Some places have a special power over us: with only one breath when getting off the plane, they can instantly make us feel at home.
Every time I land in Naples that feeling of belonging comes with a sense of anticipation. Indeed, although it is one of my favourite Italian cities, it is almost never my final destination: instead, I patiently wait for my luggage, drink the first espresso of many and go catch the bus that will take me directly from the airport’s entrance to the harbour, where I will catch a ferry to Ischia.
Situated only 30 kilometres off the coast of Naples, it is a volcanic island famous for the thermal properties of its waters and, although less known than its neighbour Capri, it is a perfect holiday destination. Perfectly capturing the Mediterranean atmosphere, while being cheaper than most of the islands surrounding it, it stays true to everything Italian: if you thought Naples was the worst for traffic, think again; if you thought Naples was the best for food, think again.
…spaghetti with clams, is what we never have enough of…
Ischia town and Forio d’Ischia, the island’s two liveliest towns, are where its best restaurants are located. Obviously excelling in Mediterranean food, fish and pasta dishes, and often the two combined, are a local speciality. After perusing the island for more than 30 years, my father finally decided on his favourite places, and I am lucky enough to be able to annually tag along.
In the three weeks I usually spend there spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti with clams, is what we never have enough of: made with fresh baby clams served still in their shell, basil, garlic and a touch of baby plum tomatoes, they are the star of the island’s cuisine; another classic are paccheri cozze e pecorino: served with mussels and pecorino cheese, they perfectly introduce the second course. Indeed in Italy a meal made by a single course is impossible to conceive, and Ischia is no different: white focaccia topped with olive oil and tomatoes, fried zucchini balls or an even simpler bruschetta, it is the authenticity of each ingredient that makes every single course perfection.
…it reminds everyone of why Italian food has become so popular…
The restaurant La Sirena Del Mare (Via Giovanni Mazzella 192, Forio), located on one of the island’s beautiful beaches, makes spaghetti alle vongole to die for, but the real star of the menu is its fresh spigola all’acqua pazza, seabass cooked in what the Italians call “crazy water”, a sauce made of olive oil, garlic and chopped tomatoes. In opposition to La Sirena‘s stunning location on the sand, L’Oasi (Via Scannella 5, Panza) is located on one of the island’s highest spots, offering an incredible view from the terrace; after an infinite array of delicious antipasti, of which the white pizza bread is the winning dish, their best second course is without a doubt the swordfish.
Moving to the other side of the island, the restaurant / pizzeria / bar / pastry shop Calise (Via Sogliuzzo 69, Ischia) is the best you could ever find. Slowly opening bars all over the island because of its incredible success, it has everything you could ever dream of: from perfect pizza to delicious ice cream, it reminds everyone of why Italian food has become so popular. Personal favourites include gnocchetti ricotta e limone, short pasta garnished with ricotta and lemon, one of the island’s signature produce, and the best ice cream I have ever tasted: dark chocolate with orange. Yes, that’s right. Dark chocolate ice cream. With orange. I almost threw a hissy fit two years ago when they took it off the menu. Now it’s back. What are you waiting for?