I recently spent a week in Ischia — a small island situated near Naples and Capri in southern Italy — and can happily report that the place far exceeded my already high expectations. I’ll admit, in large part, this was due to our hotel — the incredibly elegant yet simple Albergo Il Monastero. Set within the Aragon Castle, this former monastery may be the best place I have ever stayed. I say this because the setting is especially peaceful with views that take one’s breath away if you will allow me such a cliche — you would reluctantly agree had you joined me.
The service can not be compared to a Four Seasons, St. Regis, Mandarin Oriental, or similar brand — this hotel isn’t striving for that type of environment. But all the better, as that means there is a beneficial trade-off — affordable luxury.
Moments not spent basking in the delights of the hotel — sipping an aperitif on the flower-filled terrace as we watched the sun set over the island, enjoying morning walks through the hotel’s expansive vineyard and lush gardens, or showering with an open-air view of the sea below — were still just as memorable. We hired a boat and captain for a day — Salvatore ferried us around the island, anchoring now and then for a dip or a snorkel in the warm sea.
He stopped in the picturesque town of Sant Angelo where we enjoyed a respite at a waterfront cafe– the eclectic Tavernetta del Pirata — for drinks and a couple rounds of cards. Then he took us to a waterside restaurant — La Pace Detto La Scarrupata — accessible only by boat, where we were serenaded by a charming guitarist while we lunched on simple yet delicious fresh pasta and house wine while watching the waves lap the shore.
Before the day concluded, he stopped near a cave where we could swim inside the green, glowing grotto. Though all the days were wonderful, this one was truly magical.
For another excursion, we hiked up to the top of Mt. Epomeo — the highest point on the island at roughly 2600 feet. It was a slightly longer hike than expected due to a road closure as a result of a rock slide a half mile before our starting point. No worries — Google Maps and my limited Italian saved the day. The trek isn’t especially long, however, it is steep — especially towards the end– so be prepared with proper footwear and water if you choose to undertake this activity.
There are a couple of shop/cafes en route if you need to replenish supplies or use the facilities. One even provides free walking sticks, with the caveat that you return them on the trip back down.
At the top, one is rewarded with spectacular views of the entire island as well as Naples, Vesuvius, and Capri in the distance. AND… there is a wonderful restaurant called La Grotta da Fiore — rustic with plastic chairs and plenty of shade and the aforementioned views. Plus, SERIOUSLY good food… or maybe we were just starving from the hike. Please note, that it is only open for lunch, NOT dinner, which makes sense as it would be too difficult to descend the mountain in the dark.
Oh… did I mention that this restaurant is only accessible by foot? We somehow managed to find several restaurants not reachable via car or even Vespa.
Other days were spent hiking closer to the castle, and one spectacular swim with snorkel gear all the way around the castle base where we granted lovely views of Mediterranean fish as well as trickles of air bubbles escaping from volcanic thermal vents in the sea floor.
The evenings were spent dining on gnocchi sorrentina, margherita pizza, grilled seafood, rabbit stew (a local specialty), and the many wonderful wines of the island — vino has been produced here since 700 B.C when early Greeks first discovered the island. Nevertheless, there was always room for gelato afterward.
The best way to get to Ischia from the states is to fly to Rome, then train to Naples (1 hour high speed train), then ferry to Ischia (1 hour on the hydro-foil). It’s easy to combine it with other places on the Amalfi Coast, though it’s not totally necessary as Ischia has a lot to offer — great food, scenery, gardens, beaches, warm waters, history, and many thermal water parks that are supposed to be therapeutic — we planned to visit one of the thermal parks but just didn’t get around to it… too busy enjoying la dolce vita.