Three fortresses are "guardians" of this place out of time, as if to safeguard its essence.
The tumultuous soul of Caravaggio hovers in the old village of Porto Ercole, where he ended his life in the distant 1610 ... the magical atmosphere that surrounds this town is easily explained.
How to get
Leave the Orbetello dam behind you, immediately to the left, take the provincial road towards Porto Ercole. After a few minutes, past the junction for the tourist port of Cala Galera, on top of the hill, sentinel of the city, you can admire the majestic "Filippo", as "in confidence" they call it here. Take a day to visit all the fortresses, you will not regret it. Even if the view alone is worth it, let yourself be catapulted to a distant place. Forte Filippo, the Rocca Aldobrandesca, Forte Stella, a fascinating journey through time!
But today our destination is the country. My advice is to leave the car in the large parking lot right at the entrance, on the right, near the post office and walk there. In the height of summer, however, transit in the country is strictly regulated, free access is reserved only for residents and those with a permit.
Porto Ercole is not "brazen" like Porto Santo Stefano, it is more "reserved". It won't show you right away. Entering from the long Viale Caravaggio it will not seem like a seaside town at all, but once you get near the church square, turn left and reach the port.
Here the seafaring soul of the village begins, on the left the small fishermen's boats, the houses, the remains of the "Cirio" which in the 60s canned tuna and sardines giving work to many portercolesi, right under the severe gaze of "Filippo" . (It seems it was recently purchased by a Swedish businessman who wants to make it a luxury hotel!).
On the right the piers of the big tourist boats, the promenade with the locals and the walk with the "benches", real stone sitting rooms.
The old village
But the best of Porto Ercole is the old town, literally perched under the "Spanish fortress".
Get to the end of the port, near the shipyards. You will find a staircase that climbs to the top of the road above. Just above the entrance from the Pisan gate, you will reach the square of Santa Barbara, right overlooking the harbor, with the imposing Governor's palace. From here starts the tangle of alleys that go up to the oldest church in the country.
On December 25th and January 5th and 6th of each year (meteorologically permitting !!), for a few hours (from 16.30 to 19.00) the old town becomes the scene of a very suggestive living nativity scene. A large part of the population is engaged in representation, rich in period scenes and costumes. You will live for a few hours in a place out of time! A "treat" for those lucky enough to spend these parts at Christmas.
It is held on a weekend in May (not always the same!): Decorations, sets and pirate costumes are everywhere! "Pirate lair" taverns and inns. On Saturdays, at sunset, pirate crews embark on goiters to storm the small beaches of the inlet between screams, fires, colored fumes and the characteristic fireworks that accompany this unique and spectacular "landing"
.... and after the cannon shot the "treasure hunt" starts at night. Duel, questions and other tests of all kinds to get hold of the key that will open the chest that contains 10 silver coins covered with gold. Three cannon shots will warn that the treasure has been found. Then the night of music and dancing begins!
On Sundays, the corsair regatta involving 6 sailboats is organized. 6 small sailing ships depart from the port, with crews of 6 people, dressed as corsairs, who reach the islet near Porto Ercole, circumnavigate it, then one of the corsairs dives to reach the island by swimming and goes up to the top, take a flag, get off and reach the sailing ship again to return to port. The winner is the regatta who first flies the flag on the beach.
Pirates' Night is the historical re-enactment of the "conquest of Porto Ercole". In fact, in June 1544 Khayr Al Din, the Turkish corsair known as Barbarossa, conquered and burned Porto Ercole, making 200 prisoners.
For the exact date and other curiosities: www.lanottedeipiratidiportoercole.com
The most "felt" moment by the whole local community are the celebrations for Sant'Erasmo, patron of Porto Ercole, shows and sports and religious initiatives that last four days.
On 2 June, the day of Sant'Erasmo, the "Procession to the sea" is celebrated at night, with the relic of the patron saint. The faithful descend from the old church and, through the narrow streets of the old village, arrive at the port. The wooden statue of the Saint is carried on the shoulder and embarked on a fishing boat: as soon as the boat leaves its mooring many other boats follow it. All are decorated with illuminations: very impressive!
During the celebrations of Sant'Erasmo there is also the "Rowing Regatta of the four Spanish forts" which takes place inside the port. Four goiters (Maestrale, Libeccio, Grecale and Scirocco) each with four oarsmen and a helmsman are assigned to the four participating districts: Forte Santa Caterina, Forte Stella, Forte Rocca and Forte Filippo.
A great fireworks display over the water puts an end to the celebrations.
The coast that begins at the end of the town is high and rocky with small sheltered coves dominated by the magnificent "Forte Stella" which overlooks the stretch of the Sbarcatello. It is no coincidence that even the Queen of Holland had chosen this place as her summer home "The happy elephant", her villa overlooking the sea.
A little further on, just before the end of the provincial road, you will find the excellence of hotel hospitality, the Relais and Chateaux "Il Pellicano", an exclusive 5-star hotel famous all over the world.
I think I was one of the few lucky people who was able to make the circumnavigation of the Argentario by car. In fact, still in the early 90s the provincial road did not end at the Pellicano but continued with a dirt road, until it joined the other asphalted stretch of the panorama, near the Cannelle, which allowed the circumnavigation of the Argentario. A landslide, never resolved, prevented access.
Discover all the beaches and coves of Monte Argentario .