An island just for you to wander around on foot, armed with your stamina and muscles and good shoes... The smell of sea salt, the first rains, the south-westerly wind ruffling the vegetation, lashing the coasts with a tumultuous din and drifts of white foam. This is Capraia in winter.
I always liked visiting the coast in the colder months, even when I was young. Although I loved parties and my friends and city life (I was a normal teenager, basically 😊), going to the coast in winter fuelled my inner, more reflective side.
Over the years, the winter sea has become a bit of a ritual, a brief lull amongst hectic days of work, a break of pure quiet and calm. Those scents and those colours reinvigorate my creativity.
Having said that, if the south-westerly wind’s blowing, it’s not too calm here: Capraia is an island that gets the full force of the wind. It’s the only island of volcanic origin in the Tuscan archipelago, with steep cliffs and countless ravines through which the wind slips, creating swirls and eddies that make you shiver as you dream of a roaring fireplace back home.
Capraia is closer to Corsica than to Elba and is more French territory than Italian. Is that why it feels “remote”?
Only a few hundred people stay here through winter, die-hards who probably couldn’t live anywhere else – if you spend a winter here, you either run away or you fall in love with it. Or you were born on Capraia, and in that case you can’t live without it.
Silence reigns everywhere here. In the village, the shutters are almost all closed. Down in the harbour, the beached boats – belly up or lying on their sides – are waiting to be stowed away for the coming season.
Now and then the rain comes, often horizontally (the wind!), with not even an umbrella to offer shelter. Capraia is the home of the oilskin raincoat. If you’ve got a thick woolly jumper, a well-fitting cap and an oilskin raincoat, you can go anywhere.
At dusk, the lighthouse comes alive – its beam is a familiar sight, bringing safety even for those not at sea, a silent and watchful sentinel.
On Capraia, the vegetation is untamed, sturdy and immovable. The air is filled with the scent of heather, strawberry tree, mastic and myrtle. We used to eat the latter as kids, our lips turning black as ink. The strawberry tree also offered an excellent snack, with the red fruits propping up the branches like nature’s little decorations. It is nearly Christmas, after all...
Capraia in winter is wild, intimate, nostalgic, spectacular. And it finds a place in your heart. It does in mine, anyway.