There’s a few hours before sunset to find these famous capers. The road winds round sharp headlands. A weathered sign, a rocky track – this must be it. Did you know capers grow on bushes? I didn’t. Scrubby, unremarkable bushes in dry soil; apt conditions for a salty, briny, intense little berry. Some think Salina has the best capers in the world. Roberto, the owner of this farm, with his photograph proudly displayed in the pickling and storage rooms, certainly thinks so. The island hosts an entire festival in their honour each June. Capers in salt, capers in brine, caper tapenade, caper dip… we take leave, laden with offerings for lucky friends in London.
We may almost have the island entirely to ourselves, but when it comes to food, we seem to be in the land of plenty. The raved-about Signum restaurant is our pick, and on arrival we are informed that ours had been the last boat to attempt the crossing from Lipari and that 20 anticipated guests are still stranded there. Our inadvertent intrepidness means that we are the soul diners and beneficiaries of a truly memorable dinner. We’re in the extremely capable hands of sommelier Josephine. Quickly we build a rapport. We’re treated to 6 different spectacular island wines. Somehow Josephine and her team conjure up a full house atmosphere despite the empty seats.
Chef Martina Caruso is the bright young thing in Sicilian cookery. Her menu is an ode to the ingredients she has available locally. Those capers, plus courgettes, ricotta, rabbit, fish, olives ... in fact the only thing not available to us this evening is anything containing mozzarella, because it, too, is stranded in Lipari. We don’t miss it. The food was so good I would have braved the island crossing in a rubber ring.
Myth and legend were born out of these islands, and from these legends came great works of epic poetry. If I were to cast myself as a wandering hero of the epics then Salina, my shelter from the storm with its comfort, kindness and generosity, would be a fitting chapter. We have not just survived on Salina we have thrived, thanks to the faultless hospitality of the Salina locals. We left promising, in true epic tradition, that we would return.
Words and images by Kate Friend