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Giglio Island: what it's like to sleep in the new Faro Capel Rosso hotel

We arrive onLily island in the afternoon, with a ferry leaving from Porto Santo Stefano. The journey lasts about an hour, just enough time to get rid of everything on a car.island there is no need: thoughts, heaviness, work, worries… Together with my traveling companions I am taken to the southern part of the island, the wildest one. With the car you travel along a road that slowly, curve after curve, goes up and then down. In the air you can smell the strong smell of helichrysum which reminds us of liquorice. The island of Giglio is part of Tuscan Archipelago National Parkthe largest marine park in Europe which protects the islands off the coast of Tuscany: ElbaLily, Capraia, Monte Cristo, Pianosa, Giannutri and Gorgona and has very rich vegetation, there are more than 700 species present. A lot considering that the island has a surface area of ​​just under 24 km2.

View of Giglio Porto

Guido Cozzi/Atlantide Phototravel

We are greeted by Francesco Carfagna and his daughter Irene in their vineyard, overlooking the sea. In front of us we can clearly see the island of Montecristo and to the left the Capel Rosso lighthouse, our «home» for the next two nights. I look at it in the distance, isolated on the rocks, in full sun and I can't wait to be there: I have never been in a lighthouse, much less slept in one, but I will still have to wait a few hours before getting there.

Giglio Island, a land of winemakers and farmers

«This island has been famous since ancient times for agriculture and its wines: think that Andrea Bacci, papal patriarch, doctor and philosopher, mentions them in a monumental list of wines from 1595. He wrote that the reds from Giglio are better than the whites and that the latter are golden in colour” Mr. Francesco tells us, handing us a glass of her white wine, Ansonaco, which has a golden colour, while Irene pampers us with her savory pies, bruschetta and bread and oil from the island. Carfagna gave life to the Altura winery, hearing himself called “crazy” by many local people: he wanted to revive – and make the world discover – Ansonaco del Giglio, reawakening viticulture on the island, and he succeeded. Here the telephone doesn't get much, there are no buildings, there is only the sea to admire under the expanses of vineyards and the definition «heroic viticulture» is simply perfect. Today there are 8 producers on the island, all with a few hectares of vineyards grown on dry stone walls.

Francesco Carfagna of the Altura winery has revived the island's viticulture

Francesco Carfagna, of the Altura winery, has revived the island's viticulture

Irene tells us about initiatives organized over the years, including concerts in the vineyard and welcoming tourists and, almost as if he were seeing a vine for the first time, he exclaims: «Look! The vine, even if it doesn't have eyes, senses where there is a hold and grows in that direction: nature is extraordinary, it never ceases to amaze me.”

Here, at the end of my days on this little island that most people still unfairly link to the shipwreck of the Concordia ship, love for nature of its inhabitants will clearly emerge common thread who accompanied me on this journey: the people of Giglio talk to you about plants and nature all the time. From Irene Carfagna to Cristiano Riccardithe Capel Rosso chef who picks wild plants every day to prepare his dishes, from Marina Aldi the first and only environmental tourist guide and park guide resident on the island who leads us to discover the island up to Luigi Baffigi, Capel Rosso's last lighthouse workereveryone tells us something that has to do with trees, wild herbs, shrubs or flowers.

The Capel Rosso lighthouse lights up at sunset

The Capel Rosso lighthouse lights up at sunset

I am especially struck by Mr. Luigi's words when he declares himself to be more of a man of the land than of the sea. Because I would have expected to hear everything, perhaps naively, except this from a person who has been through it 36 years of his life in a lighthouse, just a few meters from the sea. I then ask him if there is a reason why many local people are so passionate about plants. He explains to me that once part of the island's gardens was intended for the cultivation of vegetables flowers and that the farmers returned home in the evening with gladioli and other flowers in bags full of fruit and vegetables hung on the backs of the donkeys.

Luigi Baffigi lived in the Capel Rosso lighthouse for 40 years: he was the last lighthouse operator, who retired last year

Sleeping in a lighthouse on Giglio Island

After the visit from Altura, we set off again towards the lighthouse which since the beginning of the year, after long conservative restoration works, has now opened as an accommodation facility. Red Hair it is located at the end of a downhill dirt path, you walk for about 20 minutes on earth and stones (therefore: no trolley) surrounded by Mediterranean scrub and silence. The route is downhill and you can see the sea in front of you. We arrive at sunset, the sky to the west is fiery, to the east it is purple because it threatens rain. We are greeted by Purple Walls, one of the three Florentine sisters who have had the concession of this magical place since 2017. She immediately takes us to the terrace and the lighthouse, as if awaiting our arrival, shortly after begins its slow movement and lights up.

The living room of Faro Capel Rosso

The living room of Faro Capel Rosso

On the ground floor there is the kitchen, the dining room with large tables that can be moved and joined, to facilitate meetings between guests, and a lounge; on the upper floor there are the 4 bedrooms, all very large, for 3 or 4 people each, and furnished like the rooms of a large family home, with designer and other vintage objects that blend with the original stone floors, wooden beams and granite. Obviously they all have sea-view. On the walls, everywhere, there are ancient black and white photos that tell the story of the island and which also say a lot about the Mura sisters' commitment to wanting to enter into the culture of the place and respect it.

One of the 4 rooms of Capel Rosso.  Two overlook the sea, two like this one have a view of the sea and Mediterranean scrub

One of the 4 rooms of Capel Rosso. Two overlook the sea, two – like this one – have a view of the sea and Mediterranean scrub

The most beautiful point of the lighthouse is its Terrace, from which you can see the Mediterranean scrub with the helichrysum, the cistus, the mastic tree and the myrtle, further down the wild rocky cliff and finally the sea which can be reached along two paths: on one side the dinghies dock and there it is also a ladder, on the other hand you dive from the rocks to enter. The Mura sisters' idea of ​​organizing is perfect yoga and bioenergetics lessonswith local teachers, up here.

Giglio Island what it's like to sleep in the new Faro Capel Rosso hotel

But so how is it sleep in a lighthouse? Different from how I imagined it, I expected to feel far away from everything, isolated, but both evenings I fell asleep in an instant. The lighthouse is not a scary place, not even when it is all dark around, partly because of the beam of light that continues to turn on itself and confirms its presence, partly because as Mr. Luigi says «living in a lighthouse triggers the fantasy» and in fact I have many dreams.

In two days I “get to know” many people from Giglio, some of whom I meet again while visiting the village of Castello, the “centre” of the island, I meet others on the return ferry and I stop to chat with them, as if we had known each other for a long time. I set off again with the smell of helichrysum in my nose and while I see the shape of the island becoming smaller and smaller on the horizon, I think about how many times I have heard people say in recent days: «I love the lily».

Giglio Island what it's like to sleep in the new Faro Capel Rosso hotel

The history of the Capel Rosso lighthouse

Violatogether with sisters Veronica and Gilda, who deal with something completely different in life (they have a company in Florence that produces ophthalmic instruments) decides to participate in the 2016 tender which offers concessions to some lighthouses in Italy, including that of Capel Rosso for 19 years. The eldest of the three, Veronica, is the most determined to carry out this “madness”. So they organize themselves and go to see it, draw up a project and win; since then there has been a succession of restoration works for a total investment of €1.5 million.

Giglio Island what it's like to sleep in the new Faro Capel Rosso hotel

Structure, built in 1883 by the Navy to illuminate the southern part of the island, is made up of a white tower that rises in front of the central part, a rectangular building with red and white stripes overlooking the sea. Many legends accompany the origin of the name Capel Rosso, from the corsair called Barbarossa who sacked the island, to a charming red-haired girl, Marsilia, who enchanted everyone who met her. Or it could refer to certain red streaks on the rocks or corals, plundered over the years. A mystery impossible to unravel and that's okay.

The lighthouse, in its more recent past, also had its own small moment of fame, appearing in the Oscar-winning film, The great beauty by Paolo Sorrentino.

How to organize a trip to Giglio Island

How to get to the lighthouse: from Porto Santo Stefano by ferry and then from the port by car to the car park and with a walk or with a private boat service; by helicopter from Rome. Rates starting from 300 euros per night per person (minimum 2 nights) with breakfast and dinner. Lunch on request.

Where to eat: at Trattoria del Golfo in Giglio Campese, Da Ruggero or at Pergola in Giglio Porto.

For a boat excursion: the best way to enjoy the beauty of Giglio is from the sea. Mr. Luciano Loffredo has a dinghy and boat rental business, Zeurino, in the municipality of Monte Argentario. Sailing with him makes the difference. In 1965, at the age of 20, he sailed around the world on the Amerigo Vespucci with the Navy: hearing him talk is a gift.

Activities to do on the island: a tour of the area; a wine tasting in the Altura vineyard or on the farm Fontuccia; discover the production of honey and oil from local producers; take part in a cooking class; explore the different trekking routes.

Source: Vanity Fair

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