If you love writing, and you love Italy, you’re going to love my friend Glynis Charlton, a very talented creative writer with an equal passion for words and travel.
She’s found a fabulous place in Umbria – I hesitate to call it a hidden gem – where she offers creative writing courses, and if you want to know how you find it, you just turn right at Tuscany apparently.
So here’s Glynis – my guest blogger this week – explaining what keeps taking her back to her secret part of Italy.
I love writing. I love Italy. So, I write in Italy. And when I find a hidden part like Isola Maggiore, I love Italy even more.
Say ‘Maggiore’ outside of Italy and most people think you’re talking about the lake. Or say it’s an island on a lake and they talk about Como or Garda. But, even though it’s actually the fourth biggest in Italy, Lago Trasimeno is much less well known.
Umbria – the poor man’s Tuscany?
For a start, it’s in Umbria.
I’ve heard people call Umbria ‘the poor man’s Tuscany.’ Have they been? It’s rich in architecture dating back centuries, lots of it untouched, piled up along streets that wind their way up through the hill towns. I don’t remember how I first came across Umbria – maybe on my way to Rome – but I’m just glad I did.
Lago Trasimeno, known as the region’s ‘blue heart’, is teeming with fresh water fish. Take one of the small ferries across to Isola Maggiore and you’ll find tench, carp and perch all fresh from the lake on every menu. Regina carp wrapped in porchetta, anyone?
It’s got a lot of history too. As the second largest of Trasimeno’s islands, Isola Maggiore is the only one that still has a community living there. True, it’s a really small community – about 16 people when I last went – but that’s just part of what calls me back.
The best Italian ice cream I’ve ever tasted
Add to all that the fact that the island has no cars – yes, that’s right, no cars – and is smothered in gnarled old olive trees and topped with the 12th century Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo.
Oh, and it has some of the best Italian ice cream I’ve ever tasted – even in Tuscany.
It’s not hard to see why Saint Francis of Assisi once decided to stay here for Lent. Peer across the lake from just about anywhere along its mainland shore and you’ll see at least one of the three islands. Yet, although you can see it, when you’re on Isola Maggiore, it somehow feels hidden.
Things have moved on a bit since St Francis stayed. These days, thanks to the small Da Sauro hotel and the handful of apartments, you don’t have to sleep on a rock.
The small ferries (run by Umbria Mobilita) go back and forth across the lake from three points – Tuoro, Passignano and Castiglione del Lago – and cost just a few euros. These places are also served by trains, although don’t expect them to drop you at the jetty.
Sailing across, the main thing that strikes you is the Villa Giugliemi – currently on the market at a few million dollars, if you feel like pushing the boat out – which gave the island its strong tradition with Irish lace. But that’s another story. A one euro ticket gets you into the lace museum, the Captain’s House and the San Michele Arcangelo church. Try finding that price in Florence.
Isola Maggiore attracts mostly day trippers. But to get the true feel of this island, I’ve found you really can’t beat spending the night there. Once that last ferry has left in the early evening, an even deeper silence settles over the place. Then in the morning the pheasants give a whole new meaning to ‘dawn chorus.’
I’m heading back again this September, to run a creative writing week. Well, it would be rude not to try the amareno and pistachio gelato, wouldn’t it?
St Frances never got to sit on his rock with an ice cream. But he certainly knew a thing or two about a special kind of richness.
Glynis Charlton’s writing course is from 19–26 September 2015, with places available from €900/£650, including half board at the local hotel and all workshops.
For dates of 2016 courses, see the website.
Talk to Glynis – just say Jules Told Me!
Want to read more about Italy?
Exploring Pompeii – it’s not just the ruins
Where to find the best pizza in Naples – the lowdown
Sicily as you’ve never seen it before – in black and white
How I wrote the Rough Guide to Sicily