In early July, I took my first plane trip from Nice to join friends for a week of sailing from Rome, through Sardinia and Corsica and back to the port of Monaco.
Leaving the Riviera with its steady control over Covid-19 and perfect weather seemed a little pointless. Why would I want to leave the south of France just as the temperature of the sea screamed ‘Holiday season has officially begun’ and beach restaurants and bars are in full swing? Why take the risk, even if sailing seemed a smart way of holidaying without the exposure of highly populated beaches?
But by that evening, my love of travel and history came back to me, evoked by a full moon lit sky over the Spanish Fort of Porto Ercole and its view laden with a history that goes back centuries.
The fact that Italian painter Caravaggio died here of a violent fever over 400 years ago still strikes a chord. Caravaggio was born at the height of the bubonic plague in 1571. His father, grandfather and grandmother died within three days of one another when Caravaggio was just six years old. Then four years later, his mother died of the bubonic plague. No wonder Caravaggio had a violent view of the world. He spent the last four years trying to achieve a papal dispensation in the form of painting, gifting his most sublime works of art.
Caravaggio was born in a time of fever, led a feverish existence and died of a fever. His bones are in Porto Ercole. People dying of fevers was incomprehensible to me until now.
We accept with good grace and are impressed by the steadfast resolve of the Italian service industry to put safety before commerce. For the safety of their hotel guests, Hotel Il Pelllicano is not allowing anyone besides their hotel residents to dine in their Michelin star restaurant, even though it is outside. Several phone calls have been made from various angles and all attempts fail; I am liking the cohesiveness that I have never experienced before in Italy.
After a walk in the nearby forest and a long swim, we set sail for Sardinia. First stop is Santa Maddalena and a recommendation to eat at La Scogliera. We take a tender straight to the restaurant, to the balmy heat and scent of freshly baked bread. We all unanimously sigh at this unexpected surprise! We are welcomed by charming Italian waiters wearing bespoke La Scogliera Covid-19 masks, their dazzling smiles shine through and we are offered Ferrari champagne and Sardinian bottled water. I delight in all the distinctive traits of Italian hospitality beautifully unfolding before me.
We listen intensely to the cocktail suggestions, read out like Oscar nominees, we unanimously decide on the house cocktail – a rum and champagne decadence. I ask for a coffee to set myself straight and the waiter says: “Signora, may I propose my grandmother’s coffee to you?” How can I say no? More coffee with alcohol and ice-cream, salad for dinner, I console myself.
2,000 calories later we leave and re-surface for dinner in what used to be a very lively Porto Cervo. The shops are empty. My well-travelled friends are shocked and reminiscing how one would have to queue and spar for a table in the piazza. Due to Covid, the general consensus is to avoid eating in closed restaurants so the Pedri Garden Restaurant is where we dine. The staff are moelleux au chocolat gentle and kind, the mask does not diminish the smiles of the waiters and customers are ever mindful wearing masks until they are seated at the table. We feel safe.
The restaurants are so vigilantly sanitised and armed against the coronavirus, probably from having been in the depths of it for so long. Even if one licked the floors, one would be hard pressed to find Covid-19 here.
It seems the further south one travels in Italy, the more friendly disposition of the people we meet.
We set sail finally to Corsica and the Port of Bonifacio. The topography of the town and its architecture are a playground for Covid, coupled with the fact that people are just toying with the idea of a mask. We drop our guard and eat at the acclaimed Stella D’Oro restaurant. Once we are in closed and cramped conditions, we are nervous that by the time our main course is served, our waiter is no longer wearing his mask. This feels anarchic and we feel irresponsible, but everyone is smiling and happy to be out. The next day we order take away.
In contrast, Italy is truly vigilant in the fight against Covid-19 and that makes it a priority selection in one’s travels.
I am so grateful to have been in the most amazing company of my dearest friends, with cheeks that are still sore from laughing and spoilt by a crew dedicated to sailing and the pursuit of kindness. But nothing feels as great as getting back to Monaco and enjoying the finest cappuccino at Cova and out of this world lobster pasta at La Piazza.
Now I understand the quote I randomly found on Instagram: “We should take adventures in order to know where we truly belong”.
The captain told us on our final day of sailing that the boat would have to quarantine for 48 hours, so we were given the gift of being moored off Paloma Beach in Cap Ferrat. My friends laughed and said I had wished it, the power of wishful thinking.