Summer in the Islands by Matthew Fort

4.5 out of 5 stars

We last went to Sicily way back in 2019 and had a fantastic time. Beautiful weather, fantastic views and very wonderful Italian food. Even shopping for ingredients in the supermarket is a treat. Sadly we were only there for a week but it was wonderful. It is on the list of places to go back to one day.

That week was not really long enough; I would love to be in the position that Matthew Fort finds himself which is spending a whole six months on a Vespa called Nicoletta moving between all the islands around the coast of Italy and eating a series of memorable meals. Where do I sign up?

He starts his journey in Livorno on the Tuscan coast, a place that his grandparents called Leghorn. Its days of glory are long past, but there had been a little revival with the arrival of the huge cruise ship that disgorges their cargo of rich pensioners into the town. It is not perfect, there are some untidy bits, a bit like a well-thumbed paperback, but still has its charm though. He avoids the more pretentious restaurants with their vastly oversized plates preferring to seek out the establishments that serve simple dishes with robust flavours and top-notch ingredients.

He can’t stay there forever though, it is time to start travelling to the islands off the coast, the first of which is Gorgona. These have been prisons in the past and are still a place to keep the most dangerous of Mafia bosses. The prison on this island have a little more freedom than on others, but they are still captives. They help prepare the garden and make the bread and work with the Slow Food organisation to carry on with the old varieties and methods. He is soon back on the mainland collecting his Vespa and onto the island of Elba.

It is in this vein that we accompany Fort on his travels. There is a bit of history and culture thrown in for good measure, and in certain parts, it feels like you are sitting alongside him at the table watching the la passeggiata, the early evening stroll that Italians do still. Most evocative are the descriptions of the food he is eating, whether it is the cheese he finds that is so fresh that it squeaks, or in a tiny trattoria where everyone is local except him. There is no menu, just a steady stream of perfectly cooked and exquisite tasting dishes brought to him.

Giovani Ruffa pushes a biretta into my hand. Cold Beer. The outside of the glass is misted with condensation. The beer evaporated in my throat. Pure bliss!

As good as this book is, there are two flaws. One is that it made me very hungry reading his evocative descriptions of the meals that he eats. Secondly is that I am very envious of the fact that he had the opportunity to take a large chunk of a year out to spend a lot of time in this wonderful part of the world. It reminded me of the holidays that I have taken in Italy. I would have liked some photos in the book, but that is a minor quibble. I would love to go there now, sadly restrictions mean it isn’t happening anytime soon, but thankfully we can be taken there by this book.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    I had to edit a load of restaurant website text the other week and it always seemed to come through at a time when there wasn’t a meal imminent but I was made so hungry!! This does sound good, a good combo of travel and food writing.

    • Paul

      I think that you’d like it, Liz

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