RE­LAXED RHYTHMS

On tiny Li­nosa, it’s easy to adopt is­land’s slow pace

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - Story and pho­tos by Frances D’Emilio

LI­NOSA IS­LAND, Italy — There are no ho­tels, but is­landers open up their sim­ple, gaily painted homes to those seek­ing re­laxed rhythms.

No banks, ei­ther, but there’s not a lot money can buy here. The sole sou­venir shop has a few knick­knacks. Costs are mod­est for meals made from lo­cal in­gre­di­ents — lentils, eg­g­plant, pep­pers per­haps, plus the catch of the day from the emer­ald-hued, pris­tine wa­ters sur­round­ing tiny Li­nosa is­land.

But stun­ning nat­u­ral beauty is free and abun­dant on this ver­dant par­adise that rises up in the form of an ex­tinct vol­cano from the Mediter­ranean seabed.

Of the many splen­did small Ital­ian is­lands that dot the Mediter­ranean wa­ters near Si­cily, only Li­nosa had eluded me, va­ca­tion af­ter va­ca­tion, per­haps be­cause it takes some de­ter­mi­na­tion to get here. Un­like some other is­lands, like Pan­tel­le­ria, where Ital­ian VIPs keep sum­mer homes, or Lampe­dusa, known for lively nightlife, there are no flights from the Ital­ian penin­sula, no air­port.

To en­joy Li­nosa’s charms, ei­ther you take a long ride by ferry, or, if wa­ters are calm, an in­fre­quent hy­dro­foil from the non­de­script Si­cil­ian port town of Porto Empe­do­cle. Or you make a shorter sea jour­ney from Lampe­dusa, the only other in­hab­ited is­land in the Pe­lagie Ar­chi­pel­ago, closer to north­ern Africa than to Si­cily.

This year, in the wan­ing weeks of sum­mer, I came, ac­count­ing by my mere pres­ence for about 5 per­cent of so­journ­ers those days on Li­nosa. We swam or snorkeled in coves cra­dled by dra­mat­i­cally dark, jagged lava rocks, climbed vol­canic craters and watched sun­sets near the black-sand beach where caretta caretta log­ger­head tur­tles wad­dle ashore each year to lay their eggs.

On any given day dur­ing “high” sea­son in July and Au­gust, there are at most about 50 hol­i­day­go­ers who spend a few days or so. In Septem­ber, there were some 20 of us, sev­eral of us soli­tary trav­el­ers. With the ex­cep­tion of a French cou­ple and my­self, all were Ital­ians.

Those num­bers com­pare with a year-round res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion of about 300 Li­nosani, as the lo­cals call them­selves. In the sole town, tidy streets are lined with houses in hues of fiery ochre trimmed with orange, robin-blue high­light by white, or sea green with doors framed in red.

In early morn­ing — af­ter­noon tem­per­a­tures in one of Italy’s hottest places can climb into the 90s and feel like 115 or higher — Li­nosani come out to sweep the tiled side­walks and wa­ter pot­ted plants, in­clud­ing hi­bis­cus that grow as tall as trees.

With the cool of the evening, Li­nosani emerge again, park­ing kitchen chairs out­side homes to chat with neigh­bors. Af­ter a cou­ple of strolls in the few streets, vis­i­tors can be­friend much of Li­nosa’s pop­u­la­tion.

“Af­ter a few days, you be­come is­landers too,” said Al­berto Ramirez, who runs one of the two B&Bs on the is­land and whose fam­ily has lived here for six gen­er­a­tions.

Li­nosa’s only “night spot” is a wine bar, which, on a late sum­mer Satur­day night, closed up shop be­fore mid­night.

Ramirez re­called a cou­ple who lodged by him re­cently telling him, “‘Li­nosa’s not for us, it’s too tran­quil.’

“Here you come to re­lax, go to the sea, maybe have an ‘aper­i­tivo’ in the evening,” Ramirez said. “There’s no disco.”

On maps, Li­nosa re­sem­bles a roundish speck in the sea. One can stroll around the en­tire is­land, whose coastal perime­ter mea­sures un­der 7 miles, in a few hours.

Only res­i­dents can bring cars on the is­land dur­ing sum­mer, but mo­tor scoot­ers and mo­tor­ized bikes can be rented by the day. The elec­tric “bici” are a big hit as well with Li­nosani, whose cars are eas­ily rec­og­niz­able be­cause the salty sea air cor­rodes the paint.

Come night­fall in late sum­mer or early fall, on the northerly side of the is­land you can hear the cries of thou­sands in a fas­ci­nat­ing feath­ered colony of greater shear­wa­ter birds, known as

in Ital­ian. They fly up and over the Mediter­ranean from Libya and Al­ge­ria, their cheek pouches full of fish for young chicks which have hatched in cran­nies left by lava rocks near the sea­side.

Af­ter Li­nosa’s first mod­ern set­tle­ment was es­tab­lished, in 1845, with 30 hardy souls, the is­landers would eat the birds’ eggs, rich in pro­tein.

Now the birds’ evening rit­u­als help feed the is­land’s eco­nomic main­stay, tourism.

Gio­vanni Grana pas­sion­ately shares with a hand­ful of tourists on his plain wooden mo­tor­boat the de­tails he’s learned about shear­wa­ter flocks’ habits from his nightly ob­ser­va­tions. He makes the facts of bird life sound like poetry.

“My aim is to make the tourists fall in love with the is­land,” said Grana.

For a rea­son­able fee (about 25 eu­ros, or $29), he takes vis­i­tors out to sea just be­fore sun­set to wit­ness an amaz­ing spec­ta­cle.

Like com­muters crowd­ing their route home, the shear­wa­ters skim the sea in ever in­creas­ing num­bers to form “clans” that then link to­gether in what the Li­nosani call “rafts,” cre­at­ing a sort of a high­way of birds stretch­ing to what seems to be the hori­zon to await dark­ness be­fore mak­ing land­fall to check on their chicks.

This fas­ci­nat­ing nightly rit­ual is missed by day-trip­pers who come for a quick-look-tour, a dip in the sea and lunch at port be­fore catch­ing the late-af­ter­noon hy­dro­foil back to their ho­tels on Lampe­dusa, some 31 miles away.

On my last morn­ing, as I climbed 600 feet to the top of the Mount Vol­cano crater, church bells clanged to gain is­landers’ at­ten­tion. Then a boom­ing voice in­formed them by loud­speaker that with the mid-morn­ing hy­dro­foil an in­ternist would ar­rive, for any­one need­ing a doc­tor.

I would shortly be leav­ing Li­nosa, which had se­duced me with its nat­u­ral­ness and friend­li­ness, on that same hy­dro­foil, at va­ca­tion’s end.

When I reached the dock, some 150 day-trip­pers poured out of the boat. I promised my­self I’d be back when I could again have Li­nosa prac­ti­cally all to my­self.

One of three craters of an ex­tinct vol­cano is seen in the back­ground as bushes of prickly pear criss­cross the land­scape of the is­land of Li­nosa, roughtly 100 miles south of Si­cily.

A cat sits on a flower pot, bot­tom right, along painted steps in the town of Li­nosa.

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