Ischia: Island of natural beauty

2017/07/12 - Written by Alessandro Bozzelli
Ischia: Island of natural beauty
It is a place nestled less than twenty nautical miles off the coast of Naples, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the largest of the Phlegrean Islands, with a rich history, authentic traditional cuisine, thermal springs and beautiful coastlines attracting over six million tourists every year to its enchanting shores. If you were asked for the name of this idyllic setting, the island of Capri would surely be your first guess. But you’d be wrong: it is Ischia.

Created from intense volcanic activity over fifty thousand years ago, Ischia is quite simply a sight to behold. Cast your gaze inland for views of the 800 meter tall Mount Epomeo, a landscape rife with lush foliage and outcroppings of volcanic rock. This view is eclipsed only by looking over your shoulder to see a peaceful shoreline marked by the interplay of beaches, cliffs and thick greenery. 

Ischia is divided into six separate communes: Ischia (Ischia Porto, Ischia Ponte, Casamicciola Terme, Forio, Lacco Ameno, Serrara Fontana (comprising S. Angelo) and Barano D’Ischia (comprising the Maronti Beach). Each of these places is as diverse and as wonderful as the next.

Ischia (Porto & Ponte) is the busiest of the communes, a popular tourist spot where most private yachts and ferries dock. It is filled with tiny shops, original artists producing one-of-a-kind pieces, delicious Neapolitan foods, spices, and the typical Ischitan liqueurs: Rucolino (a liqueur based on Arugula) and Limoncello.

The beauty and authenticity of this place is accentuated by il Castello Aragonese, an old castle first built in 474BC by Hiero I of Syracuse. It sits perched on a naturally occurring peer. A short drive or delightful walk away, one finds S. Angelo, a beautiful coastal town with a variety of seaside seafood restaurants serving up the Neapolitan special spaghetti alle vongole.

For all of its natural splendour, the main reason that tourists come to the island is to benefit from the numerous thermal spas and volcanic mud baths that occur naturally on the island as a direct result of the constant volcanic activity: the Terme. Ischia is filled with thermal springs and pools (with water temperatures above 45° C) that provide significant health benefits. They help alleviate persistent aches, pains, and a variety of dermatological problems because of their temperature and unique natural composition.

The history of the Terme goes back to the seventh century when the Euboins, a Greek people, first discovered them on the island. Recent archaeological discoveries prove that the Greeks used the thermal waters to replenish and heal the body and soul. In fact, the Greeks used the thermal waters to treat war wounds in a time period where there were no antibiotics. They attributed supernatural powers to the waters, and the fact that many of the old thermal baths still standing in Ischia today have statues of the Greek gods Apollo and Delfi lend credence to this assertion.

If the Greeks were the discoverers, the Romans transformed the use of the Terme into one of public benefit. They built large edifices where all of the locals could go and make use of the Terme in different ways.

The Terme came into disuse throughout the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, Giulio Iasolino, a Calabrian doctor, fascinated by the island and its volcanic activity, decided to study the phenomenon scientifically. In his “De Rimedi Naturali che son nell’Isola di Ischia” he wrote: "Noi oggi vediamo in operazioni e virtù di quest'acqua così meravigliose e stupende che veramente bisogna credere essere data dal cielo per la salute degli uomini".

His book sparked interest in the Terme and put them back on track to become the popular tourist destination they are today. The health benefits that Iasolino descibed have been so pronounced that the island now produces its own line of natural cosmetics and health products under the Ischia Thermae brand name.

In modern times, to experience the Terme to their absolute fullest, one needs to visit Forio. Situated twenty meters from the sea, one finds the Giardini Poseidon, a thermal park that has every amenity imaginable. It is the culmination of what Ischia has to offer.

The island of Ischia has everything an individual could want for a relaxing vacation. It’s natural beauty, therapeutic waters, and rich history are a must for anyone venturing off the Neapolitan Coast. As the Greeks first believed, and the Romans asserted after them, Ischia truly is a remedy for the soul.




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