Isola del Giglio is the second largest island of the Tuscan archipelago. It is part of the Parco Nazionale dell’Arcipelago Toscano, a natural reserve that protects rare varieties of fauna and flora. The island is mostly hilly and its highest elevation is 496 meters above sea level. Giglio is known for its amazingly clear water and rich sealife. Sadly, the shipwreck of the Concordia cruise ship (check this Wikipedia article for the full story) temporarily marred Giglio’s spotless reputation. But the beached ship has been removed and the island has gone back to being the quiet paradise it used to be.
A quick historical overview
Giglio island was a strategic point in the Tyrrhenian sea since before Roman times. Over the centuries it passed under the dominion of the Etruscans, Romans, and then the township of Perugia and Pisa during the Middle Ages. By the Renaissance, it was firmly under the rule of the Medici. The island suffered many pirate attacks. In 1455, Khayr al-Din, known as Redbeard, ransacked the island and took over 700 islanders away as slaves. People from the Siena area were sent by the Medici to repopulate island.
What to do on Isola del Giglio
Isola del Giglio is reasonably easy to reach from Florence and can offer the perfect break from the Florentine city life. The island caters to the laid back traveller as well as to the adventurous type. Enjoy the beautiful beaches, go around the island by boat or taste the local wine production. Sporty visitors might also enjoy scuba diving, hiking or mountain biking around the island.
Visit Giglio Porto and Giglio Castello villages
Giglio Porto hugs the coastline in a semi circle welcoming the boats that come and go from the mainland. It is the only port of the island and also a fishing village. The village, with its colourful houses has a joyful feel to it. Though it is a bustling port, you will find that the water there is extremely clean. By nightfall, after the last ferry leaves, Giglio Porto turns much more quiet and peaceful. If you get a chance, come visit on the 10th of August when the town celebrates its patron saint. There is a procession, a boat race and even fireworks.
Giglio Castello is perched on the highest point of the island. This Medieval town still has its original fortified walls and some remaining towers that date as far back as the 10th century. On the list of the most beautiful Italian medieval villages, Giglio Castello, with its narrow lanes an incredible views of the island, is well worth a detour. Wine lovers should visit the last week of September to celebrate the Festa dell’uva e delle cantine aperte and taste the local wine production.
Go on a boat tour
Giglio’s coast is only 28 kms long but most of it is inaccessible on foot. A new world opens up if you go around the island by boat: incredible coves and cliffs, transparent waters and a rich seabed filled with marine life. Most island tours start from Giglio Porto or Giglio Campese. Photographers might even enjoy trips based around the best photo opportunities. If you want more privacy, rent your own boat! These small vessels don’t even require you to have a permit. There is also a taxi boat service running around the island which caters to groups and individuals.
Go to the beach
There is nothing like lounging on a beach or a refreshing dip in crystal clear water after days of sightseeing. There are two popular sandy beaches on the island: Cannelle and Campese. They are well organised with beach umbrellas and sun loungers. Allergic to crowds? There are many beautiful coves around the island that can guarantee a modicum of privacy. The only downside is that there are quite rocky. A good way to avoid the problem is to rent a boat or go on a boat tour and enjoy the water from there.
Go scuba diving
The island is rich in incredible marine life and the best way to discover it is to go scuba diving. Explore vertical walls covered with blue sea sponges, red and yellow corals teeming with fish and other sea creatures. There are many diving centers to choose from both at Giglio Porto and Giglio Campese.
Discover the three Medici towers of the island
Giglio, as a part of the Duchy of Tuscany, was under Medici rule. Cosimo I, Ferdinand I and Cosimo III have each had a tower built on the island. During the second half of the 16th century, pirates and Saracens were rife in the Mediterranean. In order to protect the island’s inhabitants from the risk of capture and theft, watchtowers were erected. Torre del Saraceno in Giglio Porto and Torre del Campese in Giglio Campese are round whilst Torre del Lazaretto is square with rounded edges. The only tower open to the public is Torre del Saraceno which serves as an exhibition space. Though the other two are privately owned, they are a beautiful sight, especially from the sea.
Go hiking around the island
90% of Giglio is covered in vegetation and there is no better way to get to know the island than to explore it on foot. There are many trails that criss cross the island with varying levels of difficulty. There is no greater satisfaction than reaching a promontory on your own steam and taking in the incredible views. You can download a PDF map of all the footpaths of the island. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear for the rugged terrain and don’t forget to carry water. Mobile phone reception can be spotty at times so make sure to book a taxi in advance if you don’t feel like doing a hike in both directions.
How to reach Isola del Giglio
- 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, view on Google Maps). 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 €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
- Private or shared trip. The beautiful Giglio Island is best enjoyed if you don’t have to worry about your car. A good alternative is booking a tour. This Giglio Island day tour leaves from Florence. You’ll have your own driver/guide to show you around the island!