The Islands of Ischia and Capri

The islands off the Campania coast was our last stop in Southern Italy. The area is most famous for Capri, a long time coveted destination for American tourists. Due to our last minute booking, we ended up making our home base in Ischia, a more local and affordable option to the commercialized Capri.

Ischia is a much larger than its Capri counterpart, and is known for its geothermal pools throughout the island. The island is more frequented by Italians and Germans, and in fact, most people had said they rarely saw Americans in Ischia. It was a good choice, however, because it felt more authentic and casual.

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We stayed at the Terme Manzi, a thermal pool resort just outside of Ischia’s harbor. It is known for its spa treatments, and each of us was offered a free 30 minute treatment of our choosing.

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Upon arrival, we decided to rent a scooter and explore the island. We headed to Ischia Pointe for lunch, where Ryan had a seafood pasta and I had some of the most delicious fresh fish I had tasted on the trip. We also shared prosciutto and melon and a popular local snack of fried anchovies, which neither of us took a liking to!

From the restaurant views up ahead was the fortress built on the highest point of Ischia. We took the opportunity to ascend the countless steps to the castles top, where we started the self- guided tour. The place was huge! In addition to serving as a military base, it could support the whole town in times of crisis. It had remnants of bedrooms, churches, gardens, kitchens, etc. it took us about two and a half hours to fully explore. It was definitely the most interesting sites we had seen on the coast.
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Afterwards, we took an impromptu visit to the most renowned thermal pools in the area, Negombo. It was already 4 PM, so we figured we would check it out as the crowds were leaving. The entire complex consisted of s beach plus 36 natural pools of varying water temperatures. They were laid out throughout a hill, which warranted quite a bit of steps/ maneuvering to get from one pool to the nest. Many were built right into the cliff, something we had never experienced before. The hot pools, near the bottom of the hill, more closely resembled hot tubs you would see in the US.


For dinner we decided to check out a favorite local’s Pizza restaurant close to our hotel. We sat in the outdoor garden and enjoyed a flavorful prosciutto pizza and a buffalo mozzarella salad. The waitresses enjoyed listening to our rudimentary Italian. I think they realized we were practicing and kept speaking to us in Italian rather than switching to English like most servers we had encountered.

The next day was more relaxing and actually one of my favorites on the entire trip. We took a trip to see one of the islands many wineries recommended to us by the hotel. We drove our scooter through a gravel road to a small house surrounded by vineyards. We were greeted by a young woman, whose family has been running the winery for years. She gave us a tour of the vineyards, spoke of the vineyards history, and showed us the rabbit hole, where people would traditionally raise rabbits to make dishes with the renowned “Ischian Rabbit”. Thankfully these rabbits were just pets!

We then sat down for a prolonged lunch and wine tasting in the garden. We were the only guests there, albeit an Italian doctor and the winery’s owner, who were drinking wine and relaxing for the most part of the afternoon. We were served a delicious cheese tortellini for the first course- only 4 mouth-watering bites. I then had the fresh fish of the day- very basic- and Ryan had lamb chops. The wine, though, was what made the meal. We are treated to 4 glasses of their local specialties including their dessert wines. We made good talk with the group and even got a restaurant recommendation for the evening, which I will explain in more detail below.


Since our lunch was so filling, we didn’t get around to dinner around 9 PM or so. We followed the winery’s recommendation to a restaurant past all of the tourist traps along the harbor. When we got there, we were immediately asked why we were there, which prompted our answer about the local recommendation. The server then told us gruffly that there was a set menu for the night (aka whatever the chef wanted) and that we would choose a fish and he would make an antipasti, pasta and main for us. We chose the server’s recommendation for the fish, and were served local white wine to start. This was clearly a local place, since everyone spoke Italian and they had sent away some unassuming international tourists asking for a menu. We started with a carpaccio of our chosen fish with some shrimp. The pasta was next, which was massive but a very tasty combination of fish, vegetables, and olive oil. We were finally served our main- the roasted fish with a potato crust, a preparation new to us but nonetheless delicious. The meal lasted over three hours and it was well past midnight by the time we got home!


Our next day was dedicated to Capri. Unfortunately, the timing of the ferries was suboptimal because we would arrive there at 11 AM but would have to catch the only ferry home at 4 PM, giving us less than an afternoon.

Upon exiting the ferry, we were overwhelmed by flurries of day-trippers running around the port. You didn’t quite know what to do next, only that we needed to get to Capri Town or Anacapri, the island’s two main centers. Ryan also made it a priority that we visit Il Riccio, a restaurant that he read about on an online blog and was supposed to have some of the best seafood on the island. We started to get in line for the bus that would take us to Capri Town, only that it looked like we wouldn’t get on the next two buses. I didn’t want to spend my whole day trekking and waiting for buses (apparently the only option for most tourists for getting around the island), so we did some quick decision making and rented a scooter across the street instead. It was the smartest move of the day, as we cruised up the cliff past the line of tourists and made our way to Anacapri instead.

Unlike Ischia, Capri’s landscape is much more elevated, which made for a beautiful, yet treacherous drive up the mountain. After driving through the Amalfi Coast, however, Ryan was a pro at maneuvering the steep inclines and sharp turns. We walked briefly around the town of Anacapri, which was filled with high end shops and modern cafes, a far cry from Ischia’s more humble port town. We decided to take the chairlift up the Mount Solaro, the mountain with the best views of the island. There were stairs as well, but given our time limitation and Ryan’s bad knees, we chose the easier option that took only fifteen minutes. The chairlift was for a single person and was reminiscent of taking a lift up to the top of a ski mountain. The top was a cute little piazza with stunning views and a restaurant for lunch or coffee. We snapped a few photos and rushed back down to make our reservation at Il Riccio.

Thank god for the scooter, because Il Riccio was located in a remote corner of the island which would have been very time consuming to reach via the bus service. We slowly wound our way down Anacapri and followed the road to the coastline. Il Riccio was hidden under a cliff below the road. We walked down the steps to reach an indoor-outdoor space painted in shades of blue and white with a trendy, yet inviting vibe. We were immediately seated and asked to make an order, which was very different than the “take your time” Italian service at most eateries. We took the server’s recommendation and got the seafood tasting for the antipasti. It consisted of delicacies such as octopus carpaccio, lightly breaded calamari, tuna, and another cod-like white fish. The sampling was certainly too much than what we needed, but was very tasty nonetheless. The standout was the lightly breaded calamari. For our mains, Ryan opted for the shrimp linguine and I chose the scallops. I thought my scallops were very average and for the portion size, was outrageously over-prized. On the other hand, Ryan absolutely loved his seafood spaghetti that tasted of the ocean. Although the setting was nice, we were again in a situation where a great view didn’t make up for underwhelming food. By the time lunch was over, we made our way back to the port to wait for our ferry. We walked around the crowded piazza with hundreds of English speaking tourists running around, secretly thanking ourselves for staying in the quiet and unpretentious island of Ischia.

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Our last day of the island we dedicated to relaxation. We did some more exploration of the Ischia Port, which was much larger than we had previously thought, with an abundance of shops lining the streets. We then took a long scooter ride to explore the other end of Ischia’s island, filled with sleepy beach villages along the water.

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We also took some time to swim in the hotel’s thermal pools and utilize our free treatments (Ryan had a massage and myself a facial). We decided to have our last dinner in the hotel, one of the fancier restaurants on the island. It used to be a Michelin star restaurant, but had recently closed down and was replaced by another chef. The restaurant still maintained the professional upscale atmosphere of its predecessor. Ryan and I both started with a pasta- mine a seafood and his with mushroom and pancetta- which were both quite tasty. For our mains, I opted for the tenderloin and Ryan had the Ischian rabbit. Although my tenderloin was tasty, Ryan could not get over the uneven consistency of the rabbit. Some pieces were tender and others chewy. We were not sure if this was the nature of the meat or the method of preparation. We ended with a unique blueberry dessert which was Ryan’s favorite part of the meal.

The following morning we would have a long journey ahead of us. Instead of taking a ferry straight to Sorrento where we had parked our car, we would have to take a ferry to Naples and then backtrack back to Sorrento by taxi. We should have done more research on the ferry schedule, where we would have discovered the ferry to Sorrento only runs a few days a week in the morning. Fortunately, our “vacation” was not over as we would now start our journey in Tuscany.

 

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