30km/19 miles east of Corsica and 42km/26 miles north of Elba
Of all the Tuscan islands, Capraia is the least touched by humans, and it wears its scant tourist development as a badge of honor. Which is not to say the island is completely virgin: The Romans were here (and who knows what other ancient people may have settled here -- many archaeological finds in the hills of Capraia remain a mystery), and both the Pisan and Genoese Republics left their marks over centuries of fighting each other for control of the archipelago. Even pirates (the Muslim Saracens) wanted a piece of Capraia, which became a theater of repeated incursions by the corsair Dragut Rais. Capraia's fortifications and garitte (watchtowers) date from this period -- the 15th and 16th centuries -- when the island was under near-constant threat of invasion. More recently, in 1873, Capraia became the site of a penal colony, which closed in 1986.
With the closure of the prison, sleepy Capraia began opening its eyes to tourism ever so cautiously. Luckily for conservationists, the entire island was designated parkland in 1996, with the creation of the Tuscan Islands National Park, and thus protected from abusive development. To this day, a trip to Capraia is all about quiet encounters with wild nature. Don't come here looking for nightlife or broad expanses of sand -- the only beach on Capraia isn't even always there. But if hiking, boating, diving, and the simplest trappings of civilization are your perfect getaway, Capraia is sublime, and you'll definitely be part of an exclusive club once you've been here.
With so little human contamination, combined with favorable tides and winds, Capraia has some of the purest coastal waters in the entire Mediterranean. Pardon the hackneyed gemstone comparison, but the color of the water in Capraia's coves may be best described as brilliant green tourmaline. Capraia's unspoiled coast is a haven for sailors, and even VIPs of politics and show business are known to bring their yachts, which quietly bob at such coves as Cala del Ceppo. Nautical novices can rent small motorboats to explore the shoreline, or simply join one of the regularly scheduled full-island tours, stopping to swim in spectacular coves along the way. The undersea world off Capraia draws plenty of divers, too.
The west side of the island is all sheer cliffs and sharp rocks, while the east side, where the town is, presents a softer landscape of valleys and protected coves. Hikers will find utter solitude along old stone mule paths that wend their way up through the island's hilly interior (highest point: 445m/1,460 ft.) past groves of pines and cork oaks to a velvety green carpet of Mediterranean macchia with fragrant herbs and flowers like wild rosemary, myrtle, and helichrysum. Bird-watchers can spend hours spotting Audouin's and yellow-legged gulls, red kites, buzzards, herons, and peregrine falcons.
Even with all these attractions, Capraia remains undervisited: The summer population tops out at about 1,000, a large percentage of whom don't even spend the night. (With careful planning, you can visit Capraia as a day trip; the ferries are timed in such a way that you can have 5 or 6 hours to explore before catching the boat back to the mainland.) Rugged Capraia is still hitting the snooze button on tourism, and is perfectly happy about it.
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