Many years coming to Sardinia and yes I had never heard of the Isola San Pietro! How silly of me. Originally I had planned to spend one week in the island of Rhodes this year, but a friend from Milan Simona Mangione suggested I came to visit her in the island since I had brought Joelle Store's beautiful collection to Europe. With the coup in Turkey, I decided to change itinerary and head to Sardinia instead this time is the South East coast of the island so that on a sunny morning I would be able to take the ferry and spend the day in San Pietro's. " Ma dai open a pop up shop here, Simona try to convince me, I will help you, the island is magnifica tesoro. And right after checking in awe google images for this mysterious island , it's crystalline waters and arid landscape conquered me at once. " I am in Simona, no pop up store for now it's too late, but yes if you organize a small gathering I will be delighted to showcase my collection there. We had a deal.
We booked in a small boutique hotel called Cala Caterina in Villasimius, two hours away from the isola San Pietro and Simona hasn't the faintest clue that I am luggage less . The charming hand made clutches from Uzbekistan, the 100% silk scarves from Java, the Hmong tribes coin purses, the Tibethan mala prayer beads necklaces, the vintage bohemian jewelry collection from the Czech Republic, all temporarily gone. Simona is a guest of a long time friend who is born in a traditional Italian family that has been spending time in the island for at least three generations. " I would like to bring a bathing suit dear Simona as once we are done with the roadshow it would be great to fare un tuffo da qualche parte nell isola" ( dive in some of Island's spot ). " Are you kidding me ?-Simona replies the house is on the water so no worries will play too!"
The suitcase arrived yesterday. On the ferry the Maestrale caresses my hair while my husband takes a few pictures here and there. We will reach the fishing town port of Carloforte in 7 kilometers the South Western coast , where we left in Portovesme.
Simona invited a few friends who have docked their yachts in front of the house. They will pass by and we all have lunch later.Sounds like a great plan.
The island is of volcanic origin. The 18 kilometres (11 miles) of its coasts are mostly rocky; the western and northern part includes some natural grottoes, unprotected landings, with a few small beaches, in general here the coast is usually very steep, rocky. The eastern coast, on which the port of Carloforte lies, is more protected low and sandy.
We agreed to meet at the legendary hotel Hieracon at short distance from Piazza Pegli for a drink and to shows first the lovely town center. Simona will then lead the way to the house as we have brought the car. We hug and hug and hug once more. I am fascinated with the look of this small 18th century village pastel shade facades inhabited originally by some 30 families of coral fishers, originally from Pegli, near Genoa, Liguria. They had left their home town in 1541, and had settled in the island of Tabarka, off the coast of Tunisia, to fish for coral. After centuries, the coral in that area was exhausted and so the families set off back to Italy and found there was plenty of coral in the sea off the west coast of Sardinia. They asked the King of Sardinia Charles Emmanuel III for permission to settle on San Pietro Island, at that time not inhabited. When he granted them permission, the island was colonized (1739); the name Carloforte (Charles the Strong, but also the Fort of Carlo) was given to the town they established there, in honour of the king. To this day Carloforte maintains strong cultural ties with the towns of Pegli and Genoa. This place looks nothing like Sardinia!
Simona slender in her Milanese designer's white T shirt and dark glasses tells us that the population still speaks a variant of Ligurian language called tabarchìn (or tabarchino, in Italian), completely different from Italian and Sardinian, and used even by most children because it is taught in the schools of the island. I ask permission to my husband to accompany Simona in her car, he would follow with the suitcase. (Yes I through of calling this post A man, a woman and a suitcase)
The vegetation is that typical of the Mediterranean coast, with Cistus, mastic, strawberry tree, juniper, Aleppo pine and holm oak. Here groves of oak and pine with clearings that are often cultivated, and populated with scattered houses. Through my window seat I take numerous pictures while Simona feels she needs to gently offer me a warning " Joelle you must understand that the inhabitants in the island are just like the vegetation you see out there, arid, at time unsociable and slightly peculiar. There are no major hotels here , only private homes and of course lots of boats because you will see it for your self the sea is unique." Unexplored and virgin in the middle of Europe the island seems to be a world away unraveling as we drive a mystery on it's own.
I learn as well that the life-blood of the island is, and always has been, tuna. Since Phoenician times, red tuna have been taking the same route past San Pietro's north-east coast for their annual spawn, when the meat of these creatures apparently tastes at its best. The tuna run lasts for six frenetic weeks from May. Large numbers are trapped in nets and hauled on to boats for the Mattanza, the annual slaughter. San Pietro would have sunk without it, and the seafront bars are decorated with photographs celebrating the biggest catches. Most of the tuna is exported, but the islanders keep enough for themselves, and pasticcio alla carlofortina – tuna, home-made noodles and tomato and basil sauce – is Carloforte's culinary pride and joy.( I now start to understand why the tuna carpaccio at Su forreddu was so delicious)
We pass by a conservatory, apparently one of the most important in the world due to the island 's quality of unpolluted atmosphere. The winds are responsible for that.
We reach destination. Simona watches me with the tip of her eye. I am in awe caught by a vast pineta of hundreds Aleppo pines trees almost dried due to the trong winds , they welcome us in a slight movement emanating a fresh, pungent aroma until what I assume could be the water's edge. We pass through clumps of rosemary, orchids and succulents unique to the island. The hostess Elena, in a sober understated bottle green pareo comes out from a wooden door next to a white chimney and a clean barbecue, ' Ciao benvenuti!' she says disappearing back quietly into the green. Her companion , tanned and friendly hands us 2 fresh Peroni bottles and makes us feel very quickly at home. I cannot describe enough the flaws of the house interiors; The lovely tiles in earthy colors, sepia and greens , the natural wood chairs and straw, panama beach hats spread around the house, Indonesian and African sarongs on the table make me think of North Africa, Colonial Dominican and maybe cuba while Bob Marley promises Everything is going to be all right. Simona calls me from afar interrupting my daydreaming. " Come and joins us here!" Then suddenly, amongst bushes and shrubs the intensity of a emeraldTurriga, Cantine Argiolas sea I have never noes before! On a few rocks on a small cove I am introduced to the other guests in exotic sarongs, necklaces hats and sunshades sunbathe ( even more) quietly chatting among themselves about life in Monaco or the recent trip in Buthan. My husband and I choose to dive, the water was so clear I could see the stones of the sea-bed, 200 metres below. We swim for about 40 minutes clambering down down winding footpaths to small, crescent-shaped white beach sprinkled along the coast. It's called La Bobba.
The host is preparing our lunch while I have asked permission to take a few pictures. I am not allowed in the kitchen but I sneak in. They are preparing a Neapolitan pasta with cappers, olives, fresh san Marzano tomatoes and of course te secret apparently is the chopped celery according to Simona's grandmother recipe. Then a couscous, that imitates the moroccan but it's sardo without meat, it is in fact a receipt from the island of Tabarca in the south coast of Tunisia not very far from there. The dining table in the terrace is huge and made of reclycled wood from Bali. Ahh what a scenario to showcase my worldwide hand made collection I think silently and contempt. The orange and yellow checkered tablecloth is made of plastic and was purchased at a market in the Guadeloupe . The hostess confides me she had a hard time to find one that did not have the name Guadeloupe in the pattern. I notice that the idea here is to have less work possible as the concept of a rest is one of its kind. Local Turriga wine from the Cantine Argils, a few more cheese and the crowd is happy. "Soon we will ready to play" says Simona.
And the ikat, the coral, the batiks and the Javanese silk reigned supreme around people who like (rather than watching TV) spend their nights watching stars on the telescope with tears in their eyes grateful to be witnesses of nature's unpaired gifts.