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Report 491: Maremma: Lost in a Tuscan Kansas

By Alice Twain from Italy, Summer 2004

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Page 4 of 7: Day Trip 2: Monte Argentario

Monte Argentario is actually an island, not a mountain. Yet you can get there by car, since it is connected to the mainland by two thin strips of sand (Tombolo della Giannella and Tombolo della Feniglia, now a park) that enclose a lagoon.

Originally inhabited by fishermen, Monte Argentario became an important part of the tiny Stato dei Presėdi before being incorporated in the Granducato di Toscana by the Lorena. The villages look different from the rest of Tuscany because the local population was largely a mixture of the Spanish who ruled the Stato dei Presėdi, and people from Liguria and Naples. The island has two main villages: porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole, plus several smaller villages here and there.

Unfortunately, in the past 40 years Monte Argentario has become an extremely popular and upmarket area for beach hlidays, due to the cleanliness of the water, the nearness of some of the nicest islands of Tuscany (Giglio and Giannutri) and the wealth of lovely beaches (the two tombolo and several smaller beaches on the island). This has caused the island to become crowded with often ugly buildings, for the most part used only in summer by the many tourists.

Porto Santo Stefano, the main village of the island, is literally hidden by these modern buildings that extend to the hills, turning the village into a small town. The rather nice town center, dominated by the fortress, preserves some of its odd charm, resembling more Liguria than Tuscany. We attempted to visit the fortress only to discover that it is closed during the day and only opens at from 6:00 pm until midnight. Instead we strolled on the waterfront, admiring the huge boats moored there and had a second breakfast in a cafe.

By noon, we decided to move towards Porto Ercole, in hope to find better views but decided to make the side trip to the Passionisti monastry where I knew an open-air resturant stood. Despite our two breakfasts we had a good sized meal and a few hours under the canopy of trees that keeps the restaurant cool, followed by a walk to the convent itself, on the paved road lined by cypresses.

In the early afternoon, we continued towards Porto Ercole to find a nice and smaller village than Porto Santo Stefano. Unlike Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole (which was the main village of the island at the time of the Stato dei Presėdi) had three fortresses and the old village, built inside the bigger of the three, it can be visited by climbing on steep stairs.

The new buildings (hotels, apartments, residences) are there too, but the old village retains its charm, and we spent a good deal of time wishing we had enough money to buy one of the small houses, all with tiny gardens or balconies. The main square of the old village faces the port and is dominated by the Spanish Governor's palace.

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