Tavolara

THE WORLD'S SMALLEST KINGDOM

BY VALERIA SERRA

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Everyone has seen it, the imposing morphology of the island of Tavolara does not go unnoticed by those arriving in northeast Sardinia by air or by sea, yet hardly anyone really knows it. A granite and limestone monolith shaped like a great wall, four kilometres long by one kilometre wide, it rises vertically from the sea to reach 570 metres in height.

 

Like a natural fortress, this controversial and virtually inaccessible beauty evades easy exploration, being tamed, experienced. There are, however, various ways in which to reach and enjoy the territory of Tavolara, which falls under the protection and safeguard of the Protected Marine Area. The island, which each July hosts the now famous Tavolara Film Festival, boasts a tiny, fixed community in the summer months: around 20 houses and the restaurant “Il Re di Tavolara” which serves a memorable spaghetti with clams and bottarga.

 

Tonino’s is not just any old restaurant, but represents the remains of the glorious and underrated history of the island of Tavolara. Tonino Bertoleoni is heir to Giuseppe Bertoleoni, King of Tavolara, and his tale is not a legend but a true story. In 1836 Prince Carlo Alberto of Savoy met with Giuseppe: together with his family the only inhabitants of the island. An ex smuggler, shepherd, sailor and a man full of charisma, Giuseppe had awarded himself the title of King.

 

The Prince, seduced by the confidence of the would-be shepherd, consigned a parchment to him attesting his sovereignty over the island. Confirmation arrived when, one morning in the year 1900, the Royal Navy ship Vulcan docked at Tavolara and royal photographers sent by Queen Victoria of England disembarked to prepare a set and photograph the entire family in a fitting pose. The hazy black and white image is still preserved in the Buckingham Palace museum with the caption “The Royal Family of Tavolara in the Gulf of Terranova Pausania, the world’s smallest realm”.