Gorgona: the 7th island of Tuscan Archipelago
Not easy to reach, not easy to visit, not easy to forget
by Patrizio Roversi
The islands of Tuscan Archipelago between the Ligurian and the Tyrrhenian Sea are seven, just like the dwarfs. And in the same way, you always forget the seventh name, trying to figure out the last you miss! Let’s try: Capraia, Pianosa, Elba, Giglio, Giannutri, Montecristo… six in all. What’s the seventh then? It is called Gorgona, not easy to remember. The last detention island in Italy, difficult to reach and almost closed to tourism. Nowadays the access to the island is limited to 75 adult tourists for a maximum of 4 days per week, or to school trip. There is an entrance ticket (6€) and people have to carry their own lunch pack being careful to keep the garbage. If you are one of those lucky visitors, you can join one of the guided tours set by the Natural Park.
2 squared km
Gorgona is 37 km far from Livorno, when you land on the island you are asked to show your docs just like you were abroad. You will be welcomed by some prison guards who ask you to switch off your smartphone. On the island there is just one village perched on the mountain, almost abandoned. Everything else is the jail, with guards and prisoners.
The island is only 2 squared km wide in all, divided in areas: somewhere the prisoners can stroll semi-free, somewhere else they can’t. At first you check out anyone, wondering if he/she is a prisoner, a guard, a tourist, a social worker… then you forget about it, in half an hour the island fascinates you and you just relax. Gorgona looks like a big and rich farm, a farm-island. Vegetable gardens, vineyards, barns with beautiful cows, swine, turkeys and chickens. Horses! It is some kind of agricultural Paradise.
This place is some kind of agricultural penal colony, where the most of prisoners is active in farming, breeding cattles and producing wine. The wine is crucial: 5 years ago a prisoner asked to get an abandoned vineyard back on track. The warden was agree and asked some firms inland for help. The owner of the most prestigious and ancient winery in Tuscany, Sir Lamberto Frescobaldi, participated and relocated a few of his vineyards on the island. First it was just an hectar, to engage prisoners with some qualified work during their detention, then the idea became to make out from prisoners some qualified workers expert in the making of wine. A concrete perspective for their future out of jail. Many of them still work for Sir Frescobaldi, the hectare doubled, the bottles went from 2.700 to 4.000. The activity qualifies the product: Gorgona’s fine wine, sold and asked all over the world. The grapes are Vermentino, Ansonica and Sangiovese.
This excellent wine, with such a great history and a fine taste, spreads a message. An actual “message in a bottle”: the jail and the redempion, the history of those vineyards, the special producing know how, this unique island in the Mediterranean Sea with its special climate. The weather is very mild, without significant peaks in temperatures. It rains a lot just in Autumn and Spring, never in Summer. That is perfect for growing grapes, olives and vegetables. Sir Frescobaldi say his wine tastes of freedom, hope and fresh air! Pheraps it’s marketing, of course, but it is some good one.
The Island tour
Visit the church of San Gorgonio and the Villa Margherita, built on the remains of a Roman Villa. A dirt road goes around the whole Island, you can walk along and discover the nature, so pure and lush. From the top you can spot some wonderful bays, like Cala Scirocco with its cave where once monk-seals used to shelter. The Western side is a vertical cliff on the sea, tortured by the Maestrale wind. The Eastern coast is gentle, with the bays of Cala Maestra, Cala Marcona and Cala Scirocco.
Gorgona is very different from the other islands, see the Giglio or the Elba islansd. It is really isolated, thinking of visitors, accomodations and tourism. Much more similar to the islands of Pianosa or Montecristo, almost untouched. The National Park was crucial to protect the ecosystem, perhaps the rules are strict, but it is one of the most beautiful archipelago in the world and it is a gift to protect!