unfolds seamlessly.
Our favorite spot on the west coast was a hidden geothermal hotspot along the coastline, where warm earth and cold water merge to create a natural hot tub in the sea. For a collective experience, consider the boat tour, including lunch, some drinks, and reasonably priced snorkeling equipment. Alternatively, book a private tour of the west coast for a more personalized experience.
Explore Aragonese Castle:
If you’ve seen pictures of Ischia, one of them undoubtedly features Aragonese Castle – a fortress built on a massive rock connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. The view from below is awe-inspiring, but it becomes even more breathtaking when you reach the summit!
Built by Alfonso V in the 15th century, the castle’s history traces back to ancient times, serving as a refuge for Greeks, Romans, Normans, and Angevins. For history enthusiasts and those appreciating cultural and scenic wonders, this is an absolute must-visit. The castle is open to visitors, allowing exploration of various levels, from dungeons and prisons to gardens and churches. From the castle’s terrace, enjoy magnificent views of the Bay of Naples and the Tyrrhenian Sea. The castle also houses a small museum displaying archaeological finds, paintings, and sculptures from various periods of Ischia’s history. Tickets are €10 per person, or you can opt for a two-hour guided tour for an in-depth historical background.
Enjoy Ischia’s Beautiful Beaches:
Ischia, nestled in the volcanic paradise of the Bay of Naples, boasts beautiful beaches suitable for escaping it all. Whether you crave sandy shores or rocky coves, secluded spots or lively beach clubs, Ischia offers a variety of options.
Cava Grado Beach: A charming gem with clear waters and soft sand, offering beautiful views of the town of Sant’Angelo.
Le Fumarole Beach: Experience volcanic activity underfoot, with steam and gases creating a unique beach adventure.
San Montano Beach: A curved beach with calm waters and fine sand, surrounded by lush hills. It’s one of my favorite spots on the island, part of the Negombo Thermal Park, which I’ll detail later.
Pescatori Beach: Located near Ischia Port, a bustling and long stretch with various facilities, suitable for families and many coastal resorts.
Island Bus Tour:
Ischia is worth exploring from end to end, and one of the easiest ways is by joining a fascinating bus tour covering the island’s highlights. A local guide will share Ischia’s exciting history, vibrant culture, and natural beauty. The bus tour takes you through charming locations like Sant’Angelo, Forio, La Mortella, CasaMicciola, and Barano. Ample free time is provided for strolling, taking photos, or shopping for souvenirs. The tour includes convenient hotel or port pickup and drop-off services.
Exploring Ischia by bus is a marvelous way to unveil the island’s highlights and diverse landscapes without the hassle of driving in Italy. The tour, priced at €15 per person, offers morning or afternoon departures and provides multilingual guide services, including English and Italian.
For those seeking aquatic adventures, kayaking is a top activity on Ischia. Explore the island’s coastline at your own pace, discovering hidden caves, natural pools, and marine wonders.
The three-hour trip covers most of Ischia’s southern coast, passing by Maronti Beach and Sant’Angelo. Marvel at stunning locations such as Sgarrupata Bay, San Pancrazio Bay, and the enchanting Grotta Verde. Feel free to take a refreshing dip in the sea!
This kayaking adventure caters to all skill levels and operates from April to October, with equipment and a guide included.
Learn to Cook Local Cuisine:
While you might not be surprised to find excellent cuisine in Ischia, the variety of food on this island may astound you. Influenced by volcanic soil, maritime traditions, and a multicultural history, Ischia boasts more local specialties than you can sample in one trip.
From the island-flavored rabbit stew (coniglio all’ischiatana) to spaghetti with clams (spaghetti alle vongole) and an array of local wines, you’ll eat exceptionally well here.
Dining in Ischia goes beyond merely enjoying meals – learn how to make authentic Neapolitan pizza from scratch using traditional wood-fired ovens and fresh ingredients in a pizza-making class with local chefs. You’ll also discover how to craft Italian flatbreads and pancakes.
Another option is to embark on a market adventure led by locals, exploring Ischia’s finest produce and flavors. Bargain with vendors, select beautiful farm products (never forget that the beautiful tomatoes at Whole Foods in the US are essentially second-rate Italian ones), and head to a local’s home to prepare a four-course feast under their guidance.
This intimate dining experience in a local home is a fantastic way to experience authentic, home-cooked dinners in Ischia. Warmly welcomed, indulge in a three-course meal paired with wine.
Wine and Spirits Discovery:
Surprisingly, Ischia is home to excellent wines. The fertile soil, sunny climate, and diverse grape varieties yield outstanding wines and spirits. Take advantage of this by trying Ischia’s white and red wines, or regional specialties like rucolino (made from rocket leaves, or what we in the US call arugula), finocchietto (made from fennel seeds), and limoncello (made from lemons). Explore these local delights at Ischia’s bars and restaurants or opt for wine and spirits tours if you want a deeper exploration.
Visit Ischia’s first winery, established by Vincenzo Polito in 1888. It’s an excellent place to discover the art of making renowned spirits like rucolino, finocchietto, and limoncello. You’ll taste these accompanied by local snacks.
Join a tour of Ischia’s vineyards and wine tasting, exploring a family-run winery near Mount Epomeo in Serrara Fontana. During this two-hour journey, stroll through vineyards, cellars, and a small museum. Taste four wines paired with Italian sausages, cheeses, and other local meats.
Ischia’s natural environment is conducive to winemaking. Through Shutterstock.
In summary, Ischia offers more than just a typical beach holiday. Its diverse activities, historical treasures, culinary experiences, and the warmth of its people make it an exceptional destination for travelers seeking a well-rounded and authentic Italian adventure. Whether you’re exploring its captivating coastline, delving into centuries-old castles, relaxing on beautiful beaches, or savoring the island’s gastronomic delights, Ischia promises an unforgettable experience at every turn.