Located in the Sulcis archipelago, in southwestern Sardinia, the Island of San Pietro is a small island of extraordinary beauty, rich in Tabarchine culture and known for its tradition of tuna processing. It combines dream beaches, lots of history and unique gastronomic specialties in a magical atmosphere.
The Tabarchins are not just Sardinians, they are also Sardinians.
Dubbed U Pàize in the local dialect (literally: the village, the town), Carloforte is the only town on the island of San Pietro. Together with the adjacent island of Sant’Antioco, it is populated by Tabarchins, who are the most consistent and significant legacy of the Genoese presence in the Mediterranean. The Tabarchini, in fact, are the current descendants of the Genoese, in particular of Pegli, who around 1540 emigrated to Tabarka, in Tunisia, to increase coral fishing. As Tabarka became poorer of coral and too small for the growing population, and for the continuous invasions of arabics on the island, the King Carlo Emanuele III gave the fishermans a new island to live on, so in 1738 they moved to San Pietro’s Island, and built on his honor the town of Carloforte.
After 250 years the Tabarchins still reveal in their speech and in many customs aspects that refer to Liguria, the homeland of their ancestors; to Tunisia, where they lived for two centuries; and to Sardinia, where they finally took root. Tabarchino is a language that has traveled by sea; in fact, in Tunisia they had always spoken Genoese, then they absorbed the local culture and thus forged a new language that has never stopped evolving.
Discovering the natural beauties of the island
Recently made nationally famous by a TV Series (L’Isola di Pietro), the island is blessed with beautiful sandy beaches, small rocky coves, transparent waters, hiking trails, and the lovely small town of Carloforte. On the island there is a natural oasis where the Queen’s Hawk, Falco Eleonorae, comes every year from Madagascar to breed. This oasis is protected by the association LIPU that organizes tours to visit the hawk’s nests. Just outside of town, the Salt Pans are a great place to admire some of the most unique bird species of the Mediterranean, including pink flamingos and corse seagulls.
Walking around the carruggi of Carloforte
Carloforte is rightfully included in the ranking of the “most beautiful villages in Italy” with its alleyways, its squares, the pier, the marina and the ancient churches. Outside the perimeter of the walls, you can still admire the palaces dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries that overlook the seafront, Corso Battellieri. Here, in the square of the same name, stands the monument to Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy, who allowed the Tabarchins to colonize San Pietro. The Multimedia Museum of the San Vittorio Tower is the fundamental stop for those who want to know the history of the town and appreciate its particularity. The San Vittorio Tower, which houses the museum, was built in the 18th century to defend the town and converted in 1898 to an astronomical observatory.
Around the carruggi (alleys) of Carloforte, the street food is strictly Genoese with delicious focaccia and farinata. And there’s no better way to end the day than with a mirto-based cocktail on the waterfront.
What was lost in Liguria remained in Sardinia. But the real star is the tuna
At the table, Ligurian origins mix with Tunisian ones, to the point of becoming contaminated with Sardinian ones, resulting in an extraordinarily varied and exciting food reality. Many dishes are similar to those found in Liguria, such as focaccia, farinata, panissa, various vegetable pies; or bobba, a soup of dried broad beans. What is most striking, however, is that the most original and ancient versions of many Genoese dishes, that have now disappeared in Genoa, have been preserved here.
In addition to the similarities, there are also specialties exclusively tabarchine, such as pasta alla carlofortina, which appears here in the unique format of the casulli, seasoned with a basil sauce similar to pesto, but also together with tuna and tomato. For special occasions, the national dish par excellence of Tabarchini is cascà, a cous cous seasoned in various ways.
The real protagonist, however, is the island’s tonno rosso (bluefin tuna), one of the best in the world. You cannot leave Carloforte without tasting the Tonno alla Carlofortina, a dish made with fresh tuna, in particular with the fried tuna tail, blended with white wine and then covered with a delicious scented sauce with bay leaves, garlic and a little vinegar. And you cannot fail to buy some cans of Carloforte tuna belly as a souvenir of the experience. Once you open one of them back at home you will realize that there is no comparison with other types of tuna and you will regret not having bought enough.
How to plan a trip to Carloforte
The most straightforward option to visit Carloforte is from Cagliari, whose airport is one of the best served in Sardinia. By hiring a car, the Island of San Pietro can be reached in a couple of hours, including the 30-minute ferry ride from Calasetta or Portovesme. If time is short, perhaps it is best to seek the assistance of agencies that specialize in creating personalized individual holidays in this area to suit your specific interests, like Sicily & Beyond.