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This week, Alice Adams introduces us to Isola del Giglio, the island of Giglio (the lily) – a lesser known Tuscan destination of rare beauty, immersed in nature. Ready to spend the weekend in Isola del Giglio, Tuscany?
4:00 p.m. Giglio Port
From the deck of the ferry we look across to the approaching port: a pretty canvas of palms and pastel houses behind fishing boats and gently lapping water. I can hardly believe we left Rome less than 4 hours ago. The town is actually smaller than I had imagined and it’s the first thing I fall for in this ‘palm of your hand’ destination.
Only in Italy do you buy bus tickets from a gelateria and of course it feels wrong not to have a cone while we are getting our biglietti for the island shuttle. I choose More del Giglio, churned with blackberries picked on the island, and so armed with sweet refreshment we sit on the foreshore and admire the bustle of the port before taking the shuttle bus over to Campese, one of Giglio’s three towns.
The road winds up steep hillsides broken only by the occasional trellised area of vines and the odd thicket of maritime pines but made special by the soaring vistas. Coming over the ridge the medieval walls of Giglio Castello–the town’s main castle–are drawn against the sky and we can just make out Corsica looking out into the Mediterranean haze.
6:00 p.m. Giglio Campese
We check into our rooms in time to tumble down the steps from the hotel onto the sandy, golden beach and pitch ourselves straight into the water. I emerge from the frolicking waves to survey our home for the weekend. Campese is a wide sweeping bay broken by a promontory of rocks in the middle and marked by a medieval watchtower at one end and the natural rock faraglione at the other. The water is perfect: clear, salty and one dip has jolted me into island mode. I like the beach already, it’s a mix of public spiaggia and beach establishments with their striped umbrellas flapping in the breeze.
7:30 p.m. Aperitivo hour Giglio Campese style
Showered and relaxed everyone is ready for a stroll and an aperitivo along the foreshore as the sun starts to dip toward the horizon. Campese is on the western side of the island so everything ends up bathed in a rich amber light as the sun sets. There are various bars and corner spots to pull up a deck chair for a spritz or an artisan beer along the beach and on the main piazza.
8:30 p.m. Dinner
We are surrounded by the sea and longing for fresh seafood so at Da Mario di Meino I order grilled octopus and the children slurp up good Spaghetti with clams (Spaghetti alle Vongele). The di Meino family have three restaurants on Giglio, this one is set on a small street back from the beach but has a cosy and atmospheric verandah (best to book in advance).
8:00 a.m. Breakfast
The breakfast spread at Albergo Da Giovanni is as good as the view over the soft morning seascape so we dive into home-made cakes and crostate, cheeses and cold cuts, fresh fruit and cereals. Sitting out on the terrace I breathe in the sea air with my coffee as I watch the town wake up.
10:00 a.m. Picnic essentials and beach-bound
At the alimentari, or corner food shop, we pick up fresh bread rolls, cold cuts and sliced cheeses and a bag of local plums for our picnic lunch. I then drop in to Forno di Cristina for a few slices of focaccia with onion (often called Pizza Genovese), a specialty often found in maritime spots because onions conserved well for long sea voyages. At Forno di Cristina the sweet soft onions have been cooked into the soft dough, dancing between sweet and salty.
Because so many of Giglio’s prettiest coves and swimming spots are tricky to get to we decide to hire a boat for the day to explore the best beaches. It’s a must-do experience and you can choose a skippered boat or simply drive your own craft, which has space for up to eight people, a canopy for shade and a good map of the island. We pick up our boat from under the watchtower on Campese beach and putter out of the bay. The air is still, gulls soar over our heads and the sun warms our backs. Along the coast, bathers stretch out on the golden boulders below the island’s campground and snorkelers drift around the rock pools. Light glints off the turquoise deeps. We round the headland and throw down the anchor at Cala dell’ Allume amongst other small boats and a couple of mega yachts.
Fresh panini, onion focaccia and Giglio plums make a tasty lunch. We do more exploring by heading up and around the northern tip and anchoring off Cala dell’Arenella. Tucking a few coins into a waterproof purse, the four of us are in the water for a short swim to the beach for the obligatory after lunch caffé and gelato at the coffee bar.
4:00 p.m. Back on dry land in Giglio Campese
Dry land feels like it is swaying a little as we disembark and walk back along the beachfront to our hotel. Time for some quiet time before dinner. We settle into deck chairs on our room’s terrace for some reading and snoozing.
7:00 p.m. Up to the Medieval Castello
We take the shuttle bus up to the fortified Castello perched on top of the island for the evening, partly because other tourists have spoken well about dinner at Da Maria, partly to get lost amongst the tight streets of the old town. In the middle ages central Italy was often raided by Saracen invaders and the city walls would keep islanders safe, if they managed to make it up the hill to the castle after the alarm was sounded. We peer out from the ramparts and over the island.The ferry chugs quietly into the port, little pleasure craft return for the day and the brazen suns melts into the Mediterranean.
We look around the pretty streets and little souvenir stores before heading through the maze to the restaurant with one of the best views on the island. Overlooking Campese from the terrace and with a menu that includes swordfish carpaccio, maltagliati pasta with cuttlefish and oven baked sea bream with zucchini, it is little wonder that regular visitors come back time and time again.
8:00 a.m. Walk from Campese to Il Faraglione
Up early to enjoy the soft morning light and beat the heat we take one of the 20 signed walking paths on Giglio out toward the faraglione, the lone beacon-like rock on the Campese headland. The track wanders through mediterranean scrub, passes the remains of aluminum mines and, once at the headland, we divert down to Cala dei Pozzarelli for a morning swim in the incredible water.
10:30 a.m. Second Breakfast and edible souvenir stop at Forno di Cristina
After our morning walk sweet pastries are in order and I’m taking the opportunity to put a couple of uncut slabs of cantucci biscuits into my bag to take home. Alla Giglese has ones with dried figs from the island along with chocolate, pistachio and candied orange.
11:00 a.m. Le Cannelle beach
The beach everyone raves about on Giglio is le Cannelle, which can be reached by car as well as on foot or by taxi, but it is notoriously short of parking. We take a taxi and save our energy for the additional pedestrian-only walk around to an even prettier little bay–Le Caldane–that has tiny soft quartz pebbles.
13:30 Cannelle Beach Restaurant
We bid farewell to Giglio on the deck of the Cannelle Beach Bar & Restaurant, with a final chilled glass of the local Ansonaco white wine and more seafood. It is August and the island is busy, but never beyond the pleasant bustle of a holiday destination in summer. Looking down onto the beach I can imagine how gorgeous it is in low season, when visitors can enjoy the smaller coves to themselves and when the weather is cool enough to take walks around the island, such as the one from Campese up through the vineyards to Castello. Ah, this means we’ll just have to come back again.
To get to Giglio take the Torremar or MareGiglio ferry service from Porto Santo Stefano. Porto Santo Stefano is a 2.5 hr drive from both Rome and Florence. From Rome you can also take a train to Orbetello and a local bus to the port at Santo Stefano.
Tourist info – http://www.giglioinfo.it/giglio-island/isola-del-giglio.html
Local bus shuttle
Tickets from l’Isola gelateria – bus leaves from carpark off the street just behind the foreshore. Bus links Porto, Castello and Campese round trip.
Where to stay
Albergo Da Giovanni – Giglio Campese
Hotel La Renella – Renella beach
Padini’s Hermitage – outside Giglio Porto
Campground La Baia del Sole – Giglio Campese
Where to eat
Da Tony – simple trattoria & pizza on the beach at Campese – Via della Torre, 13 – Tel +39 0564 80 64 53
Da Mario di Meino – best fresh fish in Campese – Via Provinciale, 26 – Tel +39 0564 804 087
Trattoria di Meino – Giglio Porto – Via Umberto I, 11 – Tel +39 0564 809 228
Da Maria – Giglio Castello – Via della Casa Matta, 12 – Tel +39 0564 806 062
Le Cannelle Beach Bar – Spiaggia Le Cannelle – Tel +39 0564 183 6146
Food & wine stores
Bakery – Forno Da Cristina
Fresh fish – Pescheria F.lli Canuzzi – address??? – Tel. 348 8883635
Wine & local produce – La Cisterna Giglio Castello
Da Nilo Gelateria Artigianale – Via Diaz, 3 Giglio Porto
L’Isola – Via C. Oreglia, Giglio Porto
Grape harvest and cellar door Fest – September 24-26
Did you enjoy our weekend escape to… guide for 48 hours on Isola del Giglio, Tuscany? Contact us for more info on custom food itineraries, scooter and/or rental, vineyard visits, hiking excursions, day trips and other bespoke activities in and around Tuscany.
Alice Adams, cook, food writer and stylist, moved to Rome in 2005 to learn more about regional Italian culinary traditions; the stories behind the food in each part of Italy that give local food its legitimacy and cultural importance. Alice loves sharing the Roman food experience with visitors; piecing together seasonal produce, local agricultural traditions and historical reasons behind the food. She has a degree in Art History and her eyes are always open to Rome’s beauty as she walks the cobbled streets in search of the city’s best.
She writes about food, vintage hunting and old ways on her blog rusticaRETRO