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Visit the island of Montecristo

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Montecristo Island in the Tuscan Archipelago

Montecristo Island is a place shrouded in mystery, an almost inaccessible island that has everything it takes to whet the imagination. Its fame is linked to the huge success of Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” all over the world. In the novel, Montecristo is a treasure island and it is that treasure that allows the protagonist to turn and get revenge on his enemies. Today the treasure of the island of Montecristo is not a treasure chest full of gold but the magnificent uncontaminated habitat that makes the island a real naturalistic paradise in the middle of the sea.

Montecristo (Photo by Allumeur / CC BY)

Where is the island of Montecristo

Montecristo is located in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, west of the island of Giglio and south of Elba and the island of Pianosa. It is one of the seven main islands of the Tuscan Archipelago and from an administrative point of view it is part of the municipality of Portoferraio.

Why is it called Montecristo?

The name Monte Christi dates back to the Middle Ages and according to tradition it can be traced back to the figure of San Mamiliano. The saint, imprisoned and made slaves, managed to escape his persecutors by taking refuge on the island. Here San Mamiliano lived in a cave which is called “Grotta del Santo” or “Grotta di San Mamiliano”. Later on the island was also founded the Monastery of San Mamiliano. It is in this religious context that the island acquired its current name.

History of the island

A series of artifacts found on the island shows us how the island has been frequented since the Neolithic period even if to have something more concrete you have to get to the 5th century AD. when the Monastery of San Mamiliano was founded. The history of the monastery was interrupted in 1553 when it was attacked by Dragut, the legendary Ottoman pirate who in the same years had also tried to conquer Portoferraio on the Island of Elba. After this event, the island was abandoned to itself for a long time and the pirates who infested the Mediterranean took advantage of it to make it their base.

Napoleon established a military base on the island of Montecristo in 1814. During the nineteenth century there were various attempts to colonize the island such as that of the entrepreneur Jacques Abrial who started cultivation by also building a couple of buildings that now house the Naturalistic Museum and the infopoint of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. A few years later, in 1852, George Watson Taylor, Baron of Strichen, bought the island by building what is now called the Royal Villa. The island then passed to the Italian State who bought it in 1869. Five years later, in 1874, the Italian government established a prison there, a branch of that of Pianosa, which remained in business for 10 years.

For many years the island was used improperly, especially as a hunting reserve, but fortunately, in 1971, Montecristo was declared a State Nature Reserve and since then its habitat has been protected as it deserves.

Natural Reserve of Montecristo

The Montecristo Island Nature Reserve extends over the whole island and the sea that surrounds it up to 3 miles from the coast. Within the protected area there is also the Scoglio d’Africa which emerges not far from the island. The presence of a nature reserve explains why it is not possible to swim or dive. It is also forbidden to fish, collect plants or anything else. In its waters you can pass but not drop anchor.

The island of Montecristo measures just over 10 square kilometers and has a shape that resembles a pyramid. Its highest peak, Monte Fortezza, reaches 645 meters above sea level and its rocky coasts emerge prominently from the sea. It almost looks like a volcano but it is not. The protection to which the island is subjected has ensured that numerous species of flora and fauna have been preserved here that once flourished in other areas as well.

Among the main “inhabitants” of the island we note the Montecristo goat, the Sardinian discoglasso, a frog found only here and in Sardinia, snakes such as the southern viper and various species of birds including the kestrel, the golden eagle and the shearwater minor. Its waters are characterized by an extremely varied ecosystem in which there are corals, sea anemones, gorgonians, posidonia and different types of fish including sunfish.

Inhabitants and guardians of Montecristo

The island of Montecristo is now substantially uninhabited. I say basically because on the island there is only a couple of guardians who take care of guarding the island and welcoming visitors during the summer season. Over time, several pairs of guardians have followed one another. Each guardian couple stayed on the island for a few years, before leaving this corner of paradise in the hands of the next couple.

How to get to the island of Montecristo

Montecristo Island can be visited but access to the island is very limited. Each year, dates for visits are established and there is a maximum number of visitors (in 2022 there are 1725 in all). Visits to the Montecristono Island are organized by the Tuscan Archipelago Park Authority. Ferries to Montecristo Island generally depart from Piombino, stop at Porto Azzurro on the Island of Elba and moor at Cala Maestra, which is the only port allowed on Montecristo Island.

All visits include trekking excursions with guides who accompany visitors along one of the paths on the island. Some of these itineraries require some preparation while others are easier; in any case it is advisable to come with suitable clothing (Trekking shoes etc.), food, water, sunglasses and sunscreen.

If you want to book your visit, you have to go to this page.

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