We simply walked up and bought a ticket.
Our timing with the mainland castles wasn’t that great, so hopefully it would be better with the off-land castles. We were headed to Ischia.
“I thought you said this would be cheaper,” my wife asked me when we finally settled on the back of the boat.
“I thought it was, at least, the website said it was cheaper,” I replied, staring at my ticket quizzically, trying to take in with my best gander the 18-euro price tag that was on the ticket. That was theoretically almost the there and back price.
After a more rigid search on ye ole Google, I found that there are actually two boats that go to Ischia. One was a super-fast hydrofoil, and the other a slow boat. The hydrofoil was set to take 1 hour, while the regular ferry typically took 1.5 hours. Not a big difference, and to be honest, 7 euros wasn’t a big difference in cost either. But it is when you are two people and really trying to stretch your eurocents.
view of Naples from the ferry
There are two main ferry lines (and a bunch of others), and all have an updated schedule here. And though you can buy it online, we had no problem in the off-season buying it when we wanted to go, but the ferries were nearly full even then, so if you’re going on-season, I would highly suggest buying online. The Caremar and Medinar lines are the slow ferries that cost 11 euro 30, and the Alilaura line is high speed and costs 17 euro 60. The slow ferries also take cars for quite a bit more.
It’s important to note that even though we had an Arte Card, which covers all the public mass transit options in Campania, it doesn’t cover any of the ferries, as they’re all private. It weirdly does cover the public buses on Ischia though.
a little further from Naples
The hydrofoil, which we had accidentally gotten on, was something else to ride. I just thought, a fast boat, can’t be that different of a ride. But this thing, though almost as large as the regular ferries, took off at a race car speed and was literally flying over the waves, coming down in great splashes, so that anyone outside could, if the winds were right, get quite wet from the ride. Luckily we had moved inside, as the roaring wind caused by such a speed made it a bit too cold to hang around deck.
Mount Vesuvius looming about in beautiful smog
Like the rest of Campania, Ischia exists because of volcanoes. It’s almost 20 square miles of pure mountain madness, centering around Mount Epomeo, which is a giant volcanic horst—in other words, it’s a block pushed up by volcanic activity underneath.
Ischia is no stranger to eruptions and earthquakes, and the first Greek settlers there had to abandon it for the mainland and settle Cuma, which was where the main Roman oracle lived. Fun fact—the oracle would get high on volcanic gases in order to mutter things that would be "interpreted" by priests as prophecy. For T.S. Eliot fans, she appears in my favorite poem, “The Waste Land” which opens with a line from the Satyricon (I've translated it from the Latin for you):
I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl of Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked: What do you want? She responded, I want to die.
What a beautiful island! When we got off, it was already evident that the docks, as most docks are of tiny islands across the globe, was an incredibly lovely place. The gently lapping waves, the salty breeze, and at night it was even more charming. But perhaps it was charming because of the lack of tourists, which was not a bad thing at all. I couldn’t imagine the summer though, it must be a mad house.
a street in Ischia
We started walking towards the castle we had seen, Castle Aragonese, which was the goal of the trip. We passed it on the way, the thing was enormous and perched on a gigantic rock in the sea—not on our island but on its own island!
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We walked through the old town of Ischia—if you’ve more time, check out Sant’Angelo, an old style village wondrously free of cars—but Ischia was not wondrously free of cars. Some areas, the only way to go was a street without pavement, with cars and scooters zipping by.
It was a weird thought to wrap around my head. Such a small island with so many cars!
Ischia did not lack cars
Even weirder was that though we had arrived at a bit after 3:00, the island was, besides all the cars, a ghost town. Nothing was open. None of the shops or cafes. No people about. I get that it wasn’t tourist season, but it was still the weekend. Did people here just not work?
another empty Ischia street
The true highlight of the island. There are several overlooks in Ischia lined with (closed) bars and beaches, looking out to the castle. It must be quite a hopping place in the summer. Quite expensive too, from the looks of it of the (closed) boutique shops.
Castle Aragonese from a nearby beach
The origins of the castle date back to 474 BC, if you can imagine seeing something around from that long ago. As a major strategic site throughout history, it was duly maintained, and in the 15th century, the then ruler connected it to the mainland via the currently standing bridge. At the islands peak, 2000 families were living in the castle, including a Catholic convent, a Greek Orthodox abbey, a bishop and a seminary, 13 churches, a prince and a military garrison. It was quite an active castle, in perhaps the most religious way possible.
The bridge and the castle
When we finally arrived, it was already closed. That castle was my whole purpose of going there! I would have never thought that it would have closed so early, so I was a bit crushed. The official time of closing was “sunset”, which apparently meant different things to different people. Here it meant 4:00 pm in winter.
looking back at the village from the castle
We sat there in my unhappy gloom, on the bridge, for some time, listening to all birds and the children playing. The bridge seemed to be the favorite hangout for the locals too, where young couples would come out, drink wine, and listen to bad music played off their iPhones. Older men tended to pass their time fishing.
some folk hanging out
We finally decided to get moving and head back to the ferry. As we wandered through the village, we noticed that things were beginning to stir. As the sun went down and the streetlamps came on, shops started turning on their own lights and opening their doors. People started appearing on the streets. Old men appeared at tables, playing chess and smoking, kids playing football, mothers pushing baby strollers. It was a city of veritable vampires!
view of the bridge from the castle
The harbor was now a perfectly romantic place, and we finished the evening with a meal at a restaurant on the second floor of one of the buildings on the boardwalk. I thought it would be super expensive, but a liter of wine and a shrimp spaghetti with homemade noodles for the each of us was only 20 euro. It’s possible it’s only that affordable in the off-season, as I imagine during tourist season they switch menus and make it double. That's just a thought though.
the harbor at night
If we had had some more time, we would have hopped on the bus and seen more of the island, but alas, it wasn't ours to have. We also would have gone to the Castiglione Theme Park, but also couldn't make it for that.
Come back next week as we head out to see the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Subscribe and don't miss it!