Photo ©Elena Tedeschi

Capraia: what to see during a three-day weekend

Explore an incredible, unspoilt paradise for wildlife lovers

It is 8.20am in Livorno and the Toremar company’s Liburna ferry is warming up its engines for takeoff toward our destination: the island of Capraia. Reaching this Tuscan Archipelago gem takes just a two hour and thirty minute trip. Connections from Livorno run daily, at least once per day—usually in the morning at 8.30.

We are in the aptly named “Santuario dei Cetacei” (“Cetaceans’ Sanctuary”); throughout the trip, it’s not uncommon to spot dolphins jumping spiritedly around the boat. This is an incredible, unspoilt paradise for wildlife lovers.

Capraia itself will appear harsh and wild to the visitor’s eye. You won’t find the fine sands of the Argentario Coast or the convenient amenities offered by seaside resorts in Versilia. But on the flipside, you’ll find disarmingly beautiful cliff bays; kaleidoscopic crystalline waters; and rigid, dizzying cliffs, alternating between barren and shrouded in thick Mediterranean shrubbery.

Up until 1986, Capraia was a penal colony and the abandoned branches of the former prison can still be visited today. The two island centers where people reside are the Porto (Port) and the Paese (Town), linked by an 800 meter asphalt hill. As a direct consequence, it’s useless to load scooters or automobiles on the fairy; for the few roads on the island, these means of transport are more of an obstacle than anything.

This is a guest post by Elena Tedeschi.

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Day 1
Photo ©Elena Tedeschi

Exploring the hidden nooks of the island

After an initial visit to the Port, we recommend heading to one of the more remote coves. You can take advantage of the taxi boat service, which, in the morning, takes you to some of the most iconic coves on the island, and then returns in the afternoon to collect you; or, if you want to be a little more independent, you can rent small, easy-to-maneuver boats even without a license. With these, you’ll be able to discover all the hidden nooks of the island…or most of them, anyway!

The island of Capraia is part of the National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago (Parco Nazionale dell’Arcipelago Toscano) and holds a Protected Marine Area between Punta della Manza and Punta del Trattoio, where navigation and swimming are both interrupted.

Take note of the Lighthouse, the first cove of Saint Francis and its 18th century tower, and then point the bow toward the southern bays. Take a break at the Cala del Ceppo (another cove) and then head to Carbicina, a beautiful bay with turquoise and reddish hues, for a delightful dip down to its seabeds.

Continue on to Cala Rossa, an old crater of the former volcano where Capraia has its origins—it’s easily recognizable by the lava-lit red of its rocks, which makes a nice contrast to the blue sea. Direct your gaze upward and you’ll note the Torre dello Zenobito, a centuries-old watchtower erected to defend the island from Saracen pirate attacks. If you can keep going, head on to the border of the Park for a snorkeling session in the Grotta della Foca Monaca. Lastly, on the return voyage, take a dip in the magnificent waters of the Scoglio del Gatto—a stretch of coast you’ll never forget.

If you instead prefer the taxi boat option, make your way to the Cala della Mortola, the only sandy beach on the island. Note: the sand isn’t always there—even on the immediate banks—and can vary according to winds and currents.

Once you’ve gotten home and rinsed off the salt and sand, savor a port-front aperitivo and go for a walk to the Torre del Porto. The view from the watchtower over the port and the Capraia mountains will wow you. Not far away, you’ll find the former convent and church of Sant’Antonio, which has a recently restored façade. The administrative offices of the former penal colony were located here.

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Day 2
Photo ©Elena Tedeschi

Boat jaunt in the northern part of the island

Wake up early in the morning and indulge in a boat jaunt around the island. Colorful local boating experts will lead you through some of the island’s most crystalline areas, telling you stories about the area’s legends. It will be a very moving experience.

Alternatively, you can once again rent a small boat and explore the northwest part of the island. Veer north and once you’ve passed the first Old Port bay—where you’ll see huge groups of fish ensuring ample breeding of bass and bream—you’ll come to Mortola. If you did not visit it the first day, take time for a stopover and a swim—it is, after all, the only sandy beach on the island, and you might as well enjoy it as such!

Continuing the route, tap Punta Teglia (staying far away from the dangerous ant beds you’ll notice to your right) and then set your anchor in the Bricchetti cove. Legend has it that the weathered cliffs you see are the faces of Saracen pirates who took over these waters in centuries long lost.

Continue onward to the Grottoni, a stretch of land characterized by ample grottoes carved into the coast, and enjoy the ecological charms of the area. Once you’ve landed on the island’s harbor again, enjoy a quick stop on the port dock or head to the town and explore all of its cobbled side streets, covered with lush bougainvillea, chanting cicadas and pastel-toned homes. The Church of San Nicola will welcome you to the area, while the old rose bell tower will chime at the sunset hour.

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Day 3
Photo ©Elena Tedeschi

Hiking in Capraia

We shouldn’t neglect to mention that Capraia is an island that’s well-suited to hiking. Every spring, the Festival del Camminare (Walking Festival) takes place here and its trails are invaded by hundreds of walkers.

With that in mind, barring extreme heat, we recommend dedicating at least one day to discovering its inlands. For a quick walk, you can follow the itinerary that leads to the main sections of the former prison from the Port, above Porto Vecchio (the old port) and beyond.

Otherwise, head toward the Paese (Town) and from there you can take any of the numerous Mediterranean shrubbery-scented trails that make up the main bulge of the island. You’ll be spoilt for choice: there’s the Reganico path, a brief itinerary that will lead you to the Cala dello Zurletto – or you can take a longer route that takes you all the way to Stagnone, the only natural reserve on the island, or the Torre dello Zenobito (download the kml file of the Zenobito trail here).

For a night face to face with falling stars, head to Bellavista, a panoramic overlook covered in the aromas of Mediterranean shrubbery, where you can contemplate the skies to the background tune of the sea. It’s the perfect place to say goodbye to the island and its wild horizons.

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