The Tuscan archipelago extends from Corsica to the Tuscan coast and is composed of 7 islands and other islets and skerries. Capraia, Elba, Giannutri, Giglio, Gorgona, Montecristo and Pianosa are all part of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park which boasts protected species of fauna and flora. Though most of the islands are small and wild, the bigger ones like Elba and Giglio are popular tourist destinations. The Tuscan archipelago is an ideal destination for nature lovers, sailors and history buffs, but also for travellers in search of beautiful beaches. Get away from the typical tourist destinations and bask in the island lifestyle. You won’t regret it.

Here is a quick guide to the Tuscan archipelago:

 

Elba Island

Panorama of Rio Marina port
A wonderful panorama from Rio Marina, one of Elba’s small ports

Elba is the biggest island of the archipelago. Most people associate it with Napoleon. After being forced to abdicate, the emperor of France spent 300 days on Elba in exile before his escape. But the isola del Elba is about much more than Napoleon. It is very interesting geologically and has a wealth of different minerals. It also has the highest mountain of the archipelago which stands at 1019 meters above sea level. The island is littered with cycle lanes and tracks for all levels as well as stunning beaches.

Top 3 things to do

  1. Visit the Mines of Capoliveri. Enter the bowels of the earth and discover the everyday life of miners in one of the oldest Italian mines. Make sure to book your tour in advance, wear comfortable shoes and get there half an hour before the start of the tour
  2. Visit Governor Drouot’s House in Poggio. Immerse yourself in the Napoleonic period with this guided tour of a richly furnished late XVIII century house. You will even get to interact with Napoleon in the flesh (well, with an actor). Make sure to book your guided tour in advance. You can even visit at night by candlelight!
  3. Go to the spa. Treat yourself to some thalassotherapy at the Terme San Giovanni in Portoferraio. The spa has amazing views of the sea and is surrounded by a forest for relaxing walks between treatments

How to get there

Because Elba is a popular summer destination, there are more flights and trains available in the high season. It’s reasonably easy to get there from Florence.

  • By plane. Both the Florence airport¬†and the Pisa airport offer flights to Elba in the high season. The only airport on the island is in Marina di Campo in the center of the island. The flight takes about an hour
  • By car.¬ The fastest route to Piombino Marittima is the SCG Firenze-Pisa-Livorno (otherwise known as the¬†FI-PI-LI). Before you reach the turn off for Livorno, head south towards Rosignano Solvay, Cecina, etc. The drive takes about 2h15 with normal traffic. During the summer, there is a massive migration to the seaside and the highway can get extremely congested. Try to avoid travelling to the coast from Friday evening to Sunday evening if you can
  • By train.¬†Take the train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Piombino Marittima. If you are planning on a day trip make sure to take the earliest train at 5.35 am. The trip takes about 2h30. From there, you will be at a stone’s throw of the port. Take the ferry boat to Portoferraio. The crossing takes about 1h. Make sure you don’t miss the last train back to Florence from Piombino at 6.05 pm

During the summer, I strongly recommend booking your ferry crossing in advance!

Consider getting car with a driver if you want to avoid the hassle of driving and organising the ferry crossing.

Giglio Island

White sandy beach with crystalline water
One of Giglio Island’s beaches with crystal clear water

Many remember the island for the tragic shipwreck of the Concordia, but the isola del Giglio (or Lily island in English) is about much more than that. Giglio caters to all kinds of visitors. It has two mountain ranges for hikers, villages and historical monuments for culture lovers, and beautiful sandy beaches and crystal clear water for the laid back tourist. Though cars can be brought on the island (there are some restrictions in summer), there is also bus line that goes around the island.

Top 3 things to do

  1. Sip local wine at Giglio Porto. The island actually has its own wine productions! Enjoy a glass and a stunning view at the town’s seafront
  2. Go on a boat tour of the island. Discover Giglio’s hidden treasures that are only visible by boat. This private tour, for example, starts from Florence and includes a boat ride around the island
  3. Visit Giglio Castello, the island’s oldest village. Perched on one of Giglio’s highest points, Giglio Castello is rich in history and particularly atmospheric at night

How to get there

  • By boat. The Toremar and Maregiglio ferry lines connecting the mainland to Giglio island leave from Porto Santo Stefano. The dock for isola del Giglio is at the entrance of the port (Piazzale Candi, 8). The crossing takes about 1 hour
  • By train and bus.¬ Sadly, there is no direct train connecting Florence to Porto Santo Stefano. Take a ticket to Orbetello-Monte Argentario instead and then a bus directly to the harbour of Porto Santo Stefano. The bus service is run by Tiemme Spa and costs ‚ā¨ 2.60
  • By car.¬†Follow directions to Siena and then Grosseto. From Grosseto continue on the Via Aurelia towards Rome but exit at Albinia and follow directions to Porto Santo Stefano. You can either choose to leave your car at one of the two port parking lots or take it with you on the island

Capraia Island

A cliff on the sea at sunset
A sunset over Capraia’s cliffs

Even though Capraia is closer to Corsica, it still belongs to the Tuscan archipelago. Of volcanic origins, it is the most rugged of the 7. Capraia has a rocky and mountainous terrain, so make sure to pack sturdy shoes. Cars are useless on the island because the longest stretch of road is 800 meters long and right near the port. The only way to get around is on foot. Though the island is wild and full of rare flora and fauna, it still has a well developed little port town with hotels, restaurants and a few shops, unlike the smaller islands of the archipelago.

Top 3 things to do

  1. Go on a hiking expedition. Explore the island by following its many trails. Make sure to pack water and a picnic! Also, remember to wear a hat since there isn’t much tree cover.
  2. Visit the San Giorgio fort. This ancient fortress, in the main town, faces the sea. It is a great place to enjoy amazing views.
  3. Eat your fill at the Sagra del Totano. Flounder is the main protagonist of this food festival the island organises every October. Food festivals in general are a great way to discover Tuscan cuisine in a laid back way!

How to get there

Capraia is one of the furthest islands. The crossing takes 2h30. If you want time to explore Capraia, consider an overnight stay.

  • By train.¬†Take the train from Florence to Livorno. Buy a bus ticket from the newsagent in the station and take the BLU LAM bus in the direction of Miramare. Get off at Grande Porto Mediceo 7. From there it’s a short 5 minute walk to the Toremar ferry line dock
  • By car.¬ Take the FI-PI-LI and follow directions to Livorno and then Porto. There are a few parking garages around the port area but they are a bit of a walk from the Porto Mediceo (Toremar’s dock)

Montecristo Island

Montecristo view from the sea with a mountain
Montecristo island from the sea: without a landing permission this is the only view you will enjoy

This island was made famous by Alexandre Dumas’ Count of¬ Montecristo. The only people living on this extremely protected natural reserve are its two park wardens. Access isn’t permitted to visitors and boats must stay at least 1000 meters from the coast. Undeterred? The park authorities organise 22 visits a year from March 2nd to April 15th and from May 15th to October 31st. For the small fee of ‚ā¨100 (which includes transport but not food and drink) you can be one of the exclusive few to set foot on the island. Make sure to book your tour well in advance because the limited dates disappear quickly.

Top 3 things to do

  1. Enjoy the loneliness. Well, relative loneliness since you will be accompanied by a group and a guide at all times. Still this is the closest most of us can get to being on a desert island!
  2. Enjoy the wilderness. Montecristo’s isolated position has made its rich ecosystem flourish. Beware! It is strictly forbidden to take anything off the island, be it flower, stone or seashell
  3. Hike up to the belvedere, a promontory from which you can enjoy incredible views

How to get there

  • By boat. Ferry pick ups start from Piombino Marittima, Porto Azzurro on Elba island, Porto Santo Stefano with a stop over at Giglio island. There is only one departure and return time per day. Make sure to arrive 30 minutes before departure with the ID you used during the booking process. Children under 12 can’t set foot on the island.

Pianosa Island

Landscape of Pianosa with turquoise sea
The turquoise sea of the Pianosa island

Pianosa is the flattest island of the archipelago (piano means flat in Italian). The island was an agricultural penal colony from 1858 to 1970 and successively got upgraded to a maximum security prison until 1998. There is still a wall separating the inhabited side of the island from the ex-prison area. Visitors cannot go past the wall without a guide. For more information about island tours, head to the National Park visiting center. Pianosa, unlike most of the smaller islands does boast one cafe-restaurant and a hotel.

Top 3 things to do

  1. Go snorkeling.¬†Observe the abundant sea life at Cala dei Turchi. Small groups of 8 people are accompanied by a marine guide and provided with flippers, mask and snorkel. Cost ‚ā¨ 15
  2. Discover Agrippa Postumus’ villa. This tour of the island will take you to Pianosa’s highest point and then to the ancient ruins by the shore. Bathing time is included! Cost ‚ā¨ 10
  3. Bike around the island. A 2 hour tour that will take you around Pianosa’s mainly flat trails. Cost ‚ā¨15

How to get there

  • By boat.¬† You can reach Pianosa from Rio Marina on Elba island with the Aquavision ferry line or directly from Piombino with the Toremar ferry line. The crossing takes 2h50 from Piombino and 1h50 from Rio Marina (for instructions on how to get to Piombino, go the the Elba island part of this article).

Gorgona Island

Blue water and sandy beaches of Gorgona island
Blue water and sandy beaches are the assets of Gorgona Island

Gorgona is the northernmost island of the archipelago. Like Capraia and Pianosa, it became a penal colony. The only difference is that it still hosts around 100 prisoners today. Because the island has had so little contact with man, the flora and fauna are rich and diverse. There are about 400 different types of flowers and the island is also a stop for migrating birds. The only way to see the island is with a guide who will explain the prisoner program and show you the few monuments on the island. Perfect place to take amazing photos? I’m afraid not. Cameras and phones must be left on the boat before disembarking. Make sure to bring a valid ID, hiking shoes and your own water and food since there are no shops or water sources on the island. The tour costs ‚ā¨ 45 per adult.

Top 3 things to do

  1. Go hiking. The tour of the island is 7 km long and of easy to medium difficulty
  2. Learn about the prisoners’ working projects. Prisoners on the island are given the opportunity to work. They build footpaths, take care of a farm and other similar projects
  3. Sight some dolphins or whales. You might well see some of these sea mammals around the island

How to get there

  • By boat. You can get to Gorgona from the port of Livorno. Toremar ferry line leaves from the Porto Mediceo and the trip takes about 1h30. Tours only take place from April to September on certain days. Visitors must apply for a permit at least 15 days in advance to give prison authorities time to do a background check (for instructions on how to get to the Porto Mediceo in Livorno, go the the Capraia island part of this article)

Giannutri Island

View on natural panorama with the sea
Giannutri island’s Mediterranean wilderness

Giannutri is the southernmost island of the Tuscan archipelago. Shaped like a half moon, the island’s coastline is mainly formed by cliffs. The wind and sea have carved many caves directly in the rock face. Giannutri has a few narrow gravel beaches with beautiful clear water. There are also traces of Roman settlements around the island.¬† Visitors without a guide only have access to the path that connects the two main beaches of the island Cala Maestra and Cala Spalmatoio. In order to go anywhere else, book a guide directly upon arrival.

Top 3 things to do

  1. Visit a Roman villa. This villa dates back to the 2nd century b.C. and belonged to a relative of Emperor Nero. Though the ruins aren’t extensive, the view is impressive. Visits can only be made with an island guide.
  2. Go for a swim. There are only two gravel beaches on Giannutri, Cala Maestra and Cala Spalmatoio. The water is so clear you can see the sea bed.
  3. Hike up to the lighthouse. Enjoy 360 degree views of the island and sea.

How to get there

  • By boat. You can get to Giannutri from Porto Santo Stefano with the Maregiglio ferry line. The crossing takes about 50 minutes¬†(for instructions on how to get to Porto Santo Stefano, go the the Giglio island part of this article)

The 7 islands off the Tuscan coast range from well trodden and organised to absolutely wild. Discover a place where nature remains untouched and wild species of birds and marine life still thrive. The Tuscan archipelago is the perfect refreshing stop on a Tuscan holiday.

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