Once more, once more, Inarime*,
I see thy purple hills!–once more
I hear the billows of the bay
Wash the white pebbles on thy shore.
High o’er the sea-surge and the sands,
Like a great galleon wrecked and cast
ashore by storms, thy castle stands,
A mouldering landmark of the Past…
Birds of Passage, Flight the Fifth – Vittoria Colonna* – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Inarime is the poetic name used by Virgil, and later by Martianus to refer to the Island of Ischia
If you’re on a budget, travelling with family or if you’d like an affordable island escape when visiting the Amalfi coast, instead of visiting the infamous Isle of Capri venture to its lesser known neighbour, the mythical and magical island of Ischia.
Whilst now it is an idyllic island escape, Ischia’s past has been full of violent upheaval, from volcanic eruptions, plagues and piracy to numerous battles between powerful empires to lay claim to her fertile land, strategic location and safe harbours.
Its natural beauty and healing waters have attracted visitors to the region for centuries and the island has long been the inspiration for many writers and poets.
In ancient Greek Mythology, Ischia is where the rather frightening Typhon (Tifeo/Typheus); a snake-like monster who carries a number of multi headed fire-breathing dragons around with him, was banished to live out eternity.
The story tells the tale of Typhon; who was the father of many famous monsters of the underworld; Hydra, Chimaera, Cerberus (the multi-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades) and the Sphinx to name but a few. He wanted to overthrow Zeus to become the supreme ruler of the universe and have the power to rule over mortals and immortals alike.
A fierce battle between the gods ensued. This excerpt from Hesiod’s Theogony describes the fight:
“…And through the two of them heat took hold on the dark-blue sea, through the thunder and lightning, and through the fire from the monster, and the scorching winds and blazing thunderbolt. The whole earth seethed, and sky and sea: and the long waves raged along the beaches round and about at the rush of the deathless gods: and there arose an endless shaking…”
Zeus triumphs and as punishment, he banishes Tyhpon to spend eternity below the island of Ischia. Whenever there is volcanic activity on the island, you can be sure it is Typhon venting his pent-up rage.
Truman Capote spent a few months on the island in 1949, writing and exploring and penning a number of letters describing Ischia’s charm and beauty.
More recently, the hugely successful quartet of novels by Elena Ferrante see her teenage protagonists escaping to Ischia from Naples to leave their stifling lives and explore their sexuality.
A brief History
Originally known as Pithhecusae, Ischia was first settled in the 8th century BC and has been home to Greek, Etruscan and Phoenician settlements.
The Romans seized the island in 322 BC, Augustus, who preferred Capri because it had no volcanic activity traded Ischia for Capri with the city of Naples.
Ischia’s people have endured both the fury of mother nature, with numerous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the tumultuous power struggles of mainland empires. Ruled by the Byzantine’s, Germans, Spanish, French, attacked by the English and ransacked by Greek, Turkish and African pirates who’d kidnap the locals for the slave trade.
In 1655, the Plague came close to wiping out the population altogether. Only mother nature (or perhaps the gods) in the form of furious storms rid the island of pestilence and saved the remaining population.
Perhaps Ischia’s mystery and beauty are heightened by its dramatic past.
Luckily, its tempestuous past has been relegated to the pages of history. The island is now famed for its pottery, film festival, literary inspiration and day spas.
Ischia has not only proven popular as a setting for novels it has provided a backdrop for a number of Hollywood productions including The Talented Mr Ripley, Cleopatra and While We Were Here. The film festival each year draws a number of iconic celebrities to the island.
To see the full list of celebrities who have graced its shores click here Ischia Review.
Ischia’s Thermal Spas
Yet it’s the healing and restorative powers of Ischia’s waters which have created a booming tourist industry for the island.
Ischia’s mud is rich in mineral content and high in sodium, chlorine, potassium, calcium and sulphur.
People flock to the day spas and resorts to enjoy the benefits and the therapeutic power of the thermal waters and volcanic mud.
Mr 77 and I took a day trip to Ischia from the neighbouring island of Procida.
After a spot of coffee and shopping in the main town, confusingly also called Ischia, we took a taxi to Negombo, one of the islands Thermal Parks.
Set in manicured gardens and filled with artworks leading down to a picturesque beach, Negombo is more akin to a tropical island. Reminiscent of a resort in Asia, the whole area looks like it should belong in Thailand.
Negombo offers 30 different types of thermal experiences and there are different pools and areas to submerge yourself in the waters. It is like a water theme park for grown ups.
If you get tired of lazing by the pool and rejuvenating in the waters, Negombo also has a swish and popular restaurant, Trattoria Casa Colonica. If you don’t feel like dipping your toes into the waters, you can have a meal and can enter the surrounding gardens for free.
It is laid back, relaxing and is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Naples.
Mr 77 and I jump in and out of the various thermal pools (you are given a brochure to advise how long you should stay in each pool). We try the Turkish sauna, the Japanese foot baths, thermal showers and caves.
Negombo says that it has the highest mineral content of the thermal waters of Ischia and within 30 minutes Mr 77 and I are floating around in a state of bliss – a type of thermal coma overtakes us and I guess that this is the feeling of general well-being after initial feelings of tiredness, the brochure advises you will experience lethargy initially.
We take a break from the spas, find a deck chair and laze away the day next to the pool overlooking the beach.
From the bar, you can order fresh squeezed orange juice (they do this everywhere in Italy and I love it). We read, spa and nap a blissful afternoon away.
It is a wonderful way to spend a day and is a perfect place for families to kick back after a few busy days sightseeing around the chaotic Amalfi coast.
Mr 77 and I leave in a state of exquisite bliss. Our skin is soft, our muscles relaxed, and I can’t help but think we have succumbed to its languid charms. We may have just found paradise on this tempestuous, evocative, mysterious isle.
How to get there:
Ischia does not have an airport or train station. You will need to fly into one of the mainland cities of Italy. Most budget carriers fly into Rome. Check out deals on Skyscanner
You can then catch a train to Naples from any major city. The man in seat 61 can help with routes, times and prices.
You can get a car ferry from Procida, Naples and Sorrento out to Ischia.
There are a number of lines and routes and some stop via Procida en-route. Prices vary depending on times and the season.
We used Caremar Ferries and they were usually on time and efficient (unless of course, Naples are playing in the soccer – then there may be delays in service to allow people to get home from the game). They service the Neapolitan islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida.
The ferries depart from Naples, Pozzuoli and Sorrento. For all the latest information check out their website www.ferriesonline.com
The trip takes about 40 minutes from Naples and 20-30 minutes from Procida.
Where to stay:
You can stay on the island relatively cheaply with bed and breakfasts, agriturismo, camping and self-catering options. There is also a hostel to suit most budgets. If you want to splurge, there are plenty of luxury 4 and 5-star accommodation options.
If, like me, you like to follow the literary trail of great writers and like to walk in their footsteps, Truman Capote stayed in room number 3 – The Truman Room in Pensione Di Lustro in Forio. It’s very retro, but you might be able to pen your masterpiece looking at the same view Capote did.
For a full list and reviews of the accommodation options on the island, click on the links below:
Why Go ?
To bliss out, indulge in an affordable spa retreat, swim and heal. To explore the magic and history of this rugged island.
What to See and Do:
From the stunning beaches and endless swimming, lazy days rejuvenating at spas, exploring Castello Aragonese, hiking the 789-metre Monte Epomeo, enjoying verdant gardens, fantastic food and walking through history at the museums, there are plenty of things to keep you occupied in Ischia.
For a full list of things to do, sites, opening times, prices and activities, visit Ischia Review.
For the Kids:
Ischia is the perfect retreat for everyone. Easy enough to get around if you have children. They will love the beaches, pools, the myths, ferry rides, gardens and castle.
For the littlies, there is a nice shaded playground on the corner of Corso Luigi Manzi and Via Monte della Misericordia.
Perris Park – in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital, is an old-fashioned carnival park that has rides for toddlers and young children.
For older kids, there are plenty of beaches and forests to explore.
They will also love Castello Aragonese
At Negombo, families should note that small children cannot use the thermal pools, but can use the swimming pool near the beach.
Where to Spa:
Negombo – Baia di S. Montano, 80076 Ischia NA, Italy – we loved our day here and would recommend it.
How to get around:
Bus – there is a public bus service connecting most of the towns on the islands. You can buy sticks from any newsstand, tobacconist or travel agency. It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the island. For lines, prices and routes, Ischia Review has current information.
There are also taxi’s, water taxi’s and you can drive your own car.
Where to Eat:
For a full list and up to date reviews, check out Ischia restaurants – Tripadvisor
*Vittoria Colonna was an Italian noblewoman (marchioness of Pescara) and poet herself. She was a patron of artists and dear friends with Michelangelo. She was married to the Marchese di Pescara, on the death of her husband, she vowed to remain a single widow, penning a series of poems in his memory and devoting her life and work to spirituality and the church. She was a woman of great intelligence, beauty and patronage of the arts. Vittoria Colonna
Books with Ischia references: