Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Ischia: Beyond the Castle and Garden
Matthew Lepori (MattL)
Ten days on Ischia revealed to me the mixed-bag nature of the island as a tourist destination. It seems to me that Ischia has three things going for it, aside from the obvious attractions: thermal springs, hiking the mountains, and relaxing on the beaches. I found the first two impressive, and the third not-so-much. First, though, a brief sketch of the town of Forio.
I decided to stay in Forio for the townís laid-back and village vibe. Forio is large enough to not stifle you over the course of a few days, but not particularly bustling. There is one main street with a few cross streets of note, but thatís about it. The restaurants are tasty, cheap and, in June, the place was not crowded. There are several nice boutiques, and some great fruttivendoli (farmerís stands) like Da Nicola (see picture). Ultimately, I really enjoyed Forio for feeling more like ďreal townĒ than tourist trap.
Da Nicola in the Town of Forio
Forio with the mountain in the distance
Ischia is dotted with thermal springs and spas. This is perhaps the islandís number one claim to fame. As outlined in this travel note, some of these spas are fantastic. Iíll try to round out this picture by detailing a different sort of thermal adventure.
South of Forio is a tiny inlet, called the Baia di Sorgeto. Translated, this means ďBay of the Source,Ē which is a fitting title for a place where thermal water gushes out directly onto the Mediterranean shore. It is a unique (and free of cost) experience, to sit amongst the rocks in a shallow inlet and feel the play between the hot thermal water and the cool sea. I visited the springs at night, a beautiful and tranquil experience. Practically speaking, the springs are located at the bottom of a cliff inlet located between Forio and SantíAngelo. They are open all day, all night, every day of the year. Itís a short walk down the cliff via an easy-to-amble stairway. There is a small covered landing where one can change clothes if necessary. Hot water gushes into the sea at the base of the cliff wall, meaning the further you go into the sea, the cooler the water gets. There are large rocks in the middle of the inlet, protecting the shore from waves. There are more rocks at the base of the cliff, forming shallow pools which have water of varying temperature. Itís relatively easy to find the temperature that tickles your fancy. Locals swim here in the winter, itís that warm!
If youíre physically capable, a trip to Ischia is not complete without hiking Mount Epomeo. It affords a beautiful vista over the entire island, from Forio in the west to Ischia Ponte in the northeast and SantíAngelo in the south. The hike is roughly 3km from the town of Serrara Fontana, and is relatively easy. I would guesstimate the elevation gain is 200m (the peak is at 750m above sea level). It took us roughly 45 minutes to complete the hike, which began at the town bus stop since we did not have a car. If you have a car, you can shorten this time by roughly 15 minutes by driving past the town and up the mountain.
View of Mount Epomeo
A travel guide is only good if itís willing to point out the things to avoid, rather than gloss over or omit them to puff the place up. So, here begins the mixed review. Ischiaís beaches beckon out to you, a welcome reprise from the rocky shores of Naples and Amalfi. The water looks clear and deliciously Mediterranean blue. The sand isnít perfect, but you excuse this after taking a sip of your aranciata and begin the swim to that buoy. Then you notice the mixed bag. Plastic bags, that is, amongst other flotilla that really detracts from the natural beauty of the environment. Put simply, I saw floating trash at every beach I visited on Ischia. Of all sorts, from hygienic products to water bottles. Iíve been to beaches from Cinque Terre to Sardinia to Sicily, and never seen a problem like this. In addition, prepare for parasols and private areas. Not all beaches are equally guilty, and not all beaches are equally scenic. Iíll sort out for you the variations.
The two best beaches were Spiaggia dei Maronti, and Citara. Neither were trash free, but they suffered significantly less (in that order) than the other beaches I visited, Negombo and Cava del Isola. Maronti is a wide, long beach that stretches over 3 kilometers between SantíAngelo and Barano. Compared to the other beaches I visited, it was relatively empty, especially on the SantíAngelo side. As one might guess, this resulted in considerably cleaner water. The sand isnít beautiful, but the setting is pretty and it has a few tasteful and tasty restaurants located in the middle of the expanse. I recommend parking or hopping off the bus in SantíAngelo, and meandering down the road to the beach. SantíAngelo is beautiful and the view is scenic as you walk the hills.
Negombo beach is probably the most visually beautiful, situated in a cozy cove with placid water and sailboats moored in the distance beyond the enclosure. It gets its fair share of visitors, which mostly seemed to be families. The water here had plenty of undesirable clutter in the water. I imagine that this beach would be gross like the others when fully packed in August. Furthermore, Negombo is not a large beach and I would wager 75% of it was dominated by deck chair rentals. There was enough space for us in June, but I wonder what August would look like.
Cava del Isola would be my least favorite beach, by a longshot. After spending a couple of days amongst the families at Negombo, I was drawn to Cava del Isola by reports that it had a younger population and thoughts of beautiful bikini-clad Italian women. Both turned out to be true, and I comfortably settled in with my peers and enjoyed the sand and setting. Cava del Isola probably has the best sand on the island, a fine golden brown. Problem is, it has the worst water. There were literally areas of the water that you had to swim around due to the concentration of trash. It seems that my peers have a littering issue. A lot of it was of the female hygienic nature, which certainly added to the yuck factor. I would not recommend this place, which is sad considering it was a fun place with beautiful people.
Citara is another scenic beach, set in front of the famous Poseidon Gardens. Problem is, expect to sit in the waves themselves if you do not wish to pay for a deck chair. Citara is probably the last place you want to go if you are looking for quiet, rustic, removed. That said, the water here was appreciably cleaner than anywhere else. My theory is that those who are willing to pay for deck chairs are less likely to swim and thus get trash in the water. But, who knows.
In a nutshell, none of these beaches were perfect. Maronti had less trash, but less beauty. Citara had cleaner water, but was ridden by pay-per-play deck chairs. Cava del Isola had beautiful people, but disgusting water. Negombo had a very scenic setting, but was crowded with deck chairs, people, and had some trash issues. My advice is, come to Ischia for reasons other than the beach (as most of us do), and try not to get your hopes up on your beach trips.
Vacation Rentals in Campania - includes Amalfi Coast, Capri, Ischia, Sorrento, & Naples on the Mediterranean
© Matt Lepori, 2008
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