Subject: Re: Hello, newbie seeks spa advice
I'm sending a travel article on Ischia which I hope will be of interest. Enjoy! ISCHIA

The Caremar car ferry skirted the coastline of the Gulf of Naples. I sat outside in the breeze and watched the city of Naples and the omnipresent Mt. Vesuvius slowly disappear from view. It was time to relax and begin savoring the beauty and the Italian way of life that had brought me here.

My destination was Ischia, the largest island in the Gulf of Naples. It's a place most Americans miss, choosing instead its much more famous and popular neighbor, Capri. But as the purpose of this particular trip was going to as many Italian islands as I could fit into my time frame, I chose to go to Ischia first. I flew into Rome, took the train to Naples and a taxi to the port.

Over an hour later, the ferry docked at Ischia Porto, an interesting harbor filled with hydrofoils, other ferries and numerous, luxury sailing vessels. As my traveling companion and I walked to our accommodations, I was overwhelmed by the abundant vegetation and flowering shrubbery everywhere. There were oleanders trained into trees, blooming hydrangeas, hollyhocks, roses and vineyards growing up the hillside outside my room.

Next item on the agenda was food. We strolled down a row of pastel-colored Mediterranean-style buildings with savory aromas emanating from them all. Choosing the first one named Ristorante da Emmedia, we dined on traditional Italian fare of linguine with clams and mushrooms which was delectable. Had my first taste of the local Epomean wine, which had a fresh, fruity flavor. It was served cool with a touch of bubbly to it and was definitely a new taste to my palate.

The well-dressed German tourists began their after-dinner promenade. The island attracts many Germans because of the spas and thermal baths present here. Some of these are so radioactive that one must obtain a doctor's prescription in order to bathe in these springs. Needless to say, there are plenty of doctors here, ready to prescribe what everyone needs.

If you are on a limited time schedule, you can explore the entire island by bus in a day. This was our itinerary for Day Two. What a great system they have! You buy a ticket for the day--very reasonable at around $4--and you can get on and off the bus whenever you choose. There are two buses, which circle the island. We took the counterclockwise one.

Ischia is the largest island in the Gulf of Naples and has a population of 44,000. It is divided into six communities, all of which we traversed that day. Leaving Ischia Porto the bus climbed over a large hill to Casamicciola. Evidence has been found here and elsewhere on the island of a Greek settlement dating back to the 8th century BC. This makes Ischia the oldest Greek colony in the western Mediterranean.

The bus traveled through Lacco Ameno with its landmark mushroom- shaped rock in a harbor surrounded by sheer, steep cliffs covered with green vegetation. We made our first stop at Forio, which is a pleasant town to explore. We walked through its decorated streets and found an art exhibit housed in a local church, one of several on the island now being used for that purpose. Forio supports a small art community, has an interesting harbor dotted with numerous boats, excellent beaches and vineyards growing up the mountainside.

Our next stop was the breathtakingly, beautiful Sant' Angelo. The bus dropped us off at the top of a cliff because it is too big to get through the town. We hiked down the steep terrain, passed the scattered buildings of the community and crossed over the paved bridge to the Punta, a large rock offshore. We found a shady spot under a palm tree and shared our lunch with two of the island's nicer cats. We feasted on fresh baked bread, hard cheese, red cherries and more of that terrifically, palatable, local wine! From here we gazed at the small hotels and houses clinging to the mountainside, with bougainvillea providing vivid patches of color wherever it appeared.

Back up at the bus stop, we toured the Tropical, one of the many spas and springs here. Here, there were more gorgeous views of sheer, stark cliffs with tiny inlets and small beaches. These hot springs have been renowned since ancient times. There are over seventy Spa-establishments, most of which are located in hotels.

Leaving, the bus started climbing into the mountains to Serrara Fontana.
>From here you can ride a mule to the top of Mt. Epomeo which has a height of 2,585 ft. or you can easily climb to the summit. There, in the crater, is a hermitage where you can spend the night! The volcano hasn't erupted since 1301. We were tempted to stay but didn't.

We passed through the picturesque town of Burano with dazzling views in all directions then started to descend into Ischia Porto, which turned out to be much bigger than we thought. Lush vegetation and luxury villas greeted our eyes as we returned to the bus station. It was necessary to take a different, smaller bus to go to the eastern end of the island to Ischia Ponte, the chic shopping area.

We had saved the best for last! On a huge rock joined to the island by a bridge built by Alfonso the Magnificent of Aragon, King of Spain, in 1438 (the reason for the name Ponte), stands an array of buildings comprising a citadel. The whole area is called Castello d'Ischia or Castello Aragonese.

The citadel has a fascinating history. The first fortress was constructed in 474 BC by a Greek named Syrakus Gerone. A town on the mainland of the island grew up bearing his name. He had come to the rescue of the people of Cumae on the Italian mainland, one of Greece's great oracles. After that the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Arabians, Normans, Swabians, and Anjous successively transformed the fortress. With the eruption of Mt. Epomeo in 1301, the city of Geronda was destroyed and the population fled to the citadel.

In 1441 Alfonso reconstructed the old Anjou castle. Later, huge fortifications were erected to protect the people from pirates frequently in the area. It was the property of the French when, in 1809, when it was bombarded by the British during the Napoleonic War. In 1823, the King of Naples sent the last thirty inhabitants away and turned it into a prison. In 1851, it was used for political prisoners. Happily, today, much of it has been restored and it is a top tourist attraction.

We crossed the bridge. Then a tunnel brought us to the cathedral built in 1301. It was beautiful even in ruin. Its roof was blown off by one of those British cannons in 1809. Under the church is a crypt with chapels of the noble families. There are 14th century frescoes originating from the school of Giotto. We then discovered the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Baroque in style, another church converted into an art gallery. It was built for the Poor Clares who inhabited the adjacent monastery.

Stepping down into the cemetery of the Poor Clares, we read of a gruesome detail. Instead of burying their dead, the bodies of the nuns were put on seats cut into the wall where the bodies slowly decayed. The living could meditate on death every day.

High on the citadel, a wonderful panorama commanded our attention as we looked at stunning views of Ischia Ponte and the mountains in the background. Bougainvillea and geraniums were overflowing as we made our way to the outdoor Cafe Terrace. Over glasses of chilled white wine, we soaked up the magnificent view of the entire Gulf of Naples with Mt. Vesuvius, our first view of Capri in the distance and the nearby island of Procida. We sat back and enjoyed the Italian custom of dolce far niente, of doing nothing.

>From the Terrace we could see the fortress castle. It was here that Princess Vittoria Colonna had the most celebrated wedding of her day when she married Ferrante d'Avalos, Marchese di Pescara, on December 27, 1509. While her husband spent his time waging war, Vittoria became a famous poet. She lived at the castle for thirty-five years. She became the intimate--although platonic--friend of Michelangelo.

We dined that night at the Ristorante de Mastu Peppe o Fraulesh in the center of the port right on the water. Over plates of pasta dished up with oil and garlic, we had a plain, but tasty chitin cacciatore. We tried to remember all the enchanting and beauteous places we had visited that day.

Our other days on Ischia were spent going to different beaches all over the island. Also, we did some shopping. We sent our friends gift boxes of Perrazzo, the same luscious red wine that we were imbibing daily. In Ischia Ponte, I met Mario Mazello, a local artist with a gallery on the main street. I purchased a modern-day Madonna and Child with the Baroque Church of the town in the background. Also, I bought another print featuring the ever- present boats of the community.

Our last night was memorable. We had another gourmet meal at Ciro and Caterina's restaurant. Ciro was quick to point out that Caterina was his sister. I think it's the prettiest restaurant on the island because I'm so partial to bougainvillea. Here it had the loveliest orange-coral color I've ever seen. The restaurant was adorned with paintings, ceramic tiles, had a fountain and a fish pond.

Almost next door we went to an outdoor concert. The traffic was closed off and seats were set up in the street. What a gorgeous setting it was! It encompassed the city hall, the Palazzo del Orologia, the Baroque church and the houses, with their ornate wrought-iron balconies. We were all prepared to hear our first Italian or Neapolitan concert. But when the music began, we were greatly surprised that it was American jazz of the 40's, sung by a woman in English. This music is all the rage in Italy at this time!

You can make Ischia your base and besides doing the many things it has to offer on the island, you can also go on one-day trips to Procida, Capri or various places on the mainland. We spent four wonderful days here before other islands beckoned and we were off by sea to our next adventure.

Sandra Robert