Boating vacations: Tuscan Archipelago, mix of history and nature


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Porto Azzurro
Porto Azzurro looks like a quaint fishing village, but in summer it comes alive with events and nightlife.

Small and large, crowded and forbidden, beloved or yet unknown. Elba, Gorgona, Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo, Giglio, and Giannutri are, in seven ways different from each other, marine paradises that should not be left unexplored and that fascinate in every season.

The largest marine protected area in the Mediterranean

There are seven of them and they are gathered in the 80 miles of sea facing Tuscany that separate the northernmost, Gorgona, from the southernmost, Giannutri.

Nestled between the Italian coast and Corsica, the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago are fairly well sheltered from east and west winds.

Four of these lands-north to south Capraia, Elba, Giglio, and Giannutri-are visitable by all boaters.

However, the other three, again from north to south, Gorgona, Pianosa, and Montecristo, are for various reasons forbidden for navigation, although they can be visited.

All seven, then, form the largest marine protected area in the Mediterranean: some of the restrictions on navigation stem from this. Not to mention that Gorgona is still home to a prison, while Pianosa has not been a penal colony for a few years. Considering that there is also another prison in Porto Azzurro, Elba, one can understand how for so many centuries-Elba was the first place of exile for Napoleon! – this enforced isolation has given rise to nature-preserving conditions that make the Tuscan Islands havens untainted by mass tourism.

Elba Coast
The coast of Elba is verdant due to the presence of Mediterranean scrub.

Except, in fact, for the Island of Elba, which has an established tourist tradition but is also well managed from a naturalistic point of view by its inhabitants, the other islands have almost nowhere settlements that spoil their wilderness.

The largest island, Elba-the third largest in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia-is a real discovery for the possibilities it offers along its coastline and in its delightful villages.

Not forgetting that on all islands a large part of our country’s history is discovered. First of all, because these waters have been ploughed for two millennia by the ships of the Romans, Etruscans, Genoese, Pisans, Tuscans, Arabs, and French who fought bitter battles over these seven islands and preserved them from pirate attacks.

The stunning cliffs bordering Seccheto beach along the Costa del Sole, halfway between Cavoli and Fetovaia. Westernelba/CC BY-SA 4.0

Napoleon then made it his provisional kingdom before returning to France. The traces of this very rich history are one of the attractions of these places, which have also always been admired for their exceptional climate.

But not only that. The richness of these lands is also due to abundant fertility. Still today, as two millennia ago, they yield DOC wines and oils and preserve natural treasures. The sea, preserved by the strict regulations of the Tuscan Archipelago Marine Park for its beauty and cleanliness, is also the focal point of the biological protection zone of the Cetacean Sanctuary.

Not to be missed

On Elba, bays, such as Cala Piscatoio, Cala Perla or the famous Cavoli cove, and beaches, such as Cavo, Palombaia, near Cavoli, Fetovaia, Galenzana and the very white Le Ghiaie, Portoferraio’s beach of crystal-clear water.

Fetovaia, about 200 meters long and up to 40 meters wide, is composed of fine, golden granite sand.

In Capraia, the beautiful Cala Rossa, near Punta Zenobito, where red rocks are matched by the gray of the volcano.

At Giglio, the unspoiled nature of Cala delle Caldane and Campese beach, but also the magical atmosphere of Giglio Castello, the 12th-century village.

In Giannutri, you cannot miss swimming in the bights of the Spalmatoio Gulf and visiting the caves of Cala dei Grottoni. The Roman Villa with splendid mosaics is worth seeing.

Gorgona, Pianosa and Montecristo, which can only be reached by organized tours, enclose unique places, such as Cala Giovanna in Pianosa, the cliffs of Cala Maestra in Gorgona and the mysterious Grotta del Santo in Montecristo.

Roman Port of Giannutri
Giannutri Island is the southernmost island in the Archipelago. Here the remains of an ancient Roman port at the Cove of the Spread. Aldo Ardetti/CC BY-SA 3.0

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

  • Tuscan Archipelago, mix of history and nature
  • To navigate the Tuscan Archipelago (scheduled)
  • Elba Island, from the Etruscans to Napoleon (in programming)
  • Ports and marinas on the Island of Elba (in programming)
  • Bays and landings in the Island of Elba (in programming)
  • Discover the various souls of Elba (in programming)
  • Capraia, two “steps” from Corsica (in programming)
  • Giglio Island, among fortresses, towers and sheltered bays (in programming)
  • Giannutri on vacation where Nero went… (in programming)
  • Gorgona, Pianosa, Montecristo, landing on the forbidden islands (scheduled)


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