When Virginia Woolf wrote her 1927 masterpiece “To the Lighthouse”, she could not have imagined that her mirage (in the novel, a lighthouse in the Hebrides) would become one of our most powerful and persuasive existential symbols. In a way it’s also metaphor for our spirit, our light and our eclipse, the flashing alternations of our moods. And we are all aware that we continue to be attracted to – and fascinated by – these constructions eternally on the border between land and sea. Solitary, radiant in sunlight and dramatic in a storm; always set against the most unspoilt natural landscapes. Here’s how to take a break where the protagonists are threefold: a tower, rocks and the sea.
In the north east of Gallura and the La Maddalena archipelago the exuberance of the coast underlines the spectacular nature of the buildings attached to these lights. Because of their particular function they were built in the most inaccessible margins, or in the channels between rocky outcrops. Some can be reached by land, along half-hidden paths leading through the scents of the Mediterranean scrub. These are the lighthouses of Capo Testa, Punta Sardegna, Capo d’Orso and Capo Ferro. Others are scattered around islands and islets and even in summer are havens of total silence, like Razzoli island lighthouse, the lighthouse of Punta Filetto on Santa Maria, the lighthouse of the Monaci islets and that of the Corcelli islands.
The largest were inhabited up until a few decades ago by keepers and their families, but are now abandoned and only sporadically does a technician visit a light to inspect and maintain its automatic lighting installations. By sea or by land, here’s a quick guide to each of them.
Capo Testa lighthouse
Five kilometres west of Santa Teresa di Gallura, after taking the scenic route up to the edge of the military zone through the spectacular rocks of the Capo Testa headland, the lighthouse sits overlooking the Strait of Bonifacio. Built in 1845, it is located on a promontory of great granite rocks that fashion little inlets and tiny beaches along the coast. This light is always magnificent, whether during the storms of the mistral and the north wind, or on days of absolute calm.
Punta Sardegna lighthouse
From Palau, following the road through Porto Raphael to the northern end, Punta Sardegna appears with its white lighthouse looking over the southern face of the island of Spargi. Built in 1913, since 1995 it has housed a study base for the O.C.E.A.N.S. coastal and natural underwater environment observatory.
Capo d’Orso lighthouse
From the parking lot near the Roccia dell’Orso (bear’s rock), follow the dirt road towards the fortress that is clearly visible to the east. Before getting there, a path leading to the lighthouse descends to the left, taking you on a half-hour walk through rocks and vegetation. A small dock and the nooks and crannies around the lighthouse provide perfect natural swimming pools.
Capo Ferro lighthouse
From Porto Cervo, the road to Capo Ferro ends near the lighthouse: the old building from 1861 can be seen together with the one from the beginning of the 1900s. The lighthouse, signalling to both air and sea, has a range of 24 miles and marks the south easterly entrance to the Straits of Bonifacio. From this point you have a fantastic view over the sea between Caprera and Sardinia as well as one of the best viewpoints for watching the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda’s great yacht races.
Punta Filetto lighthouse
When the beaches of the island of Santa Maria are overcrowded, this is a wonderful respite: a walk up to the lighthouse at Punta Filetto takes around 20 minutes along the dirt road that departs from the jetty on the largest beach. Today it is automatic but until 1969 it housed several families and a school for twelve children, the northernmost school in Sardinia.
Built in 1843, Razzoli is the oldest lighthouse in the archipelago. Before the arrival of electricity, the large acetylene lamp required so many people in order to light it, that six families lived within the building. The structure has been abandoned until last year, and will now undergo a radical restoration and become one of the most fascinating spots of the archipelago. Get there along the two-kilometre trail that starts from the small pier on Cala Lunga beach.
Monaci Islands lighthouse
A white tower that rises from sculptural granite rocks emerging from the water. Splendidly isolated for a day of sun and sea. Get there by anchoring on the sheltered side and climbing the stairs carved in the granite. The lighthouse often serves as a natural buoy for impressive sailing regattas.
Corcelli Islands lighthouse
This red and black striped, tower built in 1936 to shed light on a dangerous sea passage, marks the tip of the islet of Barrettinelli di Fuori. This lovely islet is completely rocky and only accessible from the south side where a tiny landing spot allows you to get up onto the rocks.