Former prison guard Enrico Mereu is the only official resident of Asinara island off the north-west coast. Once the site of a maximum security prison, the island is now a national park with many rare animals such as the wild albino donkey.
Sardinia – Been There

Meeting the man who 'is' an island

Photo by Francesco Pistilli

Sardinia – Been There Meeting the man who 'is' an island

The tiny island of Asinara, off north-west Sardinia, has only one official resident.

Francesco Pistilli
Francesco Pistilli

Enrico Mereu worked as a guard at Asinara’s maximum security prison. When it closed and the island became a national park in 1997, everybody left – except for him.

“I’m in love with this place,” he says, “It’s the only place where I feel at home. My wife and daughters love to stay on the mainland, but after a while I feel the need to come back and stay here, better if alone. Some people come here and they can’t wait to get out. A day on Asinara, with the silence, is already too much for them. But for me, it’s home.”

Enrico creates beautiful sculptures using driftwood. He takes me to see his collection, kept in a cell of a former jail above Cala Oliva, near his house. There’s a huge statue of St. Francis, valued at hundreds of thousands of euros, and other smaller creations. “I choose only the pieces that send me a message,” he says. “It’s as if I can see from the very first moment what sculpture will come out of it.”

We drive along the coast, passing Cala Sabina and other small beaches nestled between the rocks. The color of the water is absolutely amazing, especially at sunset, and nature is wild, with small green bushes and strange plants with vibrant red leaves. As we stop, Enrico says: “I’m going over there to see if the current washed any wood ashore. Why not take a swim?”

The silence is absolutely perfect as I walk into the water. It’s slightly cold, small fish are everywhere around me and, as I look back to the shoreline, there’s an albino donkey, common on Asinara, staring back at me. It’s just like being on another planet, in perfect harmony with the wild nature that is everywhere around me. I’m already falling in love with this place, and I can perfectly understand Enrico’s feelings. Loneliness never felt so good.

Earn a commission on every booking you make – money you can use to fund your next trip. Learn more!

2-jdp9090906-171

Castelsardo on the north coast lies picturesquely draped over a rocky promontory overlooking the Gulf of Asinara. The medieval town is crowned by a castle that now holds a museum of basket-weaving, an important local handicraft. Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Canon EOS 5D-II

Aperture
ƒ/6.7
Exposure
1/90
ISO
800
Focal
90 mm

Castelsardo on the north coast lies picturesquely draped over a rocky promontory overlooking the Gulf of Asinara. The medieval town is crowned by a castle that now holds a museum of basket-weaving, an important local handicraft.

Other stories about Sardinia