Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Ideal Island Vacation: Ischia, Italy

Best Italian Island vacationIn early June, we realized Ian had some vacation days and sometime - sometime soon - I was going to be far too big and uncomfortable to travel. Thus, our usual brand of spontaneous/half-planned travel was born. But where?

There are few place we won't go. Bucharest in August? Why not. Copenhagen just for a day to pick up a parent? Or course. Idaho? Let's do it!

But given our poor trip planning, flights to just about anywhere were more then we hoped to pay. So I got creative. Thought outside the box. I looked at packages. Rarely the best deal for us bargain-basement globetrotters, I found that easyjet delivers some pretty enticing cheapo deals. I found one such combo (just over 400 euro for a flights & hotel for 2 for 4 nights) to the island of Ischia, Italy. After we fell in love with the area during a trip to Naples and the island of Procida two years earlier - we couldn't resist going back.

This was all quite unusual for us. Going back to somewhere we'd been before, buying a package and spending more than a day in a location - who are these people? While I admire the wisdom of slow travel, I usually can't help but run through a city on my way to the next destination. I want to see the whole wide world. But with this baby rudely butting in and the realization that our whole life is about to change, slowing down actually sounded good. Maybe we're growing up.

And I am so thankful we went. Swimming in the natural mineral pool at the hotel halfway through our trip, I turned to Ian and pondered, "Have we ever had a better vacation?". He shrugged... as much as he could while floating on his back in a pool. Ischia was perfect. This vacation was perfect. I highly recommend getting yourself to the ideal island vacation in Ischia, Italy NOW.

Some help if you are planning a trip to Ischia:

Ischia Ratings

Ratings will be done in enormous Amalfi coast lemons.

Guide to the perfect Italian island vacation

Transportation in Ischia

4.5 lemons

We were prepared for a long travel day. We left Berlin just before noon, arrived in Naples around 2pm, took the bus to the ferry (barely caught it 5 minutes before it left) and arrived in Ischia at 5:30. Despite how crazy that sounds, we made every connection and arrived quicker than expected. Some tips if you are replicating our journey:
    Castle Aragonese on Ischia
  • Napoli Unplugged & TripAdvisor offers helpful English info on how to find buses, ferries etc.
  • Follow the signs  at the airport to the Alibus which travels direct to the center-ish of Naples (Piazza Garibaldi) and the port. Plus, air-conditioning! Tickets are about 4 euro from the bus driver (3 euro from a stand).
  • Beware Naples public buses as they have a well-earned reputation as pick-pocket havens.
  • While you can reserve ferries online, it is crazy confusing and even locals recommend just showing up. There are enough boats that they are rarely sold-out, it is just limiting your wait time you need to worry about. Budget about 18 euro each way and try to get a direct route.
  • You may select a ferry (cheaper/slower) or hydrofoil to get to the islands. We never did figure out what the prices were as we think we rode on the ferry both ways, but paid different prices.
  • Note the arrival point when buying your ticket. Many boats are traveling to Ischia Porto (the easterly port), but some may arrive at Forio on the opposite end of the island.
  • Multiple minicabs (taxi piccolo) are waiting at Ischia Porto to whisk you to your final destination. Just walk around with a suitcase and sweet older gentlemen will approach. We chose to walk as we were staying in nearby Ischia Ponte, but there is also an inexpensive bus.
  • Realize you can only control so much in planning for a trip to Southern Italy. Embrace the chaos.

4 lemons

Couldn't have been smoother getting out there. We didn't have to wait at all at the ferry terminal and got right on a boat to the island. The airport was a little chaotic trying to find the bus - but what can you expect from Naples?

Ferry from Naples to Ischia
Ferry from Naples

Transportation in Italy
Ischia minicab

Accommodations in Ischia

4.25 lemons

We were nervous about what we would get with a package deal, but online reviewers reassured us that it wouldn't be the worst place we ever stayed.

The Hotel Europa is family run and located in Ischia Ponte with views of the castle from the roof. A small mineral water pool is refilled everyday (ready around 11am, emptying around 10pm) with several rooms offering a balcony view over the courtyard. We were surprised that the hotel was as actually medium sized, but the warm reception by the family and staff made it feel intimate.

We requested a balcony facing the pool and got it! I was in love with our little room.While it is a bit retro, everything was immaculately kept. We were pleased with its location - walkable from the port and to the multiple beaches and shops and restaurants on Ischia Ponte.

Our only complaints were that the tv was quite small (we watched a few World Cup games in the room) and the wifi was quite weak. There was a computer and large tv in the lounge downstairs, as well as a dining room where an elegant dinner was served each evening. Another note is that some of the rooms facing the street were reported to be quite loud. And I worried the hotel mineral pool would stain my swimsuit which it did - temporarily. Eventually the rusty color washed out, but a cheap white tank top I wore the day after the pool (and a shower) seems permanently stained. Ah, well. It was worth it.

Ischia Review, once again, has great recommendations on places to stay:

4.75 lemons

Perfect hotel for a relaxing getaway. The room wasn't huge, but the hotel was charming. The balcony overlooking the pool was awesome and I felt like jumping in from there.

Hotel in Ischia Italy
Rooftop Balcony at Hotel Europa

Sights in Ischia

5 lemons

We originally shied away from going to Ischia on our day trip because it seemed like it could be too touristy. While it was certainly much busier than tranquil Procida, it seems to escape most of the notice (and annoying tourists) found on Capri.

And it is so worth any hassle.We have been lucky enough to see some pretty extraordinary places, but Ischia is the beauty queen of every lovely place we've visited.

Castle Aragonese....

Best Italian castles

Best Italian beaches

Italian island vacation
View of Ischia Ponte from the castle

  • Entry 10 euro
  • Open everyday, 9:00 until sunset
  • Two cafes & a bookshop to take a break + a private hotel
  • Lots of walking and minimal shade - bring your walking shoes & sunscreen
  • Though the history is fascinating (pamphlet that comes with entrance is extremely helpful & in English), one of the highlights of the castle is the views. In addition, the nun's cemetery where dead nuns were placed to rot next to praying nuns is of gruesome interest. The small torture museum - as are so many in Europe - is a little cheesy, but morbidly fun. 


Best Italian beaches

Boat ride...

swimming in Ischia, Italy

We usually skip out of any group activity, but our hotel offered a great deal of 25 euros for a day of guided boating around the island compete with 3 swims (including into la grotta verde) a stop in Sant'Angelo plus lunch and wine. While I could not partake in the wine, I indulged in everything else wholeheartedly.

This was so much better than anything we could have put together. We saw all the other major cities and got to jump off a boat into the absolutely pristine waters. Heaven! We could not stop smiling. Antonia was the embodiment of everything you want an Italian tour guide to be: charismatic, a knowledgeable local and completely welcoming. We all felt like family for the day, taking a group picture and learning Italian drinking songs. Watch for the many special rocks, such as the lovers, mushroom, elephant, camel, etc. If you miss them, Antonio will be happy to point them out.

You can also rent your own boat or moped which we considered (arranged through your hotel, tourism office or on sites like, but I don't believe we could have had a better experience doing anything else.


Towns around the island....

Sant'Angelo on Ischia island

From Antonio, we learned about the differences between Forio and Ischia (they have a slightly different dialect, wine and fierce rivalry).  Our short visit to Sant'Anglo only whetted our appetite for the other towns on the island. Other towns:

We spent 4 nights on the island which seemed like a long time for travelers constantly on the go, but we left with still more things we would have liked to have done. Other attractions: thermal spas (the island is famed for its healing waters, hence the long-time tourism by the spa-loving Germansmuseums & gardens and Mount Epomeo.

4 lemons

Not a ton of sights in the traditional sense of the word, but for a relaxing getaway it was perfect. Castello Aragonese was amazing - so glad we visited it. The island and its natural beauty is a sight in itself.

Dining in Ischia

4.5 lemons

Lemons in Ischia, ItalyBesides those ridiculously giant Amalfi lemons, the island is known for its pizza, seafood and rabbit stew. We ate all of it. And loved it. A lot.

Our first night we picked a random pizza joint, Ristorante Pizzeria Pirozzi, in Ischia Ponte that had us falling in love with Italy all over again. What looked like just a little hole-in-the-wall offered beautiful made-to-order, stone oven pizza for less than 5 euros. We ordered two and had left-overs for breakfast. They also threw in a bunch of coccoli (fried dough balls) for apparently no reason. I love Italy

We also dined on the Italian breakfast essentials of sweets and espresso every mornings. What a diet! We even got an elegant glass container when we asked to take our espresso with us.The Italians like their espresso super strong and with a ton of sugar - which we tried again - but we actually drank ours straight. (Note that the Mexico espresso comes with sugar.) And remember, don't order a cappuccino after breakfast time!

eating at grocery stores while travellingAs is our want to do (or any knowledgeable traveler on a budget), we spent a decent amount of time picnicking. Two nearby grocery stores made this fairly easy to do - despite the midday siestas and early closing time. Fresh prosciutto, pesto, buffalo mozzarella and the delightfully sparkling water had us feasting for days. I am not a fan of Germany's aggressively sprudeled water, but this clean-tasting, thirst quenching Italian water for just a euro at any convenience shop put even Berlin's Sp├Ąti to shame.

The highlight of the meals was when we dined in one night. The Hotel Europa offers full service and though we only partook once, I would highly recommend it. Reservations should be made in the morning (just let the desk or dining room know you want dinner) and is served around 8pm. For the first time, I tasted gnocchi as they are meant to be. Pillowly and lightly bathed in sauce, our meal was off to a beautiful start. Next was the dish we had heard the most about, the rabbit stew or Coniglio Al'ischiatana. When we made reservations that morning, Antonio had cheerfully explained that "...this is the meal every Italian mama is making on Sunday night". Sign us up for an Italian mama please! Though we were initially disconcerted by the full bunny head on my plate (sorry Schmidty), the delectable taste had me gleefully pulling apart the soft cheek meat. Delicious!

More pics of our eats on our facebook page. Ischia review once again comes with loads of great info on restaurants:

4.25 lemons

Best meal was at the hotel - rabbit skull and all! Thanks Schmidty.

Amazingly cheap pizza. Great picnicking opportunities with buffalo mozzarella & pesto. Gotta love the Italian grub.

Dining in Italy
Though not a fan of the all-business tourist trade from the restaurant at the foot of the castle, Ian enjoyed his mussels.

travel guide to Italian breakfast
Italian breakfast
Italian espresso
Two espressos to go
eating in Italy

Overall Ranking for Ischia

Italian sunset

5 lemons

Though I didn't give out many straight up 5's on the lemon scale, this vacation and location was a straight-up 5. A 10. A 1,000! We just loved it.

For once, we actually relaxed on a vacation, spending our days lazing in the room, picnicking on the rooftop deck, swimming in the pool then the sea, riding in a boat like high-rollers and eating our way through the east side of the island. I don't know how we will ever top this trip, but we're going to try. Adventure on!
5 lemons

The individual categories might not have made it a 5, but when we look back this will always be a trip we dream about. Everything really came together to make it a perfect vacation. Everything we wanted and more.

PorterBalls travel

Ischia is magic. This video offers an overview of everything we've talked about, but feel free to ask because I could talk about this vacation forever...and probably will.

Want more on Naples?

Day trip to Pompeii
Pictures of the Street Art of Naples

Compare these scores against some of the other places we've been with the "Ratings" tag at the bottom. 


italy vacation said...

So do I ! I just love Italy, and I'm always ready to go back there for vacation ! Sure you had a great time ...

Rachel said...

Oh wow, swimming in that bay after a boat trip looks a dream! I remember childhood holidays on the mainland, in Sorrento, and many a sneaky limoncello, despite being far too young! It's a beautiful part of the world, and the food is incredible.

Unknown said...

It was an amazing vacation. We are definitely coming to it a bit later in life than you Rachel! That sounds like some childhood magic memories.

Sandro said...

Thank you Ebe to post this beautiful article :)

A big hug from the "Europa" staff!!!

Anonymous said...

Great trip! Ischia is gorgeous!! Mahee Ferlini

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008