Ischia’s pinete or pine tree forests are truly a child’s dream, at least a nature-loving child’s dream. My kid swims in dirt (literally and even in his Sunday best) whenever he can, so he loves them. There are walking and running paths, benches for taking in the fresh air, lizards and all sorts of insects, playgrounds, and pine trees as far as the eye can see. These early days in November are a little crisper when you first wake up but nice and toasty by mid- to late-morning, so we’ve been heading to the various pinete near our home. I thought you’d like to join us in Ischia, so I’m taking you on a tour:
On a recent trip to the town of Ischia Ponte, I noticed this lovely tree with stumps surrounding its base. It’s a simple idea – placing stumps that would have been burned or tossed around a tree to serve as decoration in a tourist mecca. It probably protects the tree at its roots, too, with all the foot traffic in the area. But it definitely isn’t an obvious idea. I wouldn’t have come up with it. It looks neat and clean, yet interesting with lots of texture. Just look at that bark and the green leaves of the tree flowing upward toward the sky! Well, it caught my eye, and I wanted to share it. If Baby Boy had been in a better mood (and if we had more time), I would have used this as background for a photo of him. Even all by itself, the tree is still pretty wonderful. It reminds me of two things. First, Ischia is known as L’Isola Verde (the Green Island) with good reason. Second, its people are pretty darn creative, especially with their beloved greenery. My father, an island native, is an artist with plants and flowers – and so are many of his fellow Ischitani. This is where the gene comes from. Anyone who visits the island will take note of it, even in the most unexpected places.
My heart fell to my stomach and then did the backstroke for 10 minutes while I was stuck in an elevator from the Dark Ages with my 20-month-old son and my friends’ nearly 2-year-old daughter when we recently visited La Mortella Gardens in Ischia, Italy. The baby girl’s parents had gone down the stairs, while I attempted to take the kids down in the elevator because they were in strollers. I should have known better than to even attempt this because 1. we were in Ischia, a small island that lacks many conveniences and 2. I had to hold down the button – per instructions that were handwritten on the elevator wall – for the entire ride up or down and 3. we were in Ischia. I pressed the button to go down and it moved the elevator just enough that we could no longer open the door. It also would not continue to go down or up. The kids started screaming, and I banged on the glass to my friends below. “It is not moving anymore,” I shouted. “We’re stuck.”
A group of senior citizens below were trying to help my friends, who speak Italian and could understand them. Only problem was that these people couldn’t agree on what was the right thing to do. One said to keep pushing the button and the other said to pull the emergency lever. I had my doubts anyone would come even if I hit the alarm, so this mamma kept pushing. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the elevator moved up enough that we could open the door and get out. By then, my friends had come back upstairs. One of them was able to take their daughter and her stroller in the elevator. Then, we tried to have me do it with my son, and we must have been too heavy. We never made it down – at least not in the elevator. Having to carry the strollers down all the stairs in the mountainous gardens was a big pain, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
But that doesn’t mean you should give up on taking your little ones to Giardini La Mortella, the subtropical and Mediterranean garden, which the late Susana Walton, Argentinian wife of the British composer Sir William Walton, began cultivating in 1956. You just have to be prepared to carry your babies or have them walk. Realize it might be challenging. I’ve been to the gardens sans baby before and it makes for a lovely day.
There are gorgeous orchids, tons of tall bamboo, and fountains that will have you de-stressing both by their site and sound. The views of Forio from atop the gardens is also worth the visit. You can see San Francesco Beach with its pristine ocean water in all its glory, while discovering the reason Ischia has earned its name as L’Isola Verde or the Green Island for its lush landscape. The gardens include a bird sanctuary, which had our babes spying parrots and other little chirpers. Sometimes, concerts are held on the grounds. And on other trips to the gardens, I have eaten at the bar. The light, lemon caprese cake was sweet and tart in the most perfect way. If the bar still has it on the menu, that alone would make La Mortella worth the stop. Just avoid the elevators. Please.