Friday, August 5, 2011

le isole tremiti

my Italian bonsai

My husband and I have shared enough experience living in both Italy and the United States to realize that we want to "retire" in Italy. We will likely spend much more time there when my kids finish high school, which is ever nearer. I am now so grateful that I had my children when I was so young! We have basically decided that Italy is for the old people (us), with its health care system, eternally slow food lifestyle, museums for wandering, our myriad of friendships and list of cousins too long to count, and that the US is for the young people (my kids), with its dynamic universities, part time jobs, merit based ideology, driver's licenses at 16, and all the rest.

We do not imagine returning to the house we own, but instead to somewhere on the coast, hopefully an island, somewhere a bit warmer than where we have always lived, a bit slower, a bit less chaotic. Northern Italy is beautiful and majestic, but there's a reason those Italian islanders live so long. So we have set out to visit all our potential future islands, one at a time, some of which we have already visited in the past and some new. We are not old quite yet. We have plenty of time. And if we change our minds, we have lost nothing and only gained so much. Our sojourn in June was the first of these visits...

unforgiving and beautiful

We spent a couple of weeks in the Isole Tremiti, a tiny group of five islands off the Adriatic coast of Italy in Puglia. It was rocky and craggy and magnificent, and reminded me of the time I spent sailing in the Kornati Islands in Croatia. The Tremiti are tiny islands, and only two of them are inhabited. They are islands of rocky caves for snorkeling and diving, and famous wild capers grow abundant on the sides of the beaches and cliffs.

wild capers growing along the shore

San Domino is the island where we stayed and where the largest village in the archipelago sits (a sweet piazza and scattering of whitewash houses). The other inhabited island is San Nicolà, where a 10th century abbey is carved from the rocks perched high atop the hill. The abbey was transformed into a fortress in the middle ages, and the castle is a perfectly intact example of medieval architecture, rife with turrets and slits in the walls for cannons or for pouring boiling oil on the marauding Turks, who once surrounded the island in an onslaught that lasted an entire year with over 100 ships.

San Nicolà at sunset ~ the cathedral is being restored

the holy well

looking down

There was something so mythic about the Tremiti Islands. I swear Odysseus must have spent time there on his voyage. The albatrosses that have colonized San Domino screech and howl after dusk, like sirens tempting sailors into the rocky crags on the shore. The cobblestones are worn smooth from the centuries. There is nothing beachy about it. To swim you had better be willing to dive off a cliff.

free falling

The scenery, like most scenery in Italy, is breathtaking. It is so blue and and so green that it knocks you down. It is savage in some places and gentle in others, and reminds me why there is so much history here, layer after layer, and the night sky rivals the sky where I live now. Every step is a precipice.

on San Nicolà

I do not think we will ever live in the Tremiti Islands. They are too small and the ferry service is too unreliable. The people were solare, with sunny dispositions, something I rarely find in northern Italy, and the sea was beyond belief, but it is not quite what we are looking for. I will say one more thing, though, the pizza was buonissima...


Anonymous said...

Hello Jennifer,
I have been reading and enjoying your blog and wanted to share some of my experience. I also realized a few years ago that Italy was perfect for "old" people and decided to organize myself for my early retirement there. I went around and then discovered salento. Right away I knew I was in the right place. It's at the same time rough and soft, familiar and exotic. It's not an island but sort of an island though, surrounded by the sea. Flat, which for me is important because I need to see the horizon to feel happy, and also for riding my bike. You can choose your type of beach, sandy, rocky. Views are often breathtaking. It's also a myriad of villages almost all of them with an amazing piazza. There is a very slow local train going around which is worth any lesson of philosophy. Lecce is a dream and empty outside july and august, as is the rest of salento... I bought a village house 3 years ago a few kilometers from the sea and have it restructured. My intention is to move there end of next year. I don't know if you've ever visited salento but you may like it... Thanks for your great blog, Odile

Roxanne Palicka said...

Sounds like a wonderful plan. We're already looking ahead to retiring in Seattle. We live in a suburb now, but bought a condo in 2007 and might move there as soon as 5 years from now. We love the city. Maybe we can swap retirement homes for a vacation!

J in Milan said...

Italy is for the "old," America for the young - I think you've nailed it.