Surely we are all aware of the sadness and grief that resulted from the loss of life, following the Costa Concordia accident off the coast of the Island of Giglio. Over the last two months now, we have all followed the news, eagerly waiting for the news of more survivors, grateful for all that were saved, but sad for those who were not.
Now in the final stages of recovery, as most of the fuel has been removed from the tanks of the Concordia, we can at least be grateful for the fact that the pristine waters of the Tuscan Archipelago will not be contaminated.
As faith would have it, I visited the Island of Giglio with a group of clients just last September, and therefore have first-hand awareness about the rugged beauty that characterizes this part of Tuscany.
This is not an area that is part of main-stream tourism, in part due to the fact that it’s not easy to get to.
But this type of tour, featuring the lesser known jewels that Italy is so gratefully famous for, is our specialty and our foray to Giglio was one of the excursions that my clients and I embarked upon.
Embark is indeed an apt term, as we took off in somewhat stormy seas, on a private yacht that I had chartered, from the iconic Il Pellicano Hotel on Mount Argentario. Along the way we had our guide, a native of Giglio, who proceeded to tell us a bit about the history of this remote island.
We’ll start with the name Giglio which in Italian actually means lilly, but that is not what the name derives from but from the Greek word igilio and the Latin version Gilium-both meaning goat-looking at the landscape, one can see that this is indeed an apt name, as goats would have surely been freely roaming and plentiful.
Giglio’s appeal, as was that of the Island of Elba, were the mineral resources that the Etruscans and then the Romans, prized for the manufacturing of weapons and other tools.
Indeed remnants of the Roman period are still visible on Giglio as evidenced by ruins of Roman villas as Giglio had become a refuge for the Romans, escaping from Goths’ invasions.
Giglio became an ideal refuge for those seeking to escape invaders in their own land and was “traded” almost as currency, by various ruling noble families from Florence and Pisa.
It was under the tutelage of Pisa, that massive walls and towers were built which characterize the island to this day. But in spite of these protective walls, Giglio still fell prey to Barbarossa pirates and then the Saracens, who sacked the island, taking most of its 700 inhabitants to Tunisia.
The island which at the time of the Tunisan invasion was really a property of the Piccolomis, another noble family that also counts two Popes as members, was subsequently sold to Eleonora of Toledo, Cosimo I de’ Medici’s wife, under whom Giglio finally gained some stability and subsequently became part of the Grand-Duchy of Tuscany.
Today’s visitors can still feel a sense of this island’s turbulent but distant past, and as one disembarks at Giglio Porto, the only sights and sounds are those of happy tourists, sitting at the cafés that dot the little port, sipping espresso or eating a gelato.
But one of the highlights of this excursion is the ride up the hill to Giglio Castello which sits at 400 meters above sea level.
Here one finds a lovely Medieval village, characterized by gentle sea breezes, blue skies and sweeping views of Giannutri, Elba, Montecristo and Corsica island as well as the mainland.
As one walks along the narrow streets, one comes across arches, stairways carved in stone, quaint piazzas and of course massive stone walls and look-outs, from which the invaders could be seen and repelled.
But certainly one does not come all the way to Giglio without having some of the local specialties which of course, along with art and culture, are at the heart and soul of an Italian experience.
On Giglio, Ansonica is the grape varietal that is cultivated,which in other parts of Italy, such as Sicily and Sardinia, it is known as Inzolia-this grape varietal needs lots of intense sun which of course is exactly what it is exposed to, in the areas where it flourishes. The end product being a white wine characterized by a golden, yellow color, fruity, with very delicate aromas. It is soft and fresh on the palate and very well balanced. This wine is best paired with highly seasoned fish and crostaceans, as well as vegetable soups and grilled white meats. Certainly by viewing the photos our our fabulous meal on Giglio Castello, one can tell that that is exactly what we had and I can personally attest to the fact that it was an absolutely, perfect pairing!
While certainly we don’t want to forget or trivialize the horrible disaster that has made Isola del Giglio a household name the world-over, my hope is that going forward, the rugged beauty that attracted pirates and other mercenaries over the centuries, Giglio’s other beautiful realities and its food and wine, will also become known and appreciated.