Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ischia: Mario's Maison Twentyfive

My first view of the streets of Ischia
Make sure you read the 2014 update at the end of this post! This hotel is now overpriced!

From the start of my travels from Ercolano to Ischia, I had good fortune. I've been complaining about my heavy luggage, but on this day, at every difficult moment, there was someone to help me. The owner of the B&B in Ercolano had her son carry my luggage up three flights of stairs in the train station, the escalator was actually working at the train station in Naples, the taxi driver took care of the luggage when he drove me to the harbor for the ferry. Even better, when I called the owner of the B&B in Ischia to tell him of my arrival, he not only met me at the harbor, but provided the taxi that transported us back to the B&B. Hey, I could get used to this kind of treatment!

Maison Twentyfive
Initially, I had hoped to stay in another guesthouse, where I'd have a small apartment with use of a kitchen, and a view of the sea. But I waited too long to book it, and missed out on staying there. And then, I found Maison Twentyfive by chance, via, where I have often found hotels in Italy and France with good results. Finding Mario's guesthouse turned out to be more than a stroke of good fortune for me. It came with a story, a host with a big heart, and a feeling of welcome to the island of Ischia.

Raffaela and the owner, Mario
The place is a "dream" because it's something that Mario has worked towards for the past twenty years. Though he dreamed of running his own guesthouse, he realized early on that he needed to first explore the world and gain experience and language skills. Since Ischia has catered to German tourism for many years, he moved to Germany, and worked in a hotel in Munich for seven years. After that, he worked in many other countries, including France, Switzerland, and the United States, as well as working in Milan for several years. He became fluent in German, French and English, and an expert in learning to accommodate the many and varied tastes of the guests under his care. And throughout his career, he kept his dream alive, the dream of running his own guesthouse in his hometown, Ischia Ponte.

La colazione: a typical breakfast spread at the guesthouse
Now that his dream is becoming a reality, Mario continues to provide attentive care to his guests. He is helped in this venture by Raffaela, who takes care of the rooms and hosts breakfast, and his wife, Tiziana, who makes wonderful tortes (cakes) for breakfast. The tortes are often made with fruit fresh from her father's trees, including pears and figs, or with marmellate (jams) made from fresh apricots, oranges and lemons. For chocolate lovers, there are tortes with chocolate fillings. As you can see from the photo above, there is also yogurt and figs, prunes and grapes, picked fresh from the family garden. Kind of makes your mouth water, doesn't it? Lucky me, I was there for an entire week and able to enjoy this delicious fare every day! (It usually kept me full until late afternoon, so I only needed one other meal each day.)

Another great thing about Maison Twentyfive is its location, right off the main street, via Sogliuzzo, midway between Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to Ischia Porto, and 10 minutes to get to Ischia Ponte's Via Luigi Mazzella, where the passeggiata (evening stroll) takes place. Even better, it's due passi (a short walk) to a free beach (Spiaggia dei Pescatori), where I spent many hours enjoying the sea.

Besides the food, Raffaela and Mario provided good company, giving me suggestions about where to go and how to get there. Before my departure from Ischia, Mario suggested I take the ferry instead of the hydrofoil back to Naples, for half the cost, and even offered to get the ticket for me on his daily walk to the harbor. Since I had to leave at 6:30 a.m., I took advantage of his offer, as well as his willingness to arrange for a  reliable taxi driver to get me to the harbor on time. I enjoyed hearing Mario's tale of how his sogno (dream) had developed over the years, and how he has restructured a family dwelling into a guesthouse.

After years of traveling in Italy (and last year in France), I've had many wonderful experiences at a variety of hotels, B&Bs, hostels and guesthouses. But I've never met an albergatore (hotel manager) quite as exceptional, attentive, open and generous as Mario.

2014 update:
I'm planning a trip to Ischia again this year, and was dismayed to find that the prices at Mario's have nearly doubled! Last year I paid 45 euros ($61) per night for a week long stay. Very reasonable! This year the prices have increased to 81 euros ($110) per night, during the same week in September that I was there last year. Out of my price range, and way overpriced for the quality of the rooms. Yes, the hospitality was exceptional, but the room itself was nothing special, comprised of a bed and a bathroom. So I'm sorry to say that I won't be returning to Mario's B&B. Instead, I've found better options through airbnb: in fact, I booked an entire apartment near the beaches in Ischia Ponte, with a full kitchen, living room, bedroom, washing machine, internet and a terrace with a view, for @ 28 euros ($38) per night. Can't beat that price! I'd advise doing more research before considering staying at Maison Twentyfive.

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