I first came to the Flegrean Islands two summers ago. One of the great parts of living in France is proximity to Italy, and it’s become a tradition with my best friend Josh—who lives in Moscow and relies on visions of Mediterranean sunshine to get him through the winter—to rent a house there every summer. From the harbor in Naples, ferries and hydrofoils take you to Procida, Ischia, and Capri in an hour or less. Glamorous Capri, where Jean-Luc Godard shot Le Mepris with Brigitte Bardot at the Casa Malaparte and where the rich and powerful have been vacationing since Roman times, is by far the most famous of the three. But we went to the largest island, Ischia, two years ago and were stunned by the raw beauty, simplicity, and unpretentiousness of the setting. In August, the streets crawled with tourists in search of thermal baths and local dishes slow-cooked in the volcanic sands. We’d come because of Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, in which the Castello Aragonese looms over the action. But the Italy of that film is imaginary—the street scenes were shot a stone’s throw away on Procida, a much smaller, geographically similar rocky protrusion with an extraordinary jumble of pastel-hued houses and churches perched high above the shoreline. The cobbled streets are barely wider than the taxis that race you through them; pedestrians squeeze themselves into doorways to make space. There are tourists, but they are mostly Italians coming out from the mainland. You can sit on the docks at the Baia Della Chiaia, sip a spritz and take in the spectacular panorama that is the Marina Corricella, and forget that you are in the 21st century.
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