Hot, hot, and sunny.
Traveling with the amazing Ursula is simply amazing. As a young lady, she lived in Italy for three years and spent most of her adult life as a tour guide, quite a bit of it traveling through Italy’s attractions. Over the years she’s heard of the German Tourist Island of Ischia,,, well, it’s an Italian Island, formerly frequented by lots and lots of German vacationers. Now that travel is reasonably inexpensive, it looks like the Germans travel further afield from the continent, and so we decided to take advantage of the vacuum of the wake they’ve left behind and visit the island ourselves.
With a quick ride into Pozzuoli, courtesy of Melissa, we had plenty of time to spare to catch the ferry, so we had coffee! The large ferry arrived in time and expertly backed into the disembarkation pier to disgorge its passengers and trucks. They did it the Italian way, both at the same time, passengers, cars, trucks, and motorcycles somehow intertwine and navigated their way between each other off the ramp and into the street, without incident. It’s just one of those freak shows of nature where disaster looms at every step, but miraculously rarely happens.
The ferry wasn’t crowded, and we grabbed a couple of topside seats with a view, but, because of the ‘Sahara sands’ wafting into the Bay of Naples, our excellent view was obscured by this yellow, misted cloud hovering above the distant waters. In spite of the sands, the sights were captivating as we glided by the bubbling fishing pots with their boated tenders attending their day’s catch. Previously we explored the Aragon Castle overlooking Postsuli’s bay, and now we steamed under it as it posed for even more photos. But this Aragon Fortress was to be outdone in interest and size by the next fortress on the island of Procida. Apparently, the Aragonese were prolific fortress makers. First, they conquered the area, then they built enormous fortresses on all the imposing strategic sights to secure their conquest by the sea. The island of Procida, our first stop, lies just off the northern cape of the bay of Naples. It, too, has a long and interesting history, which I won’t go into. But, suffice it to say, the fortress on its highest point probably had much play in that history. Our stay was just minutes long, and off to the Island of Ischia, we sailed. Of little surprise, Ischia has it’s own Aragon Fortress, castle type of structure. But this one, this one, is what gives birth to fantasy books and movies. This fortress, called ‘Castillo’s Aragonese,’ must be the original Byzantine-like fortress, castle, Abby, anti-pirate walled village, and farm island all rolled into one. We took one morning of our visit to explore the walled island, and its a labyrinth of pathways, ruins, churches, basilica, grottos, vineyards, farm…..etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. This place, over its 2,500-year history, was all things to all people when it needed to be. It is truly a remarkable piece of history and culture.
Our hotel was a total disappointment until it grew on us. The elegant days of this off the path hotel had passed; the owners had an ‘end of season’ surely manner, the room was diminutive, the shower stall too small to wash your hair without knocking elbows into its walls, and there were tapped signs all over the out of date lobby telling guests what they could not do. We were sure we had made an uncharacteristic mistake in selecting it; typically, we did well in this department. But, as we strolled onto our tiled deck and beheld the island fortress just off our bow, with the seagulls playing in the air and the nearby ocean infusing our souls with its surf sounds, we began to reconsider our initial impression. Later, when we walked down through the gardens and outdated thermal pools, we appreciated its graceful and sophisticated beauty. As we climbed down the rock-faced bluff to the grotto-like private beach below, we knew we had found the right place. Sure, the owners were old and tired, and the hotel paint job could use some touch-up,,, but, beauty is beauty, and you cannot mask it. We had found our off-the-beaten-path diamond in the rough to retreat to after a day of island exploration.
The island is best explored by public bus. There are two main lines to find, the CS and the CD….one traverses in a clockwise pattern and the other, counter-clockwise. Each takes about an hour and a half from start to finish; both get you close enough to whatever you want to see to walk the rest of the way. The bus drivers are crazy! They must be to willingly operate under these very challenging conditions. The roads are wide enough for one small car, yet there are cars parked sporadically on either side as pedestrians meander between them – there are few pedestrian sidewalks. Oncoming traffic is relentless, and yet, these large busses somehow manage to navigate their way through these convoluted and tangled passages with facility. The drivers don’t understand soft breaking or smiles to passengers, but they can all thread their busses through the eyes of five offset needles. It baffles the imagination on how they routinely miss walls, walkers, and other cars by mere inches.
Notable mentions of places to visit. The castle, the fortress is on top of the list. If one visits Ischia, the island fortress is a must, but I’ve already chatted about that. Ischia is a tourist island, and much of the local industry is tourism, so you can easily imagine the ‘traps,’ the prices and the scenery of high and low-end shopping and beaches with sunburnt tourists splayed about the shoreline. It is what it purports to be a beach town. But it’s a beach town in Italy. So, it has incredible restaurants, excellent seafood, and delectable wines from the Naples area and the singsong clatter of Italian island dialect and many foreign vernaculars. The sun is constant, and the heat, while not oppressive, is very warm to the touch. Two other attractions encaptivated our imaginations, and we would easily return to them over and over. The first is the Giardini la Mortella, and the second is the small beach village of Saint Angelo.
The Garden of Mortella is a fantasy stroll through the fecund mind of Susana Walton, the Brazilian wife of English composer Sir William Walton. She spent decades building this valley and mountain garden, capturing both tropical and arid fauna within her few acres retreat. It’s a menagerie that one could easily lose their imagination within. Upon entry, you walk through a broad-leafed tropical forest with ponds and fountains interlaced with stone walkways and benches. However, a few paths lead up and up and up along the adjoining mountainside into crevices and crannies with deciduous fauna leading to coniferous, needled trees and cacti of every variety. Interspersed amongst the lively green flora spurt benches and aviaries of colorful birds along with arboretums of orchids and the like. On the highest point, there are spectacular views of the town and marina of Forie and the Mediterranean beyond. Like unexpected birthday gifts, one strolls upon a Thai Pavilion, several grottos, numerous benches with panoramic views, a music conservatorium, museum, and store. Most importantly, for the weak bladdered visitor, there are multiple, immaculate bathroom scattered across the garden. If the garden does nothing to one’s insipid soul, it will, at least, cause one to deeply reflect what it is that they can do with their very own little corner of the world. How can they make their home, their garden an Eden of possibilities? If you come to Ischia, this garden is a MUST visit. Don’t disappoint yourself.
The village of St Angelo is just a little promontory down from a cliff at the western end of the island leading to a small volcanic butte overlooking the Mediterranean. Between the cliffs and the butte lies this sparing little tourist village and marina that somehow accentuates what it is you are looking for when you search for the quintessential off the beaten path waterside village. It’s not really a village, but more of a tourist holiday location, but it successfully pretends to be more. The town is sparse, its walls are sun-bleached, the boutique’s apparel is nothing special and too expensive. But, there is magic to the place that endears the visitor and makes you want to enjoy its small little beach and wander it’s diminutives alleys while watching the little boats carry tourists to the ‘hidden’ beaches in the surrounding coves. We found our perfect restaurant overlooking the adorable marina and the volcanic butte jutting out of the water just beyond the waterfront. The food was some of the best we’ve eaten since arriving in Italy. It was expensive, the wine glasses were not filled to the brim, but, all in all, it was just right! Just the perfect colorful marina restaurant in the ideal little out-of-the-way village along the coast of an island floating off the gulf of Naples. It just worked for us.
Other common observations:
I noticed that in all the marinas and all the stoned walkways around the island, the water-line was always within a foot of the deck. When one comes from Alaska, where the tidal range is up to 36 feet, and entire vessels disappear from the view of the wharf, four times a day, this was strange. I rediscovered that the tidal range of the Mediterranean is only 30 centimeters or about one foot. The water line never ever changes from that range. All the wharves and marinas and piers and raised walkways are always within 12 inches of the water-line. It’s just a strange sensation when one is used to seeing entire water features turned into mudflats twice a day from the receding tides. This kind of finite regularity offers deceivable control over one’s environment. As an example, the boats here ‘Med Moor.’ This is something that I learned in the Transportation Officers’ school and promptly forgot. This is where ships back up to the pier and tie off in a ‘T-bone’ fashion! I haven’t seen much of this in my maritime support career. Usually, ships pull up alongside the pier and discharge with cranes and long gangplanks for passengers and hand-loadable goods or with extended RORO ramps. Not here. In the Med, because the tide is so small, they back right up to the pier and drop a uniquely Mediterranean design short gangplank or ramp onto the dock and discourage their goods – whether that be passengers, vehicles, or cargo. It’s all so very calm, just like a lake. I spent a couple of years loading and discharging enormous (greater than 900 feet) cargo vessels, and the novelty of an eleven-inch tidal range is mesmerizing. Okay, enough of this. But it’s just cool!
The ‘Fungi,’ I guess, is another Ischia site for folks to see. The Fungi, or Mushroom, is a geological attraction in one of the village’s marina. The Fungi is a weathered down old rock that has a cap-like topping and eroded base sitting in the shallow water of the bay. It looks like a mushroom, and hence, called the ‘Fungi.’ It also looks like my new Italian wool hat, so it has a new name – the Fungi!
Our visit to Ischia came to an end too quickly, and we found ourselves on the ferry headed back to the mainland with a bit more of a tan, very rested and happy for the experience. With all such visits, there’s more narrative to capture about the sights and sounds of the trip, but I haven’t the patience to capture it all. So, this ends,’ so today’s blog on our adventure to the island of Ischia. Often pictures can say so much more than words, so to accentuate this blog, I’ve posted several Ischia’s ‘best’ photos in our photo journal log website, which can be found at. https://cottageatzimmerslanding.shootproof.com/gallery/9912390/
Enjoy – Ciao