Secret’s out. For years, the volcanic island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples had managed to coast under the radar with its glitzy little sister, Capri, stealing the spotlight. And if you ask the Ischia locals and seasonal regulars who visit to swim in its mineral-rich thermal waters, they consider it a hotspot on the basis of its hot springs—a favorite of ancient Romans seeking self-care—rather than a trendy port of call.
But still, every scroll through Instagram this summer seemed to include an Ischia geotag, with posts from Angela and Margherita Missoni, Aly Michalka, Lisa Marie Fernandez, Candice Lake, Katie Sturino, Athena Calderone, Sophia Roe, JJ Martin, Alex Eagle and Eugenie Niarcos. It seemed all my most glamorous follows were chez Mezzatorre Hotel and Spa, wearing retro high-waisted bikinis whilst noshing on ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms and enjoying the kind of Campari-soaked romp that would have given Slim Aarons FOMO.
Mezzatore’s chic proprietress Marie-Louise Sciò, the CEO of Pellicano Group, is chiefly responsible for all the buzz surrounding this spot. Since acquiring the Mezzatorre this January and opening in April, Sciò, who has a background in architecture and interior design, quickly gave the hotel a transformative tuneup. “My goal was to create a space that was whimsical in a way,” she says. “And, you know, fun and elegant without being pretentious, which is the same approach I had at Il Pellicano. I always try to nurture a timeless aesthetic, with nothing that goes in or out of fashion.”
Perched on a cliff, this 16th century Moorish-style former watchtower has more than its fair share of photogenic charms: a sapphire swimming cove; glorious saltwater pool; on-site thermal spa; peach Bellini umbrellas that blend into the sunset and signature Pellicano mustard and white striped towels; plus gracious rooms that feel as though you are crashing at a friend’s plush yet unpretentious villa. The place is filled with apropos touches such as Pierre Frey fabric in the tented La Torre restaurant, aqua glass tumblers to match the Mediterranean, and glossy emerald tilework in the thermal spa. “It’s a mix and match of things I liked, put together as you would do in a house,” she says. “I didn't want to make it feel like it was too ‘done’ and fully decorated in that very perfect interior design manner that they often do in hotels.”
I first spotted the Mezzatorre on the feed of one of my most discerning girlfriends, Alex Merrell, a DJ and the founder of travel platform TREC, who went cavorting there with her pal Shay Mitchell. I quickly booked a last-minute getaway with my workaholic husband. Together with another couple, CNN’s resident globetrotter Bill Weir and fashion executive Kelly Dowd, we felt as though we had stepped into a parallel universe reminiscent of The Talented Mr. Ripley, scenes of which were shot on the island. Ischia immediately had us unwinding, and the Mezzatorre, with its lovely staff clad in bespoke safari-style fatigues and guests all sporting Sciò’s recent Birkenstock collaboration, felt like the most stylish summer camp imaginable. Comparing the destination to its neighbors, I’d say it is less sardine-packed than Positano and much more low-key than Capri.
These are the qualities that also appealed to Sciò. “It's the real thing and still has something completely authentic about it,” she says, noting that it was once a playground for Brigitte Bardot, Marlon Brando, and Elizabeth Taylor in its 1950s and 1960s heyday. “But it wasn't further developed much more. So there's not all that international retail, and you still find local family restaurants. It's a very simple island, and very Italian—we consider it a rare gem.”
Indeed, if you do make the sojourn, it is the type of place where recommendations are key, and the best spots are often hidden. Here, a guide to getting swept away with il dolce far niente (the art of doing nothing) in Ischia.
Where to Stay in Ischia
Mezzatorre Hotel and Thermal Spa
This island classic recently underwent a stylish revamp. It’s hard to decide what’s more divine: the uni speghetti or the stunning swimming options.
Regina Isabella - Resort Spa Restaurant
A secluded five star spot is nestled amongst Mediterranean pinewoods that wins guests over with its private bay and beaches.
Miramare e Castello Hotel
Adjacent to the Aragonese Castle and the island’s the historical centre of Ischia Ponte, this seaside spot also offers grand views of the Gulf of Naples and a quirky Wes Anderson-esque mise-en-scene.
Grand Hotel Excelsior Terme
A former swinging ‘60s seaside villa of an English aristocrat, the property was more recently transformed by an Italian Count. It still retains its noble roots with rather regal interiors.
Where to Eat in Ischia
This lively boite in the picturesque town of Sant’ Angelo is most beloved for its pizzeria.
Dinner is elevated to commedia dell'arte theatre, with everyone from servers to the chef presenting each hearty dish with a spirited Italiano singalong. Even Naomi Campbell and Tina Turner have partaken.
The restaurant overlooking Mezzatorre’s private bay with a traditional Campania cuisine.
Dine right on the sea at this spot known for its fresh fruits de mer.
Umberto A Mare
A smart restaurant with epic sea views and recalibrated mediterranean cuisine.
Le Vigne di Alberto
A historic spot perched on the upper part of the island. The food is simple and menu minimal to allow the ancient flavors to shine.
This beach restaurant puts a contemporary spin on seafood classics. It also has one of the best sunsets on the island.
La Bella Napoli
Located near the port of Forio, this casual spot is most popular for its excellent pizza and home-made cookies.
This hillside slow-food restaurant specializes in grilled meats and Ischia-style rabbit.
Where to Explore
A medieval castle built by Hiero I of Syracuse in 474 BC is adjacent to Ischia, at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples. Take a boat ride to this volcanic rocky islet that connects to Ischia by a scenic causeway.
The highest mountain on Ischia is believed to be a volcanic horst. It’s blanketed in lush greenery, with local vineyards occupying the slopes.
Giardini La Mortella
A former private garden first opened to the public in 1991. It was dreamt up in the 1950s by Susana Walton, wife of the composer William Walton.
Where to Swim
Spiaggia dei Maronti Beach
You’ll find some of the best swimming on the southern part of the island. Have lunch at the nearby Belmare restaurant.
Spiaggia di Citara Beach
Home to the Poseidon Thermal Gardens, this big and bustling beach is the place to go if you like a scene and some shopping with your lido.
Via Sorgeto Natural Hot Spring
If raw, rustic, and remote is more your speed, venture down a precarious staircase to this picturesque cove and wade into healing rock pools, heated from bubbling volcanic activity.
Originally Appeared on Vogue