Boating vacations: disembarking on the forbidden islands


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Monte Cristo. © Ambrogio Volpi/CC0

It is impossible with one’s own private boat: however, there are guided tours to the beauties of the three most exclusive and “abandoned” islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, namely Gorgona, Pianosa and Montecristo, in the waters around which it is impossible to get to with one’s own boat (sailing or motor) due to the strict prohibitions placed by the authorities of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park and the fact that they also partly house the facilities of a prison.


Gorgona, Pianosa, Montecristo



It is the northernmost island in the Tuscan archipelago, located 18 miles OSO from Livorno. The area is only 2 square kilometers with a coastal perimeter of not even 3 miles: it has an almost round, mountainous shape and is well recognized by the elevation of Gorgona Point, which reaches 255 meters in height. You cannot dock anywhere on the island both because it is a protected area and because it houses the highly restricted facilities of a maximum-security prison. Shelter can be found in the small and picturesque marina of Cala di Scalo, which is located on the east side, but only and exclusively in the event of a boat breakdown that prevents navigation.

The island’s other landings are at Cala Maestra, at the north end of the island, where one can admire spectacular wind-eroded cliffs with colors that also tend toward green, and at Cala Scirocco,at the south end. Even in these other two you cannot moor unless you are in dire straits.

Gorgona. © Giovanni Spinozzi/CC BY-SA 3.0


It lies only 8 miles south of the western end of Elba, but it is difficult to distinguish from too far away because it is almost totally flat (maximum height is 30 meters). It has an area of 10.3 square kilometers and a coastal perimeter of about 14 miles.

Until 1997 it housed a dreaded prison; now it is part of the Tuscan Archipelago Park but mooring and boating within one mile of the coast are still prohibited there. Unfortunately, there is also no access to the wonderful marina at Cala San Giovanni, located on the eastern side of the island, except in case of a breakdown that prevents the continuation of navigation.

Other ridges, however inaccessible, are in Cala della Ruta, recognizable by a red quadrangular tower on the south side of the island, and in Golfo della Botte, on the northwest side.

You can make reservations to visit this incredible natural oasis by boarding the boats that reach the Reserve from Campo nell’Elba or Porto Azzurro. As you disembark in this way, however, you will discover some 500 species of rare or endemic plants, including the spectacular specimens of 100-year-old olive trees that Napoleon had planted. The buildings are also peculiar, such as Fort Teglia, also commissioned by Bonaparte and occupied until recently by the prison management.

Incredible are the Early Christian Catacombs, a dense, 200-meter-long network of tunnels carved into the rock. A swim at Cala Giovanna, a bay with a fine white sand beach, is not to be missed.


Most famous thanks to Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” it is the most isolated of the group and a full 22 miles of sea from the southern end of Elba. It has an area of 10.4 square kilometers and a coastline less than 8 miles long. Geologically, it is a conical island with steep shores, clearly visible from the sea thanks to the imposing 648-meter-high Fortress Mountain.

It is fully part of the National Park and was also declared a Bioenergy Nature Reserve by the Council of Europe in 1997. As in the sea of the other two, navigation within one mile of the coast is prohibited in the sea of Montecristo: you cannot moor unless there is a breakdown that prevents navigation.

It is still possible to succeed in visiting Montecristo by joining one of the small groups led by Forest Service experts. You will then disembark on the shores of this pristine natural paradise to visit the remains of an ancient monastery, the Grotto of the Saint covered with sacred images, the botanical garden and the former Royal Villa.

Finally, still from land, one can also admire the island’s most beautiful ridges, such as Cala Maestra and Cala Santa Maria on the west side, Cala Scirocco on the east side, and Cala Corfu on the southeast tip.

Montecristo bay
A lonely bay that opens up on the west coast of the island of Montecristo.

Adventures on the island, from Dragut to Dantes

The documented history of the island of Montecristo begins with the founding of the Monastery of St. Mamiliano, a religious complex that held a legendary treasure, the fruit of ecclesiastical donations, and an apsidal chapel built inside the Grotto of St. Mamiliano, in which the saint lived in the 5th century.

In 1553 the pirate Dragut, heading for Elba Island, conquered the Monastery, decreeing its ruin. From that time, the island of Monte Cristo remained uninhabited. At least in the real world: because thereafter the “literary” history of the island begins, the one starring Alexandre Dumas and his mythical character Edmond Dantès, “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

A fantastic and adventurous novel that has bewitched generations and generations of readers since its release in 1844, the volume tells the incredible story of this young French sailor who, at the height of his wondrous adventures, lands on the Tuscan island to retrieve just such a fabulous treasure, belonging, however, to the fallen Spada family. With this valuable help and his cunning, he will be able to take revenge on the enemies who had disgraced him.


Giannutri: on vacation where Nero went…

Flat, wild and scented by rich expanses of Mediterranean scrub, the island is home to numerous Roman and Etruscan remains. Giannutri is the southernmost island in the entire Tuscan Archipelago and lies about 6 miles south of Giglio Island, of which it is a part. About 3 kilometers long and just over 500 meters wide–with a total area of just 2.3 square kilometers–it has a distinctive C-shape on which only two landings stand out: Cala Spalmatoio, to the southeast, and Cala Maestra, to the west.

Geologically flat, however, the island of Giannutri is almost devoid of sandy beaches d is instead characterized almost along its entire coastline by the presence of rocks and stony coves. Just near Cala Maestra, in an elevated position above the Roman port positioned in that very bay, are the remains of a beautiful Roman villa from the second century AD. It was built by the Domizi Enobarbi family, an ancient senatorial lineage of prominent merchants to which Gnaeus Domitius, husband of Agrippina, mother of the infamous emperor Nero, belonged. Despite its artistic and historical significance, the villa is unfortunately often closed for restoration and it is difficult to be able to visit it. It is worth climbing to the top of the promontory of Cala Maestra and from there at least admiring the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

At Punta Scaletta there are the remains of a Roman hull still intact, as at Cala Spalmatoio, where, on the other hand, there are both Roman and Etruscan wrecks. At Capel Rosso, below the southern tip where the lighthouse is located, amphorae and vessels can be found, but the area falls within the Marine Park Total Protection Zone and is inaccessible from the sea.

Walking, then, along the paths inside the island, one also encounters fascinating forests of holm oaks and expanses of juniper, while the air is everywhere impregnated with the scents of arbutus, heather, broom and cistus.

The Giannutri Lighthouse is a maritime lighthouse in the Tyrrhenian Sea, located at the southern end of the island of Giannutri, near Punta Rossa or Punta di Capel Rosso.


(42°15′ 14N – 11°06′ 47E)

Because the island offers no real harbor, the best landing is this one, positioned about halfway along the E. Wide and well sheltered from westerly winds, the roadstead also hosts a small concrete dock.

Mooring: at it or near reefs in 15-20 meters of water on rocky bottom. Depth: 4-4.5 meters. VHF: channel 16 (Delamare). On the ground: there is a restaurant.

Cove Spread
Cove Spread


(42°15′ 30N – 11°05′ 50E)

Positioned instead on the island’s O coast, this is a small and often busy cove where several boats moor at buoys.

Cala Maestra
Cala Maestra


(42°15′ 70N – 11°05′ 00E)

Near the beach of the same name located to the NW of Giannutri is this landing, well sheltered from SE winds. You can give bottom in 7-10 meters of water a hundred meters above the ground. Worth visiting at the SO end of the Point is Cala dei Grottoni with its fascinating caves.

Seabeds, corals and wrecks

The beautiful, transparent waters surrounding beautiful Giannutri are much loved by divers, Italian and otherwise. The reason is simple: on the seabed of the small Grosseto island are high vertical walls rich in gorgonians, sponges, corals and tunicates.

In recent years, in fact, most of the seabed has been reported by park authorities

of the Tuscan Archipelago as a type 1 protected area, that is, in which motor, sailing and rowing, fishing, diving and bathing are prohibited.

So while this has encouraged fish stocking, it has also made life much more difficult for divers who have a hard time finding good dive spots that are not too busy. These “spots” certainly include those along which the extensive posidonia meadows stretch and the two wrecks of the Anna Bianca (at a depth of 40-50 meters) and the Nasim (at 60 meters).


Don’t miss the other installments of Boat Vacations in the Tuscan Archipelago



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