I finally visited the isle of Montecristo, the tiny Mediterranean island where Alexandre Dumas’ count got his name and treasure. Today the island is a nature reserve and visits are strictly regulated. No more than 1725 people can visit each year. Every January the Parco del Arcipelago puts the available tickets up on their website. They sell out immediately.
Alexandre Dumas actually never visited the island himself. He spent time on the nearby islands of Pianosa (a prison island) and Elba where he heard all the stories about the treasure that supposedly lay hidden there. Composer Giacomo Puccini tried to sail to Montecristo but never made it due to nefarious south winds.
I also got close to abort our mission. The freezing March morning I got on a boat in Piombino there was mare mosso, rough sea. Ten minutes in, I had already started to count the safety vests on board. Some of our fellow adventurers were similarly inclined and decided to leave ship at Porto Azzurro, our first stop on the isle of Elba.
I wanted to join them, but my travel companion reminded me that we had paid 130€ for the rocky privilege and that there was no meteorological condition that would get her off the boat an island too early. A Mediterranean sea goddess must have overheard our conversation. She rewarded our bravery and half an hour later, the waves calmed down a bit. We climbed on deck and watched the mysterious mountain appear in the middle of the sea.
Two carabinieri, who permanently live on Montecristo, welcomed us. A guide looking like a modern-day version of the count took us on a steep hike up to the old monastery. For centuries, pilgrims came bearing gifts, which may be the factual base for the rumors about a treasure hidden on the island. With the monks gone, the island paradise was supposed to become an exclusive yacht harbor. Luckily, the Italian government intervened. In 1971, Montecristo became a nature reserve.
When I now spot Montecristo’s rugged silhouette from the Tuscan mainland, I think of the two carabinieri on the solitary island. Surrounded only by goats and Sicilian vipers (it’s still not clear how they got there). From March to October, their solitude is punctured by a weekly day-trip of intrepid travelers on the traces of the count of Monte Cristo. A couple of years ago one of them was arrested as he was trying to leave the group, treasure map in hand.
It takes three hours from Piombino to get to Montecristo. Six hours on a rocky boat is a long time for a day trip. At villa La Corvetta on the isle of Elba, you can watch the isle of Montecristo from the pool. I highly recommend admiring it from afar, while reading the Count of Monte Cristo propped up on a comfortable and steady deckchair.