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.
My week on Isola Maggiore was restorative and enhancing in ways I didn’t expect. I made huge strides with my novel; I made seven new friends; and I fell in love with a new corner of Italy. I commend the writing retreat for anyone, regardless of where you are on the creative road or what genre you write.
Go. Have an Aperol spritz. Have two (they are quite strong, maybe stop at two). Admire the pheasants. Laugh. Tell stories.
‘Where should I fly to?’ This is the question I am asked the most. The answer is, you can take your pick … Pisa, Perugia or Rome. Or you can go the whole way from the UK by train and indulge in a two day trip, taking in Zurich and crossing the Alps – but that’s a whole other answer!
My favourite way is Rome. It’s such a contrast, flying into Italy’s biggest airport, with all its throngs of travellers and then, by late afternoon, finding myself on Isola Maggiore – no traffic, nobody rushing, just peace and tranquillity..
Rome has two airports, but the one I would advise is Italy’s equivalent of Heathrow: Fiumicino.
My flight from Yorkshire lands just before noon. From there, I take the non stop Leonardo Express from the airport into the city centre, which runs frequently and only takes half an hour. There’s a cheaper train, but I’m always too buzzing with excitement to choose that one.
When the Express pulls into Roma Termini station, I head for a light lunch. Like London King’s Cross, Termini is big and bustling and has plenty of places to get a coffee, a panino and, of course, to people watch … I’m in Italy, joining in the national pastime! Then I head for the train that will take me north east to Lake Trasimeno.
One of the many things I love about Italian trains – apart from their low prices – is the fact that each service has its own number and usually leaves from the same platform each time. I always remember to validate my ticket before I board though – there’s a fine if your ticket’s not stamped.
Within minutes of leaving Rome, the train’s soon plunging in and out of about half a dozen tunnels through the city’s famous hills. Then it’s time to just sit and watch the gorgeous landscape go by for a couple of hours. In May, the tracks are lined by mile after mile of poppies. By now, I’ve usually slipped my shoes off, and am sitting with a bottle of water in some kind of dream, smiling at washing hanging from balconies and the familiar creak of the train as it pulls into stations.
Gradually, deep wooded valleys give way to slopes of vines and the Umbrian hill towns, topped by churches. By the time we leave Magione, I almost have my nose pressed against the window, because I know that there’s a tunnel coming up. And on the other side of the tunnel, the lake.
Then I’m stepping down from the train at the shimmering little station of Passignano sul Lago. Just a few minutes walk round the corner is the ferry that will take me back across to Isola Maggiore. It’s around 4 o’clock by now, but who cares? Soon my watch and phone will barely get a glance – all that constant clock watching will be left behind. It’s time to check in at Da Sauro and relax with a drink by the lake.
“Sometimes we take a punt on an adventure and it really pays off!
I was thinking about what sort of holiday I would like, when I saw the advert for Glynis’s writing retreat. That’s it! That’s just what I want to do. My writing experience was limited to a rough draft of a short story and a few poems. But there was something appealing about the adventure of finding my way by train and boat to an island in the middle of Italy and seeing whether I had any talent for writing.
Glynis provided an encouraging, safe and fun place to explore writing potential. Her short, playful exercises help stimulate creativity and there is a good balance between workshops, time to rest and do one’s own thing, with lovely treats mixed in. These included an afternoon trip round the island in a boat and prosecco aperitifs one evening.
Mariapia, the hotel owner, is very welcoming and the dinners made by her mamma are gorgeous. Even now I am salivating at the thought of Pasta Bolognese! Together with a large glass of Merlot and good conversation, the evenings were a special way to end the day.
It was great to be away from the madding crowds and traffic and live life at a different pace for a while.
Thanks to Glynis and her capacity to critique in a constructive, kind and helpful way, I am now working on a second draft of my short story.”
– Angela, May 2016
“We went to brush up our writing skills … It was magical. This retreat will centre your life” – Doreen, 2015
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.”
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.