The island of Montecristo, sometimes called the “Forbidden Isle” due to its inaccessibility, now can be visited by a privileged few. The small island of four square miles, known by the Greeks, Etruscans, Romans and Saracen pirates for its oak forests and quarries of the local pink granite, lies in Tuscany’s archipelago not far from the island of Elba. Famed for being the setting of Alexandre Dumas’ novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo,” where the main character discovered buried treasure, today the island hosts treasure of unspoiled nature and biodiversity.
In 1971 Montecristo became a nature preserve and swimming, fishing and navigation within one kilometer (2.2 miles) of the shoreline were prohibited. The island, long steeped in mystery, hosts numerous endangered species and provides a stopping place for migrating birds.
Beginning in January 2020, the Tuscan Archipelago National Park is taking reservations for 23 dates, from March 1 to October 24, for visitors to spend a day on the island. Ferry service from Piombino to Cala Maestra, with a stop-off in Porto Azzurro) takes participants to the island where they will be met by a guide and given a choice of three authorized hiking itineraries.
The walks all begin at Cala Maestra, a bay with a path to the only building on Montecristo, the 19th century Villa Reale built by Englishman George Watson-Taylor. Watson-Taylor sold the villa to the Savoys, the Italian royal family, in 1899 that they used for a hunting ground. Today the husband and wife ranger team live in the villa where visitors can tour a small natural history museum and the botanical gardens.
Another trail from Cala Maestra leads to the Belvedere or panoramic viewpoint. The third and longest, most difficult itinerary takes hikers to the Monastery of Saint Mamilian, who fled the Vandals in the 5th century, erecting the monastery with his followers for a refuge. Nearby are the ruins of Grotta del Santo (Cave of the Saint), where according to legend the saint slayed a dragon.
All the hikes require hiking boots and trekking poles are recommended. As there is no food or drink available on the island, participants must bring adequate water and a sack lunch. Vigilant hikers might spot the rare painted frog or wild goats with their long curved horns. The excursion, including ferry transport and guide, costs €120 per person and reservations are essential. Dates are filling up quickly, so interested participants should apply soon by visiting the park website. (rita kungel).
To read more in Italian, and to see additional photos, visit Florence’s La Repubblica news site.