It’s the first full week of September and numerous news items leave me shaking with rage – or fear – or both on a daily basis. It seems impossible to believe that just 2 months ago I was in a place so magical I ceased caring about even eating, and only remembered to when I was hungry. And the fact that this place exists in Italy, where caring about food is the whole point of going, makes it even more mystical.
Like the mythical world of Avalon, you have to take a boat to get to Salina, one of the Aeolian Islands, an Archipelago between the island of Sicily and the Calabrian coast of mainland Italy. Two of the 7 islands have active volcanoes, and you can see the remains of the volcanic activity in all of the islands’ dramatic geography and the black sand that makes up some of their beaches.
We stayed at the Hotel Ravesi in the town of Malfa, a 20 Euro cab ride from the port. There’s also a bus that runs around the island that is very inexpensive and very easy to use. You can also rent scooters which we will do next time (we weren’t on the island an hour before we were talking about “next time”) but we weren’t quite adventurous enough to try this trip. In addition to having never driven a scooter before, the roads on the island are narrow and winding, with buses having to honk horns before going around curves. I didn’t want to attempt this after some of the local wine.
And speaking of local wine, Salina is known as the lushest island, home to vines of the Malvasia grape as well as capers, oranges and herbs which perfume the air and are showcased in the local dishes along with fresh seafood, which we were able to experience at our very first meal at A’Lumerreda. A short walk from the hotel, the restaurant is on a quiet side street, the tables on a shady terrace. You get the feeling at A’Lumeredda that you are being waited on by 3 generations of a family, and because it’s Italy, you probably are. Everyone there was so outgoing and friendly, encouraging you to eat the specialties, which did not disappoint. We ate there twice enjoying arancini bianchi with capers, fish involtini (which is rolled fish stuffed with breadcrumbs and herbs) and grilled gamberi.
We also did a wine tasting at Capofaro, a winery, hotel, spa and restaurant. The tasting was wonderfully put together: not only was Natalia, our guide, incredibly knowledgeable, but they showcased an amuse bouche with each wine as well. The grounds were so beautiful and we had so much fun that we splurged on dinner there the last night. To be sure, it is a splurge with plates costing around 20-25 Euros, but it’s a beautiful setting and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. In fact, the woman who has run our wine tasting was working that night and came over to our table after we had ordered our wine. We told her what it was we were looking for and she knew our tastes from the day before; when she saw the wine we were ordering she shook her head and brought us back something that was perfect. Despite the nouveau nature of the food, there were some great touches with various palate cleansers and small bites and a varied and tasty bread course to start that boasted some amazing crisp that was spinach flavored with anchovies or something. I ate them all before I could get a picture.
Two nights in a row we ate at La Pinnata del Monsu which in addition to being someplace we could walk to, had a charming porch that we could see the island of Stromboli from as we ate. Stromboli is one of the 2 islands that have active volcanoes, and is hard to miss even at night as it pretty much just looks like one volcano, shaped exactly like a triangle. Also, it still erupts. Every few minutes we would squeal with joy as we saw a red light appear the top of the island, and every few minutes I’m sure someone called us the Italian equivalent of dumb yokels. The first night it was so hot, we went swimming after dinner, we were stayed until midnight, squealing as we watched the volcano erupt from the hotel pool. It never got old for us.
Speaking of the hotel, the staff was unbelievably friendly and very helpful, recommending excursions and arranging transportation and reservations as needed. The grounds were gorgeous and blooming with flowers and trees and there was a cute bar where we had breakfast in the morning and where you could get cocktails the rest of the day. And as I already mentioned, the hotel pool had a stunning view which included an active volcano. It was peaceful and relaxing and pure bliss.
Normally I’m not much for hotel pools while I’m on an island but it came in handy on Salina where the beaches weren’t always as user friendly. Our first night we took a walk down to the rocky beach at Punto Scario which had everything one would need for a delightful day at the beach: a man who rented umbrellas and a bar that served snacks and wine. Being a huge fan of beach swimming, I could not wait to get out there the next day. Unfortunately the water didn’t want to cooperate. The next day I happily paid the man the 10 Euros for our umbrella and 2 “mattresses,” which were really just rafts, not that I’m complaining. The beach was so rocky you needed something to lay on and a towel was not going to cut it. I then excitedly went down to the water’s edge where I stayed for the better part of about 15 minutes until I gave up and went back. The water was so rough I couldn’t get in much past my knees, the current being so strong you could hear as all of the rocks got dragged in and out with the tide. It sounded like little fireworks going off. I thought if I could just make it past where the waves were breaking I would be OK; I saw some kids doing this and knew I just had to jump in and do it, but I hesitated, it was just that rough. Finally I turned behind me and noticed a young lifeguard walking towards me. I was confused as to why he was heading towards me as I was still very much standing, and that’s when the wave came and knocked me over. Still, I was only sitting in a foot or so of water, I didn’t know what the emergency was, until I tried to get up on my own and the waves kept knocking me back. He reached me and just held out his hand, which I gratefully took.
Nature – 1, Tess – 0
The next day we headed to Rinella, a beach we were told was molto tranquilo. And it was; no rocks, just the aforementioned black sand and very calm waters. Unfortunately, it boasted no bar or man renting umbrellas. The sun was intense which was hard enough on myself at times, but impossible for the fair skinned, Irish husband who has doctors cut things off of him on the reg. Lesson learned: next time I go back I’m buying one of those cheap folding umbrellas that everyone else seemed to know to buy and a blanket, too. And that’s my suggestion to you, too. One of the many charms of Salina is the feeling that many of the people you encounter are among the islands 700 residents or people renting a house for the summer. But that also means people who bring their own comforts to the beach and aren’t used to going to a place where you can just throw money at the problem.
Our last day we did a boat tour of the island which gave us ample opportunity to swim as the boat would stop periodically in various stunning locations and let you jettison yourself out into the water. People snorkeled; it was magical. In fact, it was so magical about ½ an hour before the end of the tour I just stopped looking. The incredible thing about the island is how every time you turn the corner, the view is completely different and yet as equally spectacular. I can’t even pretend to have the words to describe it. But as soon as you think you know what the island looks like, your mind is blown by another view, like you’re on several different islands. It’s impossible to take it all in and after 3 hours, I found I couldn’t anymore.
How do we save it all? Where do we store it? How do we cram it all in, peel our eyes open the whole time, fearing that we will miss something? That our time here is over far too soon and if we’re not careful we won’t appreciate all of it, or remember it, or get everything we can out of this experience. What is the right way to experience it and what is it that we want to be experiencing?
I ask myself these questions all the time when I travel, especially in a place like Salina where so much of the activity seems to be just taking it in. Just “being” someplace is hard enough for myself, although give me a glass of wine, a book, and a chair on the beach and I can adjust pretty quickly. But for The Husband it’s near impossible. Other than the 2 hour lunch, he constantly feels the need to be doing something, seeing something, proclaiming, “I didn’t come all this way to sit by a pool.” So when we were doing just that in fact, sitting by the hotel pool, staring off at Stromboli trying to figure out if we should do, well anything, we each made a few half-hearted suggestions before he said, “Or we could just sit here and watch the clouds.” Reader, I have never in my life heard The Husband say anything as whimsical as that.
That was the same night that when we finally got motivated to walk next door to the pizzeria sometime after 9 pm, I realized that my dress was inside out.
HIM: Do you want to go back and fix it?
In this magical place, who cares? What is inside and what is out anyway?
There are ferries and boat tours to the other islands, which we say we would have done if we had more time, but in 4 nights we just never wanted to leave Salina. We say when we go back we will do all of those things. And maybe we will when we get tired of watching the clouds.