Off the coast of the province of Livorno lies the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, a nature reserve that includes the islands Elba, Giglio and Capraia. But there is one particular island in the bunch that is cloaked in mystery: Montecristo. You may know it from Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo, but its allure is even stronger in real life.
No fishing or modes of transport are allowed within 1km of the island. Only four people live there – two groundskeepers and two carabinieri (members of the Italian parliamentary police force), who rotate each fortnight – and visitors can only set foot on its shores during two periods: 1-15 August and 31 August-31 October. What’s more, only 1,000 visitors per year are permitted on the island in total and they must be granted special permission. Of the coveted spots, 600 are reserved for school trips and the remaining 400 must be made up of visitors travelling in groups of approximately 40, which makes it tricky to set sail unless you join a tour group or have a slew of friends who want to make the pilgrimage with you.
Montecristo has had protected status since 1988 due to its unique biodiversity. The lucky few who are chosen to visit this secret jewel of Tuscany have a chance to explore this varied flora and fauna; however, those who want to venture outside the port of Cala Maestra and hike can only do so accompanied by the carabinieri.
If you’re interested in visiting Montecristo and walking in the footsteps of literary history, the first thing you need to do is file a request with the carabinieri. It takes about three months to receive access to the port and up to three years to be granted a hiking tour.
The good news is, the current president of the national park intends to raise the number of yearly visitors to 1,500, split into 20 visits of 75 people.
Fingers crossed – although if the numbers keep growing, the cloud of mystery could lift to reveal a less enticing island.