Beyond the beach: hiking in Ischia

Beyond the beach: hiking in Ischia

While Ischia has amazing beaches and seaside towns where you can easily spend your entire vacation, there is also a whole different world happening up in the hills above the sea. Ischia is also known as l’isola verde (the green island) because it is a fertile island full of vineyards and wineries, forests and orchards. This is the perfect place to experience hiking (also known as trekking in Italian) and hiking in Ischia is a must for anyone visiting the island.

Luckily, there are plenty of chances to see this verdant part of the island and you can take part in guided hikes through the forest trails and wineries with stops for wine tasting and lunch at farm restaurants far from the traffic of town life below. Hiking in Ischia is amazing as you get to immerse yourself in nature while also taking in magnificent views the sea, the gulf of Naples, Capri, the Sorrento peninsula, and the coastline that stretches all the way up to Rome.

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This past weekend, I was really excited to get the chance to take part in a hike led by the splendid Marianna Polverino of Ecotour Ischia. I’ve heard a lot about her through others who have been on her guided walks and we’re friends on Instagram so it was nice to finally meet her in person. The group was made up of fellow islanders and we explored the trails along the eastern side of the island, through the vineyards in the areas of Campagnano and Piano Liguori overlooking spectacular views of the gulf of Naples and the islands Procida and Capri.

Before the post-war tourism boom, the island’s biggest export was wine and vineyards stretched across the island’s terrain. Wine-making is still an important aspect of the island and in recent years the island’s wine is achieving international recognition. Just a few days ago, the Ischian winery Cantina Antonio Mazzella received the award as winery of the year from Vinitaly, one of the world’s most reputable wine expositions and competitions.

hiking in Ischia
Marianna Polverini of Ecotour Ischia showing us the trail at the start of our afternoon hiking in Ischia

The encyclopedic Marianna led us and stopped along the way to describe the geological history of the area, show us the different types of stone and lava and how past eruptions had caused the land on this part of the island to form in a particular way, point out important and interesting plant life, and explain to us the terrain and why the shape of the hills and bays create the perfect condition for grapes to grow.

All of us in the group live in Ischia and for many of us this was the first time we were exploring this part of the island and discovering these new things. It was lovely to see Ischia through Marianna’s eyes and feel her infectious love for the island. Being away from the traffic and bustle of everyday life below, we followed the coastline from the trails above, stopping along the way to take in the sites of San Pacrazio, La Scarrupata, and finishing off with a climb to Monte Vezzi where from the top we saw the spectacular view of Sant’Angelo in the south and the Castello Aragonese in the east.

Scarrupata Bay

It took a few hours and by the end it was lunch time and we were famished, so we stopped at the restaurant Piano Liguori just off the trail (it’s only accessible to walkers). We feasted on fried artichokes from their garden and cured olives from their orchards overlooking the view of the gulf of Naples and Capri from their terrace.

Lunch on the terrace with a spectacular view at Piano Liguori restaurant

It was such a good day with a lively group of people. I had forgotten how much I loved hiking. I used to do it all the time when I lived in the Hudson Valley in New York, but that was a long time ago. And walking in the hills through the vineyards along the coastline was an incredible experience and I felt euphoric. Moving to Italy and to Ischia hasn’t been easy and has its ups and downs, but yesterday reminded me that I made the right decision. It’s not just about the beauty, but it’s about the history, too. There’s so much life here and so much to find out about.

hiking in Ischia
Our hiking group on the top of Monte Vezzi. Photo courtesy of Vieni a Ischia

If you’d like to go on a tour, you can contact Marianna at Ecotour Ischia. She speaks both English and Italian and is a licensed ecotour guide and can take you walking on the numerous paths along the island. I recommend hiring a guide as a guide can take you on one of the more lesser known paths and know which ones are safe for your ability.

First time in Ischia, Italy? Here are 5 beaches to check out

First time in Ischia, Italy? Here are 5 beaches to check out

The summer season is just about to start here in Ischia and I’m already starting to think about all the beaches that I’m going to visit this summer.

Being a volcanic island, the beaches on Ischia are smooth sandy beaches that are perfect for spending a long beach holiday. Depending on your beach-going style, time of day, and what you’re in the mood for, there are so many gorgeous beaches to try.

For your first Ischia beach holiday try our these 5 beaches for your first visit:

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Cartaromana (Ischia Ponte)

I’ve been going to this beach with my family ever since I was a small child and it is one of my favourites on the island. There are two ways to reach this beach – one by boat (just a short ride from Ischia Ponte) or by walking. If you love walking, it’s a nice walk with gorgeous views of the Castello Aragonese, Capri and the gulf of Naples but just be prepared that it takes about 45 min – 1 hour to arrive if you’re walking leisurely and stop to take pictures.

If you decide to take a boat taxi, you can get a ride from Angelo from Cassano Barche, just to the right of the bridge that leads you to the Castello. It is 5 euros per person round trip.

Once you arrive to the beach, there is the hotel and restaurant Da Maria which has some beds and umbrellas. You can have a fantastic seafood lunch at the restaurant and then walk along under the cliff to sit in the natural hot springs. You can see bubbles bubbling up from the sand below.

Cava del Isola (Forio)

ischia beach holiday

This beach is located in Forio between the Chiesa del Soccorso and Citara Beach. It’s a short walk from the centre and is reached by descending a long driveway. The beach has a young vibe to it with lots of 20 years playing volleyball, singing, having picnics. The beach is free, but you can rent an umbrella from the beachside restaurant and bar La Capanna for 3 euros. It’s a great place for snorkelling and since the sun sets on this side of the island you can spend a long day at the beach and wait for the sunset.

This beach has a more rugged feel to it and the sea has a turquoise colour. Big boulder of lava rock that fell from Monte Epomeo centuries ago dot the coastline.  

Maronti Beach (Barano)

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This is the longest beach of uninterrupted coast line on the island. It spans almost 3k long and leads to the fishing village Sant’Angelo. This area of the island is full of hot springs, walking trails, wild vegetation as well as private beach clubs and a thermal water park (The Nitrodi) if you’re looking for more comfort and luxury. Near Sant’Angelo, you will find the area known as Le Fumarole – the temperature beneath the sand here can go well above 100 degrees C. An long-standing island tradition is to cook food at the beach by burying it in the sand (such as chicken or hard boiled eggs) and have a picnic under the stars.

On the other end of Maronti you can find a trail from the beach that takes you up to Cavascura, a natural sauna carved in a cave that dates back to Roman times. So after taking a swim in the natural hot springs the sea, you can hike up to Cavascura and experience the sauna.

San Montano (Lacco Ameno)

San Montao is a quiet beach in a hidden bay between Lacco Ameno and Forio. Half of the beach is public and the other half is run by the thermal water park, Negombo, one of the nicest water parks on the island.

The water is shallow so is a great place for children to play and because it’s set back from the main boat traffic on the sea, the beach is a tranquil place to spend the day.

San Pietro (Ischia Porto)

San Pietro is one of the largest beaches on the island and is a great beach for families. The large cove makes for a calm sea so lots of children and adults play games like volleyball or football.

The beach is just a short walk from the port and easily accessible. There are public beaches as well as private beach clubs where you can hire a sun bed and get a drink at the bar.  

These are just a few to try for your first Ischia beach holiday, but stay tuned for more!

More advice about expat fatigue and the expat plateau via The Bittersweet Life Podcast

More advice about expat fatigue and the expat plateau via The Bittersweet Life Podcast

Last week I wrote about 10 ways to combat expat fatigue and get through the expat plateau. The expat plateau is that point you reach after the newness and scramble of getting settled that first year wears off and you’re left facing the reality of everyday life. This can lead to expat depression or feelings of regret, but it doesn’t have to.

I wrote to my favourite podcast The Bittersweet Life, a podcast that discusses issues people face when living abroad, to see what they thought about the expat plateau and if they had any advice on how to get through it. Katy Sewall and Tiffany Parks dedicated an entire episode to my question and discussed all sorts of reasons of why someone would reach this sort of plateau and how you can try to get through it. Even if they felt like they were going back and forth on their advice and not really providing anything concrete, I think their discussion was excellent and gave me a lot to think about.

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Click on the picture to listen to the episode

The expat plateau that one reaches when living abroad can be caused by a lot of things. Tiffany and Katy mentioned that sometimes we choose to leave our home and move abroad because we want to break free from an idea of ‘normalcy’. But once you get to that other country and settle down, your life can return to that routine of life and for some serial expats that means boredom and then they’re off to the next country. Or maybe the plateau is simply a period of slowing down after that first year of intense growth and you’re finally getting used to life in your new place. Or perhaps even the plateau means that your heart is telling you that this won’t be your permanent home and you might want to think about living somewhere else.

For me, listening to them discuss my question and let themselves meander over different suggestions that might apply to my situation, made me realise something. I definitely don’t want to leave Ischia, and even though living on an island can be tough, especially in the winter when you need to go to Napoli and the sea is rough and you suffer from sea sickness, it feels like home. I’ve lived in cities most of my adult life (Mexico City, New York City, London, and Rome) and one thing I don’t miss about city-living is how anonymous one can be in the city. Here in Ischia, life goes beyond family and your inner circle of friends. You really feel a sense of community and close to life. The negative side of this is that everyone can know and talk about you and it could take some time getting used to it, but I think the positive sides far outweigh the negative.

moving abroad

Choosing to move abroad and live your life in a different language is tough and there are complicated decisions to make and you may have to deal with a lot of uncertainty. But it’s totally worth it and living a life abroad really teaches you how to face your fears and follow your heart.  

I really recommend you listen to this episode and even if you’re not in a similar situation, you can definitely get a lot of insight. Follow this link to listen to this episode of The Bittersweet Life.

Thank you so much Katy and Tiffany for your wonderful podcast and for trying to help me out.

10 Ways To Combat Expat Fatigue And Get Through the Expat Plateau

10 Ways To Combat Expat Fatigue And Get Through the Expat Plateau

I’m in my second year of living in Italy and I’ve been feeling bummed out due to something I’d like to call the expat plateau.

Often times people talk about experiencing a honeymoon period when they first move to Italy, where the joy and beauty of living in Italy can far outweigh the daily grind of bureaucracy, language mishaps, and loneliness as you get used to life here. However, that period (anything from 6 months to 2 years) passes and the reality of living abroad set in. Some people decide to move back home after this period passes while others stick it out.

When I moved back to Italy, I thought I was immune to the honeymoon period and had a grasp on the negative aspects of living here. The first year was difficult and I dealt with anxiety, fear, and guilt. I eventually got through it and I thought I was over it, but lately I feel like I’ve hit another bump – the expat plateau.

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The Expat Plateau

I call this the expat plateau as it occurs when the newness of living in a place fades and you realise that full integration is going to take a long time. It’s like learning a new language. At the beginner level, if you dedicate yourself and work hard, you can see your level of improvement increase at a relatively rapid rate as you’re comparing yourself to when you started at 0. You’re happy to be able to communicate. But when you hit an intermediate level and you start to learn more complex grammar structures, idioms and other language nuances based on different situations, the learning slows down. You’ve plateaued it can be discouraging and tempting to give up during this phase. It’ll seem like you’ll never improve, but there is a lot going on underneath the surface.

The Expat Plateau works in the same way. In the beginning, perhaps in the first year or so, every step feels like you’re on your way to creating your new life in Italy – getting your documents in order that show that you live in Italy (things like the PdS, carta d’identita, codice fiscale, and tessera sanitaria), renting a place, choosing your local bar, getting to know the locals, finding a job, and improving your Italian. You celebrate every new milestone and can’t believe that you’re navigating the Italian bureaucracy and no one has kicked you out.

But then you hit the plateau – this is the moment where you’ve stopped comparing your life before you came to Italy with your new life, when your old life is enough behind you to make you feel like this is it, this is your life now. And you suddenly realise how far you have to go and you feel like an outsider, that everyone looks at you like an outsider. Your Italian isn’t perfect and maybe it’s even getting worse as you become more self-conscious. You realise the difficulty in making deeper friendships, that people’s curiosity in you and your move to Italy only goes so far as they’re more focused on their family and established friends. Your job may not pay you on time or refuse to give you a contract so you have to live with uncertainty or not be able to take sick leave. You realise how much help you need to navigate a byzantine medical system, from making a doctor’s appointment to getting some tests to filling a prescription. And o! as a tax resident in Italy you’ll be taxed on your worldwide income so you need to find a good accountant that can help you because there’s no way you can figure out the rules on your own.

But is this all enough to make you give up?

No. (I don’t want to try to convince you to stay if you’re really unhappy and would rather go back home or start a new life elsewhere. You’ll know when you’ve had enough.) If you know this is where you want to be, where you want to create a life, then you push through.

But what can you do to help make this expat plateau period a bit better?

10 ways to fight the expat plateau

  1. Change your routine – Go to a new coffee shop, try a different walking route, visit a store that you’ve been wanting to go into for a while. These little changes will break up the plateau and spark something new.
  2. Read books written by other expats – Expats often write about the troubles they’ve encountered during their quest to make a new life in their adopted country. You’ll find that you’re not alone and that yes, you’ll get through this. I’m currently reading Venice resident Philip Gwynne Jones’ To Venice with Love. It just came out and it’s fabulous!
  3. Go on holiday to another city in Italy – Sometimes you need to take a break and go somewhere where you can feel like a tourist.
  4. Take a class in something fun – I’m not talking about taking a class in order to solidify your life here and improve yourself – like signing up for driving school or take Italian classes. Maybe a cooking class, a dance class, painting class or a wine class. Something that that has nothing to do with self-improvement. You’ll get to meet new people who will share some interests with you.
  5. Do Instagram Stories – Social media may not be your thing, but I’ve been able to get to know people in my town through Instagram stories. It’s kind of like a public spying, but when I ran into them at a public event, I introduced myself and said that I was a fan of their Instagram and they were flattered. It gives you something new to talk about with someone and they’ll like that a stranger, rather than just their friends that they’ve known for a million years, noticed them.
  6. Be a tourist in your town – This may be counter-intuitive since you want so bad to not be looked at like a tourist passing through, but if you hire a local guide to take you on a walk around town, you’ll not only get a chance to learn more deeply about the local history, but you’ll also get to make contact with someone new and you can recommend the guide (if you like them) to friends that come and visit you.
  7. Write about it – Keep a journal or a blog and write about your experiences, all the good and the bad. It’ll help you let it out and maybe you’ll be able to look at things in a new way. Later on, you’ll be able to look at this period and realise how strong and resilient you are and how much you’ve learned.
  8. Make your house pretty – Buy a plant, add a picture to your wall and rearrange the furniture. Remind yourself that this is your home and is a nice comfortable place to be even if life on the outside is difficult.
  9. Go to an ex-pat meetup – I’ve tried joining expat groups before and felt like they were too isolating, but sometimes you just want to stop feeling foreign and feel something familiar. Of course, you can always watch a film or listen to a podcast or talk to friends or family back home, but for this type of thing, you want to talk to other people that are going through the same thing as you. Maybe you can complain and commiserate about the difficulties of living in Italy and being far away from family and friends and then share the reasons why you love it here.
  10. Talk to a friendly person about how you feel – You’re probably at a point now that you’ve gotten to know your local barista, have a few friendly neighbours, some people in town that you say hello to as you go on your walk, but you haven’t gotten to a point where you’ve gotten to be friends. This might be the right time to show a bit of vulnerability and let people in. They might not know exactly what you’re going through or understand the difficulties of living abroad (especially if they’ve never left their home town), but I bet someone could empathise and would want to listen. They may like to know what you’re going through and take you out for a coffee or give you some oranges from their garden next time they see you.

I hope some of these things help and if you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear!

How to get an Italian driver’s license

How to get an Italian driver’s license

After going through the labyrinthine process of getting your permesso di soggiorno, carta d’identità, codice fiscale and health card, (congratulations, by the way) the next step in your integration into Italian society is get your Italian driver’s license.

You’ll find lots of posts on the internet about people’s experience how to get their driver’s license in Italy, but since I’m going through the process right now, you may want up-to-date info. In this post, I’ll go through in detail the following:

  • The law about driving in Italy
  • Driving school
  • Theory lessons and exam
  • Driving lessons and exam
  • Driver’s License
  • Resources
  • My experience
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