Monte Epomeo and the green heart of Ischia.
For centuries one of Italy's most sought-after tourist destinations, the island of Ischia is famous the world over for its health-inducing thermal waters, luxuriant subtropical gardens, and paradisiacal beaches.
And yet there is more to Ischia than spas, parks and seaside resorts and, in fact, you only need to travel a few minutes inland to find a peaceful oasis of tiny rural villages, woods and vineyards.
The magic mountain
One of the best ways to discover this beautiful, albeit lesser known, part of Ischia is to make the trip up to the top of Monte Epomeo, a 787m high mountain of volcanic origin, the walk to the summit of which takes about an hour.
The quickest way to get to the mountain is to drive or catch the bus to the town of Serrara Fontana. From the main square, take the "military road" (strada militare) which leads to a footpath through woods of chestnut and locust trees.
At a certain stage, you'll come across the Pietra dell'acqua, a long abandoned water cistern; from here the path begins to climb upwards via a route carved out of the rocks.
For an exhilarating equestrian experience, you can travel on horseback, accompanied by tour guides from the "Epomeo in Sella" riding school.
The best time to make the trip is in the late afternoon. Excursions start from the "Miscillo" souvenir shop.
Once saddled up, riders slowly make their way along a narrow bridleway, through shady oak and beech woods, before reaching the green mountain slopes.
As they make their way up to the summit, visitors travel back in time, to a not too distant era, when the islanders travelled exclusively on foot or by mule.
The trip to Monte Epomeo was one of Ischia's first real tourist attractions, and the "capo ciucciaro", the man responsible for heading the donkey-back tours, often went up and down the mountain as many as ten times a day
The route terminates at the chapel, and former hermitage, dedicated to San Nicola of Bari. Here, rumbling tummies are quickly silenced at "La Grotta", a panoramic restaurant famous for its simple island dishes such as "Coniglio all'ischitana" (Ischia's celebrated braised rabbit)
Panoramic picture postcard
Whether you arrive on foot or on horseback, from the summit of the mountain there are some of the most breathtaking views imaginable; across the whole of the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius and the neighboring islands of Capri, Ponza and Procida.
The Ancient Greeks, named the mountain Epomeo, meaning "to view the panorama from high above'", and you may well be tempted to stay here long beyond sunset, to enjoy the most spectacular of starlit skies.
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