Capraia Island

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Capraia: a real gem, though at a first glance you might not have expected it, which will leave you dazzled as soon as you lay your eyes upon it. Located halfway between the Tuscan coast and Corsica, Capraia Island is a paradise on earth for nature lovers, so much so that motor vehicles are basically banned from circulating. For trekking lovers there are many paths, as well as plenty of walks suitable for everyone. Island of Capraia’s sea is undoubtedly the most precious part: make the most of it by bathing in its crystal clear waters, snorkelling, diving or by sailing around the island by boat. Let’s make it clear from the start that you will not find beaches here, but only beautiful bays such as the famous Cala Rossa Capraia, reachable through paths or by sea. So if you cannot go without a nice comfortable beach with umbrellas and sunbeds, Capraia is probably not the right destination for you. Capraia’s sea is alive and wild, and the fascination of this island lies precisely in its waters: cliffs that plunge into the sea, rocks underneath the surface covered with life, heights from which to be overwhelmed by the blue sky and sea, and the delighting scent of myrtle trees. Holidays on Capraia island, even if just for a few days, will be a more than restoring escape! Capraia is not just a summer destination: alongside its charming intimate wintery atmosphere, its season begins with the ‘Walking festival’ at the beginning of April and ends at the end of November with the most famous event of the Island of Capraia:  ‘Sagra del Totano’. So if you are wondering what to do on Capraia Island do not worry, for every season offers plenty of things to do! 

WHERE IS THE ISLAND OF CAPRAIA AND HOW TO GET THERE. Capraia is the farthest Island from the Tuscan coast, situated in the Corsica Channel at 64 km from Livorno, 50 km from Elba Island and only 30 km from the eastern coast of Corsica. It is an island of volcanic origin, the only one in the Tuscan archipelago. Concerning its size, with an area of 20 km2, it is in third place after Elba Island and the Island of Giglio. You can get there by ferry from Livorno with a 2h45 minutes journey. Make sure you inform yourselves of departure times, since they vary throughout the year: in times of lower affluence it only runs on certain days of the week. It is virtually useless to take your car to the island as the only trafficable road is the one that goes from Capraia port to Capraia village, which otherwise offers shuttles and public transport. The best you can do is reach your hotel or rented home by car within one hour of disembarkation and, an hour before re-embarking, reach the port of Capraia. I wouldn’t consider it worth it, but it’s up to you. 

CAPRAIA: A WILD PRIMORDIAL NATURE TO DISCOVER! The island is characterized by high and rocky coasts and there are no sandy beaches unless the wind and waves decide to open up a tiny sandy space. This is precisely how Capraia island beaches are like: in Cala della Mortola, in fact, the sand is carried away by the Grecale wind, and carried back by the Libeccio wind. In the central area of the island there are some reliefs, the highest of which is Monte Castello reaching 447 meters. In the southern part of the island you can still see the remains of a volcanic vent at Punta dello Zenobito. The type of vegetation that covers the island is called ‘Gariga’: a mix of Mediterranean greenery and the steppe, including helichrysum, Montpellier cistus, myrtle, rosemary and various endemic species. Isola di Capraia fauna is rich in birds to delight birdwatchers: the shags, shearwaters and gull among the marine species; kestrels, buzzards, falcons among the birds of prey. The Stagnone, a small lake in the central part of the island, becomes a fantastic vantage point in the spring to observe many migratory species. Among the animals, now goats and monk seals are extinct, wild sheep, wild rabbits, and some snakes inhabit the island. But the most beautiful spectacle can be observed beneath the water surface: a hidden world buzzing with life, fish of all kinds, seagrass undulating at the flow of currents. Besides, Capraia is in the heart of the Cetacean Pelagos Sanctuary, a protected area shared between Italy, the Principality of Monaco and France, where cetaceans such as whales and sperm whales can be sighted. 

CAPRAIA ISLAND HISTORY. The island's history reveals an adventurous past due to its strategic location for navigation in the high Mediterranean. It was early inhabited by the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and finally by the Romans, of which some finds like a marble torso were found on the island. During the persecutions of Christians some coenobite monks settled on the island, so did some of the order of St. Anthony and the Franciscans. The events of this island were then marked by a series of pirate attacks from the sea such as the Saracens in 1055 or those of the Ottoman corsair Dragut, and the passage under various dominations: Pisa, the Republic of Genoa, Corsica and France. It was part of the province of Genoa until 1925 when, by royal decree, it passed under Livorno. After the Second World War it became home to a penal colony which operated until 1986. Since 1989 the island is part of the National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago.

WHAT TO SEE. The Island of Capraia Italy has two main poles: the port area and the fortified town area at a slightly raised position. The two points are connected by a road where you will find shuttles and public transport and on foot it takes about twenty minutes. The original village had developed closer to the port, but was then transferred to a higher position in order to defend themselves from attacks from the sea. The Forte di San Giorgio, located on a hill above the port, was in fact built in 1540 in defence against incursions of the famous corsair Dragut. As was common in these cases, almost all the inhabitants of the island lived inside it, so it was until 1700. In the vicinity of the fort there is another important building for Capraia island’s history: The Capraia Chiesa e convento di Sant’Antonio, built by the Franciscans around the seventeenth century. Inside the Church, of clear Baroque origin, you can view the painting of the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and near the altar a statue of St. Anthony. Another important sacred site is the Chiesa di San Nicola, located in Piazza Milano: according to popular beliefs the wooden statue of St. Nicholas was fished out of the sea. Near the port there is also the ancient Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta, whose statue is carried in procession on August 15th. In the locality of ‘Il Piano', where there used to be original cluster of houses on the island, stands the Chiesa di Santo Stefano which dates back to the eleventh century: today only the side walls and part of the apse remain standing. The defensive needs of Capraia island Tuscany can be clearly understood by the Fort and by the four watch towers: Torre del Porto, also the best preserved, Torre del Bagno on the eastern side of the island, Torre delle Barbici on the west and finally Torre dello Zenobito dominating the suggestive Cala Rossa. Until 1986 the island had a prison called ‘Casa Penale Agricola’ of which today several buildings remain standing: the Anghiale with cells, the canteen, the Salata and the barn. 

CAPRAIA ISLAND HIKING. Isola di Capraia excursions are one of the most interesting activities and trekking becomes almost a necessity since you cannot move about with motor vehicles. If you are not experienced hikers you can explore the island by going on one of the guided tours, otherwise grab your backpack, your hiking boots and go! You can head towards Stagnone della Capraia, the only basin of fresh water, and perhaps continue to Punta Penne. There is also a ring of Monte Penne which leads up to Punta Dattero or back down towards the port along the road of the ancient prison. The latter route is pretty intense so it is most suitable for trained people. A walk of moderate difficulty is the one that takes you along from one ridge to another from Monte Arpagna to Punta Trattoio and up to the Tower of Punta Zenobito. On Capraia island Italy the former prison is one of the easiest itineraries suitable for everyone: from Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta just follow the path that in no time will lead you to the buildings of the penal colony.

CAPRAIA AND ITS SEA: HOW TO GET THERE? the most convenient way is definitely by boat. If you don’t own one you can choose from the various island excursions that allow you to bathe in the various coves, or take advantage of a convenient taxi service. A water taxi will take you to a cove and pick you up at the time you prefer. However, there are some trails that will lead you to the sea. Starting from Pieve dell’Assunta, you will pass next to the Penal Colony and reach Cala di Porto Vecchio in about 50 minutes. Cala dello Zurletto is located south of the village of Capraia and can be reached along an easy path in 20 minutes. Once you arrive you will find volcanic rocks, a turquoise sea and plenty of fish to observe. Under the Convent of Sant’Antonio with a rather easy path you reach Cala di San Francesco. So far we have told you that the island of Capraia in Tuscany has no beaches… actually there is one, located under Torre del Porto and it is called La Grotta Capraia: some wooden planks have made the rocks more comfortable, and beds and umbrellas have been arranged. Here you will also find a bar and a lifeguard. So if you want to enjoy a few moments of relax, you can! But bear in mind that an island like Capraia your time would be wasted lying around sunbathing – there is so much to see!  Needless to say, Capraia is also perfectly suitable for diving lovers. The diving centre of the island will give you all the information and support you need. The easier ones include Punta Bellavista, at a depth of about 20 meters, Secca delle Formiche, Punta della Civitata at 36 meters and Punta del Turco at 45 metres, and finally Punta Trattolo at 60 metres.

 GOOD FISH AND A GOOD BEER! What can you eat in Capraia? Well, fish of course! Buy it straight from the boat when it arrives in port and cook it at your rented apartment. If you are staying in a hotel or do not want to cook, pick one of the many restaurants that you can find at the port or in the village. But the island doesn’t only offer fish. Taste the organic vegetables or the ‘Nettare di Capraia', a very special wildflower honey. As for drinks, since you do not have to drive, choose whatever you fancy, so long as you stay away from the cliffs. Drink nice cold beer, specifically a 'Karpa', craft beer with helicrysum. You can opt for a glass of 'Aleatico di Capraia' or 'Rosa della Piana’. With all the herbs on the island there is no shortage of liqueurs such as myrtle or limoncino. In summary: uncontaminated nature, walks of all kinds, fabulous sea, unique atmosphere, good food. Who would want to exchange the city smog with a breath of fresh air and plenty of relaxation?