If you look at it from a distance it resembles a whale, lying in the turquoise sea overlooking the coasts of Lazio and Campania: Ventotene is an island of less than 2 square kilometers – one of the smallest municipalities in central Italy – but it contains, like a precious box, the imposing legacy of a history that dates back to the ancient Greeks and the environmental richness of a Marine Protected Area and Terrestrial Reserve.
The colorful houses of the historic center, the volcanic sand beaches, the countryside full of gifts from the earth, the rocky heights that stand out above the crystalline sea, offering breathtaking views. And again, the meetings at the bar or at the port, the chatter under the pergolas, the squid and lobster of Pierino the fisherman, the onions of Nicola: this is Ventotene, which has remained authentic despite the lively summer tourist presence, and this is the spirit of a “slow island”.
Here, after all, it is still nature with its incessant movement that marks the rhythms of the days, linked to the passing of the seasons rather than to the clock or calendar. Four phases, four different times, which contain all its nuances and give – to those who really want to understand it – a portrait of the island made up of less obvious, but profoundly truer aspects.
After the first months of the year, punctuated by the slow and regular repetition of school during the week, from the arrival and departure of the ferry, and the sowing of lentils, Ventotene seems to begin to breathe differently.
It is as if a small jolt suddenly crossed the island: it is time to think about the maintenance of the houses and boats and get busy so that everything is ready in time for the summer.
Between March and May, the island is an explosion of scents and colors. Spots of flowers forcefully begin to dye the countryside, suddenly making you forget the harsh nature of winter. We begin to get a glimpse of different migratory birds coming from as far as Africa. They choose to land here – attracting birdwatchers from all over the world – to recover from the tiring crossing of the Mediterranean.
Spring on the island is truly fascinating, and is perhaps the most beautiful season to discover and experience Ventotene: walk, perhaps guided by Annarita, expert of the Museum of Migration and Ornithological Observatory, smelling the air imbued with the scents of the Mediterranean scrub and allow yourself the right time to savor everything to the fullest; lunch at Mimì’s Terrace, where you can be tempted by a plate of spaghetti with clams and freshly picked asparagus, looking at the sea that separates Ventotene from the islet of Santo Stefano; chat with Attilio, fisherman, farmer, and poet who in his apparently bizarre speeches expresses very lucid and far from trivial philosophical truths, and the other elderly people of the village who can be met on the benches in the square while they warm their bones under a sun which suddenly became inviting.
Slowly summer comes.
Until the end of June, the cool wind still allows you to enjoy long walks, crossing the island from one end to the other, among the fields of lentils now ready for harvest. All around, the trees promise very sweet fruits: apricots, figs, mulberries, which expert hands like those of Mr. Giovanni, at the helm of Il Giardino – the best known and most celebrated restaurant on the island – will proudly offer to the lucky guests as a conclusion of the meal.
Summer is the season of the transparent sea, with the seabed perfectly visible from the surface. The unique ecosystem of the marine park allows unforgettable boat trips and scuba diving, or a simple swim, perhaps preceded by a dip from the rocks of the lighthouse or from those facing the beach of Calanave. Here you acquire pleasantness that is anything but taken for granted.
On summer evenings, the square becomes the exclusive territory of children. After school, many return to the island. You can find them playing, sheltered from traffic and cars, reading or listening to stories sitting on the ground in front of the Ultima Spiaggia, the mythical bookshop of Fabio Masi. This shop has a rich selection which divulges the incredible history of this island in which the conceptual foundations of a united Europe have been laid.
The more you get to the heart of the season, the more the rhythm of the island coincides with the bright and colorful rhythm of a Mediterranean port, with ferries full of holidaymakers eager to leave agendas and discontent behind to enjoy a few simple and slow moments: the sunrise on Santo Stefano, the beach, an aperitivo under the pergolas, chatting with passers-by, dinner at the two-thousand-year-old port, cool nights accompanied by the sound of the sea and the chirping of crickets.
September 20 is the day of Santa Candida, the beloved protector of the island, which here represents a sort of New Year’s Eve. In the previous ten days, Ventotene is transformed: everywhere there is an air of celebration.
Santa Candida is a watershed, a real moment of transition: you begin to take stock of the season just ended, and you can slow down, catch your breath after the summer frenzy. The smiles finally become more relaxed, and for many there is the opportunity to indulge – as a well-deserved prize – the first bath of the year.
The most exciting moment comes in the evening when in front of the church square you see the large paper balloons fly (almost all the inhabitants of the island participate in this activity). Those present accompany in chorus the lighting of the fire that makes the balloon swell and watch them fly up to get lost who knows where in the sky.
Santa Candida also brings islanders who emigrated elsewhere to Ventotene, even those from America: no one would ever miss this moment. Coming to the island to celebrate Santa Candida is an act of love and respect for the whole community, and you dress up for the traditional procession with the same care used for an important appointment.
Seeing the Saint coming out of the church year after year triggers the emotion of those present every time as if it were the first, holding the village in an ancestral rite that deeply touches even those who attend it as a “foreigner”.
The celebrations for Santa Candida have a joyful note: they know of happy walks – often you end up being drunk as early as 9 in the morning! – following the band that plays all over the country, swimming competitions, games for adults and children organized at the port, fireworks admired from the top of the ramps. But it also has a poignant one, like the nostalgia that makes its way in those who have to leave the island to return to work or school on the mainland.
Those who stay, on the other hand, have the absolute privilege of enjoying the last breath of summer, with the sun still warm and the sea once again free from boats and tourists.
Aropp Santa Candida
Post-Santa Candida coincides with a wonderful off-season, to be spent, for example, fishing with the islanders, looking for squid and giant snappers.
Having finally cleared the field of summer work activities, from those very fast rhythms necessary to satisfy the numerous tourists, we begin to connect with nature again, slowing down with it.
Slowly, Ventotene returns to its silent and discreet charm: the occasion of a bean or lentil soup, cooked down at the port by Pina di Un Mare di Sapori, or that of singing at the karaoke organized by Gioacchino in the bakery in the center of the town, is among the few concessions with respect to the quiet pace that the island now holds.
The days fade more and more, shortening visibly, and we begin to find a new meaning in the time to be spent: days to be built, to be invented, waiting – without too much haste – for another spring.