What to see and what to do
Isola del Giglio
What to do on the island of Giglio is something we all ask, even those of us born and raised here. It is one of those existential questions that come up sooner or later, hitting you like a box on the ear, leaving you a bit dazed without a precise answer. But it takes time to answer an existential question. If you stop to think calmly and quietly about it for a moment, you realize there are things to do on Giglio.
For starters, there are three small towns on Giglio: Giglio Porto, Giglio Castello and Giglio Campese.
Each one preserves a small piece of this island’s history. In addition to being the commercial center and ferry port with a charming seaside promenade dotted with clothing boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops, Giglio Porto is the site of the ancient Roman Villa built by the Domitius Ahenobarbus family around the first century A.D. Little of the villa remains visible. In the Caletta del Saraceno you can see the walls of the pond where fish were bred, and the Hotel Saraceno contains mosaic remains and some of the villa’s walls. The Church of Giglio Castello contains a Corinthian capital from the villa. A local guide can take you on the Nero Walk, a fascinating one-hour tour of all the places the Romans lived. The tower later installed by the Medici family was part of a network of coastal fortifications built to defend Tuscan coastlines from pirate invasions. Built in 1596, the tower was first renovated in 1793. It became a customs office after the Saracen raids ended and an exhibition space after its most recent restoration in 2006. On the promontory to the right at the entrance of the port is the Lazzaretto Tower. Now a private residence, it was built as another watchtower and was later transformed into an actual lazaretto, a quarantine station for travelers from high-risk areas during plagues. It was right in front of the Lazzaretto Tower and its promontory of the same name that the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank in 2012 and remained for the next two years. From Giglio Porto, you can rent motorboats, depart for a tour of the island aboard a taxi boat, book dives and take a week-long course to get your diving license.
Giglio Castello is the most important and populous town, even in winter, and guards the historical memory of the entire island. The medieval village of Giglio Castello is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. The whole town is worth a visit and seems designed to get lost among its narrow streets. Despite being born here on Giglio, even I sometimes have trouble finding my way out. In the center is the Pisana or Aldobrandesca Castle, built at the highest point in town to overlook the surrounding territory, an ideal spot from which to communicate with the nearby coast through fireworks and smoke signals. The defensive fortress, once surrounded by walls, was built atop a steep rocky spur to make it inaccessible. Designed to be self-sufficient under siege, the fortress was equipped with a deep cistern for water, a vegetable garden, warehouses, a chicken coop and a pigeon house, in addition to living spaces. Since its restoration in peacetime it has been used for conferences, exhibitions, theatrical performances and wedding celebrations. Wine has long been made in Castello and in late September, wineries open their doors for the Festa dell’Uva e delle Cantine Aperte grape harvest festival. The 15th-century Church of St. Peter the Apostle contains a veritable treasure of relics and sacred objects from the personal chapel of Pope Innocent X, who bequeathed it to Giglio-born Monsignor Olimpio Miliani.
The historical route linking the island’s fortifications continues with the Vaccarecce Lighthouse and the Campese Tower alongside the great Bay of Campese. The latter is like the tower in Giglio Porto and dates to the same period. Giglio Campese is also the site of the Franco mine from which iron was mined as far back as Etruscan and Roman times. The island’s pyrite mine, which opened in the early 20th century and remained active until 1976, employed nearly 300 miners.
If you get a little bored by history and rather delve into nature, Giglio is the perfect place for hiking. With sturdy footwear you can walk some 60 km of trails divided into 29 routes of varying difficulty that cross the island’s length and breadth and offer singular scenic views, some overlooking the sea. Along two of these paths you can visit the megalithic sites of Cote Ciombella, located in Località Le Porte just outside Giglio Castello, and the Dolmen located on the path between Cannelle and Castello. The paths have their own history and purpose. Once used by farmers to reach fields and vineyards to cultivate, they run alongside old capannelli that were once used as warehouses, rest stops and places to do a first press of wine. Mostly traveled by people and donkeys, these paths are not very suitable for mountain biking.
If you do prefer to get around on two wheels, you can rent a pedal-assisted bike, which is great for comfortable, carefree travel, at Ecobike in Castello and Porto.
The island’s position along migratory bird routes makes it ideal for birdwatching, especially in spring and autumn. It is also the natural habitat for many species including the peregrine falcon.
If you love the sea, well, there is no better place than an island from which to appreciate it. With its seabed full of fish, coral, sandbars, walls and caves, Giglio offers countless diving spots. The sea abounds in schools of amberjacks, barracudas and gigantic tuna up to 3 meters long. Between the rocks you can spy moray eels, crabs, lobster and groupers. The island and the entire Tuscan Archipelago are part of a protected area of the Tyrrhenian Sea called the “marine mammal sanctuary” established in 1999 thanks to an agreement between Italy, France and the Principality of Monaco. You can even encounter schools of dolphin here. All these species, apart from dolphins and other marine mammals, can also be caught from aboard a boat or with a rod directly from the rocks.
I used to fish from the green pier with my grandfather and a little fishing line, catching tons of shutters and mullet. My grandfather would say they were “for marinating,” but really we just fed them to cats or threw them back in the sea.
It is true that there is no movie theater or shopping center, but there are evenings at the theater and clothing boutiques. There is no big supermarket, just grocery stores, no train station or, for obvious reasons, traffic jams. There is no real dance club, just piazzas in which to dance in summertime, no big international concerts, just small events. But you can always find something to do on Giglio. And if you really can’t find anything, the great thing about Giglio is that you can spend days on end sunbathing and not doing a thing.
Oh, I forgot! During the summer, from June to September, curious visitors can also take an excursion to Giannutri Island, organized by us!