Across the water from Naples
and Italy’s Amalfi Coast
, Ischia has drawn visitors to its mineral-rich thermal waters since Roman times and, more recently, has been thrust into the spotlight by the HBO miniseries My Brilliant Friend
“Most people know the nearby island of Capri
, but I also point my clients to Ischia – it’s authentic Italy
,” says Diana Traficante, a Westlake Village, California-based Virtuoso travel advisor
. “Capri is beautiful, but its center is full of designer shops and can get very crowded,” she adds. “Ischia is nothing like that. It’s salt-of-the-earth Italian, perfect for someone who likes a five-star experience but prefers to fly under the radar. If I could move there, I would.”
Filmed in both Naples and Ischia, HBO’s eight-part drama – based on Italian author Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name, the first installment in her best-selling Neapolitan Quartet – tells the coming-of-age story of two close friends, Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, from the time they’re girls playing with dolls through adolescence. When Elena, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, travels from gritty postwar Naples during a summer break in her mid-teens and first visits Ischia, she feels liberated. “I was free,” she says. “I could sit on the terrace and read with the sea in front of me, or walk along a steep white road toward a long, wide, dark beach.” It’s this sense of openness, serenity, and possibility, as I learned during my own recent visit, that captures travelers the moment they arrive on Ischia.
Though the compact, volcanic isle (roughly five miles wide and four miles long) is best known for its therapeutic hot springs, Ischia offers a trove of additional cultural attractions, all meant to be savored at a leisurely pace. The best way to enjoy the island may very well be reading Ferrante’s books on an expansive beach while listening to gently lapping waves, inhaling the salt-scented air, and gazing at the indigo Tyrrhenian Sea. But when your reading is done, be sure to experience Ischia’s other treasures firsthand, starting with the following sites.
Overlooking the sea in the town of Forio on Ischia’s west coast, the Chiesa del Soccorso is an ancient whitewashed church, founded as an Augustinian monastery in the 1300s, that served as a beacon for sailors returning home. The fictional Elena is taken here by friend (and future boyfriend) Nino Sarratore, who tells her that she’ll always remember the view.
In 1301, islanders fled to the ancient Castello Aragonese d’Ischia to escape a volcanic eruption, and in later years used it to protect against marauding pirates. Occupying a volcanic rocky islet, which connects to the village of Ischia Ponte via a short land bridge, the formidable castle has luminous frescoes inspired by the fourteenth-century Florentine painter Giotto. From its lofty terraces, you can see the Gulf of Naples and a series of volcanoes.