A look back at September 2018 on Isola Maggiore

This year’s retreat on the island was filled with sunny days, rich autumn colour and lots of laughter.  We welcomed writers from the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia. Most arrived with no particular plans about what they might write.  Seven days and four workshops later, everyone’s notebook or tablet was bursting with words and full of ideas.

There was the island’s mouth-watering food (and the tightening of waistbands!)  and the irresistible ‘sunset hour’ … simply sitting with an Aperol Spritz and watching the sky slowly spreading its pinks and yellows above the distant hills.

Once again, the island was working its magic.

 

 

“It was great to be away from the madding crowds and traffic and live life at a different pace.” – Angela 2016

A look back at May

Michelangelo and Maurizio stand on the harbour with their fishing rods, waiting. The sun is just starting to dip and there’s that usual anticipation of a sky softly streaked with pink.  I’m back on Isola Maggiore for the May retreat.

Next afternoon, the writers begin to arrive, stepping off the ferry with rucksacks, cases and bags, ready to stop the clock for a week.  The days are filled with everything from writing to wandering, from reading to reflection.  There’s a lot of gazing at the lake and deep, deep sighs of contentment.

The morning workshops go organic – we span from Angela who’s new to writing to Joe who’s on a novel – and pages quickly fill with plots, people, bubbling ideas. At eleven, cappuccini and fresh croissants arrive, then off we go again.

On two evenings, Giulia comes over from Abruzzo, here to lead aperitivo time sessions in conversational Italian. We drink prosecco, laugh a lot, and head for dinner ready to practice the phrases we’ve just learned.

Isola - Libera.jpg

Dinner goes off piste. Mariapia waves the menu aside, offering us fish fresh from the lake, swirls of steaming pasta and – her Mamma’s speciality – delicious salsa di persico.  The spinaci is the best we’ve ever tasted – how does she do that? – and we can’t resist her tiramisu.

It’s a whole week of slowing right down, of taking time to savour food and new friendships, of exploring ways into writing and sharing words. For me, it’s the pleasure of knowing I’ve been of help, of hearing Angela say “I’m just so happy.”

“I sat, undisturbed for hours, thinking and writing.  No interruptions whatsoever other than the noises of the island … The wind in the trees, birdsong and the sound of the water gently lapping.”

 

Why Isola Maggiore?

It’s a long story – involving a monastery, seafood risotto, and a fair amount of serendipity – but I first discovered Isola Maggiore a couple of years ago … and as soon as I set foot on it, I was hooked.  This little bit of heaven had been waiting for me all along.

Life that year had been like one of those snow globes. You know the feeling? Everything swirling around, so that you can’t see anything clearly.  But on Isola Maggiore, all that mad fluttering magically settled. I’d  only gone across for an afternoon visit, but in the first hour I knew it was a very special place. I kicked off my sandals and swished my feet in the lake, making my own Trevi type promise:  “If I dip my toes in here,” I told myself, “I’ll be back.”

Trevi

Here and there – in the ice cream shop, the hilltop church, the lace museum – I saw small cards, advertising a photography blog, run by a Belgian man who’d retired to the island 20 yrs ago.  While I was drinking a Peroni overlooking the lake,  turning one of these little cards over and over in my hand, I had a ‘lightbulb moment’. I emailed the photographer from my phone. I’d fallen in love with the island, I told him, and just knew I had to write there. Somehow.

The next day, I found myself on the ferry back across the lake, already feeling at home. During the next couple of hours – and involving generous amounts of caffe, olives and pistachios – I was introduced by my Belgian host to several of the island’s 17 residents, including Silvia, who owns the gelateria, and Mariapia, owner of the island’s only hotel, Da Sauro. Before I knew it, we had a plan … and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I’m wandering along the lake shore, heading to where St Francis slept on a rock, I always stop for a moment at my own little Trevi and smile. Never underestimate the power of those lightbulb moments … Sometimes they lead you back to a secret island.

Glynis