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March 30, 2010

The Mediterranean: Ischia

Cliffside getaways, great gardens and thermal springs

Hot Property: Cliffside Refuge
Though larger than Capri, Ischia is equally prey to high-season crowds. Which is where the Mezzatorre Resort & Spa comes in. Standing proud on a rocky headland and surrounded by its own 17-acre park, Mezzatorre is a refuge from tour-bus chaos. Its best rooms are the 22 in a red building created on the foundations of a 16th-century watchtower. Done in warm, earthy colors reminiscent of the Moorish style of the tower, many have private terraces overlooking the shimmering blue-green sea below. There's also a large pool perched above the hotel's private bay and a spa, which uses water from one of the island's thermal springs for treatments. Rooms, $290-$810. At 23 Via Mezzatorre, Forio d'Ischia; 39-081-986-111; www.mezzatorre.com.

Hot Table: Local Flavor
ONE TO WATCH Riccardo d'Ambra, who owns La Trattoria Il Focolare, is a champion of Ischia's endangered culinary traditions. To help support his cause, have dinner at this rustic dining room in the hills between Casamicciola and Barano and try what D'Ambra, cousin of the island's best winemaker, is famous for: a local species of rabbit used in a succulent stew with olive oil, white wine, tomatoes, garlic, and fragrant island herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley, and basil). D'Ambra is also passionate about snails, which he stews in white wine. Express an interest and he'll give you the lowdown on the cuisine of Ischia. Dinner, $75. $ At Via Cretaio al Crocefisso, Barano; 39-081-902-944; www.trattoriailfocolare.it.

In The Wild: The Great Gardens
English composer William Walton came to Ischia in 1949 with his new bride, Susana, to escape the incessant rain and high rents of his homeland. Here Lady Walton created her own masterwork: the garden of La Mortella. With the aid of American garden designer Russell Page, she turned this barren valley into a tropical paradise where tree ferns, giant Amazonian water lilies, passiflora, and agapanthus grow in lush profusion. Twenty years after her husband's death, Lady Susana is still going strong: She recently turned an abandoned water cistern into a "Temple of the Sun" with the help of British sculptor Simon Verity, whose statues of Apollo and Cumaen Sybil can be seen inside. It's not a large garden, but there's lots to see, so allow an hour for a tour. Open April to mid-November. At 39 Via F. Calise; 39-081-986-220; www.ischia.it/mortella.

Trek To Take: Spa Au Naturel
The Sorgeto beach looks like just another Ischian cove. But locals and tuned-in travelers know that it is one of Ischia's best thermal springs. Reached from Panza via a steep unpaved road, then a rock-strewn flight of steps (look for a faded sign pointing the way on the village's main street) it's a definite adventure. There are no changing facilities (no facilities at all), so dress ready to take a dip.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than American Express.