The battle for Italy's pink island

The pink sands of Budelli Island are more precious than gold. Photo / iStock
The pink sands of Budelli Island are more precious than gold. Photo / iStock

Budelli is a tiny atoll in Italy dubbed "pink paradise". Its clear turquoise waters, lush vegetation, purple rocks and - the icing on the cake - a unique rose-coloured beach makes it the pearl of the La Maddalena archipelago, scattered between Sardinia and Corsica.

A protected desert isle except for one lonely caretaker who lives there all by himself like a hermit, it's known worldwide as the "pink island" for the exceptional colour shades of its sand.

Bright pink, orange and salmon-tinted bits of crushed coral, crystals, fossils and dead marine creatures such as microscopic prawns' skeletons cover the beach, giving the shore a sparkling strawberry hue similar to that of the sun when it starts to set.

Budelli's pink sand is more precious than gold.

Up until a few decades ago visiting tourists had the bad habit of stealing handfuls of it, hiding it in plastic bags to bring back home as a souvenir to place in glass jars.

But now, the pink beach is off limits. During summer tourists are allowed to visit Budelli only for the day and must stay within the Cavalieri shore on the other side of the pink beach. They can't set foot on the spiaggia rosa nor can they swim to it.

The atoll might be one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean Sea, but the Italians have a saying about Budelli: It's like a beautiful woman whom everyone desires but no one is willing to take on.

A battle has been waged over the isle for years and it's still at a stalemate. The pink paradise has gone from one owner to another like a ping pong ball, living in limbo.

It's an absurd story of legal wrangling, infinite court appeals and bureaucratic labyrinths - a typical Italian case.

Since the 1960s Budelli belonged to a real estate agency who tried to get rid of it dozens of times without success. When the company went bankrupt Kiwi banker Michael Harte snatched the atoll in 2014 for roughly 2.9 million euros.

Harte had in mind a major project to create a biodiversity observatory with an environmental-friendly resort by restyling the ruins, which triggered political protests. Italy's government just couldn't accept that the island be turned into a luxury retreat with the risk of endangering it and so stepped in, passing a law that allowed a buyback.

Harte appealed against the move and won, but before his purchase was finalised the archipelago authority changed the island status from "partially protected marine park" to "totally protected", thus putting an end to Harte's dreams. The banker finally gave up in February and now the park authority, after much mulling-over, has bought Budelli making it public.

"Budelli knows no peace, it's a never-ending story. The park has never wanted it, then Harte comes along and the park wants it too," says local La Maddalena resident Angela Piras.
"Why not purchase it in the first place then? Truth is, neither the state nor the park give a damn about this slice of heaven."

But the squabble isn't over and now comes another row.

The 77-year-old caretaker Mauro Morandi, nicknamed "Italy's Robinson Crusoe", might not last long. Employed 28 years ago by the failed real estate company, he now risks being kicked-out of his hut by the new owners.

The park thinks his work is no longer needed and his "castaway guard" should be substituted by additional sea patrols and surveillance cameras to keep dangerous tourists at bay.

"They want to evict me but I swear I'm not moving my ass from this island," Mauro tells news.com.au.

"It's my life, they need to send the police to drag me away in hand cuffs. I won't leave it not even once dead: I want my ashes to be thrown into the water" says Mauro, who kills time with handicraft work and loves to wash his face in the sea early in the morning.

An online petition has been launched to save the caretaker and keep him in place, with more than 12,200 signatures so far.

Who knows how this latest "Budelli battle" will end.

- news.com.au

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