Arriving in darkness yesterday evening, I was woken by a discordant cacophony of church bells at seven o’clock as it grew light …

Breakfast happens after an early morning walk to the local bakery, five cobbled-street minutes away to collect freshly baked bread. I have mastered the phrase ‘farina integrale, per favore’ to add some whole grains to an otherwise diet of croissants and foccacio …

It has rained, thundered and lightninged all week. I have slipped and stumbled over wet cobblestones in humid rainfall to visit chiesa (churches) and cattedrale (cathedrals) straining my eyes in the gloom to gaze upon exquisite eleventh century frescoes of angels, Madonnas, saints with hauntingly beautiful faces and long fingers and toes. I was taken by the hand by one local woman, standing praying in a side chapel, and shown with great pride – and a stream of Italian of which I caught one word in five – La Madonna of Bonario whose serene face guards the local seas surrounding Sardinia and who hold a model ship in one hand and cradles the Christ child in the other. I have been presented at my front door with a container of fresh green figs by a gallant Sardinian neighbour whom I have often passed at the tiny local cafe. I feel caught up in a Tuscan-like dream of ochres and pinks and terracotta.

But today I woke to clear skies and photographed the Castella ( castle) Malespina high up on the mountain behind my house to send you.

I am off to the beach: steep steps carved out of the sandstone lead down to a crescent, yellow sand beach with aquamarine water: my first swim in the Mediterranean for many years. The beach is called Cumpoltitu which means reconciliation in Corsican.

On either side of the rough tracks, wild rosemary, fennel and white thyme scent the air beneath purple-berried myrtle bushes, young wild olive trees and the sweet crimson and orange fruits of the strawberry trees

Above us, on the mountain slopes, strange wave-like granite sculptures sweep and curve, as if frozen in mid-crest to eternal stillness …

September and October were spent exploring these fascinating two islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the coast of Italy, gathering inspiration for further writing.

Starting in the fortified ancient port city of Bastia, northeast Corsica, I then explored the southern island, staying in a rural gîte near the end of the famous Grande Randonnée Vingt trail (known internationally as the GR20) which runs down the middle spine of these famous hiking mountains. Crossing then by ferry to Sardinia, I spent two weeks on the west coast in the riverside medieval town of Bosa. These weeks’ adventures were topped off by my joining a group of hikers from the UK for a week, to climb the mountains of the Costa Esmeralda coast and island at the northeast tip of Sardinia.

I was both amazed and delighted by the warmth and friendliness of the local inhabitants on both islands. My confidence in my French meant I was better able to communicate in Corsica and strike up conversations with locals, than in Sardinia, where my poor Italian meant great reliance on Rick Steves’ excellent Italian phrasebook.

My favourite memory? Being presented at my front door in Bosa, with a gift basket of fresh green local figs by a neighbour …

My leather hiking boots are now polished and packed away and as the first snows forecasted for next week, blanket Vancouver Island, I shall open up my travel journal, recall the scents and sounds of these Mediterranean islands — and make a start on this special new piece of writing.

All photographs (c) CEM WINSTANLEY 2022