Where do you go if someone is trying to kill you and you need a safe haven from the would-be assassin? Renowned thriller author John Le Carré spent years finding new hideaways for his protagonists in danger.
Fellows such as Justin Quayle, an English diplomat, amateur gardener and reluctant hero in the Le Carré classic The Constant Gardener. Quayle’s wife had been hacked to death in Kenya, and when hit men came looking for him, he sequestered himself on the Mediterranean island of Elba in the 17th century La Chuisa di Magazzini winery.
A perfect site it would seem, built over the ruins of a medieval fortress, with solid, almost impenetrable walls, and a panoramic view to the ocean to readily spy any would-be intruders.
“There is even an oil room [once used making olive oil] where those in search of answers to life’s great riddles may seek temporary seclusion,” Le Carré wrote.
Now the tourists cram into the oil room to taste the vineyard’s wines and learn about Elba’s most famous genuine resident, Napoleon Bonaparte. The people of Elba live and breathe Napoleon, despite his exile lasting just 36 weeks before he tried to make it back to his native France.
The winery guide takes full advantage: “My grandmother swore by the medicinal value of wine”.
“Grandma would tell me you only drink tea at 5pm … or if you are upset. Beer is drunk with pizza. But wine is consumed with all other food.
“There is nothing better than a slice of fresh home-made bread and a sip of wine anytime. Grandma proved that. She lived to 100 years, one month and 10 days.
“Napoleon knew this, too. He would drink the local dessert wine, Aleatico di Portoferaio, for breakfast instead of coffee. Here in Elba we drink 50,000 bottles of Aleatico a year.”
We’re not about to be spoilsports, so we toast the pair, one famous and one known only to the guide’s family, with a glass or three of Aleatico. Accompanied by some hot home-made bread, of course.
Sadly we cannot see the haunt of another Elba resident – like The Constant Gardener, a figment of a writer’s imagination. Nearby is the offshore island of Monte Cristo, these days a national park.
It was inspiration for the classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo by 19th century French author Alexandre Dumas. It told the story of a man who was wrongfully imprisoned, escaped from jail and sought horrific revenge on those responsible for his jailing.
Only 1000 visitors are allowed on Monte Cristo in any one year. We’re sad to report the waiting list is currently almost four years ... and growing by the day.