Castello Aragonese from the pedestrian bridge

4 days exploring the Italian island of Ischia

Four days provides enough time to see Ischia Ponte on the east coast and Forio on the west coast. While you’re at it, why not spend a day at the thermal pools?

To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about Ischia before I started planning this trip. Though once I started my research, this ‘off the beaten track’ island off the coast of Naples started to suck me in and I needed to visit. Yes it’s not actually off the ‘beaten track’ for everyone, but it doesn’t rank highly in guidebooks for English speaking tourists. Well at least from what I could tell.

Which is why visiting the island of Ischia ranked so highly for me.

I like to practice speaking Italian whenever I can and I’ve found that the big cities and the areas frequented by English-speaking tourists (I’m looking at you Amalfi Coast), provide limited opportunities to practice speaking in Italian.

Sprinkle in some natural hot springs and a castle set up on the top of a cliff that also doubles as a hotel, and I was keen to get there and explore. Our four days exploring Ischia was part of a longer trip, otherwise I would have loved to spend more time. Here’s how we spent those days taking in as much as we could while still finding some time to relax.¬†

Castello Aragonese surrounded by ocean
Castello Aragonese

How we spent four days on Ischia

I decided to split our time between both sides of the island since the island is fairly large. For two nights we stayed in Forio on the West Coast and two nights in Ischia Ponte on the Eastern side. When visiting a larger area, I like to start at the location the furthest distance from my departure point and make my way back. This way there’s less of a chance we’ll miss our bus or train or boat when it’s time to leave. This ended up being a good idea especially after our experience with Ischia’s bus system (more on that later!).

The plan for these four days was pretty simple. Visit some hot springs, eat lots of good food and take in the beautiful views.

Getting to Ischia by Boat

Ferry services were limited to arriving and departing from Naples since we were visiting at the end of April. If we had visited during the busy season, there would have been more options from Sorrento and Capri. The ferry terminal in Naples can be a bit overwhelming when cruise ships are in port because everyone seems to be looking to board a ferry. Buying tickets was pretty easy though as the booths are marked with the locations they serve. The ferries used for the crossing are fairly comfortable and after an hour or so (if they leave on time!) you’ll arrive on the island.

Be aware that there are a couple places where the boat may dock.

  • In Procida, which is close to Ischia but is a different island. Some ferries are direct, but some make a stopover on Procida to and from Ischia;
  • Ischia Porto, the main ferry terminal on the Eastern side of the island which also serves as an entry point for Ischia Ponte; and
  • Forio, on the Western side of the island

Our ticket had us travelling from Naples to Forio, but when the boat docked at Ischia Porto, everyone disembarked. We waited thinking it would continue onwards to Forio as my ticket said it would. When we were the only ones on the boat, and it didn’t seem to be moving, I thought it might be a good idea to get off! Come to find out, we were being transported to a bus to take us to Forio. From what I could tell, they may do this outside of high season due to the low numbers travelling onwards to Forio. When in doubt, follow the crowds!

Two days in Forio

Ceramic Forio Sign
A map of the island of Ischia (not to scale)

Forio is a quintessential touristy town but with enough of a splash of local living, it doesn’t feel like everything is there to cater to tourists. The beer though was a bit of a giveaway that it was popular with tourists. The bars serve a variety of German brews, due to the popularity of the island, and its thermal spas, with Germans. In any case, we didn’t hear a whole lot of English in 4 days.

Forio is fairly compact and very easy to get around on foot. There’s a long stretch of sidewalk running along side the beach and port, tailor made for an evening stroll.

View of the Forio Harbour including sailboats and town centre
This is the view from across the road from our accommodation, which was on the Northen end of the town. I was worried it wouldn’t be a nice walk into town in the evenings, but it couldn’t have been any more pretty if it tried!
Jumping in the water at Forio Beach
Someone was happy to finally find some sand after several days without!

The town centre is set a couple minutes walking from the waterfront, with a cute piazza and a handful of bars and cafes. Both nights there was live music playing at one of the central bars.

Where to eat

On the other side of the ferry jetty, you’ll find a string of restaurants streching from La Bella Napoli Restaurant to Ristorante Pizzeria Da Ciccio. Our accommodation host recommended these two restaurants (the ones on either end), which ended up being where we ate during our two night stay. Both were busy but managed to squeeze us in. La Bella Napoli is a bit more casual with Pizzeria Da Ciccio a bit more upscale. The meals and the service was great at both places

Forio street with shoppers and store fronts
Downtown Forio during rush hour

If cute churches with beautiful views are more your thing, there’s a pretty church called Chiesa del Soccorso perched on the side of the cliff, a couple minutes away from the main street.

hiesa del Soccorso perched on the side of the cliff
Chiesa del Soccorso perched on the side of the cliff

Visiting the Hot Springs at Giardini Poseidon Terme

One of the main reasons for staying in Forio was to visit the Giardini Poseidon Terme, located 30 or so minutes walking distance from Forio. While you can hop on a bus that will take you pretty close to the entrance, it was a beautiful, mid-20s day at the end of April when we visited, so we decided to walk. There are footpaths the whole way so it was a very safe and very scenic walk to the spa.

The view as we were walking to the Poseidon hot springs
The view as we were walking to the hot springs

Initially the park was a bit confusing with limited signage, but once we got in the swing of things, we both really enjoyed the pool-hopping. There are about 20 pools at the spa, with 3 allowing children (which we avoided). The place is set up for a very relaxing experience and I think you’d be hard pressed not to leave feeling at least some level of bliss. It helped that we visited outside of busy season, so there was plenty of room in the pools and no need to wait.

The swimming pools of the Giardino Poseidon and views of the ocean
The view from one of the highest swimming pools. Sorry I mean spas. Sorry I mean zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Too. Relaxed. To. Type.

We had a light lunch at the cafe, which was ok enough for a midday meal. The setting was lovely and we took this time to have a lay down near the beach. If the water was a bit warmer, I would have gone in but why bother when you have a selection of hot spring fed pools ranging from 28 degrees to 40 degrees. I mean 15 to 40 degrees. How could I forget the pool at a refreshingly, though slightly shocking, 15 degrees. There’s even a pool that is covered with stones that you walk on. I suppose it’s to massage your feet but, ouch? That was definitely not my sort of thing! After testing all the pools, I definitely preferred the pool set at an uber-relaxing 35 degrees.

Lunch at the cafe at Giardino Poseidon
We had a lovely fresh salad to share that was completely negated by the giant slab of Torta Caprese!

So we spent a day pool hopping, floating and gazing longingly out at the ocean. Yes it was everything I had wanted and then some. The only downside was the mandatory ugly caps that needed to be worn when in the pools. Thankfully the lady at our accommodation lent us a few caps. I would have been truly disappointed to spend my hard earned euros to buy them!

Wearing Giardino Poseidon swim caps
The mandatory photo wearing the ‘bathing caps luxury edition for the limited edition Spring/Summer 2018 collection

Our visit to the hot springs costs us 32 euros each for the full day. The prices are slightly lower if you want a half day.

For the Giardini Poseidon Terme Website, click here

Where we stayed in Forio

Casa Vacanze Parco Del Generale

Sunset over the harbour with a bottle of wine and cheese
My favourite kind of sunset

Set opposite Forio’s harbour, the views from the apartment’s balconies are pretty amazing. I’d booked the apartment having pictured myself drinking a glass of wine and eating some Italian cheese while watching the sunset, which is exactly what we did!

The owners of the property were incredibly helpful, friendly and I would put in the category of going above and beyond what is expected from a host. We purchased a bottle or red and white wine from them and both were really great.

The apartment was quite big, with the master bedroom upstairs as a loft, a kitchenette, and the sofa bed acting as an extra bed. The property also has two pools, though we didn’t use them (it was a bit chilly for a pool at the end of April!).

The property has no street level signage so finding it was a bit of an adventure. I eventually gave up and asked a lovely man at the hardware store if he could call the number for me as he didn’t know anything about the accommodation. Come to find out, it was two doors down. They don’t advertise with signage because in high season they end up being inundated by people asking if they have availability.

The room we had was listed on Booking.com as “¬†Studio with Terrace and Sea View”. I would stay there again in a heartbeat. So much so, I wish I was there now!

Visiting Sant’Angelo by Bus

I’ll pre-face this by saying that we didn’t make it down to the town centre of Sant’Angelo, but thought our bus journey would be worth sharing. I had a ‘brilliant’ idea that we should take the bus from Forio to Ischia Ponte following the southern coast since we arrived via the northern coast. There are two bus routes that circle the island. One goes counter-clockwise and the other clockwise. They both have a stop at Sant’Angelo. There are other buses that only cover part of the island, like the bus that travels only between Forio to Sant’Angelo.

Views of the town of Sant'Angelo
This is as close to the town centre we got. It would have been a long walk with our bags down to see the town centre so we looked down from the bus stop.

We hopped on the bus from Forio to Sant’Angelo with the idea of having a quick look and then to hop on one of the buses that continues onward to Ischia Porto. This was a great idea until no bus showed up! Each of the buses that came by were heading back to Forio. After waiting an hour or so, we gave up and headed back to Forio and then onwards to Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte along the north of the island. Only when we were almost finished our journey did we see a bus heading in the direction we wanted. Moral of the story. Don’t count on the buses following a set timetable. Fortunately we weren’t in a hurry but it was a bit frustrating. Though in our typical style, this is what ‘frustrated’ looked like!

My mom sitting with our bags at the Sant'Angelo bus stop
Yes we had to wait awhile, and yes it was annoying but there could be worst places to sit and wait for a bus to arrive!

Two days in Ischia Ponte and Ischia Porto

The bus that circles the island stops at a bus depot near the port and does not go into Ischia Ponte ‘town centre’, so we needed to take another local bus to Ischia Ponte and the Castello Aragonese, which is where we would be staying for the next two days. Depending on the time of day, the main street closes at the castello end of the main road. Since we arrived during the street closure time (mid afternoon), it meant we were dropped off about 10 minutes walking distance from the castle.

When we arrived at the start of the bridge for the castle, I’m quite sure my mom was wondering why I was making her drag her bags around. Yes she wanted to see the castle but why couldn’t we drop off of stuff first?

“Because we’re staying here. This is our accommodation for the next two nights”

“No it isn’t, don’t be silly”

“I’m not joking. We’re staying in a castle!”

Cue giant smile and maybe a few happiness tears. Yes she’s done it. She’s made her mom cry once again! Fortunately they are always happy tears!

Castello Aragonese from the pedestrian bridge

Time to chill out and relax

I didn’t have much of a to-do list while in Ischia Ponte other than to wander along the main street and drink of Prosecco from the terrace at the castello. If we had time, perhaps even see the castle itself.

Two glasses of process at sunset
Tick!

View of Ischia Ponte from the terrace of castello aragonese
I have this photo taken in about 20 different types of light. I really liked the look of it when the lights were starting to come on, signalling it was time for dinner!

Our two nights and two days were spent wandering along the water, taking 1,000 pictures of the castle, visiting a lovely bookstore and eating more pasta. A half day was spent wandering from the castle to the port in Ischia Porto and back. You have to earn that pasta, am I right?!

Street in Ischia Ponte
Street in Ischia Ponte

Cat in the bookstore window
How could you not pop into this cute bookstore when you’re going to be served by a pretty kitty!?

Ischia Bakery window with lots of desserts
The desserts were very similar here to what we found in Naples and the Campania region generally. Yes they had Babas (the super run flavoured dessert that looks so innocent but packs a punch!)

Where we ate in Ischia Ponte

For our two evening meals in Ischia Ponte, we ate at Da Ciro al Vicoletto and had a lovely meal with very friendly staff. Our waiter didn’t speak much English so I had a primo opportunity to practice my Italian. I also taught him a few English phrases. It was fun being the teacher for once!

Pasta dish with pasta shells and vegetables
So good. So, so good.

We also ate at Ristorante Pizzeria Aglio olio & Pomodoro, which I was really looking forward to because of its excellent reviews on Tripadvisor. The service on the night we visited was pretty much non-existent. It was as if they forgot about us even though we were in a prime location for getting service. From what I remember the food was good, but the experience was so underwhelming, I couldn’t remember this meal without looking up my credit card statement! Maybe it was because of the dreary weather that night or that we arrived at the start of service. I’m not sure! Our meal at Da Ciro, set down a side street and not busy at all, was definitely the better meal of the two for the authentic experience chatting with the locals.

Where we stayed in Ischia Ponte

Castello Aragonese

view from the terrace at the castle aragonese
#views

When I saw that Castello Aragonese offered accommodation, I couldn’t say no. While basic, the rather small rooms have everything you need for a reasonably comfortable stay. The castle used to be a nunnery so the rooms are the size fit for practicing nuns. But let’s face it, you’re not staying at the Castello for the room. You’re staying for the jaw-dropping views from the terrace that is only available for guests. The breakfast, served in a lovely room with more views, was more than we could ask for. For me, walking ‘home’ each night to the castle was a pretty unique experience. As was using the elevator that is carved through the stone and takes forever. Try not to think about it if you’re at all claustrophobic!

I also intended to do a proper tour of the castle and its surrounds but even paying guests need to pay an additional amount to explore the full castle. We saw a few of the rooms without paying, which included the room where the nuns would be put once they died to slowly decompose. Very creepy indeed.

But yes, the views from the breakfast room as spectacular!

View of Ischia Ponte through the window of the cafe at Castello Aragonese
Breakfast with a (160 euro per night) view

For Castello Aragonese’s website, click here.

For the hotel’s website, click here.

Other Resources

My number one resource, besides Tripadvisor forums, is a fabulous, English site called Ischia Review. There is so much information on this site, it should answer most, if not all of your questions. For a link to the Ischia Review site, click here. The group also provide tours and other services.

If you have any questions about visiting Ischia, please drop me a message below.

Have you visited Ischia? Do you think four days exploring Ischia is enough time? What were your favourite spots?

I'd love to hear from you. Add your comments to the discussion below!

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