Bagnaia . . . A peaceful corner on the Island of Elba

THE BEACH OF BAGNAIA

You have probably heard about Isola d’Elba – the Island of Elba – the third largest island of Italy and the largest of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is covered with lush vegetation and it is considered to be the greenest island of the Mediterranean. Rich in history, the island was most notably Napoleon’s place of exile. Today, the island is a coveted tourist destination, lined with a beautiful coastline and lively towns.

My post today, however, is about a small seaside village located between the towns of Portoferraio and Rio Elba. It’s the village of Bagnaia, a little gem, away from the crowd and traffic.

ISOLA D’ELBA

Located on the North Coast of the Island, Bagnaia lays at the feet of the Monte Volterraio, on a bay across from Portoferraio that is visible from Bagnaia’s picturesque pebble beach. From the beach you can also spot the island of Capraia and the French Island of Corsica.

Portoferraio – on the hill Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini

BAGNAIA and MONTE VOLTERRAIO

Most importantly, while sipping your aperitivo at the beachside bar you will be mesmerized by one the most beautiful sunsets. The red sky with the sun setting between the Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini and the small island of Scoglietto are simply breathtaking. Have your camera ready, as you will want to take many, many pictures!

The protected bay of Bagnaia offers a public beach, a private beach with bathhouse – Lo Scoglietto – two small piers, and a sailing school.

Even in August, renown in Italy as mese delle ferie (month of summer holidays), Bagnaia holds true to its family style profile. Filled with children splashing in the pristine water, proud grandparents spoiling their young grandkids, and games of Burraco (a popular Italian card game) being played under the ombrelloni (beach umbrellas), it is evident that Bagnaia is a destination for families.

The beach from the water

A midday snack is readily available right on the beach at the bar/restaurant Il Faro, or just off the beach, where the Snack Bar Villa Maria, the Bar – Ristorante La Rustica, and the Mini-Market (small grocery/deli store) would be happy to prepare you a delicious panino con prosciutto e mozzarella.

But if you are craving for cecina or pizza, simply hop on the “taxi boat” and in 10 minutes you will reach Portoferraio. Off the boat, head to Pizzeria il Castagnaccio, in Via del Mercato Vecchio. Here, Vincenzo sforna (take out of the oven) hot cecina, pizza, and castagnaccio for carry out or dine in.

Wood burning oven at Il Castagnaccio

Pizza at Il Castagnaccio

At lunch time the beach of Bagnaia is almost deserted as the families head home for pranzo (lunch) and a riposino (after lunch nap) – which makes sense since in Italy every mother will tell her children to wait three hours after eating before swimming.

Photo courtesy of my son’s friend Teresa

The afternoon is the perfect time to rent a kayak and explore the coastline. Or, with a boat or a gommone (zodiac) you can reach the nearby beaches of the Secche, Ottonella and Ottone.

But, if you are in search of a pristine swimming adventure, take the short boat ride directly across from Bagnaia to the Scoglietto di Portoferraio. Swim with a myriad of fish in the crystal clear water- thanks to a fishing restriction in place at this protected island- or, climb the rocks to reach the faro (lighthouse) on the island summit.

The lighthouse of the Scoglietto

Fish . . . a lot of them!

Once a week, on Saturday, in the square of Bagnaia there is the mercatino (open market) where the stands of fresh fruit and vegetables alternate with tables selling clothes, bathing suits, and cover –ups (did I mention that in Italy women change their bathing suit 4 times a day?!). You can practice your bargaining ability here; however, I don’t think anyone would have beaten my mom’s skills in this area (she even bargained with an American Indian at Niagara Falls . . . remember, my mom did not speak English!). The highlight of the mercatino is the food truck of “Pollo allo Spiedo e Patatine Fritte” (roasted chicken and French fries). Even if you place your order early in the morning – which is a must- you will still need to elbow your way to the front to pick-up your coveted brown bag.

While Bagnaia offers a wonderful beach getaway, it is not a place for those seeking exciting nightlife. The evenings are quiet; villeggianti (vacationers) stroll through the small piazza to enjoy gelato, after dinner drinks and caffè. Friendships are formed between families who vacation here year after year, and as such, large group dinners are had. Following dinner, many vacationers enjoy the live performances that take place in the piazzetta a few times a week. The nearby Pizzeria-Ristorante Bounty (also a Bed & Breakfast), once a week offers a theme evening with culinary highlights. Last year our group of 40 attended the “Alla brace “ (on the fire spit) where various meats were grilled in a wood fire oven and on a giant grill to be served with a variety of homemade side dishes and freshly baked bread.

Nearby towns such as Capoliveri, Porto Azzurro and Portoferraio, which offer a more active nightlife and trendy shops, are easily reachable by car.

Capoliveri

Porto Azzurro

Although two Alberghi/Bed & Breakfast are located in the square, I would suggest to stay at the Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio. Within the Residenza are the Apartments Sant’Anna and the Hotel Locanda del Volterraio. My brother has been a guest of the Residenza for the past 17 years, and he has rented the same apartment every year. I have been personally a guest of both the Locanda and the Residenza several times. Last year my brother and his wife hosted me for three weeks at the Residenza . . . how lucky am I?

Residenza Sant’ Anna del Volterraio

Entrance to the Residenza –
Photo courtesy of Teresa

Although it is only a 10 minute walk from the beach of Bagnaia, The Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio is part of the municipality of Rio Elba. The Monte del Volterraio, with its homonymous medieval castle, overlooks the Valley below where in an area of 3 hectares lays this complex surrounded by beautiful gardens. Secular olive trees dot the landscape, the pink stone structures covered with vines blend seamlessly with the lush green vegetation, which is softened by the colorful oleanders. The complex also offers 2 tennis courts, one beautiful adult pool, one children’s pool, a solarium, and a wellness center. The original Napoleonic Villa Sant’Anna houses a bar, a TV room, a sauna, shower and dressing rooms.

Volterraio and red oleander – view from the apartment

Olive trees and Villa Sant’Anna

Blending with nature

Within an orange and lemon orchard lays the restaurant, Il Giardino degli Aranci. I must admit that I have not experienced the restaurant’s cuisine; my son, however, tells me that he has enjoyed a tasty dinner while visiting his uncle. The restaurant also hosts – in its giardino (garden) – evening events for kids and families.

The restaurant Giardino degli Aranci

The complex is completely car-free, however, covered parking is provided.

There are 6 apartment types, ranging from 2 to 8 beds, but they all have an independent entrance and a patio. The apartments are spacious, simply furnished, but functional and comfortable. I shall say that they start showing their age and some renovations are due. The apartments do not have air conditioning, but fans are provided. Also no Wi-Fi connection is provided. In the evening it is particularly pleasant to sit outside on the patio (furnished with table and chairs) under the summer starry sky.

The Hotel Locanda del Volterraio is composed of 18 double rooms, all with independent entrances and balconies. Unlike the apartments, the hotel rooms have air-conditioning and Wi-Fi Internet (from the lobby). They also boast nice new furnishing. From the balcony you will enjoy great views of the hills and of Monte del Volterraio.

The nightly rate at the hotel includes breakfast, which offers a very diverse spread of food: fresh baked croissant and brioche, fruit tart or torta, cereals and granola are also available. You can also enjoy toast with the assortment of jams, honey, butter or NUTELLA that adorn each table. They also offer a large selection of fresh fruit, however, it appears that your choices are limited if you don’t show up early. Orders for espresso, cappuccino, latte and also American coffee are taken at the table.

I asked my son’s friend, who along with her sister, joined him and his girlfriend at Elba and lodged at the Locanda, to share her opinion about her experience; she used one word: AWESOME! She also noted, confirming my opinion, that the staff was kind and attentive.

The 10 minute walk from the Residenza to the beach is pleasant; the scent of oregano and wild fennel accompanies you along the way. Blackberry bushes border the path and you can also attempt – like my brother – to pick up prickly pears along the way.

Lastly, if you are in the mood for hiking, Bagnaia offers some good trails. From the piazzetta you can follow the uphill road toward Nisporto. You will enjoy some beautiful views of the coastline from up above.

VIEWS FROM MY MORNING WALKS

View of Residenza Sant’Anna from the hill across

Last year every morning I went a little farther. On one particular morning I woke up at 6:30 and as I started my walk I decided to reach Nisporto, 5 miles away on an uphill terrain. I went all the way up above Nisporto, then I decided to go down to sea level. While the beach at Nisporto was enjoyable to reach, the trek back up the hill to reach Bagnaia was anything but that.

THE YELLOW PATH OF MY WALK TO NISPORTO – BELOW IS THE ELEVATION PROFILE!

Thankfully, I made it all the way back and to reward myself I stopped at the Bounty for a custard cream stuffed brioche!!!

Ciao from Elba!

Have you ever been to the Island of Elba?

Where is your favorite little gem in the world?

The Italian Island of Sardegna . . . My Paradise

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to spend one week with my husband in the Caribbean Turks and Caicos Islands. While I was there, loving the sun, the soft white sand, and the crystal clear water, I kept thinking how much I miss living close-by the sea.

My hometown in Italy, Avellino, was only thirty minute away from the amazing Amalfi Coast – I shall write about it; after lunch, I could just hop in my car and take the drive to Amalfi, Maiori, Positano or Minori. My boyfriend husband and I exchanged some of our first kisses on Minori‘s shore…

My nonna (grandmother) lived in a sea town from where we would take the motorboat to reach Il Bikini, a beach/bathhouse establishment in the Bay of the Sorrento Peninsula.

Il Bikini
photo courtesy of http://www.ilbikini.com

And, as I mentioned in a previous post, I used to spend most of my childhood summers on Paestum‘s beach.

In my twenties, I vacationed in many Italian’s islands: Sicilia, Salina, Panarea, Vulcano, Lipari, Pantelleria, Favignana, Ischia, Capri, Elba, Caprera, and finally, my absolute favorite, Sardegna.

In the Summer of 1984 I was my  uncle Vincenzo’s guest in Sardegna. In the small village of Portoscuso, on the South-West coast just across the little jewel of Isola di San Pietro;  I spent three wonderful weeks with my relatives, their home only few steps away from the beach. My days were simple: napping and reading on the beach during the day, dining alfresco under the portico in the evening, and watching the Olympic Games – held in Los Angeles – at night. My fiancé husband joined me in Portoscuso and we then spent three more weeks traveling throughout the mysterious island of Sardegna.  From South to North, from West to East, then South along the East Coast, and inland to Oliena and Su Gologone where I had one of the best meal I have ever had. I was in love with everything . . .  the sea, the mountain, the architecture, the food, the people. But guess what? I did not have a camera! Yeah you heard it, no camera, no pictures!

No pictures of the white beach of La Pelosa in Stintino, of the secluded Cala Luna, of the Catalan city of Alghero, of the ancient Nuraghi . . . nothing, just my memories.

My husband and I went back to Sardegna in Summer 2008, this time with our teenage boys. We only spent one week in the area of Porto San Paolo, on the North-East coast, just South of Olbia and across the small island of Tavolara. Only one week was needed for my boys to fall in love with the place too. And this time I took few pics too!

You might be asking why I am telling you all this. You know what they say,  ” l’erba del vicino è sempre più verde ” (the neighbor’s grass is always greener), so in Europe all are longing for the Caribbean Sea and for good reasons, don’t get me wrong. Imagine my excitement once I came to the States . . . so much more convenient to reach the Caribbean’s from here! So, I visited Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas and lately Turks and Caicos.

Coming home after this latest trip, however,  I had an epiphany. I started comparing my Caicos‘s pictures with my pictures from Sardegna and  that’s what I want to share with you today. While enjoying the slide show, remember that in Sardegna, the scenery also comes with the delicious regional cuisine: porceddu (suckling pig rosted on the spit), malloreddus (handmade pasta), pane carasau (sort of thin flatbread), pecorino sardo . . . .and the unique aroma of mirto (myrtle)!

La mia Sardegna and Turks and Caicos

NOTE: click on the first picture and a full screen image will appear then follow the arrow . . . I guess you will like it!

Well, I know where I am going back . . . and you? Where are you going?

If you need a travel consultation and trip planning for your next trip to Sardegna visit my site Sharing My Italy or email me at mg@sharingmyitaly.com

A place of my childhood . . . Paestum

Paestum is an ancient Graeco-Roman city in the Italian Region of Campania. It is located in the Cilento and Valle di Diano National Park, near the Tyrrhenean sea.

Paestum was founded in 600 B.C. by Greek colonists and its original name was Poseidonia in honor of the Greek’s Sea God, Poseidon.

In 273 B.C. the Romans took possession of the city, and they renamed it to Paestum.

In the 9th century, the Saracens’ incursions, along with the mosquitoes infected by malaria, forced the inhabitants to abandon the  city that was later buried by swamps caused by the river Sele. Paestum remained hidden until 1748, when the excavation for the construction of a new road brought to light the well preserved Greek-Roman temples.

If you visit Paestum you will be astonished by the grandeur of the standing remains of three major temples. These temples are  the best preserved Doric temples in the world, outside of Greece. The temples have been traditionally identified as the Basilica and the temples of Neptune and Ceres. In reality, however, they were dedicated to Hera and Athena.

In Paestum you will also able to visit the National Archeological Museum of Paestum that documents the evolution and transformation of the city; here, you will be able to admire some architectural and sculptural decoration from the excavation, and the painted slabs of so-called Tomba del Tuffatore (Tomb of the Diver), the sole example of painting of the Greek age of Magna Grecia.

But Paestum is not only an archeological site, on your way to Paestum you will travel along the so called Strade della Mozzarella (Roads of the Mozzarella). It appears that at the beginning of the 9th century AD, the Muslim Arabs introduced the water buffalo in the area. More than 1000 years later, Paestum and the plain of river Sele are home to the tame herds of water buffalo whose milk is used to craft the delicious mozzarella di bufala. Both sides of Route 18 are pullulated with cheese factories where you will be able to savor the freshly made mozzarella and many more specialties, all derived from water buffalo’s milk.

Few years ago, on an afternoon trip to Paestum with my family we stopped at one these caseifici (cheese factories) and my youngest son, Mattia, could not stop eating the still warm bocconcini di mozzarella (mini bites). With his mouth full, he kept saying : “ Oh my God, this is the best thing I have ever eaten! “. You would never know until you taste the real thing!

For me Paestum is not just about the magnificent temples or the tasty mozzarella. Paestum has a special place in my heart. I have spent most summers of my childhood on the sandy beaches just north of the archeological site. When people ask me why I wanted to be an architect, my mind goes always back to Paestum, to the memory of the temples and to the end of summer when, back home, I used my wooden blocks to recreate the temples.

How many beautiful memories I have, the soft and warm sand, the cavalloni (giant swells), the sandcastles, the merry-go-round on the beach, the quiet afternoon on the shaded porch playing with the lizards, the smell of pines from the vast pineta (a large area of pine trees), the foraging for blackberries, the sweet figs, the artichokes’ fields, the bright red tomatoes, the herds of water buffalo in the field along the road and the freshly made mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella), the gelato at the bar of the lido (bathing establishment), the afternoons horsing around at the Greeks temples, the stairs to the top of the Saracen Tower, the strolls with my big brothers, the lingering fragrance of the gigli di mare (sea lily) growing out of the sand, the color of the oleanders, the waves of velvety ‘piante di sigari’ (cattail), the hours spent learning how to swim, the evening watching my parents dancing under the stars, the fuochi d’artificio (fireworks) to celebrate the Ferragosto, the dark nights brightened by the miryads of fireflies. . .

Lately, I also learned that my two wonderful older brothers used their cute little sister (me) to attract all the pretty girls on the beach. I have not memory of that and  it seems hard to believe considering how jealous of them I was. . . I remember that!

My boys

Few years ago, I went back to Paestum with my children because I wanted to share with them this place so special to me, and today I share with you few of the pictures I shot on that lovely afternoon.

I hope you will all have a chance to visit this beautiful place.