(CNN) — A quietly idyllic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Ischia offers a heartwarming dose of Italian beauty, spirit and hospitality, with a generous splash of nostalgia for the Italy of yesteryear.
Here, five-star hotels and luxurious thermal springs are juxtaposed with scenes of Italian grandmothers hanging out laundry, religious street parades, and kids strapped on the back of adults zooming by on Vespas.
Its unspoiled beaches have long been popular with Italians, but international visitors were more likely to be drawn to the glitzier shores of nearby Capri or the Amalfi Coast.
Ischia, however, still has something which its more polished neighbors perhaps lack. You don’t need to dig deep here to find the real Italy. Ischia is a little less manufactured, a little more in-your-face and ultimately, that little more authentic.
And now, finally, it’s having a moment.
The rise of what Italians call “the green island” has gone a little something like this. Firstly, its famous tufa rocks, narrow streets and bougainvillea-draped landscapes became one of the backdrops for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, global bestsellers turned hit TV show.
Then came investment and the promise of bigger things to come when the luxury Pellicano Hotels group took over the island’s five-star Mezzatorre Hotel and Spa.
And finally there’s the new Ischia is More campaign, driven by a community of local hotels and businesses who are keen to revive the island’s fortunes after a tough two years for tourism.
Michele Sambaldi, the group’s president and Pellicano’s managing director, says it wants to position “Ischia as one of Italy’s most prestigious destinations while attracting and retaining the international jet-set.”
Here’s what the island has to offer, all year round.
Sunsets, views and thermal waters
The beauty of Ischia is that the landscape and traditions change from town to town, so you can have a different experience each time you visit.
Ischia Porto is hustle and bustle and the commercial heart, while nearby Ischia Ponte has an old-world vibe.
Casamicciola Terme sits on the northern coast and has the largest concentration of thermal springs, while Barano di Ischia is best known for Maronti beach, the island’s biggest.
Lacco Ameno, with its pretty marina, and Forio, with its picturesque old town, are perhaps two of the most charming towns.
This symbol of Ischia was a royal residence and, during the Renaissance, a hive of activity for artists and writers.
A guided tour through the rooms and gardens can be followed by a rest in the Terrazzo Café, with its views across the gulf of Naples.
For more vistas, the church of the Madonna del Soccorso in Forio is a whitewashed hilltop stunner with incredible sunset views.
Ischia has no shortage of gardens or thermal parks. The manicured botanical gardens of La Mortella were created by Susana Walton, wife of English composer William Walton, and are often home to events and concerts. Complete with exotic plants, views of the bay and a Zen garden it makes for a peaceful break at any time of year.
A gelato stroll might just be the best way to experience the picturesque former fishing village of Sant’Angelo. Closed off to cars, it’s a kaleidoscope of flowers, vines and white houses and importantly, has one of the best granitas at Enzo’s Kiosk.
Dynamic cuisine guided by land and sea
Being so close to Naples, it’s not hard to find Neapolitan treats across Ischia, such as excellent pizza or a pasticceria serving up sfogliatelle (ricotta and candied orange peel-filled pastries) or the iconic babà (a small soft sponge sweet soaked usually in rum).
Many bars and beach clubs will also serve up a zingara Ischitana, a toasted sandwich made with rustic bread, fior di latte cheese, prosciutto, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise — it’s said that two guys created it in their pub in the 1970s and it can be eaten around the island to this day.
Piennolo is the most popular tomato here, grown in the rich volcanic soil which makes them extra sweet and special. In fact, it’s guaranteed that if you’re eating a pasta al pomodoro around these parts, this was the variety that was used.
For hearty and rustic seasonal cuisine head to La Vigna di Alberto In Barano. Locals flock here for no-frills dining in a vineyard setting with a real family-style welcome. You’ll need to call ahead to order the rabbit but there’s plenty more to choose from between pasta, seafood and meat. Impress the locals at the end of your meal by asking for a Piperna, a locally made thyme and herb infused amaro digestif.
Ischia Ponte is home to charming narrow streets and is crowned by Aragonese Castle.
Tomasz Czajkowski/Adobe Stock
Ischia’s luxury five-star hotel game is strong. The offering ranges from classic to chic to contemporary design. With natural thermal spring waters throughout, most hotels have a day spa and natural pools.
On Ischia, it could be one of many things that captures your heart: an unforgettable meal, a sunset view that takes your breath away, the spellbinding panoramas or the mesmerizing blues and greens of the waters. This magnetic island has a way of bewitching you. And one thing’s for sure. This is isn’t just a moment. Ischia is the real deal and here to stay.
Ischia: The paradise island that offers a taste of the real Italy