For at least half a century, the island of Ischia has welcomed its most positive invasion: that of tourists.
It has suffered many other invasions in its history: Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Saracens, Normans, Swabians, Angevins and Aragonese. It enjoys a strategic position in the Gulf of Naples. It has natural beauty and a mild climate, ideal for recreation but also for health: thermal springs, therapeutic mud that even attracted Giuseppe Garibaldi, when wounded in the leg in the battle of Aspromonte. It is a kind of tropical island in the Mediterranean, known as the Green Island due to the wealth and variety of its vegetation: from the chestnut trees along the slopes of Mount Epomeo (an extinct volcano) to the broom, pines and oaks. In the 19th and early 20th centuries Ischia was a destination for restless travelers: Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, who wrote “Peer Gynt” here, and Truman Capote, who landed here in the spring of 1949. At the moment he landed, his watch broke. He took this as a sign: that this was a place to be visited calmly, without haste.
He stayed for four months in an inn in Forio. At the time, drinking water was brought in tanks by ships. It was a wild island and to some extent, inland, it still is. An island of farmers, full of steep vineyards, some of which can still only be accessed by sea, where grapes are transported by donkey. For centuries, in Ischia, the sea was only the border of a land 6 miles in length from east to west and 4 miles from north to south. Often danger came from the sea and safety lay in the ravines, caves, in the thousand hiding places. The proof: the typical Ischian dish, the one eaten on holidays, comes from the land and not the sea: stewed rabbit.
The great leap forward – in economic, and tourism terms and, unfortunately, also as regards overbuilding – came thanks to the movies. On two fronts. The first was Hollywood: “The Crimson Pirate,” starring Burt Lancaster, directed by Robert Siodmak, was partly filmed in Ischia, in 1952. The epic “Cleopatra” reconstructed the battle of Actium in the sea off Ischia, facing the Maronti beach.
The film, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and, in the role of Caesar, Rex Harrison, and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, was supposed to cost $2 million and instead cost $44 million. It is remembered among other things for its costumes for Liz-Cleopatra (no less than 65, a record), for the passionate love between its two protagonists and their frequent and noisy quarrels. One morning a fishing boat found a number of elegant garments in the water and the fishermen wondered where they had come from. It seems that Liz had thrown a good part of the Richard’s wardrobe out of the window of the Hotel Regina Isabella There was another stormy love affair, with the same scenario, between Ava Gardner and Walter Chiari.
The Regina Isabella introduced the Italian front. Angelo Rizzoli, the Milanese publishing magnate and film producer (Cineriz), was captivated by the island and built the first large hotel and also the first hospital. Thanks to his friends, Ischia began to rival Capri as a fashionable destination. Toto and Sophia Loren strolled along its streets.
In 1957 Charlie Chaplin presented the world premiere of “A King in
New York” here, a film he wrote (including the music), directed and in which he starred. It was one of two films (“A Countess from Hong Kong” with Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando in 1967 being the other) that Chaplin shot outside the USA, where he could not return due to McCarthyism.
On the advice of Rizzoli, many Italians set their movies in Ischia. International fame brought more and more tourists, but many islanders had been recruited as extras in Hollywood movies, and were already well off. Hence the rise in the number of guesthouses and small and large hotels, with a consequent decrease in greenery, although it still dominates in many areas. Whether for its history or the climate, the sea or the spas, the hiking or the shopping, the food, scenery or wines, or a combination of all of these, it is worth spending a few or more days in Ischia. Today’s best known visitor is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is highly respected by the islanders because she pays for everything out of her own pocket, even the ferry ticket.
The Bay of Cartaromana, with its splendid view of the Aragonese Castle.
The Cavascura spa, from the Roman era, hidden in a natural cave on the Maronti beach.
The Aragonese Castle, built in 1441, on a rocky island.
WHERE TO EAT
In Forio: Saturnino, simplicity, great ingredients and lots of fish, on the steps leading down to the harbor, http://www. ristorantesaturnino.it.
In Lacco Ameno: Indaco, modern cooking and elegance in the restaurant of the Hotel Regina Isabella, http://www.reginaisabella. com/ita/indaco.
In Barano: Le Petrelle. Family atmosphere on the Maronti beach, https:// www.facebook.com/ lepetrelle.