Looking out over the clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Argentario Promontory sits imposingly beyond the Orbetello Lagoon. In Antiquity, this place of impassable high plains was an island detached from the rest of Tuscany, but over the centuries, the rising of the Feniglia and Giannella tombolos transformed the Argentario into a promontory connected to the mainland. Between the two strips of land is the Orbetello Lagoon, one of the most important lagoon ecosystems in central Italy.
Only two towns can be found on the coast of the Argentario: Porto Santo Stefano, a village with a long maritime tradition and capital of the municipality of Monte Argentario, and Porto Ercole, an ancient Etruscan village on the southern coast.
Porto Santo Stefano, dominated by the elegant Fortezza Spagnola, built between the 16th and 17th centuries, has been inhabited since Roman times. After a thriving period of development in the 1500s, the village was heavily damaged during the Second World War by Allied bombings: for this reason, the town centre is almost entirely new. Porto Santo Stefano is more than just summer tourism and evening strolls on the boardwalk: leaving the town centre, you can explore one of the many coves that dot the promontory, each with a different shape, from the sandy Giannella tombolo to the rocky Cala del Gesso and Cala Grande.
Traces of the past are still visible in Porto Ercole, on the other hand, which is included in the list of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. After the port was developed in the Roman era, the small town grew before becoming fortified in the Middle Ages, and finally being placed under control of the Republic of Siena in the 15th century. The strategic use of the small port is highlighted by the many forts throughout the area, from the 15th-century Forte Filippo to Forte Santa Caterina, built 200 years later, and the colossal medieval fortress that was enlarged during the period of Sienese control. Just as the Giannella sits opposite Porto Santo Stefano, the Feniglia tombolo leads to Porto Ercole, with its dense pine forest. It’s wonderful to see the deer as they walk by, hidden behind the leafy branches just a short walk from the beach.
And so we start our hike through the high plains of the Argentario, from Poggio Fornacelle to the Cala Mar Morto, exploring the lush, green ridges before diving into the crystal-clear waters that surround the promontory.