Ischia island: On top of the world, Italian-style
May 21, 2012
So it wasn’t quite the top of the world, and frankly, it took only an hour of sweat-induced trekking to reach the summit, but we might as well have been on top of the world looking down from atop Mount Epomeo — described by some as a “heavenly place” that offers spectacular views of the beautiful southern Italian landscape on the island of Ischia.
Ischia’s tourism officials have dubbed the view from the top of the dormant volcano “Il panorama piu bello del mondo” (the world’s most beautiful panorama).
Mount Epomeo is the highest peak on Ischia, roughly an hour’s ferry ride from the port cities of Naples and Pozzuoli.
Stretching about 2,588 feet above sea level, Epomeo barely tickles the sky compared to other mountains that trekkers scale routinely, but the volcano dominates the Mediterranean island of Ischia. From its summit, visitors can see the Sorrentina peninsula, the islands of Capri, Procida and Ponza; and catch a glimpse of rival volcano Mount Vesuvius in the east.
The hike is short but steep, with a number of trails that wind up the slopes and past a few vineyards, narrowing and widening and narrowing again, as trekkers twist and meander up the mountain, past tufa rock and even white lava.
Hikers are greeted with a few crags at the pinnacle, upon which they can perch, rest and take in the magnificent panorama.
Those who don’t want to hoof it to the summit can rent a horse from the operators of the Miscillo Souvenir shop, located less than a quarter into the trek from the town of Fontana.
The company, All’Epomeo in Sella (To Epomeo in the Saddle), resurrected the tradition of taking hikers to the summit on horseback this year after a lull of nearly two decades, said operator Agostino Iacono, who runs the business with two friends. Historically, the trek was done on mules, but the tradition died as fewer residents on the island took time to domesticate the hardworking and rugged animals.
“We thought it was a shame to see this tradition die,” Iacono said. The trio started the company thinking elderly people might take advantage of the chance to climb the volcano without having to do so on foot. Turns out, senior citizens today are a hearty bunch, Iacono jested. Most of the clients who spend the 20 euros to ascend on one of the company’s three horses are families and young people — those, perhaps, who wanted to say, “been there, done that.”
Roughly midway up one trail, trekkers are greeted by a surprising landmark: the church of San Nicola, built in 1587, which is carved in the crumbly tufa rock of the mountain. The church is closed to visitors; but trekkers still can stop and ring the tower bell.
As if the view itself wasn’t enough of a treat, a quaint restaurant at the top, Olimpo, offers hungry and thirsty hikers hearty fare. Dishes range from traditional rabbit to delectable bruschetta or refreshing, chilled white wine.
On the QTDirections: Ferries for Ischia leave from the ports of Naples and Pozzuoli and sail to the ports of Ischia Porto and Casamicciola. Or take the city bus for “Serrara Fontana,” about a 30-minute commute from the ports. A cab ride will cost roughly 30 euros.Times: Ferry times are seasonal, with more running in the summer months. Currently, ferries from Pozzuoli to Ischia Porto leave at 6:10 a.m., 9 a.m., 9:40 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Ferries from Pozzuoli to Casamicciola leave at 8:15 a.m., 10:15 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Ferries leave from Naples to Ischia Porto at 6:25 a.m., 8:35 a.m., 8:40 a.m., 9:40 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 12:50 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5:20 p.m., 5:55 p.m. and 7 p.m. Ferries leave from Naples to Casamicciola at 8:25 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 4:20 p.m. and 7 p.m. Three companies that make the run are Medmar, Caremar and SNAV. (Hiking should be done during daylight hours.)Food: There are a few eateries and coffee shops in the town of Fontana, at the base of the trails and along the path. At the summit of Mount Epomeo, the restaurant Olimpo offers outdoor seating overlooking vineyards, or indoor seating overlooking spectacular views.
— Sandra Jontz