From silver screen to IRL
In a telling moment in Anthony Mighella’s epic film The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Ripley looks adoringly at Dickie Greenleaf and says, “I’ve gotten to like everything about the way you live. It’s one big love affair.” Well, without the creepy undertones, I believe that I too have said that while looking at the fictional life of Dickie and Marge on the gorgeous green island in the bay of Naples. Although the name of the town in the film is Mongibello, the real life location is Ischia. And after a couple of years of searching for this paradise, once I found it I do believe that it changed the course of my life.
In the early 2000’s, after falling in love with the film (one of the few times I believe the screenplay was better than the book!), the gorgeous costume design, the nostalgic draw of the 1950s jet-set glamour, and the timeless beauty of various locations in Italy – I felt an unexplained draw to visit where this story took place.
Before too much information existed online like today, I had a hard time finding exactly where this “Mongibello” was. As all of the other locations are true Italian locales – Rome, Naples, Venice – “Mongibello” was a completely fictitious name. I visited Italy in 2005 unable to find Ischia, and it wasn’t until a couple of years later when I discovered the hidden gem of Ischia, and its neighboring island of Procida, where my Ripley dreams came true.
I remember arriving on the ferry from Naples to Ischia Porto and taking the bus to Ischia Ponte where the Aragonese Castle rises from the sea. Here I’d booked a hotel with the view of the castle and thus began my love affair with this magical island. Although it’s picked up in popularity in the past few years, Ischia remains still like a special local jewel. Unlike neighboring Capri, there’s an understated style here that feels more of the earth, simpler, and a bit more raw. And definitely with less of the throngs of tourists and day-trippers.
Visiting Ischia in three days
For a Ripley tour I’d suggest the following with a minimum of 3 days, but stay up to a week or two to really start to find your island rhythm here. My favorite area to stay is the eastern side of the island as I enjoy the view of Naples and the coast. At Ischia Ponte you can find a place in view of the castle, and watch the boats lingering off the coast.
For a Ripley-rich experience I’d recommend:
Visit the Castello Aragonese in the morning for a couple of hours wandering around the sites (even better with a guided tour). Spend the afternoon at Bagno Antonio on the end of the beach strip in Ischia Ponte. This is where Tom first meets Dickie, and it offers an amazing view back towards the castle. You can also have a little lunch or afternoon snack here at their cafe.
Wander the little strip of shops in late afternoon, sampling the lemon candies, rucolino liqueur, and Ischian mud treatment body products. Take a wander to Dickie’s house just on the water’s edge, Palazzo Malcovati, and you can see the bay where the Festival of the Madonna scene took place just on the western side of the villa.
For dinner, book a table at Giardino Eden in the area of town called Cartaromana which offers views from the opposite side of the castle. The restaurant offers a boat taxi service from the main beach area in Ischia Ponte to the dock of their restaurant. You’ll even get to ride under the little pedestrian bridge which goes to the Castello!
Book a private boat tour for the day around the island. There’s nothing like experiencing Ischia from the sea. Looking back at the pastel villages with Monte Epomeo in the background is breathtaking, plus the boat captains will know where to stop for some beautiful swims, visits into cliff-side coves, and even for a lunch (either on-board or at one of the restaurants that are accessible by boat).
As you approach towards the back side of the Castello Aragonese remember some of the scenes in the film with Tom, Marge, Dickie, and Freddie aboard. Head over to Forio that evening to watch the sunset at the western point of the island over the white Chiesa del Soccorso, and you can have dinner just beside the church at Umberto al Mare.
Experience the magical thermal waters of the island which have been drawing people since before the Romans. For a more curated experience, my favorite thermal park is Negombo in a beautiful setting on a bay, with many various thermal pools scattered throughout the property.
In the afternoon visit the gorgeous town of Sant’ Angelo, before taking the 10 minute walk to the free hot springs of Fumarole or visit the nearby baths of Sorgeto at the base of the cliff. You may even catch picnickers cooking hard boiled eggs in the boiling water! And if you have a moment, grab a quick 15-min ferry from Ischia Porto to Procida, the colorful neighboring island. Here is where the interior scenes of “Mongibello” were shot like when Dickie is playing bocce with his buddies or when he meets up with Silvana outside of her shop.
Where to stay
For old school Ischia glamour, Hotel Regina Isabella in Lacco Ameno is the perfect spot. Ferries direct from Napoli arrive almost every hour and it is located in town, walking distance to all the cute restaurants and boutiques. The hotel has incredible views, a gorgeous bathing area and thermal spas.
For a private hideaway, Mezzatorre, Marie-Louise Scìo’s latest luxe getaway is just up the road from Negombo and Lacco Ameno. It has both pool and its own private bay, as well as thermal spas.