The second-largest of the Tuscan islands, Isola del Giglio, lies at the southern end of the archipelago and is a favorite summertime haunt of Romans who want to unplug and unwind surrounded by unspoiled nature -- and just the right amount of rustic civilization. Il Giglio, as it's known to Italians, may mean "lily," but the island wasn't named for a flower. The etymology actually goes back to the Greek Aegylon -- "Place of Goats" -- for the animals that once thrived on the island's rocky contours. Giglio is composed almost entirely of granite, out of whose cracks and crevices pine groves and dense macchia mediterranea shrubs have grown, or been reforested, over time.
On a map, the 24 sq. km (9-sq.-mile) island is shaped like a dill pickle trying to hitch a ride. The "thumb" of the western coast sits just below the broad sandy bay of Campese, and several sandy coves are on the east coast, to the north and south of Porto. The rest of Giglio's bumpy shoreline is composed of rocky palisades and inlets, many of which are only accessible by boat. In summer, the beaches get crowded, making a boat tour around the island (on your own or with an organized excursion) a must to escape the hordes. Giglio is the next most visited island after Elba, though it's a distant second.
The island's three centri abitati (towns) are arranged in a mostly straight line from east to west. On the east coast, Giglio Porto is a delightful little harbor town, where pastel blocks of waterfront buildings are backed by steep hills covered with vineyards where grapes for the local Ansonaco wine are grown. Porto is where the ferries land and where most of the sea-oriented activities on Giglio are organized. In the middle of the island, Castello tells the medieval history of Giglio with its narrow streets and Pisan fortification walls. Castello is the administrative center of both Giglio and Giannutri, and a real Tuscan hill town, with all the architecture, breathtaking vistas, charm, and gastronomy that implies. The more modern tourist development of Campese, on the west coast, was built behind the eponymous bay that boasts the island's biggest and best beach, a wide crescent of beautiful, orange-tinged sand.
Everything else on the island is fairly wild and rugged. Twelve hiking paths "spiderweb" over the island, covering terrain both exposed and mountainous or flat and sheltered under the sea pines. Giglio is green and aromatic year-round, but in spring, visitors are treated to an explosion of wildflowers in the macchia scrub that blankets the island's slopes. Offshore, Giglio's emerald waters teem with marine life, and diving is a popular pursuit here. The particularly untamed southwestern coast of the island is protected territory of the Tuscan Islands National Park.
Though Giglio is not overtly glamorous and anyone will feel welcome here, it still attracts an understatedly chic crowd. International and Italian VIPs frequent the island, so keep your eyes peeled for tanned and toned stars of the soccer field and screen.
Porto Santo Stefano, on the Monte Argentario promontory, is the jumping-off point for Isola del Giglio: The island's proximity to this popular resort, combined with frequent ferries and Giglio's manageable size, make it feasible as a day trip, albeit a long one, from Rome, southern Tuscany, and even parts of Umbria. Giglio, in turn, is the main base for day trips to Giannutri.