Ventotene, the “Literary Island”
After you get off the hydrofoil at the Ventotene port, you’ll head up the switchback of inclined ramps, flanked by the typical flat-roofed Mediterraean stuccoed houses of pastel colors. Anchored fishing boats, visiting sailboats rock on the ruffled waters of the Roman port below. The ramps end in Piazza Castello dominated by the imposing four-story mustard-yellow municipio (“city hall”), once the fortress of the Bourbon French, dominating the island in the 18th-century.
Across the piazza, striped awnings shade the outdoor racks of the bookshop where vacationers browse. One of the two island grocery stores is on one side and a ceramic shop on the other of this bookshop right in the center of the main piazza, appropriately, for this libreria is the cultural center of the island of Ventotene, “a literary island.”
Wherever your island meanders take you, you’ll see people reading – books, newspapers and magazines. In the mornings. At the island outdoor cafes, espresso is sipped while turning the pages of a novel or perusing the morning paper. You might see an elderly woman, intent on reading her newspaper, empty gelato cup nearby. Sitting in a plastic armchair under a forest-green shuttered window, a white-haired islander does his crossword puzzles every afternoon. At lunchtime, hungry vacationers back from the sea read under the dangling vines spread out over the tables at Trattoria da Verde, anticipating crab-stuffed ravioli or seafood pasta. Others read at dockside cafes while munching crunchy fried calamari and shrimp in brown paper cones and sipping chilled Falanghina wine.
On the lavic rocks dropping into turquoise seas, sun-tanned women in bikinis stretch out on chaise longues reading while teens sit on a colorful towel nearby, sharing a newspaper.
As a fiery sun sinks into the sea, vacationers pick up masks and snorkels, wrap up their towels, leave the lavic outcrops jutting into the sea and head into the main piazza. For many, a first stop will be the Piazza Castello bookshop of Fabio, called “Ultima Spiaggia” (“the last beach”) where colorful bags of hand-painted Ventotene scenes drape the entryway. Children sit in clutches on little stools reading in the back children’s room while here and there, a young mother sits reading to her toddler. The older children might pause in reading to head into the piazza for a soccer game break or a scooter race. Now and then, a young child might roller skate into the bookstore, owner Fabio, grinning with a twinkle in his eye.
Older vacationers confer with Fabio on the best book on Ventotene to bring home as a gift or which one best tells the story of the confinati (anti-Fascists forced into exile here – “confined” – during World War II) or which is the best analysis of il confinato Aldo Spinelli’s Federalist treatise (font of inspiration for the European Union). The bookstore stocks, too, various books on the now-closed Santo Stefano prison (on the island of Santo Stefano, just opposite Ventotene, visitable with a fascinating guided tour).
Surrounded by books, prints, bookmarks, a 19th-c printing press stands in the middle of the store, a gift from an elderly retired printer to Fabio in admiration of his initiative in opening this small – but well-stocked – bookshop on a tiny Mediterrean island. Open from April to October (when Fabio heads back north to his bookshop in Camogli, south of Genoa), Ultima Spiaggia merits a stop if you’re here on Ventotene.
The emerald/turquoise waters surrounding the island and attracting snorkelers, divers draw many a vacationer. Tasty seafood at a handful of restaurants with outdoor tables, the Roman ruins, the stucco houses of pastel shades and and above all, the tortoise-paced rhythms of this small (1 km long, 700 km wide) island make any vacation here memorable.
And don’t forget the bookstore.
Read more on the island of Ventotene
Read about the island bakery
Read about a favorite eating spot on Ventotene
Read about – and see – Ventotene’s splendid sea
Read about a family run restaurant, not to miss
Read about Ventotene’s many enticements
See the kaleidoscopic colors of Ventotene
Read about – and see! – pizza goodness (and not only) on Ventotene
Read about Ventotene’s bakery
Read about the European summit on the island of Ventotene, Aug. 22, 2016
Read about another favorite Ventotene eating spot
Read why a return to Venotene is like “coming home”
Read about good eating at the “scooter truck”
Read about “palate poetry” on Ventotene