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42km (26 miles) NW of Naples; 20km (13 miles) W of Pozzuoli

When the Greeks arrived on this coast in the 8th century B.C., they first landed in Ischia, seeing the island as a perfect base from which to dominate the mainland. Yet they quickly changed their minds and moved to nearby Cuma, by modern Pozzuoli, and it was under the Romans that this volcanic island became famous for its thermal waters with their curative properties. In the Middle Ages, Ischia frequently came under attack from North African Saracens and was further troubled by regular volcanic activity resulting in devastating lava flows. At various times during the ensuing centuries, the island was controlled by Naples, the French, and the British, but still managed to establish the basis of the thriving spa industry that we see today. The first thermal establishment opened in Casamicciola Terme in 1604, and by the 19th century, the thermal waters of Ischia made a compulsory stopover on any Grand Tour itinerary. To this day, savvy travelers flock to the island's thermal baths and hotels for fabulous spa vacations. Monte Epomeo, a 788m-high (2,585-ft.) dormant volcano has enough life in it to feed the mineral hot springs and therapeutic muds that are used by the more than 150 spas on the island. Yet the atmosphere still remains quieter than on Capri, partly because of Ischia's larger size, but also because its large beaches are an attraction for families who help keep things low-key, preserving its calm and bucolic character.