This Tuscan Island Only Admits 1,000 Visitors Per Year

Aug 28, 2018

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If you’d like Italy’s island of Montecristo (the setting for Alexander Dumas’ classic novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo”) to also be the setting of your next European getaway, well, we have some bad news. This island locale might be Italy’s most exclusive tourist attraction.

The scenic isle — about 40 miles off the coast of mainland Italy and part of the Tuscan archipelago — only admits 1,000 tourists annually. And at least 600 of those slots are allotted to students, meaning only 400 adults can visit Montecristo per year. What’s more, the rare visitors invited to explore Montecristo are only allowed to do so on guided tours between either April 1 and July 15, or from Aug. 31 to Oct. 31.

The limitation on visitors is a European Union regulation designed to preserve the island’s delicate environment. Just 10 years ago, Montecristo was completely closed to all visitors.

View of a beach on Montecristo Island
View of a beach on Montecristo Island (Getty Images)

Montecristo’s unsullied environs have long been one of its main draws for tourists. The tiny six-square-mile island sports craggy granite cliffs and is covered in fragrant Mediterranean scrub plants such as rosemary and heather. It’s also a phenomenal area for spotting rare marine life, especially whales. Visitors can also explore the ruins of an ancient monastery, which sits atop an accessible network of caves.

The island is more than 5 million years old and dates back to the times of the ancient Etruscans, Greeks and Romans — all of whom ruled the island throughout history.

Montecristo's ancient monastery (Photo by Tuscany Archipelago National Park).
Montecristo’s ancient monastery (Photo by Tuscany Archipelago National Park).

If you’re feeling lucky and want to toss your hat in for a trip to Montecristo, officials recommend rounding up 39 of your closest travel buddies and submit applications as a group.

“Individual applicants who are not organized in groups of at least 40 people may encounter difficulties in organizing the trip,” Aurora Ciardelli, a spokeswoman for the Tuscan Archipelago’s National Park, told The Local.

Once you have your group ready, the next step is to seek authorization with the Grouping of Carabinieri Biodiversity – Biodiversity Department of Follonica. Requests for authorization must be received by Jan. 31 of the year of the visit.

If you are approved — a feat that will likely take many attempts due to the demand for visits to the island — you’ll have to secure your own boat to the isolated island. “The island is not served by scheduled ferries and therefore those who get authorization to visit must independently find a boat suitable to cover the approximately 40 nautical miles from the mainland,” Ciardelli said.

Not granted permission to visit Montecristo? Luckily, there are other (less exclusive) islands in the Tuscan Archipelago you can visit. Elba, the biggest of the chain of seven islands, is known for its beaches and — as the place of Napoleon’s exile — also boasts a number of historic sites.

Elba island, Portoferraio aerial view from fort. Lighthouse and fort. Tuscany, Italy, Europe.
Elba island, Portoferraio aerial view from fort. Lighthouse and fort. Tuscany, Italy, Europe.

The other five islands in the Tuscan Archipelago (Giglio, Giannutri, Capraia, Pianosa and Gorgona) also have breathtaking views, quaint villages and offer activities such as swimming and snorkeling.

Whatever you do, don’t try to sneak onto Montecristo unauthorized. “A remote surveillance network has been established using cameras positioned on all the islands of the archipelago,” Ciardelli said. Bypassing the bureaucracy is not worth the risk of being thrown in jail like the fictional Count of Monte Cristo.

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