Scents of jasmine and thyme, sundry blues of sea and sky, the coral tones of the torre basking in the sunlight and a sip of Campari spritz. A snap of the sensual moments at Mezzatorre, on the enchanted isle of Ischia.
Here is health and healing, with a hint of hedonism. Mezzatorre has its own fountainhead of therapeutic thermal water, springing up through volcanic rocks straight into its balneotherapy centre, overlooking the Gulf of Napoli. As of hedonism, it has it in spades.
Respiratory benefits are not the only fresh breath of air. The Pellicano Group has revived and revitalised The Mezzatorre Hotel & Thermal Spa, sharing all the Pellicano personality and understated glamour (sister hotels are Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole, and the Rome retreat, Posta Vecchia). Ischia’s 50s heyday chic is a perfect fit with Il Pellicano style, the one eagerly captured by photographer Slim Aarons, the other firmly in the lens of film director, Luchino Visconti, who found his nirvana in the Mezzatorre park. His home, La Colombaia, sits just above the hotel’s cottages.
Truman Capote came to write here and found it a ‘‘strangely enchanted place,’’ which it is. As dappled sunlight falls between the pine trees onto the cool paths, and the Ischian sun splashes off the azure seas, you can imagine losing yourself in Mezzatorre.
The hotel is stylish with aristocratic restraint. Just as it is for sister Il Pellicano hotel, the real beauty is outside. Confident of this, the bedrooms are designed with neutral calm, and finished with eye-catching detail. This is typical of the work of the Italian tastemaker, Marie-Louise Sciò, daughter of the Pellicano hotelier family, and their appointed creative director.
Rooms in the tower have giddy views over Mezzatorre’s sparkling private cove. Guest rooms dotted throughout shaded paths in the park are full of the mysterious allure of this seductive isle. As you pass through the park, you can almost hear the laughter and footsteps of the creative spirits on their way between the bay and Visconti’s house.
Before the 50s, and Elizabeth Taylor’s love affair with Richard Burton while filming here, and long before Jude Law scootered through the back streets on his macabre destiny with Mr. Ripley, Ischia had a long and ancient history. The island was the first port of call in Italy for the Greeks, who brought vines, wines, and mythology. Zeus imprisoned the fire-breathing giant Tifeo beneath Ischia where he vents his anger, hence the hot thermal waters. The Romans followed, and built public baths to harness the steaming tears of Tifeo (Tyton, as they called him). Pliny and Virgil both acclaimed the healing waters, and so it has continued for 2000 years as natural spa aficionados seek out Ischia.
At Mezzatorre’s thermal spa, you journey through six heat and hydro experiences. Begin with a soak in thermal waters, that spring from the earth at a warm 38 degrees to ease aches and arthritic ailments. You lie on stone beds submerged in the water, meditating on the blue sea, as torrid bubbles pummel your body. There is a seawater pool which is specifically beneficial for respiratory ailments and tackling cellulite; I imagined this would be the one everyone would jump into, if all it takes is a warm soak to relieve you of a few spare inches! There is of course a sauna and steam room, and you finish with the Kneipp pool, walking over stones through hot and cold water alternately, invigorating your circulation.
Treatments include mud baths and seaweed wraps, and some magical pressure therapy, whereby you put on a pair of techno-trousers that compress and massage, but look alarmingly like Wallace and Gromit’s wrong trousers! The idea is to squeeze out the cellulite without you having to stop eating Mezzatorre’s food, or drinking all that delicious Ischian wine. There is an onsite doctor offering a comprehensive health consultation, prescribing treatments, diets and detoxes – this is a luxurious place to undergo the rigours of serious body therapy.
The food is naturally delicious, the catch of the day is bounteous, pasta is perfected. Chef Guiseppe comes from Ischia, and knowing every farmer on the island, snaps up all the freshest produce. Lucca at front of house is charm personified and a poet of culinary techniques; everything sounds interesting and irresistible. Wine pairings come from all over Italy – begin with Ischia’s Biancolella, redolent with citrus and sage.
Work it all off with a splash across the bay, which is almost a mirror image of Il Pellicano’s chic bay in Porto Ercole. A painted esplanade sits above the rocks where staff tend to your every whim. If you are more tender of nature, the saltwater pool is heated to a comforting 30 degrees. Then it’s back to the spa, this time through a door labelled ‘‘Beauty.’’ I gave myself up to an 80 minute Santa Maria Novella face treatment, praying the Florence pharmacy would take a decade off my features. I emerged, they assured me, more beautiful, but everything is relative. It was a pleasurable experience for sure and you felt you were in the hands of people committed to their profession. The loveliest place for a spa treatment, however, was their ‘‘pensatorre’’ – this is pure scenic rejuvenation, in the sunlight, and below you is the glistening blue San Montano Bay.
Apart from thermal spas, Ischia’s star attraction is the Aragonese Castle, and for some La Mortella garden which is a five minute drive from Mezzatorre. This was the home of English composer Sir William Walton and his Argentinian wife, Susana, who was evidently passionate about tropical flowers. They had a glitzy set of friends and you walk along a narrow zig zag of ascending paths in the footsteps of Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and Maria Callas. Throughout the summer, La Mortella stages al fresco concerts against the fabulous backdrop of the Forio’s bay.
Staying at Mezzatorre is a sociable affair. Attentive staff set a relaxed atmosphere with their good humour and a familiarity with the property. Many were brought up on Ischia and the Mezzatorre is very much part of the island’s legend. Meanwhile, guests are united by admiration of the view and a knowledge that you have discovered somewhere special, near Naples and Capri, but an entirely other world. It is easy to take a seat on one of their piazzettas, order a refreshment and strike up a conversation with the next table, but of course it can also be private.
Strolling along the paths for an evening rendezvous, I catch the heady scent of jasmine in the shrubs that fringe the steps, then a hint of thyme on my arms from the bathroom lotions. This is the delicious fragrance of Mezzatorre – inhale Ischia!