Stylist’s Anna Hart discovers a serene hideaway in the form of a one-time monastery on the Italian island of Ischia
I always plan a holiday as if I’m choosing a dish off a menu. I want to be sure that my choice will leave me completely satiated, that I won’t find myself glaring enviously at a friend’s holiday snaps on Facebook with the sinking realisation that she made the better decision. Food envy has nothing on holiday envy.
When I decided to visit the island of Ischia, I wanted sunshine, sea and serene surroundings. I got exactly that.
Nestled in the Gulf of Naples alongside her chi-chi celebrity sister, Capri, Ischia is just an hour’s ferry ride from the city of Naples. Most UK visitors see a trip here either as a restorative add-on to a cultural weekend in Naples or Pompeii, or a refreshingly affordable supplement to the expensive and overcrowded Amalfi coast. Italian families, by contrast, come to Ischia in their droves during August, and stay for a week or more. They visit for the hot springs (heated by Vesuvius, volcanic status: active), beautiful southern beaches and lively family meals in Ischia Porto’s buzzing harbourside restaurants.
Locals say that the best time to visit is early September when the weather is still good and the sea is warm, but the beaches are less crowded. However, whenever you go, it’s relatively easy to escape the masses, as I discovered during my stay at Albergo Il Monastero, one of the most atmospheric, serene and stylish hotels I’ve ever stayed at.
It makes a bold first impression, housed in a former monastery within the 16th-century Aragonese Castle, perched on top of a rocky outcrop connected to the main island by a narrow causeway. The castle itself is one of the island’s main attractions. Visitors queue for entry at the foot of the rocks but, as hotel guests, we were waved through to a lift in the cliff that transported us skywards.
Inside, rooms (originally monks’ cells) are simple and tranquil, with spartan whitewashed walls, traditional terracotta tiles and darkwood furniture, allowing the views of the Mediterranean, the castle’s turrets and the rocky coastline to take centre stage.
Dinner on the terrace (buffalo mozzarella followed by an Ischian speciality of braised rabbit, alongside vegetables grown in the castle’s garden) was by far the best meal of our trip and, at €70 (£59) for two, including wine, it was only marginally more expensive than meals at the identikit harbourside restaurants, yet infinitely more memorable.
We spent our days exploring the beautiful beaches of the southern coast, wandering the cobbled streets and pausing for affogati (a mixture of coffee and ice cream) in the main hub of Ischia Porto, a 15-minute bus ride from the hotel’s causeway.
We also determinedly visited a thermal spa park, Negombo, before realising that steaming thermal pools don’t really appeal during an August heatwave. Visit in September or October, however, and you’ll have the vast array of pools, from rock-hewn hot waterfalls to saltwater swimming pools, virtually to yourself.
Every night we looked forward to returning to our castle in the sky: Albergo Il Monastero might just be the nicest bit of Ischia. So, if you’re hungry for a holiday with bucketloads of style and culture, food and history, this is the hotel for you.