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Tavolara, The World's Smallest Kingdom

(Photo: Viaggio Routard)

The story goes that in 1807, Giuseppe Bertoleoni, a man from Genoa, was facing bigamy charges. He fled the city with the pair of sisters that he had married and made his way to Tavolara, an uninhabited island off the coast of Sardinia. It's about 2 square miles of rocks and goats.

In 1836, King Carlo Alberto of Sardinia came to the island to hunt the goats. He met Paolo Bertoleoni, the son of the original settler, who introduced himself as the King of Tavolara. King Tonino, the current monarch, shared the story with BBC Travel:

“When he landed, Carlo Alberto introduced himself by saying, ‘I’m Carlo Alberto, the King of Sardinia,’” Tonino said. “And so my great-grandfather replied, ‘Well, I’m Paolo, the King of Tavolara.’”

After killing several goats and feasting for three days at Paolo’s home, Carlo Alberto was so delighted that he said, “Paolo, you really are the King of Tavolara!” before sailing off, according to Tonino. Joking or not, Carlo Alberto later confirmed that the far-flung island had never officially been part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, and he sent Paolo a scroll from Carlo Alberto’s royal family, the House of Savoy, that certified the monarchy’s status.

Perhaps King Carlo Alberto was joking. But the Bertoleoni family took this proclamation very seriously and claimed the tiny island as their own independent kingdom.

King Tonino, 83, has ruled the island and its 11 inhabitants for 22 years. He also owns and operates the only restaurant on the island. It's a humble royalty:

These days, when he’s not fishing for squid or gardening outside his squat bungalow, his majesty lords over Tavolara's 11 part-time residents, 100 nimble mountain goats and a few species of endangered falcons that live atop the island’s 565m limestone peak. For the past 40 years, Tonino has been personally escorting visitors to his family’s island palace – first by rowboat, and now via a 25-minute ferry that he operates from Porto San Paolo.

“My family may have had a beautiful past,” Tonino said in a soft voice, “but we work hard and live simply, just like everybody else.”

In fact, running the kingdom is very much a family business. While the king and his nephew, Nicola, captain the summer ferry, the prince and princess in waiting, Giuseppe and Loredana, now run the beachside restaurant. Giuseppe’s nephew, Antonio, wakes up early to go fishing every morning and supplies most of the clams, lobster and fish that fly out of the kitchen each afternoon and evening.

-via Amusing Planet

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I've been here. "2 square miles of rocks and goats", while technically true, does not do the place justice. It's massive, impressive and the spaghetti vongole at the restaurant is probably the best I ever had....
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