From far away, the island of Montecristo looks like a dark mountain, a vivid spectacle that once appearing before you, will never fail to amaze you. It was historically known as Oglasa, but during the Middle Ages, it began to be called Monte Christi, perhaps because of its ancient monastic settlements. Beginning in the 5th century, the island was home to the Monastery of San Mamiliano. Geologically, Montecristo is a large granite “rock,” traversed by a mountain chain with three main peaks: Monte della Fortezza (645 m high), Cima del Colle Fondo (621) and Coma dei Lecci (563).
The descents down to the sea are steep all along the coast and the only place to make landfall is at Maestra Bay, at the end of a narrow, shaded valley where the only building on the island can be found, the former Villa Reale. Since 1988, a biological protection zone has existed around the island of Montecristo, covering up to 1,000 meters from the coast, while access is limited to 1,000 visitors per year, who are accompanied by a guide along the paths used (only three) by the State Forestry Corps.
Montecristo is only inhabited by the guardian Giorgio Maraj and his wife Luciana Andriolo, even if in the summer months, the pair lives side-by-side with a couple of forestry guards who alternate protecting the island. The atmosphere you take in as soon as you set foot on the island has a timeless fascination: you’ve been catapulted into a sort of dreamlike space, while silence reigns unhindered throughout the island. The three paths (all rather demanding) will lead you to the ruins of the aforementioned Convent of San Mamiliano (about 1 hour and 10 minutes from Maestra Bay), and the further along, the Grotta del Santo (about a 40-minute walk from the Monastery), an evocative place, perfect for meditation, where votive offerings can still be seen.
The historical circumstances that have impeded populous settlements on Montecristo have made the island the best place in the entire Mediterranean when it comes to imagining how the coasts of the Mare Nostrum appeared without the impact of human intervention. One of the reasons for the great interest surrounding Montecristo is indeed the exceptional state of conservation of its flora and fauna: here, animal and plant species have survived that were once found all along the Mediterranean coats. It’s not a coincidence that one of the symbols of protecting the island is the Montecristo goat, a non-native breed that was introduced in the early years of colonization and thus made to be wild. The wild goats on Montecristo are the only Italian population of its kind; the race is of Middle Eastern origin (Capra aegagrus) and is characterized by their curved, sharp horns.
Since 1996, Montecristo has been part of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, while the level of protection was honoured in 1988 with the European Diploma of Protected Areas, when the island was recognized as a site of public interest. As previously mentioned, the island is severely regulated and is managed by the Chief of the State Forestry Corps in Follonica. Swimming, fishing less three miles from the coast and sailing less than 1,000 meters from the coastline are forbidden. If you would like to visit Montecristo, we recommend patience: there are around 15,000 requests to visit the exclusive island, against the just 1,000 permits issued per year, so the average wait time is between 3 and 4 years.
Cover image credit: TPT