Travel /

Isola di San Pietro: The Island within an Island

The magic and history of one of the most precious jewels in the Mediterranean.”

Just 30 minutes by ferry from the port of Portovesme, in the province of Carbonia-Iglesias, there is a small paradise on earth, characterized by still wild landscapes, enchanting beaches, and unspoiled nature: it is the Island of San Pietro.

As soon as we disembark, we immediately understand that it is something unique and completely different from what we are used to, very far from the nearby Sardinian resorts more or less touristy.

There are mainly two aspects that make this island so unique and fascinating.

The first is its already known and boundless beauty, the second: its incredible history.

From Carloforte, the main town in San Pietro, we start to understand what it means to really experience the island. In 1738, when still uninhabited, it was colonized by Genoese families who had initially moved to the African island of Tabarka to extract coral – hence the term Tabarchini for the island’s inhabitants. Once settled, the Tabarchini founded Carloforte, the only inhabited center on the island, dedicating themselves to fishing for tuna, coral, and salt production.

The strong ties to Liguria are very prevalent. The colorful “Caruggi” typical of the center borrow their name from the narrow alleys typical of the physically distant, but culturally close Genoa, while the dialect is perhaps the most characteristic aspect of the island: the Carlofortini in fact speak a variation of Genoese.

The relationship with the dialect is very close. Unlike many other parts of Italy where speaking and learning in dialects remains increasingly marginal and on the verge of extinction, especially in metropolitan areas, on the island it continues, lives, and never seems to get lost. It quite incredible, but until the 1970s, most families on the island taught children to speak Tabarchino first, followed by Italian. On the streets of the island, in the bars, in the Piazza, ciassa in dialect, where the locals usually meet on the benches, everywhere you always hear the Tabarchnio; a speech with a unique accent, based on Sardinian cadence difficult to explain, impossible not to notice and even harder to forget. As a Genoese who has never really focused on the dialect, I felt admiration to see an entire population over 700 km away, with a large landmass in between, speaking it.

Such a rare story can only be accompanied by an equally rare beauty.

The 30 km coast takes your breath away. Authentic, wild, a crystalline sea, it alternates dreamy small sandy coves with rocky walls, caves, overhangs, inlets, and natural pools.

All the beauty can also be admired from above. The stop at the Capo Sandalo Lighthouse, the westernmost tip of Italy, is in fact mandatory to experience one of the most beautiful and exciting sunsets that can be admired in our country.

But San Pietro is not just nature and the sea.

Carloforte, called by its inhabitants with great love “U Paize” (“THE Town”), is obviously included in the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It is obligatory to get lost in the previously mentioned caruggi and immerse yourself in the Carlofortina life: an explosion of colorful houses, clothes hanging in the sun and fluttering in the wind of an almost constant mistral on the upper floors, or exposed on drying racks in the middle of the street on the lower floors, because yes, in Carloforte the community is still trusted.

With the arrival of summer, the doors on the ground floors are always open, and it’s great to hear voices and sounds that come from them. Sounds that on Sunday are mainly those of TV commentary (there are many Carlofortini cheering on Genoa and Sampdoria, the two Genoese teams), alternating with live radio masses at full volume, listened to with passion by the older Tabarchini.

Finally, speaking of traditions that last, it is impossible not to delve into one of the main local excellences: Red Tuna fishing. An activity with a centuries-old tradition that still today, through the famous traps, represents one of the engines of the island’s economy. Tuna from Carloforte, which ranks first in the Mediterranean in terms of quantity, is celebrated every year in a now-famous 4-day international event, “Il Girotonno”.

Here, as in much of the most authentic Sardinia, there is a real and full life – breathing it is good for the soul.