Crystalline waters, Mediterranean shrubbery, pine groves overlooking steep cliffs, hidden coves and sprawling soft sandy beaches: the Tuscan Archipelago is an mesmerizing set of Tuscan islands with wild nature and magical sea beds worth exploring. The islands are the preferred destination among sea and water sports lovers, with plenty of spots off the usual tourist tracks. The Archipelago consists of seven islands, each with a unique character and brimming with history. All are protected by a national park, founded to safeguard this extraordinary group of natural habitats.
The Archipelago’s largest island is Elba. Size wise, it is the third largest in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia, and is famous for its connections to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was exiled here in 1814. Elba’s land comprises 147 kilometers of coast and diverse beaches, ranging from golden sand to rocky shores, and even black beaches, due to the iron content. Elba is rich in minerals and has been an important extraction center since antiquity.
Giglio Island, opposite the Argentario coast, is a natural paradise. Exploring the three towns, the granite slopes, the beaches and the secret coves is a joy for anyone with a sea-loving streak. The name of the island alludes to its longstanding population of goats (àighes in Greek): the creatures have been present since ancient times given the area’s mountainous, rugged environment.
Capraia is the only rocky island with volcanic origins on the entire archipelago. Capraia derives from the Latin Capraria, which came from the Etruscan kapra, or “stone”. This island is full of wild beauty—it is so unspoilt that in certain grottoes on the western side, there appear to be rare specimens of earless seals.
With its half-moon shape, the island of Giannutri is the southernmost part of the Tuscan Archipelago; you can reach it from Porto Santo Stefano or from Giglio Island. At Cala Maestra, you will find the only beach on the island for swimmers. Giannutri is also home to magnificent remains of an ancient Roman villa.
The island of Montecristo is a paradise for a lucky few. The only people who live here are its guards and their families: since 1988, the space around the island has been an biological reserve. With that designation, a space 1000 meters from the coastline became accessible for just 1,000 visitors per year, guided by state forest rangers. Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel The Count of Montecristo is set here.
Gorgona, the smallest of the seven treasures that make up the archipelago, has been the site of a correctional facility for decades. Visiting the island is possible, but closely supervised, and requires permission from the General Directorate of Prevention and Penitentiary Institutions of the Ministry of Justice.The island of Pianosa, as suggested by its Italian name (piano and pianeggiante mean “flat”), is the only flat island of the group. A correctional facility was founded here in 1858 and closed only in 1997. Since then, the island has held around 20 partially-free prisoners who work on restructuring some of the buildings.
Cover image credit: Anders Finn Jørgensen