Yesterday afternoon we strolled a seaside cobblestone promenade on the island of Ischia just outside Italy’s Bay of Naples, taking in a view dominated by towering Aragon Castle. This morning, in that impossible light unique to the Mediterranean, we gaze skyward at this castle from our perspective in its lee, at anchor on our chartered Sunsail yacht. Over coffee in the cockpit I savour our ringside view, considering the castle’s backstory.
The first fortifications were built here in 474 B.C. Some of those original walls still stand. The fortress (guided tours available) has been home to an abbey, a fortress and a prison.
As I stare up at this monstrosity something tugs at my consciousness, a feeling I’d experienced the other day when my wife and I explored the neigbouring island of Procida before setting sail.
And now it hits me.
I know where I’ve seen this castle before; I realize why Procida’s Marina di Coracelli seems so familiar.
For the past few days we’ve been exploring these islands so photogenic they feel like they could be a movie set.
No mere coincidence: we first admired these scenes in a movie theatre back in Canada.
Remember “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, when Matt Damon (AKA Mr. Ripley) is sent to Italy on a quest to convince the Jude Law character to return to his family?
Damon’s destination is a fictional place called Mongibello. His arrival in Italy was filmed in the piazza where we did dinner yesterday. When he first meets Law and Gwyneth Paltrow on the beach, they’re reclining just up the Ischian coast from this spot. In a later scene Damon traverses the steep, serpentine streets of Coracelli.
We climbed those selfsame streets on Sunday.
Here on Procida and Ischia we’ve been channeling the spirit of Mr. Ripley.
These sister islands served as the real location for that fictional village.
When we later raise anchor and sail along Ischia’s north coast, I get another chill of recognition. One scene shows the three characters sailing off Ischia’s coast.
In the very waters we’re currently navigating.
Procida and Ischia recline off the western tip of the Bay of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea nuzzling the coast of Italy. Called the Phlegraean Islands, they are not nearly so well-known as Capri on the opposite side of the bay, but they’re equally appealing – and free of the tourist hordes who regularly assault Capri.
Procida is best-known for the charming village of Marina di Coricelli, a seaside oasis dominated by Terra Murata on the island’s highest point, a medieval village boasting an erstwhile royal palace (circa 1563).
Ischia is known for hot springs in the west, some gorgeous beaches (and views) at Sant’Angelo in the south and the afore-mentioned Aragon Castle, reaching skyward to a height of more than a hundred metres.
But don’t take my word for it. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams used to hang out here. Ischia served as home base for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of “Cleopatra.”
The star quality of this delightful duet is hardly new, and its cinematic history isn’t limited to “The Talented Mr. Ripley”.
An Italian classic, “Il Postino” was filmed almost exclusively on Procida. It was based on the life of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who actually lived for a time on Sant’Angelo on Ischia.
Our own Sant’Angelo visit could equally be the stuff of movies.
After setting anchor we dinghied into this ancient fishing village, serenaded by an out-of-tune concert band and a priest exhorting the faithful from a pulpit beside a baroque wooden carving of Saint Michael in the annual veneration of Sant’Angelo’s patron saint.
As the sun set, they loaded the statue onto a boat and ferried it to different points in the bay before returning it, in torchlit procession, to the church dedicated to him.
As we snugged down fireworks filled the sky.
On our last day here my wife and I climb the narrow streets of Procida one last time, stopping to take in a rainbow of pastel-painted houses clinging to the steep slopes above Marina di Coricelli.
We descend toward the sea on zig-zag stone staircases and march seaside past equally kaleidoscopic fishing boats straining at their dock lines. Four ladies at water’s edge capture the view with watercolour paints.
We find a table outside an open-air bar built around a boat’s hull. Our server, barefoot, brings our drink orders before returning to sit at a nearby table full of locals gesticulating wildly, remonstrating in machine-gun Italian.
My wife sips her limoncello (a local must-do libation) while I inhale a Peroni beer and wax philosophical.
I mentally replay the movie, considering plotline, setting, theme.
Liar, con man, murderer, the talented Mr. Ripley may not have been a very nice man. But one thing is certain.
He had great taste in real estate.
IF YOU GO
- Absolute best way to experience these islands is by sailboat. SailItalia, in partnership with Sunsail, offers a variety of charter yacht options out of Procida. Check out sunsail.com/yacht-charter/mediterranean/italy/amalfi-coast .
COVER SHOT: Sharing the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea off the island of Procida. PHOTO CREDIT: Sharon Matthews-Stevens