Look at San Domino from the sea, and you see this exquisitely irregular lump of sandstone capped with a canopy of brilliant green Aleppo pines. People come here to swim in the crystalline water and float in the sunshine, but the pines are the real secret to San Domino. They give shade, shape and character to the island. They fill the warm air with sharp perfume of resin. They create barriers between one white-painted, cuboid holiday villa and the next. Pathways wind between them, taking you from cala to cala – cove to cove – where you bathe in water and sun. They are both architectural and sculptural, aesthetic and practical.
Most of the villas and hotels are a little way back from the shore perimeter. A few just peek through the green canopy, but you’re hard pushed to spot them from afar. But there they are, among the pines, sensible family places, not unhandsome, in a way, linked by broad streets paved with wavy bricks, just suitable for wheeling baby buggies along and the odd car.
All rather different, I imagine, from the time when Mussolini decided in 1938 that San Domino was a fine place to exile homosexuals. By all accounts conditions were more like a boot camp than a holiday camp, but, ironically, it was the one place in Europe where gays could openly be gay.
Wander a little way away from the designated roads and paths, into what the locals call ‘il paese’, the countryside, and you stumble across a slightly different San Domino – encampments of caravans and shacks, piles of rusting machines, patches of vegetables, stashes of pipes and bricks, orchards, pick up trucks, higgledy-piggledy boats a long way from the water. These are parts of the support system for the thousands who rent the houses, stay in the hotels every year, the hidden side on San Domino. Maintaining the holiday idyll actually takes hard work by someone.