After breakfast we set out to explore the island. John had spotted the tourist office at the top of the zigzag slope up to the square. The door was open, with a wooden chair set invitingly at one side. We approached and found ourselves on the threshold of three steep steps leading down into a small, gloomy room, built well below street level. We were looking down on a blonde woman sat behind a lovely old wooden desk, looking back at us in a coy sideways manner. John asked if she spoke English. “A little.” We descended the steps. John, “Do you have a map?” drawing a square with his hands. “No.” We all looked at one another. “I am not the Tourist Office, I just take care villas, houses. The Tourist Office is …” At which point she lapsed into Italian and pointed down. John, “Down on the port?” “Si, porto” she stood up and came outside with us and pointed to our right, “The pink house.” We exchanged smiles and said thank you and grazie and she went back down into her room and we went back down the slopes. We circled the tourist office on two levels but it was comprehensively shut. John took out his phone and we consulted the map and worked out a route round the island. It was not difficult there being only one main road to the far point and a bit of a loop round the town. The road was made of concrete and followed the dramatic coastline before heading across the island. A party of school children in yellow baseball hats were ranged painting the views from the cliffs. They had smart matching tunics and each had an impressive box of new paints. As we passed them they were enjoying an ice cream break, while their work and the paints balanced precariously on the sea wall. We headed out through fields of wildflowers, poppies, fennel and such along with crops of lentils and eruptions of prickly pear cactus, some covered in yellow flowers some in bruise coloured fruits. The air smelled of summer and a huge yellow butterfly danced around us, but would not land for a picture. Occasionally we stood in to make way for small three-wheel trucks, and a couple of motor scooter wound past us, but mostly there was quiet and the song of birds, determined cheeping from the many sparrows and the woodwind notes of pigeons. We passed people busy in their gardens, a couple of men power walking and the site of the Roman cistern, which we peered at through the gate as it was closed. The sanctuary for migrating birds was also shut, we said hello to a couple women reading the noticeboard outside it. Obviously the tourist office was closed because none of the attractions were open. The island itself was attraction enough; we headed out to the point, with cliffs dipping steeply to our right. Far below in the azure sea a yacht was at anchor for a lunchtime swim. The end of the island was less dramatic. Although the map urged us onwards we arrived at a no entry sign and a dirt turning circle. We stopped retraced our steps to the junction with the road to the opposite coast. We came to the school, empty and quiet, was it a holiday or had the whole school been shut so the pupils could paint en pleine air? The graffiti art, showing the school perched like a coning tower on the back of a smiling whale, was testament to a commitment to art. Above the whale floated hot air balloons, a motif we saw repeatedly on tiles and woodwork all across the island. With a bit of help from Google the Captain discovered that a balloon festival is held here in September every year. Balloons fly overhead and of course there are fireworks, so we hope to come back later this year.
Coming back into town we had to step into doorways to be passed by the fleet of the small vans and cars heading up from the harbour. The ferry must have arrived. We came down to the Roman harbour worried the restaurant might be swamped by trippers, and we fancied trying the local speciality of bruschetta with lentils and seafood we had seen on their blackboard. Fortunately this early in the season there were just a few other couples like ourselves. We sat in the shade under the pumice arches after shaking the gritty dust from the white cushions. The cliffs are shedding crumbs of rock at a steady rate as the seagulls shuffle about above. The waitress came and dusted the table for us and took our order. The bruschetta was excellent; the bread really crisp, I think it had been fried, so much for our light lunch.
After lunch we changed into our swimming gear, broke out the mats and parasol and headed to the small beach across from the boat. There was a larger more glamorous looking beach through a rock arch from the Roman harbour, but that faced the open sea. John reasoned the beach inside the arch of the new harbour would have warmer water and we knew from the crystal clarity of the harbour, the sea urchins on the rocks and the big shoals of bream we could see from the pontoon that this harbour is very clean. The sight of young children dashing in and out of the sea barefoot was also encouraging from the sea urchin point of view. We wandered round and set up camp in front of the graffiti mermaid sprayed onto the sea wall. The graffiti artist here has a talent for haunting faces, there is another on the wall of the marina. A pity neither of us had brought a phone to capture her and I had been too busy with the fenders on our way in. After giving our lunchtime to settle we dipped a toe in the water. It was definitely fresh, but we pressed on inch by chilly inch until we had reached a depth to take the plunge. John took it first and assured me it was like a warm bath. I prudently ignored him and dithered around a bit longer splashing my arms before launching past the point of no return and swimming madly till the burning sensations stopped. After that it was bliss. We spent the rest of the afternoon alternately swimming and drying off looking across at Lyra. We packed up around four and it was just as well, for we arrived back on board in time for John to fend off a charter boat full of Germans intent on ramming us as they came in. They were of an age, around forty, and oddly all dressed in identical matelot sweat shirts. None of them thanked John for averting disaster, which is odd, as other German sailors we have met have had immaculate manners. Mind you they could also sail. They were joined by another boatful and began playing schlock seventies music very loudly as they swam from their respective boats and yelled to one another. We had planned to return to the wonderful garden restaurant we had dined at on our first night and decided to shower and go out early. To delay things we had a glass of prosecco in the bar, but were still the first customers of the night. They were all smiles to see us again and promptly brought out a plate of raw fish to tempt us with its glistening freshness. Of course we succumbed, this time accompanied by homemade pasta in a tomato sauce. By carefully selecting different deserts I nearly completed sampling the menu, which I rank as follows:
Equal third place – Mixed Berry Tart with crème patisserie and Dark Chocolate Mousse Cup with cherries
Second place – Éclair with burnished white chocolate (think whipped Caramac) topped with citrus meringue, (light and crispy, though very sweet)
First by a nose – Bronte biscuit with roasted pistachio ice cream. The ice cream was extraordinary. All definitely worth the calories. By the time we trundled back all was quiet on the pontoon and we slept like logs.
Next morning our neighbours left early, but we had only a short sail to Ponza, so went up to the square to the supermarket and afterwards had a luxurious cappuccino served with fresh whipped cream from a café with a small, round King Charles Spaniel with very soft ears. They had a wonderful selection of patisseries and croissants, so we cursed ourselves for not coming for breakfast, though it’s probably just as well or I will be as round as the dog, but less cute with it.
We stopped at the marina office to pay and the young man at the desk asked where we were from and yes, he knew, Sheffield near Manchester, he supported Manchester United. At this point our taciturn hairy marinera became positively chatty, we discovered he spoke fluent football teams. He supported Manchester City, no United. He nodded politely about John supporting Bournemouth and shrugged sympathetically about Sheffield Wednesday, but Manchester City was his, a good team, they had… here his English faltered and I said plenty of money rubbing my thumb and fingers together and they all laughed and agreed. He followed us out to the boat to see us off and continued the conversation. His team from Germany… Bayern Munich, no France, Lazio from Italy, which we assume was his first love and Real Madrid from Espania. As we were about to set off the ferry came into view, our man squinted at it and then nodded that we should go, pushing his fist forward on an imaginary throttle. By the time I remembered that I had intended to take a picture of the graffiti art the ferry was in the way and it was too late. I really hope we have the chance to go back.