As usual we have a million things to do; lists, sub-lists, goals and deadlines and sometimes the hours just seems to slip away like sand. But something subtle is happening here, Summer is weaving her hot magical spell, the children are in holiday mode and it’s catching.
Arriving early in Castiglione del Lago to run some errands, we happen to see the early morning ferry to Isola Maggiore heading for the jetty. The water ripples silver in the sun and a cool reedy breeze blows gently from the lake. Before we even hear the pleading cries from our offspring, Marito and I have exchanged ‘the look’. Errands and lists will have to wait - we are getting on that ferry.
The spontaneity of it seems somehow thrilling and the children are half wild with excitement. The dog, a little unsure of his sea legs, is carried awkwardly on board and suddenly a very different kind of day is beginning to unfold.
Little waves slap against the wooden hull and the ferry heads out across the opalescent water to the island of Maggiore shimmering in the distance. There are only a handful of other voyagers on board and in the quiet of the early morning the chug and pull of the engine is mesmerising.
Of the three islands that rise out of Lake Trasimeno, Isola Maggiore (close to the northern shore), is the second largest and the only one permanently inhabited.
We disembark and walk up the landing stage past some huge and mutant looking cats towards the Islands only village. It is enchanting, the village consists entirely of a single street. The quayside houses are built of mellow crumbling stone and behind them is the shifting grey green of olive groves rising up to the Church of San Michele at the island’s highest point. Swallows swoop crazily in and out of the bell tower and the rasping cry of a thousand cicadas vibrates through the air.
Early in the morning (before the tourist rush) and with a population of less than 100, the place seems almost deserted - locked in time. We walk up a rough and scorching track, the sun now blazing overhead through the olives and past a wild, abandoned castle towards the church. The sweeping views out across the lake make up for all the predictable moaning and the rather unpredictable gradient. At last we reach a resting spot with a bench and a tap. We drink, splash the dog and stick our heads under the flow of icy water.
It is said that in 1211 St Francis landed here and stayed for a 40 day sojourn during which time all he ate was half a loaf. There is a little chapel marking the spot and a small Franciscan monastery. The thought of only half a loaf makes everyone’s stomach start to gnaw and we retrace our steps in search of breakfast.
Back in the timeless main street I am struck by how much it resembles a film set, with it’s fishing nets drying in the sun and, inside dimly lit doorways little old ladies on rickety chairs making lace.
We see battered goal posts tucked into an alley way and imagine the island at night with children playing football in a street free from the noises and dangers of cars, and the old boys calling to each other across the way. There is a solitary hotel and I find myself thinking, rather wistfully, how romantic it would be to stay the night. To watch the sun set over the lake and slip down behind the distance mountains while dusk whispers in the olive groves and the hush of darkness descends on this tiny enduring community.
The best thing I ate:
Gelato, gelato, gelato.
After much experimenting I have to say I have found my favourite (local) purveyor of the cold stuff. Caffé Venezia, via Porsenna, Chiusi. I have tried lots and lots of lovely flavours here from the dewy coral coloured watermelon through various intense and smoky chocolate combos to my personal favourite, the creamy pale and elusive ‘gorgonzola and honey’ (I promise you, it’s delicious!).
The maker of these divine confections is the wife of the owner, and she is, quite simply, gifted. She only uses proper ingredients (never any syrups) to produce the most sublime, silky gelato imaginable. At once rich, voluptuous and also completely addictive. At the moment I am averaging about one a day and I freely admit I’ve lost my head as well as my heart. Is that too many? Is that enough? How many is too many?
Where to get it:
See above, if there’s any left.