Castello Aragonese is a castle attached to the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy, that has been used as a fortress, prison, and love shack for royals. Today, it is a museum. Much to my surprise, part of the castle is also a hotel. (For pictures of the castle and its hotel, visit the “Night at Castello Aragonese” photo album.) My husband Antonio completely surprised me for our first wedding anniversary on Oct. 2, 2009, by bringing me to spend the night at Castello Aragonese. Even though my wedding dress from a year ago stood in my closet, I felt like quite the princess at the castle. We took in spectacular views of the town of Ischia Ponte from our window, including the most brilliant of moons, and we wandered the grounds. Then, we had a most delicious meal in the castle’s restaurant, which is open only to guests of the hotel. It was an unforgettable anniversary, and I can’t thank the hubby enough for his romantic gift. How did you celebrate your first wedding anniversary? Let us know in the comments below.
The main reason that I’m taking two flights to reach home in the United States on Friday after five months in Ischia, Italy is because on Oct. 1 Eurofly stopped its direct flights from Naples to New York. It’s the only airline that ever offers direct flights from Naples to New York. But Antonio and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on Oct. 2, and I couldn’t go home before the big day, even if it would have made my life much easier. I’m thrilled, however, that I’m making this sacrifice, which includes a four-hour layover and an arrival time in New York that is past 9 p.m. ET, because my husband Antonio really made our first anniversary special.
Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that Antonio planned a big surprise for me. It all began with a late dinner the night before our anniversary. We went to L’ Incanto, a restaurant that is part of a new hotel on Ischia called Mirage. (To see photos, visit “Mirage and L’ Incanto” photo album.) Although neither one of us had ever been there, the restaurant delivered on romance and delicious food. As good Italians, we revolve our entire relationship around food, so this was perfect. Indeed, it was a night to remember — and the most delightful way to kick off our anniversary. There was one more surprise, which I’ll get to tomorrow. Stay tuned!
My father and grandfathers never gave up their wine — or making it themselves. Even though they’ve been in the United States for more than 40 years, they continue to keep up this tradition from the homeland. Now that I’m here in Ischia, I can better understand their connection to wine (even if I don’t share their love for the stuff). The vendemmia, or grape harvest, is a joyful time in Ischia. It’s cause for celebration. Even the children get in on the act because the schools here often bring students to see how to make wine and learn about Ischia’s history at the same time.
In fact, my niece Laura Porraro, 10, recently visited the Museo del Contadino (Museum of the Peasant) in Forio, Ischia, with her class. And she took many photos that she shared with me (and all of you). She also told me all about what she learned, which I included in an article I wrote about the vendemmia for ItaliansRus.com and La Voce, a newspaper for Italian Americans in Las Vegas. You can check out more of Laura’s photos at the “Wine Making in Ischia” and “Presepio at Forio Museum” photo albums. If you stop by the ItaliansRus site, you should also take a peek at “Where in the World are Antonio and Dante?“, the new column that my editor Anthony Parente is writing for the site. You’ll get clues as to where in Italy his sons Antonio and Dante are traveling. Who knows? They might eventually end up somewhere in Ischia.
Today, Antonio and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary. The year has flown by. I wrote a little bit about it and offered some advice by way of the features I’ve written for About.com on today’s Newlyweds blog. There, you’ll learn that Antonio has only told me to pack an overnight bag with little other information. I have a feeling we’re going to have a great anniversary — quite the romantic my husband, no? I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, so I’ll probably scroll through the photo album of our Italian nuptials, which took place one short year ago today. I’m happy to report that the wedding was last year in Ischia, when the sun at least came out for us in the afternoon. Today it’s pouring buckets of rain and it doesn’t look like it will let up anytime soon. “Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata!”
From the moment I arrived in Ischia five months ago, my nieces Francesca and Giulia Buono and Laura Porraro have been keeping a calendar. During the week, I work — even if I’m home with them — I’m working. They know that they’re not supposed to come visit me while I’m working unless one of the adults sends them with a message. Sometimes, they come anyway. As a result, I have developed ways to keep working and keep them busy. While I’m working, they are allowed to pull out their box, which thanks to my mom, is filled with goodies for making pictures and homemade cards or they can read.
On the weekends, however, they know that I don’t have to work and they can come to my room whenever they’d like. Usually, I try to come up with special things to do on the weekends. Recently, we made Halloween decorations for my room. Another time, they made videos of themselves singing. Once, we made muffins. It was really the most fun we’ve ever had — until they started fighting and their moms had to break it up. Before the war broke out, we managed to make one batch of chocolate chip muffins and another of banana muffins. Delicious and delightful fun!
When I arrived in Ischia back in May, I was a bit homesick. To make myself feel better, I played tourist often. One of my first stops was Ischia Ponte, the oldest part of the island and home to Castello Aragonese. With less than two weeks to go before I return to the United States, I wanted to reminisce about the time I spent in Ischia Ponte at the start of my journey into married life in Ischia. You can take a tour of the town with me at the “Tour Ischia Ponte” photo album.
On one of my trips to Ischia Ponte (which is only about 15 minutes away by foot from where I live), I was joined by my American friends Lisa and Adam, who were on a honeymoon cruise that stopped in Ischia for a few hours. It was delightful bringing my American pals around the island home of my ancestors and husband. Back then, I wrote about Ischia as a honeymoon destination for About.com — and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Ahh, it’s nice to reminisce.
I won’t even pretend to be an objective critic or journalist today. Antonio and I have been going to Focolare, a family-run restaurant in Ischia, since we started dating about five years ago. We have always loved it and ever since Agostino D’Ambra, one of the owners and a chef at the restaurant visited us in the United States, we’ve grown to love the family who runs the place even more. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is distinctly Ischitano.
To get to Focolare, you must drive on narrow, curvy roads in the dark hills of Ischia, but it’s worth it. Surprisingly, a bus does make it up there, so you don’t have to have a car to get there. Once you arrive, you get to feast on traditional dishes with a twist — always with a twist. (To view some of the dishes we recently ate there, visit the “Dinner at Focolare” photo album.) For those guests, who know the family, the cantina (wine cellar) in the back is the perfect way to begin the food experience that is Focolare. There, much like Ischitani would offer to friends and family at home, the owners serve wine, homemade prosciutto, and bread sticks to the guests they know. We recently headed to the cantina with Americans Pasquale, who is originally from Naples but now works as a chef in the States and recently appeared on the Food Network’s Chopped, and his wife Jaime, an American who is a Rockette in New York. Even if the family doesn’t know you, in the main dining hall, they will treat you like family — and serve you an unforgettable meal. Buon appetito!
As we transition from summer to fall, the weather has gotten a bit chillier in Ischia. In fact, today, we are experiencing thunder storms again. But the colder temperatures do not prevent my husband from taking advantage of Ischia’s water features. While the beach with its breeze and colder ocean is not as pleasurable as it was a couple of weeks ago, the thermal pools with their naturally hot temperatures are still calling his name. Most of the thermal pool parks and spas on Ischia are open until late October — and fall is a lovely time to go to one because the August crowds have cleared out and even the Ischitani themselves are tending to their children who are back at school.
A little more than a week ago, Antonio took me to Castiglione. Of the three major thermal pool parks and spas (the other two being Negombo and Poseidon), Castiglione is the most family friendly and affordable. For less than 30 euro, you can do everything from swim laps in an Olympic-sized pool, take dips in the thermal pools, and sit in the sauna. A cafeteria-like restaurant that serves healthy options, including eggplant, swordfish, salmon, and tomato salad costs extra but remains affordable. We paid about 30 euro total for complete meals for the both of us.
Castiglione is as well known for this thermal pool park and spa as it is for the chestnut trees like the one in the photo above. I didn’t even know these green pom poms were chestnuts. Antonio told me that under that green porcupine lives a delicious chestnut. My father would have been delighted, and Antonio made me photograph the tree for him. (You can view more photos of our day at Castiglione at “Castiglione Thermal Pools” photo album.)
A few weeks ago, my cousin Gigino and his wife Flavia graciously invited me for a day at Nitrodi, a spot in Ischia where there are fountains of naturally warm water that revitalizes the skin and body. (See “Nitrodi Healing Showers” photo album for a picture tour.) I had been to Nitrodi before, but it was always just a single shower and not much else. Now, the community of Barano in Ischia has come together to improve the area for tourists and natives alike. There are additional showers that overlook Maronti, the largest and most popular beach in Ischia, and Sant’ Angelo, an ancient fishing village that now caters to tourists. Stairs and wooden railings that lead guests up to the showers and strategically placed lounge chairs in the hillside are simple yet pretty. And the peaceful atmosphere and lush vegetation make you feel as though you’re at an outdoor spa. If you pack a picnic like my cousins did, you can make a whole day of your stay at Nitrodi. If I could only use one word to describe Nitrodi now, it would be perfect.
A parade literally marched to our door in Ischia, Italy last night. (Click on “Royal Parade in Ischia” above to see a YouTube video of the parade.) Because my husband’s family lives in the heart of the island’s capital city Ischia Porto, this, much to our delight, happens every once in a while. Yesterday’s parade was particularly special because it is held annually in honor of Sant’ Alessandro and has the townspeople dressed in traditional royal and peasant garb from the days when Castello Aragonese in Ischia Ponte was a functioning fortress and castle.
While the dancing horses caught the eye (not to mention the nose every so often), it was the women’s elaborate gowns replete with trains, embroidery, pearl details, and stunning headpieces that stole the show. My three nieces, Laura, Giulia, and Francesca were dreaming out loud of wearing the gowns and playing princess the whole time. To be honest, it made me secretly want to put on one of my wedding dresses even if for just a little while in the privacy of my own home when no one was looking. After all, every girl wants to feel like a princess at least once in a while. That might be why Giulia is always parading around the house in a tiara and beads.