Italy Blog


Porto Ercole, One Of Tuscany’s Best Hidden Gems

Italy is cram packed with hidden gems: historic hilltop cities, forgotten places, overlooked artifacts and all kinds of unimaginable spots off the proverbial beaten path. They’re worth discovering, and this blog’s hidden place is “Orbetello Mont Argentario”(Silver Mountain) or in this case more specifically “Porto Ercole” (Port Hercules), the southern port town on Mont Argentario which dates back to 280BC. Is given its name because at night the sea around it shimmers a silver glow, but more probable that it was once home to the Argentarii – the name of money lenders in ancient Roman times.

Photo credit: Andre Mouraux
You will find Porto Ercole is on the silver coast in southern Tuscany on the magical island of Mont Argentario, and just past the border of Lazio. You can always travel there by car, or if you land in Italy by plane and choose to use the public transport, you will find direct trains with no changes to Orbetello Mont Argentario station from Pisa and Rome. Otherwise you may have to take more than one train changing at either of these stations or Grosseto. From the train station you can find a taxi for around €30 (always negotiable) or the bus which runs every hour. En Route you must first pass through Orbetello and cross the lagoon on the causeway. 

Photo credit: Paolo Fefe
Orbetello is a town in the Tuscan province of Grosseto, and is located on the most beautiful of lagoons, which is also home to an important Natural Reserve. Orbetello was an ancient Etruscan settlement, which in 280 BC passed under the control of the Romans, who had founded their colony of Cosa (an important Roman colony of the 3rd century BC,) and had given Orbetello its name. The city walls actually date back to the 5th century (BC), it’s a city that rises from the sea and because of its unusual geographical position it’s always been a desirable conquest so to speak, not only by the Italian nobility, but by foreign countries too. It was once occupied by the Spanish who claimed it and built huge fortresses there that still remain, and are still inhabited to this day.

Photo credit: Viaggio Routard

Porto Ercole is one of the two major towns that form the township on Mont Argentario, the other is Porto Santo Stefano to the north of the island, which is a little more difficult to reach and has become quite popular with tourists in recent years so is usually avoided by the Italians who holiday on Mont Argentario.
Porto Ercole’s first recorded mention was in 1296, In the oldest part of the town, stands the “Torre di Terra” which was built on the orders of the countess of Savona, and put Porto Ercole on the map so to speak
Caravaggio, famous for his Baroque paintings , was exiled by the Pope of the times and died in Porto Ercole on his way back to Rome, his remains are buried in the church.
Towards the turn of the 20th century, the Dutch Royal family spent their summers here from the latter half of the twentieth century until the death of the last King in one of its private locations where the steps to the villa actually led down directly to the ocean, needless to say the locals see no sense in having a villa in such a position as to risk flooding and salt damage, especially in the winter months when it was left unoccupied.

Photo credit: Ansedonia su Argentario

Porto Ercole is still a favourite holiday destination for the rich, super-rich and famous because of its unique beauty and guaranteed privacy, in fact the (pregnant) princess of Monaco was recently spotted off the coast with her Italian boyfriend on her luxury sailing boat and chose to drop anchor at night by L’Islotto ,a baby island behind the port.

On Arrival in Mont Argentario itself you will find it unusual that there is so much untouched land and natural beauty. The landscape is fantastic from the calm of the lagoon to the encompassing mountains and hills it is hard to believe that you have actually arrived at one of the Romans most sought after resorts. Sure there is what you would normally expect to find in a sunny tourist resort such as shops, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, campsites, nice houses, apartments & villas, but they are all quietly situated and mostly obscured by pine trees and woodland, and even the oldest of houses seem to blend in with the landscape, those that do stand out, do so with a status of grandeur, and in terms of places to stay even though at a first glance accommodation seems limited you really are spoiled for choice- if you book well in advance during June, July & August. You still have the option of some very nice hotels in Porto Ercole, the only 2 luxury hotels are Don Pedro and the Golf resort and spa if you want something with a pool or sea view, or you can opt for the short-term rental of a house, apartment or Villa as most italian families do. Then of course as anywhere else in the world you will find the usual B&B’s and also some very nice overnight campervan parking facilities and campsites for those who may prefer to take their accommodation along with them.

During your stay you will find lots of things to do and places to go, though you must be pre warned that because of the nature of the place, Porto Ercole really is an actual, real life, sleepy village. By that I mean that the shops, supermarkets, attractions, and even most of the restaurants in the town close for siesta between 1-4pm, and when I say 1-4, I really mean 1-4 ! as the locals are so set in their own traditions that they are not overly enthusiastic on bending over backwards to please the tourists, even though you may expect that in high summer they would make an exception due to the fact that it is undoubtedly the most profitable time of year for them. This is not the case here, so it is best to plan ahead and get to the shops or chosen destination for the day early to avoid disappointment and make the most of your time here.

Some of the key local attractions have to be the wonderful beaches! What could be better than spending some time relaxing in the sun & bathing in the refreshing waters of the silver coast? there are a few to choose from here, some free beaches where you can just rock up with your towels and picnics and what have you, and the others where you will find sunbeds and umbrellas ready and waiting and for hire by the day, week, month and season. Expect to pay around €30 for a day (€15 for half day) which gets you access to parasol and 2 chairs. You will always find a bar or restaurant on the beach known as a stabilimente, selling cold drinks and snacks, (italian) newspapers & cigarettes if you did not make it to the shops before siesta. By far one of the nicest beaches in the area is Feniglia beach which spans across 6km of unspoiled beachfront in a national park, with a view of the port and the spanish rock (spanish fortress) and Orbetello in the distance. It is well serviced, and very well-kept by the lifeguards that serve the shore. It is accessible by walk or by bike from a car park which costs €10 per day, or you can take a little bus or car from the nearby campervan car park for €6. At the end of the day you have access to the hot showers for 50c or €1 if you want to use the private shower & use your shampoo.

Another must see attraction is undoubtedly Forte Filippo AKA the Spanish rock, located at the mouth of the port. It it the fortress town built by the Spanish when they arrived and still stands host to a fabulous church, and city within its walls. Often you will find regular events and concerts held in the open air square In the Port itself you can get lost in the maze of old cobbled streets and admire the unique charm of the place. This is OLD italy, living and breathing! some of the architecture is amazing and some is just plain baffling. There are a handful of shops, stores, designer, boutiques and restaurants, and at night it just takes on a whole new life, and character that fairytales are made of. All of this being said,Port Ercole is not complete until you have tried the local cuisine, and being set inside the port you can expect to find the freshest seafood around. There is a small family run fish monger ( Pescheria Da Ledo ) in the port that offer net fresh fish (if you get there early enough) and supply the region with their daily catch! In all of the restaurants you will find succulent seafood offerings on the menus, and of course PIZZA & PASTA….. but I am told that despite the fact they all have daily access to the fresh seafood, most of the restaurants still tend to freeze the food, and the only one that comes highly recommended by the local populus, and the only one that they will eat in if they want something different from pizza is “La Pinta” a family ran restaurant that is built on a jetty overlooking the port.

If you want to see a bit more of the area you can hire bikes,scooters and boats to get around or book a guide for a more in-depth experience, however choose to spend your time, you are guaranteed an unforgettable holiday in this secluded location leaving you with a desire to return.

Written by: Michelle Swan
If you liked this article, read also “GIGLIO ISLAND, THE HIDDEN PARADISE OF ITALY”

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