I’m still trying to gather the right words to describe the simple beauty after my first visit to this little Tuscan island last week. Some things are best left to record in images, like mental snapshots, rather than try to find the words. Giglio is like that for me.
It is only a hop, skip and jump from home in Monte Argentario – a breezy one hour ferry ride from Porto Santo Stefano. So we made a quick, 24 hour visit, which is doable for the pint size of the island and it’s little towns – the port, Giglio Porto, and the hilltop Giglio Castello. Our main objective was to pay a visit to the Carfagna family who run the wonderful Altura winery. A drop-dead gorgeous series of terraced vineyards that seem to just drop into the sea below. We caught them during vendemmia, the grape harvest, where the rambling vines are plucked of their grape bunches by hand and carried up steep, rocky pathways to the car and onto the Carfagna home and winery.
It was all a little surreal. So much beauty and so much simplicity for this natural wine. The grapes, not even tied up but growing wildly across the ground. The ‘winery’, the basement of their quirky, humble tower-like home with a 270 degree view of the Tuscan archipelago. The wine, orange and sometimes fizzy, a beautiful accident.
Wine harvest also means wine harvest lunch, which is all about conviviality, wine glasses full, and sharing of plates, and chatting, all rosy-cheeked partly from the morning spent in the sun and partly from the wine.
We also made it a point to visit the bakery in Giglio as I had been wanting to try Giglio’s panficato, an unusual looking, heavy rounded fruit cake of sorts. It’s an ancestor of Siena’s spicy panforte, supposedly brought to Giglio in the 1500s when pirates pillaged the island and took away its inhabitants. The Medici repopulated the island with Sienese and their favourite Christmas treat was adapted to the island’s ingredients, namely, figs. Figs soaked in red wine make up about half of the ingredients, and the rest is a dense mixture of flour, grape jam (made from wine grapes), honey, bittersweet cocoa and nuts. The result is something like a figgy brownie – absolutely delicious.
They also make very good focaccia and a delicious “pizza gigliese”, which in all ways resembles a similar pizza from Lecce in Puglia’s south, known as pizza rustica. It’s two layers of pizza dough filled with a mixture of onions, tomatoes and anchovies, all cooked down to a melting, mouth-watering, caramelised, savoury filling.
The sun was shining it’s beautiful late September rays, the sky as blue as the sea. It’s a stunning time to visit as the sandy beaches are near empty and the crystalline water is still warm. I’m told by my friend Katja (and regular Giglio visitor) that July and August are best avoided in Giglio as the little island fills up too quickly. But I’ll be back well before then.