Pelagic Mission: Caprera

by Rudston Steward

wingding 500 x 30 px


ctober is the Mediterranean’s best-kept secret—my favorite swimming month bar none.

The La Maddalena archipelago in northern Sardinia is one of Italy’s most spectacular seascapes: hillsides of granite drip and bulge into cerulean bays, rampant vegetation spills onto coves daubed with secretive white sand. It’s also one of Italy’s most expensive summer playgrounds.

From late July to early September the coast squirms. Bays fill up with yachts slotted cheek-by-jowl like so many glistening sheep bobbing at anchor-pasture. And, given La Maddalena’s proximity to the Costa Smeralda—along with Amalfi and Portofino the most overpriced strip of seafront in the land—prices are exorbitant.

But not in October. Now the season has come to an end: accommodation is discounted, the fish is fresher, the booze cheaper, the conversations franker. The weather is superb: warm-to-hot days, skies clear as a clean conscience, water temperature near floating-point perfection. The beaches uncrowded, almost mystically quiet.

October is a month-long blissed-out happy hour for secluded beach-heads.

At the outset of my 9-month Italian Odyssey I embarked on a Pelagic Mission: to swim my way around the Italian peninsula from April through December. I’ve been keeping tally of the beaches swum thus far. In La Maddalena last week, six and a half months in, I hit a milestone: my 50th beach. Cala Napoletana, on the island of Caprera.

Cala Napoletana just happens to be within sight of the farm where Giuseppe Garibaldi lived out his last years after the unification of Italy in 1861. It felt somehow appropriate, vainly, that my Grand Italian Swimming Milestone played out in the shadow of a Great Italian Hero.

After his epic Risorgimento battleground feats, Garibaldi wanted nothing other than to settle into a simple agrarian life with his family, on this granite outcrop of an island, close by the limpid Mediterranean sea. It occurred to me, as I strolled down to the beach, that the Father of the Fatherland must have walked to Cala Napoletana many times along this same path, perhaps treading exactly where I too now trod. I was walking in History’s heroic footsteps.

Garibaldi was a wise man. He would have headed to Cala Napoletana often in October for a swim—when the hard-fought battles of summer had been won, and the beach-heads of Caprera no longer needed defending from the enemy forces threatening to land, glistening and bobbing constantly at anchor-pasture in the bay.


wingding 500 x 30 px