Set out on a winter’s Sunday on Capraia: The perfect opportunity for a hike to the very heart of the island!
Capraia is a volcanic island, formed nearly 9 million years ago, although no traces of volcanic craters remain there today. Legend has it that the Stagnone, the only natural reservoir in the Tuscan Archipelago, was once the mouth of the volcano. This “small lake” is also the destination of your trip.
The Stagnone is approximately a 6-kilometre walk away from the town of Capraia Isola. The route is varied: you’ll set off towards the Plain but just before you get there, you turn right in the direction of Arpagna. From here, you’ll walk along the Strada del Semaforo, dotted here and there with Mediterranean scrub. After passing the junction for the Stagnone, you take the path leading up to Monte le Penne. After the Sella dell’Acciattore with Corsica on the horizon, there is one more ascent and descent to get to the Stagnone. To catch the buttercups in bloom, however, you’ll have to come again in Spring.
The Stagnone di Capraia is the only natural reservoir in the Tuscan Archipelago; to get to this “little lake” set off from the main piazza in town, which is dominated by the Church of San Nicola. If you go in to the 18th-century church, you can see the three luminous naves, the stuccoes and the wooden choir from the 17th century.
You’ll then turn towards the Plain, a flat area around 2 kilometres outside the town, where you’ll come across the vineyards of a farm and the Church of Santo Stefano. The church was destroyed by the Saracens in the 9th century and rebuilt in the 11th century: all that remains of it today are the side walls and a part of the apse.
The Plain was the first inhabited settlement on the island, which was later destroyed by a Saracen raid around the 9th century. For over 200 years the island was abandoned and the new centre was established in a safer area where you can now find the Forte San Giorgio.
After leaving the town, you won’t encounter a single dwelling. In fact, the island appears completely deserted. To get to the Stagnone, the first step after leaving the Plain is to take the junction for Monte Arpagna which takes you inside the Arcipelago Toscano National Park. After a while, the dirt track becomes strewn with stones and a sort of mule track starts, which is known as the Strada del Semaforo, and was originally built for carrying reinforcements to the Navy base.
The journey is uphill, but the vegetation forms a shadowy tunnel, which offers a welcome respite in summer. To your back as you walk along this stretch of path, in a north easterly direction, you can see the town dominated from above by the Forte San Giorgio with the sea on the horizon. In the middle of the island there are no natural water sources so it’s a good idea to bring a sufficient water supply with you, especially in summer.
The turning for the Stagnone appears 336 metres to the right of the Sella del Monte Cancelle. From here you can leave the Strada del Semaforo and venture onto a path through Mediterranean scrub, which is mainly made up of erica arborea, cistus and rosemary. The panorama opens up and after a while you can glimpse the sea with Corsica on the horizon. After the descent you’ll come across the Sella dell’Acciattore, which is worth the slight deviation and ends with a view of the sea. The west coast is steep and only accessible by boat; Corsica is a mere 30 kilometres away and on tranquil days you can also clearly see the town of Macinaggio with the wind turbines on the peak of the mountain.
Here, there are lowland grass meadows punctuated with stones arranged in mysterious circles. Nothing magical though: they were arranged there years ago by a group of scouts.
The path continues towards the Stagnone, which remains elusively just out of sight, and in fact stays hidden until it suddenly appears right before your eyes. The Stagnone, which for a good part of the year is full of water, is situated in a natural depression: and it is this that lead us to believe that it was one of the island’s volcanic craters. The Stagnone (or Laghetto as it is called in these parts) is filled with rain and perhaps by a small underground water source. It’s not very deep and actually risked disappearing because of the invasion of a lake-side plant called Tifa which covered almost its entire surface. The Arcipelago Toscano National Park saved the Stagnone with a deliberate project to eradicate the Tifa, and each spring it is covered by flowers of brackish water-crowfoot.