Circling the Island
June 29, 2009
Sant'Angelo, Ischia, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
Another beautiful sunny day - perfect for discovering more intriguing spots on this island paradise.
We circle around beyond Forio, passing luscious coves far below, to a town we've seen many photos of - could it be that beautiful "in person"? Oh yes!
Sant'Angelo is approached by a narrow, winding two lane road, which I'm sure would be even more jammed in the height of summer. It's hard to keep one's eyes on
the road, as each turn brings the charming port closer.
Flower-bedecked cafes line the quais,
where water taxis fill up with pass- engers headed for beaches around the bend.
Although it's become a popular resort, it's still a fishing village at heart.
I wonder who taught the ducks to surf?
We cross the short isthmus to climb out on the diagonal rockface - a popular spot for tanning.
The view back to the jumble of white and pastel houses is another winner.
Climbing back to the car, we smell a shop before we pass it - it's wild oregano from the hills - buy it by the bunch, or dried in a plastic sack.
We decide to search for a less populated spot for lunch, and find a hillside trattoria in the quiet hamlet of Panza.
The kind of place where the owner seats us, comments on the lovely day, and says "what would you like today?" and we describe a big salad of arugula, tomatoes, tuna, and mozzarella, and in a few minutes big bowls of fresh yummy lunch are set on the table.
Lunch with another matchless view - we're loving this place!
As has happened repeatedly on the island, people talk to us in German. We convince them that we speak Italian better than German (non existent, I'm afraid) and then can carry on a conversation. Ischia is extremely popular with Germans, who previously were able to come here for spa treatments covered by their medical program - not the case any longer, but that contributed to a large German contingent of holiday home owners and visitors which continues today.
We drive high on the hills inland, passing more vistas of Sant' Angelo, far below, to get to our next destination, Sorgeto, where thermal springs bubble right into the ocean.
We park, change into our bathing suits in an accom- modating bar, and climb down to the beach. As we descend, we see it's all rocky, and we really prefer sand.
It'd be fun to experience the hot and cool like those soakers below, but we decide to head for Maronti beach, a long strip of sand.
By the time we get there it's rather cloudy, so we just walk the length of the beach, checking out the fumaroles, where steam wafts up from holes in the sand. Wooden slats line the beach, beside signs warning that the sand is 100 degrees centigrade (that's boiling point!).
Our chance to get into the mineral pools of Ischia is back at the hotel, where the greenish water is around 45 degrees centigrade....relaxing, and supposedly great for our skin and multiple ailments we've never heard of. There's a high degree of radioactivity in the water, and signs prohibit children under the age of 14 from getting in the pool, and proscribe no more than 15 minutes for the rest of us. I tell Kirk he's glowing a bit when he gets out.
The gardens are so inviting and the weather's perfect for sitting outside - we haven't even been using the air conditioning in our room.
Andrea and Amanda, who have been coming to this hotel in Ischia for many years, invite us to join them for a flute of prosecco, and even convince the owner to take a little break before dinner and have a sip too.
We can see why they choose to return - we're already talking about how to include a few days here on future Music and Markets tours
in the area.
June 28, 2009
Lacco Ameno, Ischia Porto & Ponte, ForioInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
We awakened at 9 AM wondering how late the hotel serves breakfast and dashed downstairs to find the breakfast room filled with late risers on this Sunday morning.
Breakfast is meager compared to many we’ve enjoyed in this part of Italy, but we managed to fill up on low cholesterol melba toast and honey. The coffee is not so bad that we’d have to find an illy bar first thing – we’ll be OK until lunch.
We found the bus stop beside the carcass of a building where thermal cures used to be administered to the ailing. Now most of the curing is done in nice hotels with thermal spas and health centers and the old, massive, therapeutic hospital-like spa is window-less and the doors are boarded shut. We thought we could make it to the next stop since the island’s counter clockwise bus passed us right before we got to the stop so we started walking toward the next
town, Casamicciola. Before we knew it we were on the western outskirts and we just decided to go to the center and catch the bus to Ischia Porto from there.
As we've realized how much there is to see on the island, when we passed a car rental place we checked availability and prices, and they had a good deal - we should come by at 5 PM to pick it up. We strolled through a craft/antiques market in the center of Casamicciola, beside the cheery pastel church and down some particularly attractive side streets before going to the bus stop.
We stood beside the driver in the packed bus as he told passengers that the ticket stamp machine didn’t work, then got out in Ischia Porto and began walking west toward Ischia Ponte and the little island beyond named Castello Aragonese.
The two towns used to be separate but now the road connecting
them is lined on both sides with bars and shops, blurring the distinction between the two.
I needed some new sandals that don’t look like I’m setting out on the hike of a lifetime, and found some in a window that looked like they’d do the trick. We moseyed into the busy shop to be greeted by the owner’s young granddaughter who asked if she could help. I told her I needed a size 48 in the sandal in the window and if she had been more experienced, she’d probably have chuckled. Italian men don’t wear size 13 shoes and the demand for them in Italy is almost nil. But due to her inexperience and eagerness to please her nonno she began looking for the shoe in the impossible size. Like a fox, she found the only sandal in the store that approached the size I’d mentioned, a Mephisto, sized 47 at twice the price but on sale at half off. I said I’d try it on and she adjusted the straps to make them fit. While I was walking about in them, the salesgirl’s grandmother told Anne that her grandchildren were the joy of her life, which brought a tear to her eye as she remembered the days in Italy we just spent with our two.
For some reason it is difficult to find a Mephisto shoe in France where they’re made that fit my ski-like feet - they must send the oversized ones to Italy where I can usually find them after the salesperson gets over the initial fit of giggles.
We were both thirsty and the grandmother told us about the ice cream/granita shop next door that makes everything from scratch from real fruit. I got a really tasty melon slurpy and with my wide brimmed Panama hat and new shoes, I looked quite satisfied.
We hiked on westward to Ischia Ponte until we found a highly recommended restaurant, Zi
Nannina a Mare,
where we sat on the north edge of the island with views to Naples on the mainland, the island of Procida,
Castello Aragon- ese,
and even the island of Capri off in the haze to the south - see that distinctive outline in the distance? Capri town is on the left, and Anacapri, our favorite village of the island, on the high ridge to the right.
We continued bravely on to the bridge/causeway spanning the 200 meters between Ischia and the tiny island to its west occupied by a castle. At the far end of the causeway, we found a ticket booth. The island is private and just to take a quick look would cost us 20 euros. We decided the look we had from the causeway was good enough for this trip and began our trek back east to Lacco Ameno.
On the way we stopped for some pastries and a drink at a shop that had a dispenser on the bar that we’d never seen before – an illy frappuccino dispenser that offered the most amazing espresso milk shake imaginable. We’d not seen one before but now we strain our necks at every bar that boasts the illy logo to see if they serve “ïlly crème”.
We got on the clockwise bus at Ischia Porto and took it to the car rental place in Casamicciola where we picked up a (probably illegal) ten year old Fiat Punto Young. It’s not only old, but bare bones with rubber floor mats and no frills - Anne laughs each time she pushes a button to open the tin-can door. Within five minutes, I was rear-ended by a couple of youngsters on a Vespa. We were both at fault. They were following too close and I made the rookie tourist mistake of coming to a complete stop at a STOP sign. I’d forgotten that these signs are mere suggestions of who might have the right of way at an intersection, but it is very difficult to stop driving like a conscientious, considerate American and fit into the flow of traffic in Italy. My bad, but no harm was done to either vehicle. Ours had plenty of dings already from over 60,000 km of rentals, and the teenager Vespa drivers just got a reminder to beware of tourists who might be likely to stop at STOP signs.
We've noticed posters advertising a garden concert performance by Yale
University students so went searching for the Mortella Gardens . Watching
for the sign to La Mortella Garden, we passed it going counter-clockwise
around the island, and went all the way into Forio where a policeman told us
to go back the way we came and turn left in about 2 kilometers. We went all
the way back to Lacco Ameno, missing the sign again, where a taxi driver
told us to turn right where the main road makes a 90 degree turn and there
re about 30 signs. It was another case of "easy to find if you know where
it is" but now we know where to turn.
We even found the parking lot under an ancient olive grove, paid the admission and got a plan of the garden and
directions to the sala de concerti.
Tucked into the greenery is a tea room, aviary, and much more. ..wish we had hours to explore!
This beautiful and extensive garden was designed by Great Britain's most famous landscape designer, Russell Page under contract with 20th century composer, William Walton and his wife, Susana.
It is the most vertical garden I've ever seen.
Even today there are hundreds of exotic plants and ponds filled with follies and water lilies.
The concert was Walton's one act comic opera, The Bear,performed by three vocalists with a piano accompaniment.
It was very well done and since it was, unusual for an opera, performed in English, we could even follow the entertaining tale, inspired by a Chekhov short story.
Afterward we strolled around old-town Forio down the main street during passegiata
, when multiple generations get dressed up each day to greet
relatives and friends as they walk.
We made it down to the municipal center
and the charming church named roughly in English, "Mary of the Givers to the Poor".
In pale yellow stucco, it's fronted with an inviting courtyard.
After our big lunch, all we needed was a snack for dinner, so bought a couple of wraps to eat in the hotel garden. Sunset streaked the sky over Forio as we drove over the mountain back to Lacco Ameno.
Ischia at Last
Saturday, June 27, 2009 From Dulles to Ischia, ItalyInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
We left home at 3:15 on Friday, and nearly 24 hours,
2 flights, 2 trains, 3 taxis, and 1 boat later we've finally arrived at Villa Angelica
in Lacco Ameno on the island of Ischia, just west of Naples.
Was it worth the hassle? So far, our answer is a resounding YES!
The trip began with a nice surprise: as we passed through the boarding gate at Dulles the machine beeped. The attendant took our two boarding passes, and handed us seats in row 15 - business class!
The plane is full, so they've bumped us up. Thank you, United
The last leg of the trip was a zippy taxi ride from Ischia Porto to our hotel, and we gladly settled in to our cool and quiet little room - with a terrace and view to Monte Epomeo, a now-extinct volcano that last blew its top centuries ago.
We've managed to sleep on nearly all of the phases of the trip, so are ready to see the sights.
The curve of Lacco Ameno's bay is punctuated with "Il Fungo" -
a mushroom shaped rock that is rumored
to have landed there when the volcano erupted.
We check out the wares along the waterside, and soon the streetlights come on, the passeggiata
(communal evening walk) begins, and we slow down our speedy DC pace to join in.
This is very much a family place, and so far we've only heard Italian spoken.
Little pony carts trundle around the fountain, grinning kids bouncing on the wooden seats.
The friendly owner of Villa Angelica
has sent us to O Padrone do Mare when we asked for a good seafood place - and we eat our fill of Spaghetti alle Vongole
(with clams, fresh from the sea) and grilled sea bass as the sun goes down over the water.
Tomorrow we'll explore the island, now to bed!
Two Charmers in Southwest France
Monday, June 8, 2009St. Chinian, Albi, FranceInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
After a few more days of honey-dos at La Belle Cour
, we pack up for our flight home from Toulouse on Tuesday. A couple of years ago when Josh came for a visit and flew into Toulouse, Kirk and I planned an
early departure to pick him up and spent an hour or two in Albi
before his arrival. We liked it alot, and have wanted to return and spend more time there, so that's where we'll stay for the night before flying home.
As we drive north, with both the trunk and back seat of our little car full of luggage, we're getting hungry, but don't think we can stop anywhere since it's a no-no to leave luggage (or other possessions) visible in the car. It's just asking for a break-in - which has never happened to us, but we don't want this to be the first time!
As we wind through the streets of the wine town of St. Chinian
, tucked into the hills, we spy a cute resto right outside on the corner, with a convenient parking space right across the street, in full view - perfect!
Under the shade of plane trees, we both choose the special of the day, a skewer of grilled duck breast & veggies (delicious!) and a carafe of house wine (St. Chinian, of course).
We take a few minutes to admire the pretty park across the street, then resume our trip along D (departmental, rather than national) roads - our trip is slower than on the Autoroutes, but MUCH more scenic and enjoyable.
We're into the Montagne Noir now (the dark hills we can see from Vias), following lumbering trucks snaking through the hills,
passing pretty villages and churches nestled in the green.
Soon we arrive at the Albi Mercure Bastide
, a beautifully restored old mill right beside the river.
A lovely waterside location, great views of the rosy brick imposing cathedral and free parking - we're very happy with the choice.
I've jotted down notes of a walk through Albi from the Michelin Green Guide (which we leave at La Belle Cour for guests to use), and we have several hours of sunshine to absorb the beauty of the town.
As we see throughout Europe and England, buildings are of the local stone, or in this case, the local clay. The red bricks contrast pleasingly with the dark half-timbers and each corner we turn presents a charming view.
Here and there marble or stone accents a patrician hôtel particulier
(private home), many of which are now public buildings.
Helpful placards placed by the tourist office tell us the history of the elegant structures.
Intricate herringbone brick fronts one building
ornate carving em- bellishes the timbers of an old pharmacy, now a dress shop.
Near the church of St. Salvi, I feel as if I'm walking onto a movie set, the arch- itecture seemingly un- changed from centuries past.
We walk back to the bridge on the banks of the River Tarn, looking across at the newer part of town, near our 18th century hotel.
After making sure our suitcases are appropriately packed for the flights home, we step outside to walk across to old town for dinner - can we make it before the storm hits? After a couple of blocks, the deluge begins, and we duck into a doorway to wait until it lessens, then dash back to the hotel for dinner. I'm soaked, and after ordering, go upstairs to find some dry clothes, and lay out my damp skirt, hoping that it'll dry before our early morning flight.
Are we tired of duck yet? Obviously not - Kirk orders the grilled magret
and I, yet one more confit de canard
(tender drum- stick).
Both delicious - a great last meal in France.
The storm has passed, and a glowing double rainbow arches over the town.
We walk back over the bridge
for a last nightime view,
and say goodbye to lovely
France - we'll be back soon!