Pianosa, of all the islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, is the nearest to the Island of Elba and is in the Commune of Campo nell'Elba. The name Pianosa was originally Planasia due to the fact that its territory is practically completely flat, and the highest point is only 29 metres above sea level.
The rocks are of sedimentary origin so the coastline is rugged in some parts and sandy in others.
Up till 1997 there was a maximum security prison on the island so access was forbidden, but this restriction, however, has meant that the natural richness of the island has remained untouched, and you can still see traces of the land that used to be cultivated by the prisoners.
The vegetation on Pianosa is the typical, Mediterranean bush consisting of Phoenician juniper, rosemary, lentisc, cistus and broom, a rare bush that grows on dry, rocky ground
As regards the fauna, there are mostly small mammals on the island, but you may also spy some red partridges, hoopoes and pheasants that have bred after being brought to the island.
About thirty different species of sea birds come to Pianosa to build their nest. Some are the extremely rare Audouin's gull, the manx shearwater that builds its nest only in certain islands of Tuscany, and the peregrine falcon, that builds its nest on high, rocky cliffs and is now very rare in Italy.
The sea bed around the island is without a doubt among the richest and least polluted, partly thanks to the fact that fishing has been and still is strictly forbidden due to there having been a prison there for many years, and partly because the morphology of Pianosa is such that the sea is very shallow, making it the perfect habitat both for Posidonia and for many different species of fish that find shelter here: salemas, snappers, mullets, breams, lobsters, yellowtails and groupers that choose shallow waters for spawning, as do the giant crabs.
You can also sight dolphins off Pianosa, but the chances of your seeing any "Caretta Caretta" turtles or monk seals are very slim, as is the case elsewhere in the Tuscan Archipelago.
The penal settlement in Pianosa was established in 1856, and made into a maximum security prison in 1968, and from 1931 to 1935 the then future President of the Republic Sandro Pertini was imprisoned there for political reasons.
In the first years terrorists were imprisoned there, then the murderers of Falcone and Borsellino, and finally dangerous mafia criminals.
The prison was closed down for good in 2011, and most of the restrictions that had been in force till then were lifted. Some are still in force, mainly those concerning the number of people allowed at one time on the island, and now, in the hope of promoting tourism, access is no longer denied; it must be said however that this may bring pollution both to Pianosa and to the sea around it that is very rich in flora and fauna.
Since the prison closed down, the Park Authority has tried to promote the island and has organized guided tours, special events, photography exhibitions, excursions and much more.
Now you can go round the Island on foot, by bus, in a horse drawn carriage and by mountain bike, and you can go and see the ancient Roman remains and the catacombs in the heart of lush Mediterranean bush that, depending on the time of the year, is rich in yellow or pink or white flowers.
The new Park Headquarters of Villa Liternohave been inaugurated, and have been made into a guesthouse for researchers, but where you can also get any information about the natural and historical-architectural heritage of Pianosa.
Since the summer of 2013 the Park Authority has also started a trial period of scuba diving around Pianosa but only if done through diving schools authorised by them. The possibility of scuba diving however is limited and there are rules and regulations that must be respected, but for the first time those who do it will get the chance of discovering the unique richness of the underwater biodiversity on one of the cleanest sea beds in the Mediterranean Sea.
The entire territory of the island is part of the Protected area number 1 inside the Park area, as are also the tiny islands of La Scarpa and La Scola, and this restriction is to be respected as far as one mile from the coast.
Despite the prison no longer being open, there are still very strict regulations concerning access to the island, above all the last mile as you approach it.
If you want to go to Pianosa you can only go with an organised guided tour and for a limited number only. Departures are held all year round by several shipping companies from the Island of Elba (Marina di Campo and Rio Marina.)