The island of Alicudi – an extinct volcano off Sicily’s north coast – rises out the Mediterranean, forming an almost perfect cone.
Twenty years ago, there was no electricity here. There are still no real roads, only a couple of hundred inhabitants and a few dozen houses. Meat and provisions come in boat. So does anything else you might quite fancy, including fresh water.
You can climb up a donkey track to the top of Alicudi, which is very hot and very steep. And that’s about it as far as entertainment goes.
The one hotel is closed, they say, as I disembark. No, there isn’t a restaurant, or even a bar, they chortle, as the hydrofoil speeds off.
It’s nine-thirty in the morning. When’s the next boat? Nine-thirty tomorrow.
Well, that’s just – excellent.
I’m told that the signora in the ticket agency can help with a room. I catch her as she’s locking up. She only sells tickets for ten minutes before departure, and if the office isn’t open when it should be – well, it hardly matters. You could pretty much just shout from here that the boat was leaving, and everyone in the village would hear you.
A room? Sure, follow her.
She makes conversation. Am I foreign? Well, yes. Which part of Italy, she says? (Italy being completely foreign, as far as most Sicilians are concerned).
Now I speak terrible Italian, so either the signora is deaf or we are now officially talking Very Remote Island – as in ‘The Wicker Man’ remote. As in ‘Deliverance’.
I’m deposited in a private room in the signora‘s house, and then I sit on the terrace for a bit, admiring the view. It’s now eleven o’clock. Time to tackle her again, this time about food.
She says there’s a restaurant in the hotel. Oh wait, the hotel is closed. Of course it is. But have I tried the signora Giuseppina? She lives in the white house over there – there’s a vague wave of the hand. Admittedly, there are only about sixty houses over there. It’s just that they are all white.
So, I simply knock on this woman’s door and ask her to cook dinner for me do I? Apparently I do.
Signora Giuseppina has a large knife in her hand and is doing something unpleasant to a squid. It seems safest to agree to anything that she says. I am to come back at eight this evening for spaghetti, squid, salad and wine. I have no idea what I am to pay for this. Am I supposed to pay? Is there a daughter I may have to marry instead? There is no way of knowing, because the conversation gets as far as – are you foreign? from which part of Italy? – and no further.
Anyway, it will be time for dinner in – ooh, let’s see – seven hours.
I climb up Alicudi, am overtaken regularly by donkeys, and finally sit by a little shrine 500 metres up, looking at the harbour below.
Or, more precisely, looking at a passenger ferry pulling into and out of the harbour below.
So instead I snooze the afternoon away, spruce myself up in a pristine white room with a view of the bay, and then totter around to Giuseppina’s house after dark.
The food is exquisite – spaghetti with crab and wild oregano, sweet grilled squid with capers from the hillside, homemade wine, fruit from the trees. Back in the room, my bed is soft, the breeze warm through the shutters, the lap of the waves gentle and soothing.
Whem I wake, and throw open the windows, there’s the boat docked in the harbour, as promised.
Only, now I’m not quite so keen to leave. Maybe just one more night. There’s always tomorrow’s boat.
Porto di Alicudi by Ghost-in-the-Shell, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Isola di Alicudi by Ghost-in-the-Shell, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Alicudi by Thilo Hilberer, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Alicudi (boat) by Thilo Hilberer, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Alicudi (hillside) by Thilo Hilberer, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina by Emanuele Longo, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0