Off on a new adventure to the Island of Montecristo, one of the most wild and intriguing of the Tuscan Archipelago. This tiny island off the Tuscan coast is only just over 10sq km and a Natural Reserve with restricted access of only 1000 visitors each year allowed to explore the 3 trails on the Island accompanied by Forest rangers and Environmental Guides. Only 50 people per visit and more than a 2 year waiting list.
It meant an early dawn start for most of us with a 2hr trip from Florence and a 2 1/2 hr boat ride across from Castiglione della Pescaia. The excitement mounted on seeing the island shrouded in clouds, exuding mystery and provoking a murmur about the treasure to still be found!
Forest rangers to greet us, together with the custodians of the island and our Environmental guide to give us an introduction to the flora and fauna and regulations about hiking together – not wandering off the designated trail or even dipping a toe into the very inviting sea.
In 2012 Montecristo had become so infested with black rats threatening the birdlife of the sanctuary that 26 tonnes of rat pellet poison was air dropped on the Island much to the objection of many environmentalists. It has however proved to be a success, restoring the Islands’ ecosystem with the return of the Storm Petrels and Shearwater Seabirds and various migratory birds. Wild goats, Tyrrhenian painted frogs and the Montecristo vipers are special to the island although I was hoping we would only come across the first two on our hike!
Vegetation is monitored to ensure the native Mediterranean flora, aside from the port area, Maestra Cove, which flaunts exotic imported plants, since it was the only
inhabited area over the centuries. Years past it was a penal settlement until a wealthy English botanist – George Watson Taylor, bought the island in the mid 1800’s for a mere 50,000 lire (€ 25) and introduced different plant species and many eucalyptus. He succeeded in making a good profit when the Italian Government bought the Island back in 1869 for 100,000 lire (€ 50)! Please note a correction to the Lira currency value in comments/replies.
But we were off to find the hidden treasure protected by the ferocious dragon that had kept many pirates and fortune seekers at bay. As the legend goes the Bishop of Palermo – Mamiliano miraculously saved from the Vandals in Africa and blood thirsty pirates was not to be deterred by a fiery dragon in finding a safe haven on the island of Montecristo. He managed to kill the monster, burn it and threw its remains into the sea and retired as a hermit in a cave – Grotto Mamiliano
In honour of Mamiliano, a Benedictine monastery was built and here the legend of the fabulous treasure began, supposedly made up mostly of chalices, sacred and precious furnishings, gold and prized stones, which the friars were hiding.
While many sought the treasure, including Cosimo I de ‘Medici, the only one who has managed to find the fabulous treasure, as far as we know, is the legendary Edmond Dantes, in the “Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas.
But perhaps the real treasure is the pristine nature of the island itself, its stunning wildness, glorious views and we felt privileged to have hiked its steep ledges and crevices and were beguiled by its mystery.