#72 / The island of granite
La Maddalena is an island of granite. I remember a sweltering sunset at Tegge, perched on the smooth rocks that slope into the sea like a natural slide. Below the surface of the water, an unforgettable turquoise seabed, still in my heart.
We’re onto the second instalment of my recollections of Italy’s islands – although today we’re making a little foray into Corsica (an island that belongs to France)...
While Stromboli was pitch-black, the granite of the La Maddalena archipelago (and all of Gallura, up in northern Sardinia, to some extent) is grey. Light grey.
In a few select spots, it can turn pink, and at sunset shift to orange: a fetching colour that nature does best.
As you arrive by ferry, the small town of La Maddalena greets you with a procession of waterfront buildings, a sequence of multicoloured facades. Although it’s only a 20-minute ride to the mainland, those who live here take great pride in their insularity. And since the mainland in this case is Sardinia, we’re talking about an island off an island...
There’s more to Tegge than just that expanse of granite plunging into the water. There’s also a small sandy beach dotted with little shells – at least that’s how it was back in the ‘80s, when I went there on holiday with my friends. I remember a day spent diving in off the rocks and then lying on the water’s edge, my back coated with crisp sand. And then diving in again, and then drying in the sun, and then getting coated again...
I remember the taste of salt in my mouth, and those white rivulets on my salty, wind-dried skin. Oh yes, the wind... I’d venture that this is one of the most blowy parts of the world, with the wind accelerating as it slots between Sardinia and Corsica: a very dangerous stretch of water, if the wrecks littering the seabed are anything to go by. This is the infamous Strait of Bonifacio.
On the island of Lavezzi (which belongs to France, ten miles or so from La Maddalena, an hour’s journey across the strait), you can visit the small cemetery (in the sand!) where the crew of the Sémillante rests. The ship was a French frigate swept off course by a terrible Mistral gale: the furious wind and sea caught her by surprise, hurling her onto the island’s rocks. The date was 15 February 1855. It was one of the worst shipwrecks in history.
Beyond those pale granite cliffs, 560 graves rest in one of the most beautiful places in the world (at least to me): overlooking the turquoise waters of the natural harbour, the sand as fine as talcum powder, the fragrance of wild lilies in the air. On calm summer days, it seems impossible that the Mistral could ever blow at speeds of nearly 90 miles an hour here. Yet this cemetery is a silent witness to these raging gusts...
The crew of the Sémillante was headed for Odessa: on board, reinforcements for the Crimean War between the Russian Empire and an alliance of Turkey, France, the UK and Italy... Sounds like a story we’ve heard before, very recently.
Hugs! Ciao ❤️