The Aeolian Islands
Situated in the Tyrrhenian Sea, 25km northeast of Sicily, the archipelago consists of seven tiny volcanic islands – Salina and Panarea, Lipari, Vulcano, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi. Salina is remarkably green and lush because of its freshwater springs. As its name (which means “salt mill” in Italian) implies, salt is a major part of its economy, but it is also famous for its delicious capers and exquisite sweet Malvasia wine.
Panarea – the smallest and chicest of the islands – has a rocky, dramatic landscape and is inhabited on just one side. Cars aren’t allowed, so residents drive around in threewheel trucks, golf buggies and scooters. Since just about everything has to be shipped in, the ferry arrivals are a riotous affair as lorry loads of goods are stacked precariously on to these tiny, basic vehicles. The surrounding waters are full of fish, crustaceans and squid. I was lucky enough to go fishing off the island and was thrilled to catch one of the local specialities – totano, the red squid.
Tuscany and Elba
The Tuscan style of cooking is generally fairly rustic, and I love it. Locals seek out only the freshest seasonal produce, so incredible meals are created from whatever is at its best in the market that day. Although the cuisine can be regarded as basic, because it generally doesn’t include lots of sauces or spices, the amazing quality of the ingredients means dishes are always full of flavour. White truffles are a special treat that appear in October and November in San Miniato, and the beef from the Chiana Valley is outstanding, so perfect for the popular local speciality bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak). As well as tasting delicious, Tuscan food is hearty and filling, probably because bread (often unsalted) is served in or with most dishes. Tuscan wine is also excellent.
I must reserve a special mention for Elba – a stunning, quaint island 10km off Tuscany. It holds particularly fond memories for me, as it was where I spent my first-ever family holiday. As you may know, this is where Napoleon was exiled for nine months. Quite honestly, I don’t know why he didn’t just stay and enjoy the rest of his life here – it’s hard to think of a better place to retire or be banished to!
Edited extracts from Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape