Best destination for 2016: Ischia, Italy
My stay on Ischia was only supposed to be four days. As I was sipping prosecco from a lemon tree–scented terrace overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, I couldn’t help myself: I rejigged my itinerary to extend my stay.
I was told about the Italian isle an hour from Naples (via hydrofoil) through a friend who was in Italy for work. With a few precious days off, she enlisted the help of local contacts to design a nearby getaway that would take her to an approachable seaside paradise. Enter Ischia, a classic Italian escape established first for its trade position, followed by its wine and wellness.
Part of what makes this coastal escape a rarity—and a hot destination for 2016—is its ultra-local appeal coupled with its off-the-tourist-track charisma. Unlike Capri and Amalfi (the island’s too-popular neighbors), there are not boatloads of visitors arriving in droves, souvenir shops toting florescent hats, nor menus translated into six languages. During my weeklong stay, I only spotted two North Americans; the rest were Italians, plus a few Brits to boot, a stark reminder that it’s still an undiscovered escape—a feat unto itself in a country where almost every coastline and countryside has been touched by tourist sandals.
The volcanic island’s lush landscape, fringed by 21 miles of sand and rock, is an ode to the good life, or as the Italians say, “la dolce vita.” Teeming with mineral-rich water and mud heralded for removing impurities, fertile fields where lemons and tomatoes bake to the ideal temperature, terraced landscapes that produce knockout wine, white-sand beaches, and shore clubs cut into the rock, Ischia has everything Italophiles love about southern Europe sans the resort-wear cachet of nearby Capri.
Viewfinder Tip: Unless you own your own yacht or helicopter, the best way to get to Ischia is by hydrofoil or ferry service from Naples, the Amalfi Coast, or Capri.
When I visited in summer 2015 with my husband and baby, we started every day with breakfast at Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa—my first Expedia Viewfinder Pick hotel—where we found it hard to control our cravings around the fresh-squeezed orange juice, vine-ripened tomatoes, chunks of buffalo mozzarella, and prosecco that taunted us every morning. If not for my post-breakfast dip in the spa’s mineral pool, I would have come home double my size!
When 11:00 a.m. rolled around, we raced for the sea—the best place to keep cool during the summer heat—because Ischia’s version of waterfront relaxation came with all the fixings: an alfresco restaurant, bright umbrella-topped lounge chairs arranged in a picture-perfect fan formation, and a seafront location so fetching it belongs on Pinterest, not in real life.
Because we’d spend every afternoon eating, drinking, swimming in the sea, and trying our best to mimic the bronzed miracle glow most Italians seem to sport year-round, we kept our evenings simple.
At night, we’d head to the marina in Porto, a beautiful, cobblestone-fronted stretch of restaurants overlooking ferries and yachts bobbing in the day’s last light. Here, we’d “break the bank” (kidding) and order a half-liter of house wine and bruschetta for about four euros each. For the price, you’d expect these provisions to be subpar; instead they were another outflowing of Italy’s ode to all things fine and good. The wine was not some eye-squinting table version; it was perfect. The food followed the same storyline: It wasn’t some thrown-together version of store-bought stuff, but rather a combo of house-made bread, Italian cheese, about-to-burst tomatoes, and basil so fresh you could smell it 20 steps away.
There are some destinations that pair so perfectly with your person, it’s as if you were meant to be there at that moment in time. For me, that’s Ischia. From the bruschetta to the boat-access beach clubs that look as though they’re a summer hideaway for James Bond, Ischia has graduated from what I thought would be a one-time summer fling to a destination I’m determined to visit again (and again).
“We should visit Ischia once a year,” I exclaimed, and my husband—who often balks at the bold statements I utter in moments of great joy (or great sadness)—completely agreed.
What destination is on your list for 2016?