Giglio Island, or the Isola del Giglio, is a small island in the Tuscan Archipelago, the group of seven islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea near the coast of Tuscany (Well-known Elba is one of the islands in this archipelago). Giglio is known for its colorful port town, pristine sea, rugged, unspoiled terrain, and relaxed island lifestyle. Because of its proximity to the mainland, Giglio has long been a destination for day trippers, who arrive via one of the frequent high-season ferries. For those seeking a vacation on a Mediterranean island without having to catch a plane or take a long ferry ride, Giglio is also a great place to spend a few nights or longer.
Location and Geography
Giglio is about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the closest mainland port at Porto Santo Stefano, on the Argentario peninsula. It's part of the Province of Grosseto, which is part of the region of Tuscany. Giglio, Elba, Capraia, and several sparsely populated or unpopulated islands make up the Tuscan Archipelago (Arcipelago Toscano) National Park, which also includes a protected marine sanctuary. Giglio's 27 kilometers (about 17 miles) of coastline is mostly rocky, with a few beaches here and there.
Its hilly, rocky interior is defined by drought-tolerant Mediterranean macchia, or scrub vegetation, including oleander and prickly pear cactus.
Where to Go on Giglio
Giglio has three towns: Giglio Porto, Giglio Castello, and Giglio Campese.
Giglio Porto: If you visit Giglio on a day trip from the mainland, you'll likely spend most of your time in this pretty little port town. There's a small piece of sandy beach, named Scalettino, to the right of the harbor (if you're facing the town). At Scalettino, you can also keep walking to a rocky beach area, where the rocks are large and flat enough to spread out a towel. Aqua-socks or similar protective footwear is strongly recommended. Larger La Cannelle beach is about a 20-minute walk from the port.
In town, you can shop for souvenirs, including locally made ceramics and jewelry, in the many shops right along the harbor-front. There are also plenty of shaded, outdoor bars if you want to take a break for a coffee or a glass of wine.
Giglio Castello: Reached by a strenuous uphill walk or via taxi or bus, Giglio Castello is a medieval, walled fortress on a high point on the island. There are sweeping views of the island and surrounding sea from its castle walls, and a Baroque-style church (the original structure is much older) with some important religious icons, including a carved ivory crucifix. It's also nice to wander its narrow stone lanes.
Giglio Campese: On the western side of the island about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Giglio Porto, Giglio Campese has the island's biggest sandy beach, which sits on a sheltered bay. The beach is lined with bars and restaurants. There are stabilimenti, or private beach areas with lounge chair and umbrella rentals, but there's also plenty of free sand to be found here.
What to Do There
While a trip to Giglio may seem synonymous with a lazy island vacation, there are a number of active sports to pursue on the island, from low-key to strenuous.
- Divers and snorkelers have long been drawn to Giglio's clear waters, abundance and variety of sea life, and for divers in particular, its offshore shipwrecks. Most scuba outfitters are located at Giglio Porto. If you have your own snorkel gear, you can wade in just about anywhere the water is calm, and soon find yourself in deep water surrounded by lots of fish.
- Hiking just a short distance from Giglio Porto takes the sure-footed to wild, unpopulated parts of the island where the only passersby might be a herd of goats. There are trails across the island, ranging from fairly easy walks to moderate treks. Giglio native and expert Marina Aldi leads guided hiking tours of the island, which can include lunch and wine-tasting at a local vineyard.
- Scooting along on an e-bike makes Giglio's hills much easier to tackle. You still have to pedal and burn some calories, but the silent eco-friendly bike gives you an assist. In Giglio Porto, EcoBike offers rentals and guided tours of the island. For purists, traditional mountain bikes are also available.
- Renting a boat is a great way to visit the island's many hidden beaches and beautiful, isolated coves. A small gommone, or zodiac boat, is easy for even novice sailors to navigate, while larger boats require both experience and a boating license. See the ProLoco tourist office in Giglio Porto for recommended rental outfits.
Where to Stay and Eat on Giglio
Giglio has a mix of hotels, B&Bs, and rental apartments. Most close down in October or November and reopen in April. If you plan to visit in July and August, which are peak season on the island, know that rooms book up months in advance. Be sure to book early. In Giglio Porto, the highly-recommended Hotel Saraceno, just to the left of the port, seems to hang off the rocks and directly over the sea below. Rooms tend to be on the small side, but are bright and well-organized. The hotel restaurant is also quite good.
Dining on Giglio generally means enjoying heaping plates of fresh seafood and simple Tuscan specialties, washed down with island-grown Ansonaco white wine. In Giglio Porto, Sopravvento Bistro is popular with locals and visitors, and in Castello, within the old town walls, Da Maria (no website) is a homey, family-run restaurant with great land- and sea-based appetizers and entrees.
Getting to Giglio
Year-round, ferries operated by Toremar and Maregiglio depart from Porto Santo Stefano on the mainland. Service is more frequent from April to October and starts at about €15 per person for foot passengers, and €40 if you want to bring a car. In high season, car traffic on Giglio is restricted almost exclusively to residents, so when possible, it's best to leave your car on the mainland. You may also find ferry service from the town of Talamone on the mainland, but more frequent ferries leave from Porto Santo Stefano.
For a really special experience, consider chartering the Isla Negra, a vintage wooden sailboat, for transfer to and from Giglio or for a multi-day tour of the islands of the archipelago.
For more information on visiting Giglio, see GiglioInfo. Links to hotels, restaurants, and gear rental outfitters, as well as a bus and ferry schedule and calendar of events can be found at the ProLoco website.