Capri may have the fame and notoriety, but beautiful Ischia is bigger, less crowded, and more reasonably priced than its swanky neighbor to the southeast. Pronounced Ish-kee-ah, this rocky volcanic island is 10km (6 1 ⁄ 4 miles) long and 7km (4 1 ⁄ 3 miles) wide. Its long and sometimes turbulent history owes much to a strategic location in the Gulf of Naples along the Amalfi Coast as well as the presence of healing thermal springs, which have drawn visitors for centuries. Over the years, Ischia has been ruled by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, barbarians, and various pirates and privateers.
Ischia is known as the “Emerald Island” for its moss-backed volcanic curves, hillside vineyards, and groves of scented pines. Flowers bloom spectacularly in the rich volcanic soil. Whereas Capri is jet set, Ischia is laid-back and bucolic. It was not really a tourist destination until the 1950s, when folks escaping the hordes on Capri were casting about for another beautiful island to conquer. Even now, with tourism the main industry, the island is not nearly as crowded as Capri in the height of summer.
Some people like to hit Capri, just 30km (19 miles) away, for a couple of days and then settle in on Ischia for the rest of the week. Many Western Europeans come to Ischia specifically for its health spas, the centerpiece of which are the hot springs and volcanic mud warmed by volcanic gases rising up from deep below the island’s long-dormant volcano, Monte Epomeo, which last erupted in the 14th century.
The island also has lovely sandy beaches, including a few where seawater and hot springs commingle for a double-tonic effect. Most of the activity is concentrated in Ischia Porto, around the main harbor (porto means harbor), and Ischia Ponte (ponte means bridge), by the bridge to the island promontory that flanks a small natural harbor. The promontory was the site of the original settlement, fortified by a castle erected as far back as the 5th century B . C . The castle, Piazzale Aragonese, Ischia Ponte you see today was built by the Aragonese over the ruins of the earlier fortifications. You can climb up for panoramic views of the stunning coastal landscape, with glittering blue seas guarded by rugged volcanic cliffs.
The public bus system SEPSA is very reliable and a good way to see the sights. Or you can do like the locals do and rent a scooter and zoom around on the curving roadways. Either way, Ischia provides a way to experience la bella vita, island-style, without the crowds and the high price tags.