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Italy Entices: Ischia’s Regina Isabella

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By J.S. Fletcher and Kathy M. Newbern ©2014
(Part 3 in a series)

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In our last story, we wrote about Portofino and the Splendido Hotel on the northern coast of Italy. To the south about 350 miles, the island of Ischia (pronounced “Is-key-a”) awaits.

Ischia is another fairy-tale-like location, this one akin to Cinderella because it oftentimes takes a backseat to the nearby Isle of Capri. Nevertheless, Ischia, a 30-minute hydrofoil ride from Naples, scores high on the romantic getaway scale.

The island is known for its “termes” (hot springs), many in public settings, such as the fabulous, tiered Poseidon Thermal Gardens in Forio overlooking the Bay of Citara and Tyrrhenian Sea beyond. The site has 18 thermal and treatment baths and pools, a Roman steam bath in a natural grotto, resplendent gardens, indoor pool, massage/treatment area and sandy beach.

Ischia was inhabited around 770 BC by Greek settlers coming from Euboea, making it the oldest colony in the Western Mediterranean. They called it Pithecusa and later tagged it “land of fire” or “land of springs.” It still has the largest concentration of thermal springs anywhere for its size.

The place to stay here is a former hangout for Hollywood elite: the seaside, luxury, five-star resort L’Albergo della Regina Isabella (Hotel Queen Isabella) in Lacco Ameno. Many of the resort’s 128 rooms overlook the bay where small fishing boats dot the sand and gleaming yachts set anchor just beyond the sea wall.

Streetside, amid the blooming bougainvillea and hibiscus, the resort shares a small square with the Sanctuary of Santa Restituita, now an archaeological museum where some of the saint’s remains are buried. A wooden statue of her dating to 1500 still stands. So the hotel sits on the most ancient Christian site of Ischia, dating to the fifth century.

The Hotel Regina Isabella’s centerpiece is a small saltwater pool expertly manned by weathered, smiling, pool men, quick with a towel. Service also arrives via efficient, silver-tray-toting wait staff in white tux jackets who leave you feeling like you could be on the set of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” which was filmed, in part, on the island.

The hotel’s extensive spa — 70 treatment rooms — offers not only pampering, but medically-supervised treatments. To receive the full benefits, it’s worth the appointment with the spa’s director, Dr. Paolo Magrassi, just to hear his hair-raising tales of medical volunteerism, including being shot at in Africa.

Mud baths are offered in many spas, but the one here is dramatically different. Whereas most spas deliver their mud via a small mixing bowl, here, therapists arrive with a bucket load of mud mined and mixed on premises, then applied in ample portion to cover the skin before a plastic sheet is arranged to wrap your body — quite unusual and very therapeutic. Though our short stay isn’t long enough to give the healing mud a fair chance, many swear by it.

Research shows that people have been using the thermal waters here for over 2,500 years. One source can be traced to the third century used by the Romans. The resort has Ischia’s only seaside thermal spa, and is the only one using the thermal waters in its suites’ plunge pools.

Activities abound outside the hotel. The stunning Aragon Castle sits on its own small island, connected by paved walkway to Ischia Ponte, one of the main towns, a former fishing village, with small shops, eateries and houses. The fortress once held 13 churches in its walls. In the 1500s, close to 1,000 families lived here, in part for protection against pirates.

The view from the top, accessed by elevator, is quintessential Italian seaside with winkling sun droplets on azure water in all directions.

The Archaeological Museum of Pithecusae, also in Lacco Ameno, is home to the ancient Greek "Coppa di Nestore," or Nestor’s Cup, which Homer refers to in “The Iliad.” The cup’s inscription is said to be the first known, preserved Greek writing and translates: "I am the goodly cup of Nestor; whomsoever drinks of me, fair-crowned Aphrodite immediately will seize.”

Also near Regina Isabella is La Mortella Ischia, botanical gardens and the Sea Museum and Farmer’s Museum, the latter located at D’Ambria, one of three wineries on the island.

Regina Isabella’s owner credits the resort’s original 1956 developer, film producer Angelo Rizzoli, for introducing Ischia to the world. His films shot in Ischia put it on the map with jet-setters and stars including Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren, and “Cleopatra” principles Taylor and Burton, who stayed at the resort during the filming; she’s said to have thrown his clothes in the sea during a spat. Watch the accompanying video to get a peek back to that time period.

The property remains active in an annual Film Festival.

The hotel’s three restaurants serve the very freshest of seafood and international delights. Our favorite: a new risotto creation nightly.

If You’re Going

Visit www.reginaisabella.com/ for more info or to book your reservation. The website’s excellent photography will give you an overview of Regina Isabella’s grand public spaces, antiques, elegant décor including colorful majolica tiles, plus the pool and spa areas, as well as the luxurious accommodations.

Can’t Get Away Right Now?

If you can’t get to Italy but are looking for a little taste of the Italian culture, consider taking an armchair vacation in YourNovel.com’s personalized book: Rome: Diamonds, Danger, and Desire. Personalized, yes. You star in the book, which is a sexy European adventure of a lifetime, where the starring male takes on the role of a lifetime — secret agent. He and his special lady look the part, too, zipping along Rome’s crowded streets in a cool Ferrari and hanging out with mysterious types, including a sultan who plans to purchase the world’s most perfect diamond.

If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:
• Other stories by Newbern and Fletcher
• Other Stories by JS Fletcher,
• Stories by Kathy M. Newbern, Luxury Travel Examiner
@FletcherNewbern
@YourNovelcom
International Travel Examiners J.S. Fletcher and spouse, Kathy M. Newbern, report on luxury destinations, spas and cruising around the globe. They are award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers and created YourSpaReport.com and YourNovel.com, their personalized romance novel business.

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