I’ve got something of a back log of reviews to be writing, but I simply couldn’t resist skipping to our elegant SB to Ischia this July. What a sheer marvel this island is – I was inspired by various friends of ours escaping to the Amalfi coast, and I decided we needed to get in on the action. I am a sucker for various travel website newsletters, and I had heard tell of Ischia several times – the chic, authentic and under the radar sister island to Capri. I said to Mr G that we needed a break – it had been a difficult phase for both of us work-wise, and with a house purchase going through we were definitely ready for some sun and a full battery recharge. Cue the Terme Manzi Hotel, of the Relais & Chateau consortium.
Flight wise, it’s a quick 2 ½ hour flight into Naples, and then a hydrofoil across to the Island. Flights are inexpensive, around £100 per person – the transfers are a little pricey by comparison – about £65 per person one way. We booked through ‘Ischia Review’ (ischiareview.com) – and found them terrifically helpful, Dion was just great.
Stepping off the plane into Naples was heavenly – as the 32 degree warmth hit me, I knew we’d made the right decision. Naples itself we spent no time in – it was bustling, and had a real sense of being a harbour city. Our cab driver told us it’s the busiest port in Europe and you could well believe it – it was certainly industrial. The cab ride was brief to get us to the port, and onto the hydrofoil – which takes around an hour. We were greeted the other end, and taken directly to the Terme Manzi.
The island of Ischia is breathtaking – a small volcanic island, famed for its hot springs, it positively sung of Italian culture – it was heavenly. I felt as though we’d stepped into an Audrey Hepburn film, with the cab winding its way up the mountain, there are views across the Tyrrhenian Sea, and pretty magenta flowers everywhere you looked – that, and plenty of Vespas.
I had chosen the Terme Manzi hotel because I wanted a big dose of ‘trad’ – a break from our usual taste I know – and I felt certain we’d get that, with it being an R&C property. As we opened the chartreuse jewelled door with golden horn handles and stepped into the foyer, it was as though we had been transported to the 1920s, into a decadent and luxurious private club, where everywhere you look there is a fabulous sculpture, marble upon marble upon marble, and chandeliers galore. Mr G (who obviously didn’t know where we were going) was somewhat surprised by the style of the hotel I’d chosen – but it did grow on him, and the service of the Terme Manzi is irresistible in its charm.
We took lunch on the solarium level – sitting in the shade, enjoying a glorious salad, and local wine. Mr G is officially a tomato fan after Ischia – the flavour of the local produce is just sensational. We then took ourselves up to the roof top pool – surrounded by statues, with a view of the mountain – the sense of exclusivity is abundant. The Terme Manzi was ticking boxes, and we were certainly unwinding.
The room when we checked into was (a lot) smaller than we are used to, but the price of the hotel had determined that (it was still circa £300 a night). I found it charming though – lovely heavily patterned tiles and ornate fixtures and finishes added to the sense of glamour of the hotel. Each night, macaroons were left on the pillow at turn down – a lovely touch. There was nothing to really criticise about the room – it was small, but perfectly formed, and exceptionally well maintained. The room viewed the internal courtyard – and even that (with me being a die-hard sea view person) didn’t spoil our enjoyment.
That evening, we wanted something simple for supper, and we understood that main restaurant was a pizzeria – when in Rome and all – which I had expressly mentioned to reception upon booking (as per the itinerary!). We were somewhat disappointed to learn that actually the pizza oven wasn’t in use on Mondays – which was annoying.
Nevertheless, we took our aperitivos in the courtyard (accompanied as ever, by a little plate of canapés) – my drink of the holiday was an Aperol Spritz, and they certainly made them well. The drink service was a performance for every single drink – with a trolley wheeled across the courtyard, and your order made before you – with supreme elegance as standard.
We wondered down to the sea front for supper, hunting for something simple, as we were weary from travel. We wondered up the sea front (bearing left at the t-junction that takes you to the sea front) almost as far as you could go, when we stumbled upon ‘Ginos’. I was full of surprises on this SB it seems, as I don’t think Mr G could quite believe I was OK with a restaurant with plastic gingham table cloths – but I felt the charm of the place and we settled down, with a table looking out across the sea.
Ginos is family run, and is simple, fuss free, brilliant food. The team are lovely (if somewhat no frills) and advised us against ordering anything to accompany our bruschetta, confidently saying we wouldn’t need anything else – and wow, were they right. We had the most divine caprese bruschetta, with basil so pungent it almost had a menthol quality about it – and the portions were generous in the extreme. We enjoyed the same wine we’d been drinking in the hotel – chilled local red – from tumblers, whilst munching on the delicious food. It was exceptional – and cost about the same as a couple of starters in the hotel – the value was just incredible. It’s very true what people say – you can trust where the locals go, and it was certainly full of locals – we loved the spirit of the place.
Breakfast back at the hotel was great every day – a lovely buffet, including great mozzarella and tomatoes, which we feasted on daily – it became our routine. We had high hopes of having excursions around the island, but between our tiredness before the holiday and the heat, we pretty much retired into our luxurious hotel cocoon for the holiday, soaking up the sun.
We went down into the cellars where the spa is located, which is furnished with Moroccan influences. The indoor pool is very special indeed – being mineral water heated by the hotel spring within the hotel – the water felt restorative and silky on the skin – quite incredible – presided over by a statue of Neptune. The hotel had kindly given us a 30 minute treatment each with their compliments, which we booked in and enjoyed very much – it would be worthy to book treatments here. The spa was a thoughtfully arranged haven.
A small note on fitness here – the gym was incredible, considering the size of the hotel. A huge plus to have such a great facility in my opinion, that I made use of each day.
The one time we did venture out, was for a beach day – an excursion arranged by the hotel, going to ‘their’ beach. We shared the ride with an Italian/English family on holiday – the mother being from Italy – and we commented on how incredible the hotel was, although she warned us the beach may not quite live up to the same expectations. When we got to the beach, we could see why – whilst beautiful, with warm clear waters, it was busy. Busier than I think I have ever seen a beach – even busier than some of the crowded sandy strips of Formentera – but that to one side, it was a pleasant day out.
All in all, we had sensational weather, a deeply restorative break with oodles of luxury, and wonderful food. The hotel could do better on some points (see below) and the island certainly has plenty more to give than we really experienced – but it definitely left an impression on us, and it’s on the list of places we’d like to explore annually – it really reconnected my affection of Italy, and Mr G fell in love too.
Who’s it for? The hotel is definitely for couples – the Italian/English family were the only family there, and I would hesitate to take children. It’s romance all the way. It’s quite pricey, but worth it.
Criticisms: The food is disproportionately expensive at the Terme Manzi. They would do well to create more definition between their casual menu, traditional restaurant and Michelin starred restaurant – as it is, there isn’t a great deal of difference between any of it, and it’s certainly not busy, I suspect because of the off putting prices.
Service is very good on the whole, but some of the waiters really let the team down – and when we commented on some of the mishaps, the restaurant manager, Eugene, was not well equipped to handle complaints. Their Sales & Marketing director (whose name escapes me) was great however – although I found it strange to be a person in that role who seemed to be running things.