The island of the Grand Tour

michallon ischia olio legno 1819Between the spectacle of the Gulf and the green hills of lava

The passage to the island was the first, true contact with the sea. They had always looked at it safely on the mainland, wandering those strips of land that stood out on the horizon. In Naples, in the salons where stories and memories were exchanged, those who had already had the privilege always recommended the exploration of those lands immersed in the blue.

Maybe he was waiting for nothing but a new group of nice acquaintances to be able to return. Of course, the journey was long and not without discomforts, but the pleasure of discovery naturally accompanied the spirit of adventure required to face that new experience, full of unknowns, but also promises. Usually, the good season sheltered at least from the risks of navigation. Limited to the minimum, embarking along the coast, because the stretch of sea to be covered was the shortest. With the advantage of being able to stop first in the much-vaunted places of the Phlegraean coast.
Pozzuoli, Cumae and Averno Lake were the inescapable prologue of the journey into myth. Who offered the pleasure of being in the presence of what was only imagined by reading and studying, and without being disappointed. This the sense of the Grand Tour in Italy. After so much wonder, what else could they have been able to reserve those lands in the distance, beyond the sea?
The feluccas waited in Baia or Miniscola, in front of the islands. First stop in Procida, just the time to refresh and go to embark back to Chiaiolella, on the side that overlooks Ischia. From there, the village under the Castle came with the rowing boat; otherwise, it was still the sail to take them to Casamicciola or Lacco. Where all were directed, since there were lodgings for strangers. Unless they were members of the Royal House or foreign ambassadors, in which case the doors of the splendid country villa were open to them, the court protomedico Francesco Buonocore, a native of the island, had built on the hill behind the coastal lake, between the Borgo d’Ischia and Casamicciola. Near two springs of mineral water, which assured the rich and powerful guests of the doctor of the Bourbons thermal treatments at home, during the pleasant ischian leisures.
Just the numerous thermal springs and the warm and beneficial emissions due to its volcanic genesis had led travelers to Ischia since the end of the 16th century. First of all, foreign scholars who, having ascertained the validity of the ancient fame of those waters, had taken it upon themselves to make it known beyond the sea. Therefore, afterwards, the stays had begun for treatment or even for pleasure, as the news spread about the beauty of the places where the thermal springs were set. Travel notes and letters were the promotional vehicle of the time, along with the stories of visitors who, before and after Ischia, stopped in Naples, a key stop on the Grand Tour.
At the beginning of the 18th century, an accurate and passionate report by the English philosopher George Berkeley, who had had wide resonance in Europe, had sowed among the readers the desire to visit that island “epitome of the world”.
The disagreeable journey made unthinkable to go and return by sea on the same day. For a course of spa treatments it took at least three weeks. Ischia was not for short visits and fortunately, the multiformity of the landscapes was able to satisfy every day the desire for novelty of foreign guests. From the terraces of their houses, very humble and Spartan, they admired landscapes able to repay every privation.
Berkeley had praised the wonders of the southern side facing the horizon and the great Maronti beach with the islet of Sant’Angelo and the small fishing village. Most of the foreigners get house, instead, on the northern side, where were the most famous landfalls and thermal springs. Where they discovered what the island offered, by day and by night, all the charm of the Gulf of Naples dominated by Vesuvius, ranging on the most favorable days to the Lazio coast to the north and the Sorrento Peninsula to the south, with the Apennine Mountains on background. From every side the other islands could be admired: the Pontine islands, in the light of Forio’s sunsets of fire; the green Vivara and the largest Procida right in front of the Borgo d’Ischia and, on the other side of the Castle, the almost dreamlike image of Capri. A scenario of unexpected vastness and changeability, described in diaries, letters and not infrequently drawings, which annulled the feeling of isolation naturally associated with life on an island.
To make the stays even more pleasant, there were the walks inside, among the hills surrounded by vineyards, even in the most inaccessible areas. Despite the difficulties that the movements involved, there were itineraries that could not be ignored by staying in Ischia. The visit to the depopulated islet of the Castle, with its picturesque ruins surrounded by prickly pears and vines, was an opportunity to learn about the history of the ancient city of Ischia. Then already transferred to the great island beyond of the stone bridge, in the fishing village that was expanding with the construction of the noble palaces overlooking the sea. An extraordinary view was enjoyed from Monte Vico, where it was said to be the ancient Greek settlement whose blocks of stone and fragments of painted ceramics re-emerged in the vineyards. A walk in Forio was a must, with its majestic towers and beautiful churches, where for Sunday Mass the inhabitants wore the colorful costumes of the celebration. Without neglecting the craters of ancient eruptions now covered by lush vegetation.
The unmissable excursion was on Epomeo. Hours and hours by mule, through thick chestnut woods, on the edge of precipices along the gorges that mark the sides of the mountain, in an almost unreal silence, to reach the summit, accompanied by the hermit monk to admire the most amazing spectacle. Especially at sunrise and sunset, unforgettable.
With its stories, the hermit honored guests with fresh wine, mountain goat cheese, herbs and fragrant fruits, gathered in the garden behind the cells carved in the green stone typical of the island’s dominating peak. Leaving an unexpected gift: ice cream, made with snow collected during the winter and stored in the special pits that served as natural icebergs in the rest of the year.
The ascent to Epomeo, already alone, was worth the trip. An indelible sequence of images to be kept forever in memory with the other memories of the island welcoming, bright, fragrant, wild, pleasant. Another dimension, beyond that of city life, ready to regain the upper hand as soon as it reaches the sea. With the desire to return, sooner or later. Expressed in verse by King Ludwig of Bavaria: “Corri a Ischia. Lontano dal frastuono della vita, là troverai quella pace che da tempo ti è sfuggita via”...


By Isabella Marino

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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029


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