Slowly the beautiful wild island of Asinara regained her freedom. For over a century only the convicts and guards of the prison had access to the island. Very few other people saw the island during this period, apart from workmen or technicians called in for repairs in the prison and closely escorted by the guards. These "fortunate few" on their return fascinated relatives and friends with their surreal accounts of the prison island.
They spoke of wild horses galloping along the beaches, of white donkeys timidly observing these rare visitors as they passed, of mouflons, hares and wild boar which suddenly appeared in the road.
Today, the accounts of thousands of other people who have visited the island since 1999 after Asinara became a national park in 1997, can be added to these stories. However, although it can be visited by anyone all year round, the spectacular environment of Asinara has remained completely unchanged.
A succession of small coves, flowering meadows, sand, rocks eroded by the wind, a sea which continually changes colour, from pale blue to cobalt, from turquoise to deep blue, can be seen in the 26 kilometres of the island, from Fornelli, where boats from Stintino arrive, to the extreme northerly point of Cala d'Oliva.
In order to get an overall view of the sinuousshape which gave the island its name (in Latin sinuari ), you have to climb up to Punta della Scomunica (408 mt). The west coast is a series of cliffs, fissures, sheer rock faces while the east coast slopes more gently down to the sea, with sandy beaches and limestone rocks.
The first sight at Fornelli is a white building in reinforced concrete with two surveillance towers. This was the high security prison where many members of the Mafia and terrorist groups were held. A few minutes down the road, the remains of a thirteenth century castle can be seen on the left, the Castellaccio, while on the right the colour of the sea in the Sant'Andrea cove is like the colour of a tropical sea. The fauna and flora on Asinara are special and remarkable: its jewels are the "centaura orrida" an actual living fossil, and the famous white donkeys, which appear in countless photographs taken by tourists.
The narrowest part of the island, a short distance north of Fornelli, is one of the most beautiful areas: as with an isthmus, only 240 metres separate "Cala Sgombro di fuori" from "Cala Sgrombro di dentro" and, depending on the wind, one side of the sea is calm and the other rippled by waves. Asinara has not yet ceased to astonish us and it continues to restore to us things from a distant past; in fact, recently the cargo of a Roman ship of the IV or V century A.D. was found at the bottom of Cala Reale.
A curiosity: the white donkeys
Some people believe they came from Egypt and were brought by an eccentric marquis, while others think they arrived after a shipwreck. It is much more likely, say the experts, that they are the descendants of a grey ancestor. Whatever their origin, the small albino donkeys with a white coat have been grazing on the island for an unknown length of time. They have become the symbol of the park and today greet with some curiosity the tourists that come ashore on their island.