During the 1950s the small island of Ischia in the Mediterranean attracted a star-studded following. Glamorous celebrities such as Maria Callas, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor were snapped in grainy black and white photographs stepping lightly off sleek yachts to join other Hollywood greats like Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne.
© Cathy Hawker
Now, 60 years on, the island retains an old-fashioned, genteel air. Property is pricey but as an Italian seaside hideaway it undercuts the gold-plated Amalfi coast which sits across the Mediterranean Sea.
Ischia is 19 miles from Naples, a 50-minute hydrofoil journey away, and 23 miles from its more illustrious sister island of Capri. But while Capri attracts a glitzy crowd, Ischia is much quieter.
The lush island briefly shone as the setting for Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow’s love nest in The Talented Mr Ripley and there are two annual film festivals in July when Hollywood stars appear but otherwise Ischia keeps a low profile.
"Capri likes to show off and spend money," says Piero Canfora of ReMax in the Ischian town of Lacco Ameno. "Ischia is not like that. It’s far better for families as it’s three times bigger than Capri."
It is still quite small, only 21 miles in circumference, and thanks to its steep, volcanic interior, most houses cluster around the sea.
The main sites include Ischia Harbour and Castle, the golden beaches at Maronti in the south and Citara in the west and the fabulous Mortella Gardens created by the late composer Sir William Walton and his widow Lady Susanna.
PLACE TO BE SEEN
According to FIAIP, the Italian Federation of Property Professionals, property on Ischia is up to 50 per cent more affordable than Capri’s sky-high prices.
It’s still expensive though, reflecting the affluence of its 500,000 annual visitors who include Chelsea-owner Roman Abramovich. Small apartments are around €315,000 (£293,000) rising to €850,000 (£790,000) for a good two-bedroom apartment with sea views and lime white or stone villas start from €1.3 million (£1.2 million). Most buyers are wealthy Italians from Rome and Naples.
"Italians don’t tend to understand the British desire to buy property inland in the regions of Tuscany and Umbria," says Gemma Knowles, Italian consultant at Aylesford International.
"They like to be right by the coast and Ischia is up there with Portofino, Positano and Costa Smeralda as a place to be seen."
It was publisher and movie mogul Angelo Rizzoli who introduced the stars to Ischia. The producer of the old classic film La Dolce Vita, Rizzoli built L’Albergo della Regina Isabella, a hotel in Lacco Ameno in the northwest based around a thermal spa. Ischia has more than 100 thermal springs and it is these that attract most visitors.
'The British might not know that Ischia is one of Italy's special places, like Cortina, Portofino or Positano'
Today Lacco Ameno remains a classy town with three of the island’s seven five-star hotels. Rizzoli’s hotel, now owned by Neapolitan businessman Giancarlo Carriero, is a thriving 128-room five-star hotel with an award-winning medical spa.
Three years ago Carriero bought a neighbouring cliff-top house, Villa Isabella, and has begun to convert it into seven fully furnished apartments priced from €2.7 million to €3.5 million (£2.5 million to £3.2 million).
Villa Isabella is a large mansion with high ceilings and perfect views north across the Med to Mount Vesuvius and Naples. There’s a swimming pool and five acres of gardens filled with the scent of lemon and olive trees, pines and bougainvillea. Steep steps lead down to your own private beach.
The seven planned apartments are large, 2,690sq ft to 4100sq ft, some with private pools or gardens and all with terraces, saunas and thermal water on tap.
Owners have full access to the hotel facilities including the impressive spa, two restaurants, bars, tennis courts, gym and use of a Magnum yacht.
The hotel will manage rentals and expects weekly rents of the apartments to be €9,000-€12,000 (£8,370-£11,000) in low season.
The location and the planned finishes are five-star and one apartment has been reserved by an Italian buyer.
"The British might not know Ischia but it is one of Italy’s special places like Cortina or Portofino," says Carriero. "Villa Isabella is attached to a successful hotel and spa and there is little of this quality on Ischia."
Villa Isabella: 00 39 081 333 02 07; www.villaisabellaclub.net
L’Albergo della Regina Isabella Hotel: www.reginaisabella.it
Aylesford International: www.aylesford.com; 020 7351 2383
Arcadia Sales and Rentals: www.arcadiacaseevacanze.it
- Owners at Villa Isabella can pay €10,000 to €15,000 (£9,300 to £13,900) a year to participate in the Villa Isabella Partnership Programme, where the hotel will manage rentals splitting income 50:50. Rents are expected to start from €12,000 (£11,000) a week in low season.
- BA and Easyjet fly from Gatwick and Stansted to Naples.
- Ferries and hydrofoils travel regularly between both ports in Naples and Ischia Harbour.
- All apartments are owned freehold.
- Annual maintenance charge will be €10,000 (£9,300).
- Completion is due by July 2010.