It was love at first sight. I was 14, leaning against a railing on the top deck of a large old ship that had taken much too long to make the 18-mile journey from Naples. I looked out at the port of Ischia and the hills and mountains that engulfed it. Even before I stepped foot on the island, I knew it was where I belonged.
I have been fortunate enough to have gone to Ischia every year since. While New York is where I make my home and my living, Ischia has always had my heart and always will. My family comes from the island, friends I have had for decades live there and it is where some of my warmest memories rest. My two grown children have grown to love the island as much as I have, moving our family love affair with Ischia one generation forward.
But Covid-19 changed that. I could not go to Ischia last summer and have no plans to go this summer. But, I will be there come summer 2022, to again visit the places and people I have known most of my life.
Here are a few of the things I can’t wait to do when I get back:
1. LUNCH AT DA SALVATORE. It’s a small restaurant on the beach, nestled between another restaurant and a hotel. It’s a family run operation—the father takes your order; the son brings the food; their wives prepare the meals. Father and son are always in bathing suits and usually shirtless. The wine is local and served chilled, the food is top-tier and made from local produce. The view is stunning and the company of Salvatore and son will always leave you with a smile.
2. ALDO POLI AT THE BAR CALISE. The Calise is open all day and night, every day of the week. And there is no better way to bring an end to your day than with a stop there, to drink, have a gelato and listen to Aldo Poli sing and play. He starts his show at nine, but it really gets going at 11 p.m. and wraps up at 2 a.m. During those hours, both locals and tourists come to listen to him play and take over the dance floor to his mix of Southern Italian love ballads, ready to rock medleys and contemporary sounds. For me, as I listen to Poli, usually with one or two glasses of Fernet Branca on ice, I look at the people around me. The older couples who have been coming to the Calise since they were teenagers, either dancing or sitting together and holding hands; and the young couples just beginning their life’s journey. The Bar Calise is a large space, covering two square blocks, tables out and in, always crowded and always welcoming. It is more than a bar. It is a place that holds memories, all of them warm and cherished.
3. THE SANTUARIO DEL SOCCORSO. This 16th century church is dedicated to sailors and emigrants. The exterior is white plaster and all sides of the church are embraced by the waters of the bay. It is my favorite church to visit, located in the borough of Forio (one of the five that make up the 48- mile island). I like to go in the late morning, when it is empty and sit either inside or on the square and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the view.
4. THE D’AMBRA VINEYARDS. The largest vineyard of the five on Ischia, it has been there since before World War II and its wines can be found in every restaurant on the island. Touring the vineyard, under the skilled eye of co-owner Sara D’Ambra, a young and energetic woman with a great smile and a warm manner, is a must do when I visit Ischia. It’s located in Serra Fontana, on the highest point of the island. The view from the vines down to the waters miles below is stunning. And then, after the tour, you enter the main office, where Sara breaks out a selection of her best wines and serves them with a platter filled with cheese, prosciutto, salami and oven-fresh bread. The stories that are shared are as good as the wine. A great place to spend a long sun-drenched afternoon.
5. THE CASTEL ARAGONESE. It is the castle that centuries ago, protected the island against invaders. These days, it welcomes tourists and locals alike. The walk up to the top of the castle is steep, but around every bend there is something to see, a piece of history to absorb. On the third tier is the medieval room, where weapons from a time long past are stored behind glass cases. On the fourth, there is a small bar that serves the freshest lemonade on the island. The next tier is home to an upscale restaurant, The Monastery. At the very top, there is a place to sit, enjoy a gelato from the nearby bar and take in the view. It is a view that on a clear day, allows you to see the islands of Capri and Procida and, with luck, the volcano that embraces the city of Naples. It is a place for tourists to take photos; lovers young and old to sit and take it the view. Once seen, the memory of the visit will always be remembered.
Much like the island of Ischia.
Lorenzo Carcaterra’s newest book, THREE DREAMERS, was be published on April 27.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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