Crystal-clear sea and Mediterranean scrub, pine groves sitting atop steep cliffs, hidden bays and large beaches of soft sand. Tuscany’s islands are thrilling pearls of land home to corners of wild nature and evocative seabeds waiting to be discovered. The perfect destination for those who love the sea and water sports, with many opportunities for exploring less-visited places, the islands that make up the Tuscan Archipelago each have their own unique character, gems rich in history and protected by the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, founded to safeguard this extraordinary collection of natural habitats.
The largest Tuscan island is Elba, the third-biggest in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia. Elba boasts 147 km of coastline and offers a wide variety of beaches: from golden sand to pebbles, and even black sand beaches, whose colouring comes from the presence of iron. The island is rich in minerals and has been an important mining centre since Antiquity. Elba is also famous for having been where Napoleon was sent during his exile from April 1814 to February 1815, and today his villas are open to the public.
The Isola del Giglio, situated across from the Argentario, is a natural paradise. Exploring the island’s three towns and the splendid descents down to the granite coasts, as well as the beaches and hidden bays, is a sure to be a treat for those who love the sea. The name of the island stretches back to Antiquity and alludes to the presence of goats, àighes in Greek, the ideal inhabitants of a place with a mountainous, rocky inland.
With its half-moon shape, Giannutri is the southernmost island in the Tuscan Archipelago, and can be reached from Porto Santo Stefano (Argentario) or from Giglio. Cala Maestra is the only beach on the island where visitors can go swimming. Giannutri is also home to stunning ruins of an ancient Roman villa.
Out of all the islands, Capraia is the only one with volcanic origins, and despite the fact that its harmony can be deceiving, its very name alludes to its rocky nature: Capraia derives form the Latin Capraria, which comes from the Etruscan kapra, or “rocky”. This island is a gem of wild beauty, so unspoilt that it seems that even some of the caves on the western slope, there are still rare seals living there.
The island of Montecristo is a paradise for a few lucky people: only the guardian and his family live there, because in 1988, the island became a completely protected environmental zone, meaning that up to 1,000 metres from the entire coast is accessible to only 1,000 visitors per year, led by staff from the Forestry Corps. With its sharp profile, Montecristo is emblematic, becoming the symbol of what every island represents in the collective imagination. This is where the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Montecristo, is set.
Lastly, Pianosa, as its name suggests, is the only flat island in the archipelago. In 1858, a penal colony was opened here that closed in 1998. Since then, the island has been home to about 20 prisoners living in partial freedom, who work on renovating some of the buildings. The implied protection given to the island thanks to the presence of the penitentiary has safeguarded the sea around Pianosa, where today you can go scuba diving and see one of the most intact underwater sceneries in the entire Mediterranean.