Ever since we arrived in Naples we have been meaning to visit a set of islands further offshore, reputed to be unspoiled and beautiful. So far we have been thwarted by lack of time or poor weather, but today the winds are forecast to be light, so the moment has finally arrived and we are due to set off for the first one Ventotene. It is a low island and said to be one to avoid in poor weather. Our pilot book describes it as an ex prison colony covered in prickly pears and scrub, not exactly selling it, but the waiter at La Calise and the marina boss here act as though it is a lovely place.
Frank came to say goodbye as I was waiting for John to come back from the office, so I asked him about Ventotene. He said there was a wonderful festival there in September, with fireworks and hot air balloons. “They always say if you can see Ventotene from here it’s too windy to go there”, pause, ”that’s it over there.” I squinted at the horizon, but could make nothing out. “Course it doesn’t always follow.” Thank you Frank! John arrived back at this point. I decided not to mention Frank’s rough rule of thumb, especially as I could see no island out there and we set off. Three hours later, the wind was much stronger than forecast. It seemed a bit late to say anything. The low shape of Ventotene rose before us, with the adjacent rock of Stefano with its’ abandoned penal colony sitting on top like a pillbox to port. There were several yachts sailing about, but we were making purposefully for Porto Nuova, the larger of the two harbours. A rib came storming up and tried to entice us into the Roman harbour of Porto Vecchio. Frank stays at this one and the pilot book covers it first. Mooring involves turning ninety degrees to starboard on entry and going bows to against a quay with underwater rocks. Other members of the cruising association strongly advised against going in. We took their advice. The rib roared away and we turned into the other marina, where we had a booking. A hairy guy in another rib came out. He was a man of few words, most of them Italian and in sharp contrast with his competitor seemed reluctant to take us on. He checked our details over the radio, looked sideways at us and quoted the price for two nights and only when we agreed set off for the pontoon and waved us in. We managed a nigh on perfect docking and he disappeared into the office and came back with a till receipt, which turned out to be the Wifi password.
It is a beautiful spot. Very peaceful with crystal clear water and unusual low rippling tuff cliffs. We walked through to the other harbour where the tuff rock had been sculpted by the Romans into caves to hold their galleys and produced structures worthy of Gaudi. The caves now are used for restaurants and bars and we stopped at the first one, because it was so beautifully decked out with vases of wild flowers and baskets of petunias. It was also a shop selling local produce and pottery, had a wide selection of wines by the glass and the bar snacks were samples of the cheeses and deli treats the island had to offer. The end of the tiny harbour was rammed with small fishing boats and we watched a few old boys come in, though none had any fish, so we think they must have been out setting pots. The edge of the harbour in front of us turned out to be the main road to the ferry dock and when the cavernous ship came in a number of small vans and cars rattled past us, in both directions. After our drink we walked further along, past a number of dive schools and climbed the sloping ramps up into the town. Looking down on the yacht harbour we were glad we had not been persuaded in, it looked pretty tight down there. Further round was a lovely beach, with more restaurants and bars on which a few umbrellas fluttered. Up the narrow streets we came to a large square with some very fine municipal buildings, John speculated convict labour was responsible. He spotted a gelateria and we indulged in a couple of cones of the Nutella flavour to munch on our way back down.