Elba is the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is 10 kilometers from the coast, separated by the Piombino Channel. Spread over 224 square kilometers, the island is full of interesting natural, scenic, and architectural wonders, even if the sea is the most important tourist attraction. Napoleon was probably Elba’s most famous resident; he spent nine months there after his exile from Paris in 1814. The island’s geography is quite diverse: the western coast is peaceful with sandy beaches and is perfect for water sports, while the eastern coast, where the main town is Porto Azzurro, is more rugged with rocky beaches and high cliffs. Visually and architecturally, the seafront towns are similar to Corsican and Ligurian villages known for their narrow alleys, winding paths leading to the beaches, and houses that cling tightly to the cliffs. Between hotels and tourist residences, Elba has more than 15,000 beds for hosting tourists. There are about 40 daily connections by ferry and hydrofoil with the port of Piombino on the Tuscan coast. Ferries take 1 hour while hydrofoils take 30 minutes. Once on the island, A.T.L. public buses run throughout the day.
Gorgona is 37 kilometers from Livorno, in the northern part of the Tuscan archipelago. Like Pianosa Island, it is home to a prison so any visits there must be approved by the Ministry of Justice. Gorgona measures just 2.2 sq. kilometers, making it the smallest of the archipelago islands. Its highest point is at 255 meters above sea level. It is mainly covered in Mediterranean scrub, and the most common animals are wild rabbits and migratory birds. Olive, fig, chestnut, oak, cypress, and pine trees have all been brought to the island by man.
[Isola di Montecristo] Montecristo is 40 kilometers from Portoferraio and is part of that municipality. The island is about 10 square kilometers and formed by an ancient granite mass covered in Mediterranean scrub. The 645 meters high Monte della Fortezza is the tallest of three peaks that rise from the island. This uninhabited island, which is probably the ancient Romans’ Oglase or Artemisia, is very picturesque: its jagged coast stretches 16 kilometers, full of precipices and inlets, the largest being the inaccessible Cala di Corfù.
The flora and fauna on Montecristo is truly unique: it is the only island where wild goats still run free and pepper trees grow. The island is a State Forestry Reserve and its flora and fauna are protected. Cala Maestra is the only place where boats can moor; nearby is the now-abandoned 19th century Villa Reale. From here there is a track leading to the ruins of the ancient monastery of S. Salvatore and S. Mamiliano, founded by the Benedictine monks and then passed to the Camaldolese. To the west of Montecristo, a lighthouse stands on a rock known as Scoglio d’Africa or the Ant of Montecristo.
[Isola di Pianosa] Pianosa is 10.2 square kilometers and is the nearest island to Elba (14 kilometers). It is part of the Campo nell’Elba municipality and serves as a prison. Boats need permission from the Ministery of Justice to land there. Its name comes from its flat shape (max. height 27 meters) which differs from that of all the other islands in the archipelago.
Numerous fossil remains of bears, deer and horses found on the island confirm that Pianosa was connected to the mainland during the Quaternary period. The climate is quite mild except in the summer when temperatures soar, and rain is scarce for the most part, so grapes are the most commonly-grown crop, as well as barley, wheat, rye, and oats. However much of the land is covered in shrubs, olive trees, cacti, agaves and asphodels. Seagulls and migratory birds abound here. Mooring is possible at a marina on a small peninsula on the eastern coast near the La Scola rock. Another rocky formation is situated at the northern end of the island, a short distance from Punta del Marchese. In S. Giovanni’s Bay along the eastern coast there are the ruins of Postumo Agrippa’s Roman villa.
Giannutri is the southernmost island in the Tuscan Archipelago. It can be reached from either Porto Santo Stefano or Port’Ercole, however the latter is 23 kilometers away and access to the island is by private transport only.
Giannutri is part of the Giglio Island Municipality. The predominantly rocky coast is full of wonderful caves and inlets. In the northwest at Cala dello Spalmatoio and Cala Maestra there are two small shingle beaches. The Greeks called the island Artemide and the Romans called it Dianum because of its half moon shape. There are two places to dock on the island: the well-sheltered Cala dello Spalmatoio, where there are the remains of an old Roman port, and Cala Maestra, a rocky inlet along the northeastern shore.
Giglio, the second largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago in terms of surface area (21.2 sqkm and population (1,711 inhabitants), is 14 kilometers from Monte Argentario. Ferries leave from Porto S. Stefano, a short drive from Albinia or from Orbetello. To reach Porto S. Stefano or Port’ Ercole by train, get off at Orbetello when coming from either the north (Genoa) or south (Rome).
Giglio is completely mountainous; its highest peak is at Poggio della Pagana (498 m). The only beaches are found at Cala dell’Arenella, Cannelle on the eastern coast, Campese to the northwest, and Giglio Porto (with mooring for 200 boats). The abundance of cliffs along the coast makes it perfect for scuba diving and other underwater sports in the summer.
It is particularly mild and dry throughout the year, a favorable climate for vineyards and in particular the grapes used for making Ansonaco, a golden wine famous even in Roman times and celebrated every year. Trees are limited to olive, chestnut, fig, pine, and holm oak trees. There is a good variety of animal life: in addition to the famous wild rabbit (which is one of the local dishes), there are also many birds of passage such as woodcocks. The main inhabited areas are Giglio Porto, Giglio Castello (where the town hall is located) and Campese.
There are 14 hotels in all on the island. Giglio Porto is located on an inlet along the eastern coast, protected by a breakwater on either side and sheltered behind by a natural amphitheater of terraced vineyards. Follow a narrow paved road that climbs steeply uphill and winds through vineyards to reach the main square of Giglio Castello (405m) at the foot of the historic walls and the fortress. The town still has an ancient feel, located high on a hill and encircled by a medieval wall with circular and rectangular towers. Narrow lanes and steep flights of stairs cross between closely-built stone houses. The fortress and its 14th century gate tower over the town. On the other side of the town is the parish church with parts of a 14th century wall and an ivory crucifix by Giambologna. Giglio Castello was built as it was because of the need to defend itself from pirates that frequently tried to land there. Fear of these attacks explains the numerous towers located throughout the island, the best preserved of which is found in Campese. A road about 6 kilometers long, full of hairpin bends, leads down to Campese’s beach at the centre of the bay.
Wild and beautiful Capraia was named for the wild goats (capra) that once lived on the island but now have moved to Montecristo. Both the Greeks and Romans knew the island well.
Capraia is the third largest island in the Archipelago, after Elba and Giglio, with a surface area of about 20 sq.k. and the only one of volcanic origin; its unique volcanic ridge crosses the entire island, reaching a height of 447 meters at Monte Castello in the north and 410 meters at Monte Arpagna in the south. This ridge may be formed by a series of eruptive cones; while the ridge drops steeply to the sea to the west, it slopes more gently in the east, forming valleys in which “vadi” or small streams of water flow.
In the center of the ridge, 321 meters above sea level, there is a crater lake “Stagnone” complete with wild water lilies. On the western slope there are many caves where it seems a number of common seals still live. Marine life is very abundant, a true small paradise for scuba diving and underwater fishing, which is to be approached with caution however.
The most common animal on the island is the wild rabbit. The flora is typical Mediterranean scrub, as well as different species of wild plants. Less than 400 people live on Capraia in addition to the prison farm which occupies about a third of the northwest side of the island. The island, which can be reached from the port of Livorno, has 4 hotels and a camping site for 450 people. The harbour has moorings for 220 boats.
For information on other itineraries, go to: www.costadeglietruschi.it