Italy is a beloved European destination, with hotspots from Rome to Ravello, and yet the boot-shaped nation still has some low-key treasures to uncover. These lesser-known places offer travellers that special feeling of discovering a hidden gem — a place that’s not teeming with crowds or overflowing with touristy souvenir shops and restaurants that locals would never patronise.
For an Italian getaway that’s both less crowded and less expensive — especially as compared to nearby Capri — there’s Ischia, an island that retains its rustic sensibility and charm, giving visitors access to culture, local cuisine, and unblemished natural landscapes. In-the-know travellers and locals rave about this under-the-radar volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples. From beaches and thermal hot springs to Roman remains and centuries-old architecture, there’s much to entertain here.
Rather escape the throngs of tourists and experience a more serene side of southern Italy?
Scroll on for expert tips for an unforgettable trip to Ischia — an underrated Italian island
Best hotels and resorts in Ischia
Botania Relais & Spa
Inspired by the beauty of its surroundings, Botania Relais & Spa, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, channels the ethos of Ischia. It’s an intimate and family-run oasis enveloped by nature; the white-washed architecture and lush greenery create a sense of calm. A sanctuary for well-being, the spa invites relaxation with plant-driven therapies, thermal pools, and a grotto steam bath.
Mezzatorre Hotel & Thermal Spa
Built inside a 16th-century watch tower on a rocky outcrop overlooking the idyllic Gulf of Naples, Mezzatorre Hotel & Thermal Spa oozes discreet luxury with sophisticated rooms, an outdoor pool, a tennis court, a thermal spa, and two scene-stealing restaurants. According to Simone Amorico, co-founder of Access Italy, it’s one of the most exclusive and trendy places to stay on the island at the moment.
San Montano Resort & Spa
Luxurious and flush with amenities, San Montano Resort & Spa has so much for guests — from thermal pools and a spa to nautically-influenced suites and multiple restaurants — that it’s hard to imagine leaving. Then again, proximity to beaches and botanical gardens makes a compelling case for exploring beyond the property.
Regina Isabella Resort & Spa
An iconic hotel since the 1950s, Regina Isabella Resort & Spa continues to lure well-heeled travellers with its bioactive thermal baths and mud treatments, luxurious rooms, Michelin-starred restaurant, and private beach. With superb cocktails and stunning views of the sea, it’s also a favourite spot for aperitivo.
Albergo Il Monastero
Before being converted into a hotel, Albergo Il Monastero, which sits inside Castello Aragonese on a small island off the coast of Ischia, was a 16th-century convent. In its present-day iteration, terracotta floors and handcrafted decor by local artisans inject a sense of warmth and authenticity that gives travellers the impression of staying in a soulful, heritage-rich place.
Best things to do on the Italian island of Ischia
A must for history lovers, photographers, and film buffs, Castello Aragonese is an ancient castle poised on a rocky islet that’s connected to the larger island of Ischia by a causeway. It was first erected by Hiero I of Syracuse in 474 BC, but what stands today dates to the reign of King Alfonso of Aragon in the 1400s. The castle served as a film location for part of the 1963 movie “Cleopatra,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Mount Epomeo, the highest mountain on the island of Ischia, rises 2,589 feet above sea level. “Many active travellers choose to hike to the top for sweeping views,” says Rita Buono, owner/general manager of Botania Relais & Spa and a Black Tomato local expert. It’s not a super challenging climb and only takes about an hour each way.
Gozzo Boat Tour
“One of the most beautiful ways to admire the beauty of Ischia is from the water,” says Buono. A half-day tour on a traditional wooden gozzo boat allows visitors to see many sea caves and swim in the crystal-clear tides of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Spiaggia dei Maronti
Among the most popular beaches in Ischia, Spiaggia dei Maronti beckons summer visitors with its soft sand and cerulean water, making it the ideal place for catching rays and swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Relaxation seekers can rent sun loungers and umbrellas for the day. There are some great local eateries nearby, too.
Baia di Sorgeto
The Italian island is quite famous for its thermal hot springs. Arguably the best-known soaking spot on the island, Baia di Sorgeto supplies a variety of different seawater rock pools that are naturally heated by underground volcanic activity. It’s also a nice place for snapping photos and sunbathing.
Best restaurants in Ischia
Critics and diners heap praise upon Dani Maison. “This two-starred Michelin restaurant is helmed by chef/owner Nino Di Costanzo, who creates artfully plated dishes that are emblematic of the soul of Ischia for patrons to devour in the dining room of an old family house that’s surrounded by Mediterranean gardens,” says Buono.
It’s well worth navigating the narrow, steep road up to Agriturismo Malvisiello, a rustic and cosy restaurant perched at the top of a hill in Forio. “Besides the beautiful, off-the-beaten-path setting, it’s well known for having incredible, locally sourced vegetables and a delicious signature rabbit dish,” says Buono.
Ristorante Il Mirto
Vegetarian cuisine isn’t the first thing most people think of when it comes to dining in Ischia. Ristorante Il Mirto, a sustainably minded concept at Botania Relais & Spa, endeavours to change that with vegetable-forward tasting menus that spotlight seasonal produce from organic local farms on the island.
La Porta di Agartha
The perfect spot to eat after hiking Monte Epomeo, La Porta di Agartha is a lovely eatery with a magical, nature-steeped setting, delicious food, and genuine hospitality. The terrace overlooking the sea wows without question, but it’s house-made specialities like gnocchi and scialatielli pasta with fresh tomatoes that steal the show.
For fine dining, Amorico recommends Ristorante Indaco, the upscale, Michelin-starred restaurant at Regina Isabella Resort & Spa. “The view of the sea is stunning, and it’s perfect for a romantic dinner under the stars that’s sure to impress seafood lovers.”
Best wineries on this Italian island
Cenatiempo Vini D’Ischia
Family-owned and operated for generations, Cenatiempo Vini D’Ischia is one of the most important wineries on the island and produces terroir-driven pours that express the volcanic nature of the land. Tastings include local products such as cured meats, cheeses, and bread.
Perrazzo vini d’Ischia
The oldest winery on the island, Perrazzo vini d’Ischia dates back to 1880. Visitors can tour the ancient wine cave, which boasts a private collection of 12,000 bottles. It’s an incredible opportunity to walk through a piece of history and sample some wonderful wine along the way.
Another family-owned treasure, Casa D’Ambra honours its long-standing traditions while continuing to innovate. “It’s my favourite vineyard to visit because of the mix of ancestral practices and science that produce such superb wine and, of course, the warm hospitality,” explains Amorico.
Best time to visit Ischia
Like many seasonal Italian holiday destinations (such as Capri and the Amalfi Coast), travellers begin to arrive in Ischia around Easter and depart in mid-October. Tourism peaks in July and August. If you’re looking to enjoy warm weather and fewer crowds, consider the calmer months of May and September.
How to get to Ischia
Visitors bound for Ischia will arrive in Naples either by plane or train. From there, it’s a short ferry or hydrofoil ride to Ischia.
How to get around Ischia
Ischia is quite small and easy to navigate. To that end, it’s possible to drive the entire island in about 90 minutes. Most travellers either rent a car or use public transport to get around.
Main and Feature Image Credit: alxpin/Getty Images
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com