Island of Montecristo, the rugged and innacessible island in the Tuscan Archipelago

The Island of Montecristo, once called Oglasa, as well as being one of the most rugged and inaccessible islands in the Tuscan Archipelago National Park was declared both State Natural Reserve when the law was passed on March 4th 1971, and classed Biogenetic Natural Reserve by the European Council in 1988, with the aim of protecting the unique nature to be found there.

Legend has it that the original name of Montecristo goes back to when Saint Mamiliano was taken prisoner and kept as a slave; when he managed to escape he sought shelter on the island, where he meditated and lived as a hermit in a grotto, called the Saint's Grotto, and then gave the island the name of "Mons Christi". The legend goes on to say how Mamiliano courageously killed the wicked dragon that watched over the island, and that in the same place a natural water spring appeared.

The island has become famous thanks to the novel "The Count of Montecristo" by Alexander Dumas, that is the story of a legendary treasure hidden on the island of Montecristo in the Abbey of Saint Mamiliano, built in the 17th century by the Benedictine monks.

Most of the island of Montecristo consists of grey-pink granite, and its cone like shape makes it seem even more inaccessible, with only a few paths that lead up to the two highest peaks: Monte Fortezza (645 metres) and Cima dei Lecci (563 metres). Due to the steep cliffs that go right down to the sea it isn't very easy to dock on the island, and the only possible docking is at Cala Maestra, on the western side of the island.

The fact that nobody lives on Montecristo means that the very varied flora and fauna have flourished whereas in the past both were much more numerous in all the islands of the Archipelago. The island is rich in Mediterranean bush and shrub, above all heather, rosemary, cistus and helichrysum , all of which provide shelter for the migrant birds.

As regards the fauna, there are above all mufflons, brought there in the past by sailors, that have settled there without any problem and have made the island their natural habitat. You can also see the rare Sardinian discoglossid frog, that in actual fact belongs more to the islands of Sardinia and Corsica.

Montecristo is also a stopping place for migrating birds, so here you can find important species of sea birds like the seagull and the shearwater, and their colonies are of European interest; birds of prey like kestrels, or the rare golden eagle and some ravens also have their habitat there.

There are also some endemic species of reptiles on Montecristo, like the coluber and the Montecristo viper.

Life in the sea is also very rich and varied, and on the sea bed you can find kilometres of Posidonia, sea anemone and coral, and up till 40 years ago even monk seals lived there, whereas today there are very few left in the Mediterranean.

Today the island is practically deserted, with only a few Forest Rangers living there, but up till the XVI century it was home to a monastic institution; all that is left today are the remains of the abbey and of the Monastery of Saint Mamiliano, in the area known as the Convento. The grotto where it is said the saint lived still exists, but the only actual building on the island is where the forest ranger lives, the Royal Villa, in Cala Maestra. The English man George Watson Taylor had it built, and today it is the seat of a small Naturalistic Museum.

Protected area and restrictions

Protection laws concern the whole Island of Montecristo, and the entire territory comes under protection area 1, including the Scoglio d'Africa or Affrichella, some distance from the island. All the sea around Montecristo up to 1 kilometre from the coast, is also part of the protection area 1.

From the moment the European Council awarded Montecristo the title of Biogenetic Reserve, only 1000 people at the most per year are allowed there, including all researchers and naturalistic associations who are given priority. In recent years however, the Park Authorities have placed a restriction on the number of people allowed access to Montecristo, up to a maximum of 100 residents from the Commune of Portoferraio, Elba and the Tuscan Archipelago, and up to a maximum of 1000 per year.

Details of how to book and the cost of the guided tour organised for Sunday 8th October 2016 to Montecristo >

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