Water and Wellness in Italy
Called Arime by the poet Virgil, the spa island of Ischia may be less known than its neighbor, Capri, but is every bit as seductive. Crossing the threshold of the historic Hotel Regina Isabella, the feeling of glamour intensifies. Once the favored address of some of cinema’sbiggest stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable, the hotel first opened to guests in 1956.
Two natural springs still flow beneath the hotel, with a natural ratio of 70 percent seawater and 30 percent thermal waters that are continuously heated by the island’s towering volcano, Mount Epomeo, and the magma movements that occur at shallow depths below the island.
Besides its volcano, the entire island of Ischia — the largest of the Phlegrean Islands — is covered with mountains, and rimmed with watchtowers built as defense against the pirates who regularly roamed these waters hundreds of years ago. Even the infamous red-haired pirate Barbarossa stalked the surrounding sea. From the surface of a small outlying outcrop, Aragonese Castle and its towers rise, accessible via a stone bridge that leads to a tunnel and the castle’s entrance.
The island’s rocky landscape is dotted with thermal pools and spas built at the locations of numerous natural springs. Since I’ve come specifically to soak in the healing waters, I make my way to Giardini Poseidon Terme, where two types of thermal waters feed the pools: the first a mix of sodium, bromine and iodine; the second spring containing chlorine, sodium, sulfates and alkaline substances. There are also trace amounts of minerals including magnesium, calcium and lithium. Though I’m anxious to sample the 20 separate pools within the park, each at a slightly different temperature, I begin with a dip in the ocean spanning the park’s edge. The water is brisk, but in a good way, and provides a wonderful incentive to seek out the warmer pools.
There are dozens of other thermal parks, but I’m eager to soak in a warm wash of healing water while sitting in a natural seaside cove. Hotel manager Davide Maestripieri has told me about the springs at Sorgeto Bay, and arranges for a driver to take me there. Along the way, it begins to rain, and I’m a bit confused when the driver — who speaks roughly as much English as I speak Italian — pulls over at a high point along the coastal road and gestures for me to get out.
Once at the road’s edge, I see a series of steps winding down the cliffside with a small cove at the base. The descent leads down two hundred steps to the edge of the shallow, pebbled cove, where rocks rise above the surface. I step in gingerly, my feet quickly locating the flow of warm water issuing from the tumbled stones. This, I realize, is a therapeutic bath at its most basic. Lolling in the water, my back pressed against a smooth stone, I’m alternately covered to my chest by small, cold inbound waves, and heavenly warm water pulled across me by the receding waves rolling back out to sea. For at least this brief time, I could be a goddess. A mermaid. A traveler, at the very least, healed by a generous island’s volcanic gifts.