Off the Coast of Tuscany: A Guide for the Tuscan Archipelago

Surprise! Surprise! To get to know the Tuscan islands, head to the coast. You can choose from seven islands: Capraia (Giglio), Capraia (Montecristo), Pianosa(Pianosa), Giannutri, Gorgona or the island of Elba).

The Tuscany islands have some of the best preserved flora & fauna. They also have crystal clear water that allows you to see schools of fish straight down to the bottom. These islands are so stunning that they have been called gifts from the gods. Legend has it that seven pearls fell from Venus’ necklace when she emerged from the ocean, creating the seven Tuscan islands.

Parco Nazionale Toscano protects the islands of Tuscany and the surrounding waters for their environmental values. It is the first and largest protected marine area in Europe and the first marine park in Italy.

These islands might be overlooked by international tourists, but the Italians know them well and visit the beaches every July and August. You can choose to visit one or more of these islands, or take ferry rides between them, either with Elba or along the coast. Every island has its own unique offerings – take your pick!

Elba


You can even find the hidden black rock beach if you are up for the challenge! There are many sandy beaches with easy access, but don’t panic! Photo by Gina Mussio

Elba, the largest of all the Tuscan islands is easily accessible. It’s also a great base for exploring other nearby islands. It is perhaps most well-known as the island of Napoleon’s exile following the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Today, it’s popular among Italians for its stunning views, beaches, and beautiful weather. You should book in advance for July and August to avoid crowds. This fish-shaped island boasts more than 70 beaches and excellent hiking trails. There are also many bays and coves that you can explore. The island of Elba is the most visited of the seven.


How do you get there?

It takes approximately 40 minutes to connect the island with Tuscany via a daily ferry service. The distance between Elba & Tuscany is about 6 miles. There are several ferry options to Elba. The fastest is to take a Ferry from Piombino. The Toremar ferry can be used, Tel. 199.11.77.33 in Italy, +39 022 39595013 abroad; Moby. Tel. +49(0)611-1420 or Blue Navy, Tel. +39 0565.1835043 or +39 565.070327. If you have a car, be sure to arrive at least 30 min before the scheduled departure time. You can also fly to the island and to the Marina di Campo airport.


Giglio


Giglio, a Tuscan island, is named for its long history. Although “Giglio”, in Italian, means lily, its name is actually Aegilium. This Latin translation of the Greek word “little goat”, Aegilium, comes from Italy. Photo by Patrik Thschudin

Giglio, the second-largest of the islands, can be thought of as Elba’s younger sister. Although often overlooked by Elba, it has a similar offering. Giglio is perhaps best known for the 2012 sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. However, it still has much to offer. You can take the ferry to Giglio Port, which is located on the east end of the island. This port is a great starting point. You can rent boats, tour boats, scuba diving gear, and snorkeling equipment from this port. Or just enjoy the many bars and restaurants that line the coast.

Campese is the best beach on the island Giglio. It’s located on the west coast of the island and features a tower from the 18th century built by Cosimo De Medici, Florence’s most famous ruler. If you don’t want to be on the beach, or taking in the views of Tuscany while hiking inland, visit the Giglio Castle and explore the coves around Punta Capel Rosso from a boat.

How to get there

Two ferry companies operate approximately 9 miles from Tuscany’s coast. They take you from Porto Santo Stefano into Giglio Porto, Toremar. (Porto St. Stefano office tel. : +39.0564 810803 and Maregiglio : +39 0564 812920). You can also take a ferry to Elba

Capraia


Capraia’s original characteristics have been preserved by its 400-strong population. Roberto Venturini.

This small island, home to just 390 inhabitants, has been ruled over by Greece, Sardinia and Genoa. It was also ruled by Saracen pirates from North Africa, Napoleon, and even Genoa.

All of Tuscany’s islands are still wild, compared to the more settled and cultivated islands like Sardinia and Corsica. However, Capraia’s landscape and coastline is the most spectacular, with its high cliffs and isolated beaches, and unspoiled inland terrain, which is ideal for biking and hiking. You can still find remnants of an extinct volcano in the south.

Capraia is a popular spot for divers and snorkelers who wish to see the abundance of marine life and explore underwater archeological sites.


How do you get there?

Toremar operates ferry services from Livorno to Capraia twice daily throughout the year. It takes approximately 2.5 hours to get there and most schedules allow for a return trip within the same day. However, if you plan on doing so, make sure to double-check your booking. For a day trip, you can also take the ferry to Gorgona.

Montecristo


Although it is almost impossible to visit Montecristo Island from the mainland, visitors can still get a glimpse at the massive rock by visiting nearby Pianosa and Giglio. Photo by Pietro Addamo

Perhaps the most famous example of Montecristo’s name is Alexander Dumas’ 1844 book, The Count on Monte Cristo. It was written after Dumas fell in love after a visit to the island in 1842. Although it is easy to do, the descriptions of the island in the book are not accurate.

Montecristo is one of the most remote and pristine islands in Tuscany. The island was once home to monks who lived in complete isolation for many decades. Montecristo was declared a nature reserve in 1971. It is currently closed to tourists and boats without a very restricted permit. This was done to preserve the fragile ecosystem of the island.


How do you get there?

To get a permit, you can apply for a wait list at the Corpo Forestale di Follonica. However, it may take up to two years. Only 50 people can disembark on Montecristo each day. It is also prohibited to camp, swim, or fish on the island. The admission fee is EUR50 per person.

You can contact the Park authority to apply for a Montecristo one-day visa.

Corpo Forestale di Follonica

Tel. 0566 400 19 | Email: [email protected]


Pianosa


A guided bicycle or walking tour is the best way to see Pianosa’s beach. But it’s worth it! Photo by Gina Mussio

Pianosa, located just 14 kilometers from Elba and rising only 29 meters above the sea level, is the lowest island in the Tuscan archipelago. It’s actually the extreme flatness on the island that gave it its name. Piano means flat in Italian.

Pianosa, apart from Montecristo is the most isolated island. Since 1858, when it was an agricultural penal colony, the prison has been closed to the public. The penal prison was made a maximum security prison in 1970. It closed its doors in 1998.

Do not let the past discourage you. The island’s isolation protected the micro-ecosystem and allowed the fauna and flora to take full control. The Cala Giovanna beach is only open to 250 people daily. You can also snorkel in the clear waters or go on guided walking or biking tours around the island.

How to get there:

Visits to this Tuscan island are restricted to those who have a travel agent. Toremar ferry departs from Rio Marina, Livorno on Tuesdays throughout the year (tel. 0565-960131 or the Aquavision ferry. Marina di Campo, Elba Island: 0565-976022

Gorgona


Clear days allow you to see Gorgona Island from the coast. Photo by Guillaume Baviere

Tiny Gorgona, the northernmost island, is just a dot in the Ligurian Sea map. The penal institution on the island is large and uninhabited. This means that you can only visit it with a guide, with a series or controls at least 15 days prior to your trip. This island is a treasure, but it is strictly prohibited.

Why visit a prison island then? The island has a population of only 300 people and is a natural paradise. Visit the stunning coves and rugged coastline. You can swim in the uncontaminated waters and enjoy the private beaches. You’ll be able to walk the island and have lunch, take a break, and then cruise around the island in a small boat.

How to get there

You can also take a ferry from Livorno or Gorgona to the Tuscan coasts on Mondays and Saturdays. This will allow you to make a short trip, weather permitting. Because it is a prison, visitors can only travel to the island with a small group and accompanied by a tour guide.

Giannutri


Half-moon shapes on Giannutri Island are believed to have inspired ancient civilizations. However, inspiration can also be found in the incredible island’s landscape. Photo by Simonetta Viterbi

Giannutri, which is slightly larger than Gorgona and the southernmost Tuscan island, is just slightly larger. Giannutri is a mostly rocky island with a few sandy beaches in the north. Instead, scuba dive here or kayak along the wild coast. Then, explore the Roman ruins that date back to the first century A.D., including the remains of Villa Agrippa, where Emperor Nero lived once upon a time, and those of a Roman Temple.

You can spend hours diving in the clear waters to explore the wrecks of Roman vessels. But, don’t forget to visit the blue water caves. It is said that Cala dei Grottone is one of the most beautiful.

How to get there:

Giannutri, like Giglio can also be reached via Porto Santo Stefano. It can also be reached via ferry from Giglio Island by Maregiglio ferry service in summer.