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Photo: Mauro Morandi

The 79-year-old real-life Robinson Crusoe reflects on the rigors and rewards of a life of solitude on Budelli Island

This month, A Beautiful Perspective relaunched as a digital magazine tackling a single theme each month. For our first month, we’re exploring the concept of home. Click here to read more stories from the HOME Issue.

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Translation and transcription by Stefania Cargnello

In popular culture, characters are always trying to escape deserted islands, driven volleyball-worshipping mad by the endless waves and isolation. But 29 years ago, Mauro Morandi was searching for one.

Disenchanted with Italy’s consumer culture, he had decided to run away, to sail off to Polynesia and find a speck of sand and sun to call his own. Instead, he landed on Budelli, a Mediterranean paradise of rocky hills and idyllic coves just off the Sardinian coast. Famous for its rose-colored beach dyed pink by a rare microorganism, the island was home to a single resident, a caretaker, who was leaving his post two days later.

“I found my Polynesia here,” Morandi says.

That was nearly three decades ago.

Today, Morandi is 79, and Budelli is protected within La Maddalena Archipelago National Park. It’s still a rugged, wild place and he’s still the only inhabitant—a sort of intentional Italian Robinson Crusoe—though he has a wi-fi connection now, a cell phone and an Instagram account with more than 18,000 followers. The past 29 years living in solitude have granted Morandi the space to explore both the island and himself, and his mission has evolved. These days he’s focused less on fleeing society and more on guiding others to appreciate and protect the environment he cares for so deeply. He meets with visitors, photographs his unusual home and indulges the occasional journalist curious about the rigors and rewards of island life.

ABP reached the philosopher king of Budelli by phone to hear about making a home, communing with nature and getting to know himself in the process.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

"We tend to see only the surface of beautiful things, and we desire to take them, possess them." Mauro Morandi

I always loved islands. Since I was a kid, I used to read marine adventure books. The word “island” is related to isolation. An island is detached from everything, a place of solitude, which I love.

I was very isolated in the first years [on Budelli] as a hermit. I did not want to see anybody. Even if the beach was crowded with visitors, up to 3,000 people a day, I refused to interact and communicate with anyone for many years.

[My home] is a former World War II shelter overlooking the bay, a strategic point to check for a French invasion. It was easy to adapt to this life. I would fish or have my fisherman friend help me with food, though rarely in the winter, as it is very dangerous to navigate the Strait of Bonifacio. Some years he came only three times during the winter. [Now,] I have a refrigerator, and I store food for these periods. At the beginning I didn’t have a fridge, and I ate only canned food during winter.

In the summer, from morning to evening, I am with visitors. I welcome them and instruct them. In the winter, I am alone. I read a lot. I collect wood to keep my home warm. If something breaks—boat, motor, solar power system—I repair it. I made the solar system. It powers the light and the fridge, and it allows me to communicate through the internet.

Home is a WWII shelter with a homemade solar system to power the fridge and the internet connection. Mauro Morandi

[When I first arrived] I was always hiking, exploring the island. I know every single bit of it, every plant and every rock, every tree and every animal species, every wind. I was in bliss, alone with nature.

Then I realized that my way of loving nature was selfish. I was keeping this beauty for myself. So I slowly started to talk to people, and explain why the beach was pink and why this island was so precious.

Now, I do much more. I try to share my way of seeing the world, which is the need to connect to the depth of beauty. We tend to see only the surface of beautiful things, and we desire to take them, possess them. The Spiaggia Rosa is not pink anymore, because visitors have been taking tons of pink sand. In a few decades, we destroyed 10,000 years of creation.

When I arrived here, I freed myself from external conditioning, but the real problem was to free myself from internal conditioning. That is more difficult to recognize. Then little by little, you recognize it in the solitude, and you ask yourself, ‘Who are you?’ and you start the search. I realized that within ourselves there is a monster. We have to recognize it, accept it and live with it. If you don’t recognize and accept it, it will always dominate you. I realized that there is no end; the journey itself will make you grow inside and connect you with your meaning. My meaning is to communicate my love for nature. It is what I strive to do.

"I realized that my way of loving nature was selfish. I was keeping this beauty for myself." Mauro Morandi

Until three years ago, I was not missing anything. I was in bliss. But three years ago I fell in love with a woman I met on Facebook. How things change! Life is unpredictable. Falling in love at 77. Since I met this woman, I have been asking myself what I should do. When I visit her on the mainland, I feel very uncomfortable. I’m not used to being in a crowded town. Let’s see how it goes. Winters are getting harder for me as I age.

[My favorite place on Budelli] is a little hill that faces the sea on the right side of the beach. That hill has a wonderful view of the archipelago. I go there to read. The water is crystalline, and I love the sunset. I relate with it, as I am in the sunset of life. The sunset knows things that sunrise can only imagine.