The Tuscan archipelago includes six islands, also called the “pearls of the Thyrrenian sea” for their sheer beauty, wild character, splendid vegetation and rich marine wildlife. Altogether they constitute a marine reservation, which is strenuously protected by the Tuscan region and Italian government.
Their names are Elba, Giglio, Gorgona, Capraia, Pianosa and Montecristo. The latter sounds familiar? Yes, sure, as in The Count of Montecristo by Dumas. The island was indeed used as a prison in the past centuries. However, it was not the only one of this group of islands. Islands work as the perfect natural remedy against evasions. Elba island shortly was the famous golden prison of Napoleon, Pianosa has been a penitentiary until 1998 for 140 years, while Gorgona is still home to one of the most efficient penal colonies employing inmates in the production of organic farming, typical Tuscan crafts, and honey. Their employment as prison territory for so many years contributed to maintaining their natural aspect almost intact, preserving them from mass tourism and real estate exploitation. When you visit them today you can still enjoy all their wild character and rapturing beauty.
The Mediterranean sea wetting the coast of these Tuscan islands offers sea bottoms in perfect conditions, a true paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers. Although fish hunting is forbidden, your eyes can catch all the splendid colors that the indigenous sea flora and fauna have on display. Many come from all over Europe to enjoy a diving, as these islands preserve an immense diversity and a safe haven for fish. The islands of Pianosa and Montecristo are so protected that you will need a special written permit to visit it, and will not be able to near it with a motor engine.
The presence of modern life is well evident on Elba and Giglio, the largest and most developed islands. Here is the nightlife with summer jet set, museums and road networks, although at Giglio you are forbidden any motorized means of transportation. During the summer the population of these two islands increases manifolds, while the winter is more suitable to quiet and tourism is almost absent. Pianosa, Capraia, Montecristo, and Gorgona is where you should go if you want to feel in close contact with nature and relax deeply. Gorgona offers a handful of houses, no hotels and just one pizza restaurant. Capraia gives you more than this, but do not expect any movida. Pianosa is as protected as Montecristo and sojourning is not possible. Moreover, scuba diving is forbidden. These are places to spend a truly unique holiday in Tuscany. If you are lucky you can find one of the rare villas on the Tuscany coast to rent instead of a hotel, and spend an unforgettable vacation on an island that will feel “yours” for a few days.
Hiking lovers just need to go to Capraia. Here is the most elevated point of the archipelago, and the entire territory is quite bare. Only low rising Mediterranean bushes grow on the island. Trails marked by the Alpine club gift hikers with kilometers to explore. The reward are the mesmerizing views to be enjoyed from the island’s elevations. From here one dominates 360-degree views over the shimmering sea.
Finally, the former prison-island of Pianosa is an interesting place to visit. You are given the chance to see the former life of this penal colony renting a bike and running around the places where for more than a century inmates from all over Italy have conducted their existence. The visit is also part of a one-day mini cruise of the Tuscan archipelago, a great occasion to discover the island you like best and to return to for a dedicated summer vacation.