There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.Gilbert K. Chesterton
We had a couple friends visiting us in February and wanted to show them the islands around Naples. They had already been to Capri, so we decided on Ischia, an enchanting island made of volcanic rock with beaches, hot springs, a charming town, and a beautiful castle on top of a rocky islet. It was Gilbert K. Chesterton that said, “There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.” This castle looked like something you would see in your dreams. We were amazed they were able to build it into the volcanic rock so many years ago.
We took a hydrofoil boat (or high speed boat) for an hour-long ride from Napoli to Ischia. There’s also a ferry to the island that takes about an hour and half. Our plan was to get there as early as possible, so we had more of the day to explore. We recommend using the Ok- Ferry website to book your boat ride.
We went in February, so a lot of places were still closed for the season, including many shops, restaurants, and the thermal springs. We still enjoyed it though. We had friends with us for company and it was nice exploring the island with no crowds. It felt like we had it all to ourselves. We were able to go up to the top of the castle and not fight for a chance to take in the amazing view. The island was a little chilly at that time of year, but it didn’t stop us from having some gelato before leaving.
If you’d rather go when the island is in full swing to enjoy the beaches, thermal spas/hot springs, restaurants, and shopping, we recommend going in May when things are just opening or at the end of September, before things close down. The peak season is June and July. You’ll also see a lot of locals there in August, since most Italian families take vacations during that month to head to the beach and cool off from the heat.
Even during the winter months, Rossopomodoro, is open. It is a pizza chain with delicious food and a great location: a glass building with hanging potted plants and a beautiful stone pizza oven. We tried a bunch of different types of pizza plus a calzone. If you like your food spicy, ask for the red pepper flake olive oil. It’s great for drizzling on your pizza or dipping your crust into at the end.
We took our time eating lunch, walking on the beach, and going in and out of cute side streets before we made it to Castello Aragonese. The first village and castle were built in 474 BC by Hiero I of Syracuse. In 315 BC, the Romans took it over and turned it into a defensive fort. Back then the castle and village on the rock were part of the Ischia island. However, an eruption took place in the 2nd century AD that lowered the soil connecting the island to the castle. As a result, the castle and village now lie on an islet or a small island.
In 1423, Alfonso of Aragon took over the castle and built the stone bridge to reconnect the Ischia to the castle. The castle eventually became a convent, and you can still see the churches and the nuns’ cemetery. The cemetery has a number of stone chairs. We learned that when a nun passed a way, the sisters would place the body on a chair. As it slowly decomposed, the nuns would often visit to meditate on death and realize that the body is just a vessel for the soul. After that, we all thought the place must be haunted! If you want to learn more about the history of Castello Aragonese, then checkout their website.
We highly recommend exploring every part of the castle. We found so many cute little areas, including a garden and some spots with beautiful views of the town and the water. If you have some time, then make your way to the café and enjoy refreshments as you take in the view around you. It’s not open during the off-peak season, but it is still worth going look at the view.
Adam and I definitely place to return, so we can try out the thermal spas and hot springs, which make it one of Italy’s biggest tourist attractions. Until we make our way back, we’ll just have to remember the good times we had on the island and admire its beauty from Napoli.