INFORMATION AND FEATURES
When you go to find it on a map, it can be hard. You have to stick your nose a bit closer to the page around that area called Tuscany, specifically the part of Tuscany called Maremma. Then move your face towards Sardinia and then look in the direction of the coasts of Monte Argentario, specifically 11 miles (13 km) from Porto Santo Stefano, you’ll see what on the map has the diameter of a toothpick, a little spot like an ellipsis, whose axis goes NNW and SSE. This dot was named Giglio Island by geographers, or maybe by historians, or maybe by ancient Romans, or maybe by the people themselves.
The island, in its little 21.2 sq km area, is the second-largest of the Tuscan Archipelago, after its older, much more famous sister, Elba Island.
Despite its small size, its landscape is really varied. When you get to Giglio Porto and catch sight of the row of colorful houses of the small village, at the foot of a hill with steep rocky slopes, you might get the impression that this is a barren place where no crops could grow. The steep slopes, clad in bare rock, are part of a granite ridge that reaches its highest peak at 498 meters above sea level, right in the center of the island, on the Poggio della Pagana rise. The rise is easy to find because of a wrought iron cross set there, which people clearly put there to mark that they were there, less a religious symbol and more a mark the effort to cross the 500 meters between hill and mountain. The ridge continues south through the pine forests of Castellucci and Terneti. Going north, the ridge turns to the east, towards Poggio della Chiusa. The ridge’s sudden shift makes room for the Valle del Santo beyond the promontory of Lazzaretto, a fertile valley of vineyards, olive groves, and, formerly, fruit trees.
The entire island is an enormous mass of granite, and 90% of the island is still wild and crisscrossed by an extensive network of hiking trails; but the Franco promontory, located just above Giglio Campese, to the west, is made of limestone. The rest of the island was dotted with quarries for high quality granite, on the Campese side of the island pyrite was extracted whose special chemical composition gives the Campese beach its defining red color, while its rocks, north of the bay, are the dark color of the volcanic rocks.
Its many valleys are covered with Mediterranean scrub, broom and myrtle, mallow and rosemary. From the ridge, the land descends to the seaside cliff on the sea, and forms ravines and caves, in which to hide from the world, and rocky inlets to be discovered by means of a boat, and lesser-known small beaches with golden sand: the Caldane, the Cannelle, the Arenella on the east coast and the mentioned beach of Campese to the west.
But there’s something unexpected on this small rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea at an average longitude of 42° and 30′ and an eastern longitude of 10° and 55′, is the island’s finest jewel: the medieval village of Giglio Castello. The oldest, most populous town, it lies 7 km away from the sea, a guardian of age-old farming traditions. That’s evidence that the land here was once fertile and coexisted with the sea. The little that was here was a single whole, an ecosystem, a world, a universe in its own right, far enough from the coast to be independent, but close enough to be bound to it. Now it makes the perfect backdrop for nights of theatre and music and open wineries. Everyone who comes here feels the push and pull of love and hate that every islander has, for this harsh, spare land, creating the opposite desires to leave it forever and always come back. Anyone who was born on an island, or fell in love with an island, knows that feeling of endless conflict: always dreaming, when you are here of somewhere else far away and unknown, and once you’ve gone there, wanting to come back to that home already somewhere else, so you can leave again.