THE ISLAND OF GIGLIO
The Giglio Island, the second larger island of the Tuscan archipelago, is situated in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, at 16 kilometres west from Monte Argentario and 50 kilometres south from the Elba Island, which is the largest one.
The mountainous Giglio Island, which its upper point is set on the summit of a majestic mount called Poggio della Pagana (496 metres above the sea level), has an area of more than 21 square kilometres, but only the 10 per cent of its territory is inhabited. The other 90 per cent consists of a protected wild nature represented by the prettiest imaginable variety of Mediterranean flora where some beautiful and interesting species of fauna have always lived in freedom, pacifically. The wild nature alternates with vast wooded areas and an abundant growth of vineyards allowing the production of the celebrate Ansonico wine
Its 28 kilometres of superb coastline made up by dramatic granite cliffs running just down to the sea, its numerous small bays and peaceful sandy beaches, located for the most part in the western side of the island, as well as its mild climate almost during the whole year, constitutes a perfect choice for spending some unforgettable nautical vacations bathing and diving in those crystalline and placid waters, plentiful of coloured fishes. In addition, the island is perfectly connected to the Argentario peninsula by a regular ferry service starting in Porto Santo Sefano, as well as to the mainland port of Orbetello, which makes it easily reachable in all seasons, so to be considered a longed-for aim for the most selective national and international tourism in Tuscany.
The numerous archaeological findings in the Giglio Island are attesting that it was already inhabited since the Stone Age, becoming later an Etruscan military camp. In the 3rd century BC the island was conquered by the Romans who turned it into a prosperous commercial port mainly due to its enormous granite production, which was subsequently sold abroad. So the traditional craft ship industry which had started with the Etruscan reached then a substantial development. At the beginning of the 9th century the Emperor Charlemagne granted the Giglio Island together with the nearby and smaller Giannutri Island to the monastic order of the Abbadia delle Tre Fontane, who ruled both the islands until the second half of the 13th century when they became a feud administrated by the powerful family of the Aldobrandeschi di Sovana and then, respectively, by the Pannocchieschi, Caetani and Orsini dynasties. In the second half of the 14th century both the islands passed under the dominion of the Marine Republic of Pisa who begun to fortify the most important and populated Giglio Island. Then both the islands became a property of the Medici of Florence, who kept on strengthening the Giglio Island in order to protect it from the recurrent incursions of the Saracens pirates, who had induced for centuries the runaway of the most part of the inhabitants. Under the Medici the island saw a long flourishing period characterized by a gradual and lasting repopulation of the territory, which brought to the citizens an important economic and cultural progress.
The population of the Giglio Island is basically divided into three enchanting tiny towns: Porto, Castello and Campese.
The town of Porto is the site of the lovely main harbour of the island, surrounded by a picturesque and coloured architectonical setting. The town overlooks a wonderful bay encircled by hills. Backward those hills a good number of the celebrated vineyards of the Giglio Island are grown. To the west of the harbour stands the late 16th Torre Saraceno, erected by will of Ferdinando I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Porto is also the site of a splendid Roman villa constructed between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC by the patrician Domizi Enobarbi family, which remains are getting an idea of its past magnificence.
In addition, the town is as well the main commercial centre in the Giglio Island. Its busy sea front is for the most part a stylish shopping area with inviting restaurants built on wooden supports over the sea waters.
The town of Castello is reachable from Porto by a twisted road, flanked by coloured vineyards, running up to the enchanting town, which is situated at more than 400 metres above the sea level. Castello is the most ancient town in the island and is also the site of the Town Hall.
It preserves intact its former fortified features, appearing encircled by thick high walls and towers. The town consists in a maze of winding streets with small old-age houses and shady under-passages with almost vertical granite staircases excavated in the rock. In the midst of that singular architectonic spot, in the old Piazza XVIII Novembre, emerges the imposing Castello Pisano (Pisan Castle) constructed in the Middle Ages and strengthened during the Medicean period. A visit to the Church of San Pietro Apostolois not to be missed. The beautiful medieval church, completely restored in the second half of the 18th century, is characterized by a sumptuous 18th interior furnished with pieces coming from the private chapel of Pope Innocence XIII, born Michelangelo Conti (Palestrina, 1655 - Rome, 1724), son of the Duke of Poli and descendent from a powerful dynasty who gave to the Church several cardinals and popes. Among these pieces make stand out: a wonderful ivory crucifix and candelabrum, some treasured calices and monstrances, as well as other precious silver objects from the Pope’s age. The Church also houses the relics of St. Massimiliano. Of particular interest are also the banners and flags, the gold and silver sabres, which were taken from the Tunisian pirates who tried in vain to assault the island on November 18th, 1799.
It is said that St. Massimiliano appeared to the pirates when the battle fought against them was almost lost for the Giglio citizens, making the Tunisian moving back. These treasured objects were offered to the saint as a sign of gratitude for his decisive help. Each year, on November, 18th, are held in Castello important public festivities to commemorate that event.
On the contrary, the town of Campese is essentially the main tourist centre in the island. The quite modern town, consisting for the most part of exclusive holiday resorts, is situated on the west coast and hosts the principal sandy beaches in the Giglio Island. Its beautiful bay is also a well-known place in Tuscany for windsurfing and sailing. In the clearest days the islands of Montecristo, Elba and even Corsica can be observed from the Campese Baia. The bay runs alongside the Faraglione (a massive rock rising isolated in the sea waters) as well as by the imposing defensive Medicean Tower built at the end of the 16th century after a design of the prestigious Florentine architect Alessandro Pieroni (1550-1607). It is known that the tower played a decisive rule in the heroic battle against the Tunisian pirates. The victory over the pirates was so sensational that not any came ever more to the Giglio Island.
Where to eat:
- Ristorante “La Vecchia Pergola” (Giglio Porto). This Michelin-starred restaurant is located close to the harbour. It has a stylish gardened terrace for meals in season. The restaurant offers an excellent range of locally caught fish and seafood, as well as a very good selection of specialties from the inner traditional Maremma cuisine. Homemade desserts are a must. List wine is superb. A full meal is about 45 €.
- Pizzeria “L’Archetto” (Giglio Porto). Is a nice unpretentious pizzeria situated in the sea front. Its specialties consist of a very good range of pizzas and salads. A meal is around 25 €.
- Ristorante “Da Maria” (Giglio Castello). It is also a Michelin starred restaurant run by a family. It is situated in the ancient town with some enchanting panoramic views over the Campese Bay and the surrounding islands. Its cuisine is based in local fish specialties and in a short but exquisite selection of homemade pasta dishes. Local wines are very good. A full meal is about 40 €.
- Bar- Ristorante “La Porta” (Giglio Castello). Is a nice friendly both bar and restaurant situated at the entrance of the old town with a lovely panoramic terrace. Homemade pasta, fish dishes, cold meats and pecorino cheese are really good. Local wines are not to be missed. A full meal is around 35 €.
- Ristorante “Mario di Meino” (Giglio Campese). Is a quite large and busy restaurant with a cordial ambience situated close to the seaside. Its cuisine offers a tasteful range of marine specialties prepared with locally caught fish and seafood. Wines are good. A full meal is around 40 €.
- Pizzeria “Da Tony” (Giglio Campese). Is a cosy picturesque wooden pizzeria situated at a few steps from the sea waters. Seafood pizza is great.
A meal is around 25 €.
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