Do you have a place in the world where you would rush every time you feel the need to relax?
Mine is the Tremiti Islands. Maybe it’s because I go there since I was a child and it is one of the first trips that I remember: we had to take the ferry to get there, after hours of car; to me it represented THE travel.
Today I would resist no more than three to four days in this paradise on earth: too calm. Calm, however, is ideal when you need to regain energy.
The last time I was there, two years ago, I found out that you can get there by helicopter from Foggia. It costs a bit, but sooner or later I ‘ll try it, despite my terror of flying, mainly because a helicopter ride is one of the things on our to-do list!
You can get on the Island of St. Nicholas taking the ferry from Termoli, otherwise, by hydrofoil, you can get on the Island of San Domino.
But there are many harbors from which to arrive to the islands: from Abruzzo (Pescara, Ortona, Vasto) and from Puglia (Manfredonia, Vieste, Peschici and Rodi Garganico).
We always chose the former, considering that we have relatives in St. Nicholas, we have always stayed on the historic island. Historic because there are traces of history, from Napoleon to the bombing of the Second World War. San Domino, instead, is the most natural, but also the one with more life. The other three islands instead – Capraia, Pianosa and Cretaccio – are uninhabited.
Did you know they are also known as Diomedes’ Islands? The legend wants that these islands has been born thanks to the hero Diomedes, who, after having fought and won in the Trojan War, brought to Gargano three huge stones, and then threw them in the sea, those stones then emerged forming the islands. The hero and his companions settled in St. Nicholas, and when he died the goddess Aphrodite, out of compassion, turned his companions into birds called Diomedeidae, to leave them at guard of the tomb of their king. To this day, at night, you can hear the voices of those birds, which are only present on Tremiti islands, that resemble the sound of a cry. It also seems that in St. Nicholas is hidden the treasure of Diomedes, an immense wealth, near his tomb.
Arriving in St. Nicholas, the first thing that strikes you, in addition to the shades of turquoise of a sea that could stand a test with the one in Bora Bora, is the great fortress abbey of the Fortress Sanctuary of Saint Mary at Sea, which overlooks the marina, and is the entrance to the whole island. Even the history of this shrine is tied to a legend: a very Catholic hermit, retreated on the island to pray and meditate and Our Lady appeared to him one night, ordering him to build a shrine in her honor to concede graces to those who would have come to the island to pray. The hermit hesitated, thinking about how much it would cost to build such a thing, and that he didn’t have money. Our Lady then showed him the place where he could have found what he needed: the legendary treasure of Diomedes. The hermit took from the treasury only the necessary for the construction of the Sanctuary in obedience to the will of St. Mary. In 1045 the old church was brought down by the Benedictines of Monte Cassino (in fact the abbey today is also called the “Montecassino in the middle of the sea”) and it was built anew, more sumptuous.
In front of the marina there is a stony beach, the only beach on the island, where you can swim among fishes! We also found a starfish once… and even if the beach, as the sea, are actually the harbor, the water is exceptionally clear and clean, much more than that of the sandy beach of San Domino, which the tourists, with years of coming and going, have managed to pollute.
After passing the port and the beach, to get on the island you pass under a beautiful arched door and then face a long and steep climb. How many times did I go back and forth on those rocks! And how many times did I slip… Well, be careful. The rocks which form the climb have been there for centuries and are now completely smooth, one may slips at every step. There are two solutions: either taking off your shoes (this is my preferred solution), or you prepare yourself with a good pair of shoes with some good-gripping soles, avoiding flip-flops, sandals and similar. Enjoy the way up, though: from the windows on the walls you can admire the sea with its incredible colors, while the opposite side is occupied by fig trees which, with a little agility, you can pick up. A slow walk, you better relax since your first step on the island.
After the climb is done, you arrive at the real town: a narrow road flanked by houses, souvenir shops (the only stores that you will find in San Nicola, along with a cafe , a small supermarket and, of course, a couple of restaurants), and dominant abbey. Here people live like the old times, you come here to have some peace and quiet, after all. You can spend your first day wandering through the island , visit the abbey, the church with the Napoleon bombing signs, the old district, the “cut” which is the point of land which the monks tried to saw away to escape from the pirate Almogavaro who slaughtered them, the Jewish and the Catholic cemetery, the monument to the fallen of the island. Strolling slowly, enjoy the wonderful historic corners of the island, admiring the wonderful views that leave you breathless.
After that at St. Nicholas’ all is left to do is enjoy the sea. Get up, have breakfast breathing in the smell of the sea, go down to the beach, enjoy the sun and sea, maybe chatting with fishermen and watching the tourists who arrive in the morning to leave in the evening. Head to the restaurant which is right next door to the beach, beneath the headquarters of Guardia di Finanza, to have a good fish-based meal, then go back in the water, notice (not without surprise) how clearly you can see your feet, play trying to grab some fish, watch the boats shuttling between an island and the other, then go on to take a shower, cook dinner, go out to take a walk to have an ice cream for the few small streets of the village, breathing the quiet. Sleep and start again. This is St. Nicholas, a place where you can live a life which is no longer known, where fishermen create their own home-made nets, where they all know each other, where the days are marked by a relaxing routine.
The only other inhabited island of the archipelago is the small San Domino, the largest of them all. The famous Italian singer Lucio Dalla had a home here, that for these islands had fell madly in love and he used to come back whenever he could, often finding inspiration for his songs. A whole album of his (Luna Matana) is dedicated to these islands. In contrast to St. Nicholas, here you can forget relax, in fact this is the only island with clubs (one … maybe two), bars, hotels and tourist facilities, shops and restaurants… in short, of the three this is the island of tourism. There is a lot more green, palm trees, caves, and the only sandy beach on the island: Cala delle Arene.
Unfortunately, as often happens, the tourists have ruined the water of the beach, which is still beautiful, but not as clear as it once was. Also here you can swim among fishes, and the rocks are full of curls… so beware! The best thing, in my opinion, is to hire a boat, a raft, and going around the island to find a hidden cove where you can stop and spend the day: a piece of paradise all for yourselves (and certainly more clean).
One thing to absolutely do is a tour of the islands by boat, visiting caves of breathtaking beauty, admiring the entire profile of St. Nicholas from the sea and, the icing on the cake, taking a swim in the most beautiful, searching for the underwater statue of Saint Pio from Pietralcina (a.k.a. Padre Pio).
During the tour, you will see the Rock of the Elephant (can you guess why it’s called that way?) , Salt cave, Violets cave, Dugong cave, Moray Cave, Cala des Anglais and Pagliai: four large rocks which “watch” the island. Every place is more beautiful than the other. The ride does not last more than 3 hours, including the bath… I’ve done it so many times that I could take the tour myself, but each time the beauty of those places always manage to fascinate me. The lights and colors in the caves are so special, that each time seems to be the the first time.
Every year, on August 15, to celebrate the Assumption, Mass is celebrated at sea, with the launch of wreaths in the water. It’s something not to be missed, getting everybody off shore together, seeing the boat with the mayor and priests get to the center and all the others around, feeling the silence that falls and hearing the only sound that remains: the sound of the sea, nature, accompanying the voice of the celebrant… whether you are believers or not, you can’t simply avoid to be touched by such a solemn moment.
Here they are: my beautiful Tremiti, in a few words and many, many memories