Many people ask me what’s winter like in Ischia.
When I was growing up in New York, we would visit my family in Naples every summer. Up until I moved to Rome in July 2009, I only knew Italy in the summer. Since then I got a chance to see what life was like at different times of the year.
But I never experienced winter on an island until we moved to Ischia in December 2017. I expected it to be a lot quieter and more desolate, with the majority of hotels and restaurants closed, scaled back ferry service, and more inconvenience. Moving from a major city to an island off the coast of Naples in the middle of winter, I thought there would be a big culture shock and a sense of isolation. I pictured empty streets, restaurants and hotels boarded up, scaled back ferry service, stormy weather that forced you to stay inside for days at a time, and just having to make due with less. But I was pleasantly wrong.
This is my third winter in Ischia and I’m surprised by how much I enjoy the winter here. I think when I was growing up, the autumn and winter meant that summer was behind me. And summer meant Napoli, so during the cold months I felt so far away from the place where I wanted to be. I’d get quite down and depressed. When warm weather would come, I’d get excited again, knowing I’d have a chance to visit Italy again.
Now that I live here, nothing feels far away anymore and winter isn’t unpleasant.
So what’s winter like in Ischia?
First of all, it doesn’t get that cold. Temperatures range from 12 – 18C degrees during the winter months. It can dip down to 0 -5 C degrees during the night and sometimes during the day too, but that might be for just a short week.
What you do have to worry about is dampness, though. You need to keep the windows open for some parts of the day or else mold will grow on the walls. Even if the temperatures aren’t that low, because of the dampness it gets cold. In many houses here, heating systems aren’t that great. For example, in our place, we only have two heating/air conditioning units, one in the kitchen and in the bedroom that blows hot air in the winter. But there’s nothing in the bathroom, we occasionally use a space heater for taking showers.
I’m always thinking about dampness and humidity and how to keep the house dry. Drying clothes in the winter is a pain, it could take days to dry, but we’ve recently come up with a new system in which Marituccio puts the drying rack on top of the sofa so when we turn on the heat, the hot air blows directly on the clothes. Perfect for drying towels and sweatshirts.
Ischia gets lots of storms during the winter. These storms can be pretty significant with rain and wind and the waves cause damage to the coastline, knock down trees, cause landslides, and wreak havoc on the roads and other infrastructures. November was a particularly wet and windy month and the coastline along Ischia Ponte and Casamicciola was damaged. The stormy seas broke down sea walls, bridges and sidewalks and eroded the beaches.
When the weather is bad, ferries still run, but the aliscafi, otherwise known as the catamarans, don’t run. So you have keep that in mind and plan your trips back and forth to the mainland accordingly.
This past December, just before Christmas, more storms rolled in with really strong winds. The sea was extremely rough with waves up to 4 meters high (12 feet), and even the ferries stopped running. That meant that the islands – Ischia, Procida and Capri –were completely cut off from the mainland. Luckily this only lasted a day or two, but anything longer than that could cause some real problems. It’s not just about getting on and off the island, but also about getting gas and fuel for the island, food to stock the supermarkets, and postal deliveries. Not to mention any medical emergencies that require people to go to the mainland hospitals.
Aside from the dangers and major inconveniences of the winter storms, you can also have some lovely and glorious weather with sunshine lasting for days. All across the island you see winter vegetation, camelia trees blooming, colourful citrus trees of oranges and lemons, and gardens bursting with fennel, broccoli and cabbage.
What do the locals do?
Many restaurants, hotels, boat and scooter rentals, thermal water parks either close in November or right after Christmas.
While life gets quieter during the winter, the island doesn’t shut down. Winter is the time when many of the locals who work long hours and 7 days a week during the tourist season, have a chance to relax.
You see lots of people going for walks in town or on the beaches when the weather is good. Some people go wind surfing and you see lots of joggers and cyclists on the road training for the marathons and triathlons in early spring.
Sundays are usually busy days when the town centres get full. If the day is particularly sunny, the thing to do is go down to Ischia Ponte and have a coffee and a stroll after lunch. The piazza in front of the castle fills up with people and it’s a chance to go and run into friends before the sun sets.
It’s also a time to make repairs to houses, hotels and restaurants to get them ready for the summer so you’ll see lots of scaffolding and work going on too.
What can tourists do?
Although there are a lot fewer tourists in the winter time, they do come for the hiking. The hotels that are open have indoor pools and spas, so after a long day of hiking and walks, the tourists can relax in the pools. While some museums are closed for a few weeks in January, they usually reopen for February. The Giardini La Mortella are also open in the winter by appointment and offer guided tours. As a tourist, you can still enjoy the island and take advantage of the hot springs and gorgeous views from the hikes in the mountain woods.
The longer I live here the more I look forward to the changing of the seasons. I’ve always been a summer person and feel and look my best during the hottest months of the year, but I love how winter here doesn’t mean that it everything gets frozen and barren and the world gets grey and blighted. Or maybe it’s just me that as I get older, I have a more nuanced and mature outlook on the seasons and look forward to gentle changes throughout the year and appreciate being alive.