Position: 40°44’58″N 13°54’28″E
Ischia’s most recent claim to fame is as a backdrop to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series of novels. Her characters escape Napoli’s summer heat for fun and frolics on Ischia’s famous beaches. Having avoided Naples, literary tourism was therefore our only excuse for pausing there. That and the anticipation of a thermal bath at one of the countless hot springs on the island. Besides, Ischia is 35 nautical miles south of Gaeta. It was our last stop before tying up for the winter.
The Mediterranean sailing community had mostly hung up its boat hooks for the season. Being Americans on the water in November therefore invites bemused curiosity. The, What are you doing here? Where have you come from? Where are you going?, kind of curiosity. The few restaurants still open were happy to see us. Yet, we still had to chug our cocktails to beat the 6:00PM curfew and closing.
Did we mention that winter car rentals in Spain are almost free? (Yes, at length – get on with it! – ed.) On Ischia we paid tourist prices but had our choice from a fleet of brilliant Polish-built Fiat Seicentos. A people’s car if there ever were one. With 39bhp it has just enough grunt to get up a mountain and is slim enough to squeeze past a pantechnicon (truck) on a narrow road. Providing you pull in the wing mirror.
With our hire car we had two goals for the day. The first, get Carol a shiny new SIM card. The second, take a long soak in a Roman tub. That meant driving into Ischia Town to the Vodafone store, then heading south along the coast in search of an open thermal bath. Ischia’s main drag, the A270, climbs out of Ischia Town until it is halfway up the mountain. Then it swiggles its way west towards the beaches at the far end of the island. Three quarters of the way along we turned left at Forio, heading downhill towards Sant Angelo. Knowing we’d have a bit of a walk ahead of us, we paused at the Il Ritrovo restaurant for an excellent lunch.
Sant Angelo divides itself between the shore and a small peninsula. There’s a marina at the isthmus which is too shallow to accommodate Aleta. For all but the aged and hoteliers, this stretch of the coast is pedestrian only. After about a mile and a half we came to a break in the cliff and turned inland, towards the Terme di Cavascura. We had no idea if it was open or if the pandemic had shuttered the place for the season. The path ran alongside a damp, almost dry riverbed for a couple of hundred yards. Eventually, we heard voices and the high-pitched whine of an electric drill. Seasonal repairs were in full flight.
One of the workmen broke away and asked us if we wanted a tour. We sure did! He hopped the gap between the soaking tubs and the changing room, then insisted on laying down a couple of wide boards for us to cross. A little further into the canyon lurked a steam room hollowed out of solid rock centuries earlier by the Romans. Unlike a sauna, there were no hot rocks to splash water on. You didn’t need them. This place was naturally steamy. Kind of like Sharon Stone. (Stop that! – ed.)
Having worked up a sweat, it was time to soak. Perhaps the thing I miss most on the boat is access to a bathtub large enough to relax in. My father was a super soaker. He would escape to his bathtub for hours at a time. From his example I grokked the concept of indulgent relaxation in the name of cleanliness. All I need is a tub at least five feet long and three feet wide. Jacuzzi jets? Who needs ‘em? They’re noisy and shoot water into all the wrong places. For jetted therapeutic luxury you’ll want to head for a thermalbad someplace in the Black Forest.
Bathing at Cavascura is solitary. There is no communal hot tub with three-week old water. This isn’t your turgid Sheraton executive spa after all. Six little grottos, each named after a Roman emperor, harbour coffin-like dugouts about six and a half feet long and three feet wide. Warm water gushed down narrow trenches filling my trough. The hydraulic controls worked by plugging the outflow with a bit of paper towel, in a time-honoured fashion. Hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Swirling, warm waters rose around me. Like John Lennon in A Hard Days Night, I sunk until all that remained above the brim was my nose. Ahhh! So good! If this was Germany, I wouldn’t have bothered wearing swim trunks and been happier for it.
I was woken from my reverie by a pink-faced Carol. Scrubbed clean and dressed. Pruned and relaxed, my time was clearly up. Reluctantly I heeded my wife’s call. Like Nosferatu I rose from my warm casket, dried off, dressed, paid the ten euros apiece and departed, ready for the night. Except there wasn’t anything to do since everything was closed by the time we got back to the boat. Poo!