I miss Italy. I miss the sound of my luggage wheels being dragged across ancient cobblestones. I miss the cities, crowded and loud; the small towns with their web of medieval streets. I miss sipping vino rosso in a music-filled piazza, the A3, the Autogrill and the local Conad near our apartment rental in Lucca. I miss the gelaterie where gelato is displayed as if a landscape of hills and valleys, formed by stracciatella, fragola and amarone. I miss the people, the short conversations that take place in the market, on the street and in restaurants.
But mostly I miss the sea.
Perhaps because I grew up close to Boston’s north shore beaches and spent long stretches of summer on the Cape, the sea, like its tide, has always pulled me toward it. For me, when I travel to Italy, I almost always have a seaside visit on my itinerary. I have visited hill towns in Umbria and Lombardia, cities large and small, the Dolomiti, the wine region of Piemonte, the lakes region, places far north and south. Who can deny their beauty and allure? But still, I am drawn to the sea, where my gaze can settle on the expanse of blue and I can find myself floating in the clearest of water.
Forty years after my first trip to Italy, I continue to seek out the sea in search of shells and sea glass. I’ve returned from vacations with stones from Camoglie, shells from Avola and Cefalù and the lingering taste of salt from the Ligurian sea. I’ve skipped stones with my children in Amalfi, swum off a boat on a sunset sail in Vietri Sul Mare and sat, alone, on a beach near Taormina, hands and fingers buried in sand-filled waves, searching for shells that would make the trip home with me.
In the fall of 2019, my husband and I stopped at no fewer than four beaches one day as we explored Puglia. There the distance between towns is short and the sea embraces Italy’s heel like a warm hug. A sea-lover like me can swim at a gentle, sandy beach in Gallipoli on the Ionian Sea in the morning, and among the rock caves and deep blue waters of Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic at the end of the day, with a stop at midday in Otranto, where the waters of both seas join.
I avoid traveling during the peak summer months so I can enjoy near-empty beaches, some operating with limited amenities. I don’t miss the cabanas or shoulder to shoulder sunbathers. The beach is mostly mine. Me, a towel and the lapping waves. And of course, the seashells.
By Lisa DeNatale