Giglio the jewel of Tuscan archipelago

Hanns-Jochen Kaffsack
AAP

As the ferry nears the small Italian port, hardly any passengers are looking at its picturesque houses painted in Mediterranean colours or at the hills of the island of Giglio.

They are all on the starboard side after the one-hour ride from the mainland, waiting to snap pictures with their smartphones or cameras of the wreck of the Costa Concordia. It is an immense eyesore for the island.

Many also see it as symbolising an Italy that has lost its way.

But something more than a wasted ship is there: Giglio itself - one of the seven islands of the Tuscan archipelago, often described as "Tuscany's most beautiful children."

There are two striking small lighthouses in the port - in green and red - and the Torre Saraceno, a fortification from 1596.

Behind the pier are lines of houses which remind some of the houses of Saint Tropez, France. They are painted in the warm colours of the south.

It's a picture that sets the tone for what the Isola del Giglio, east of Corsica, has to offer tourists - once the wreck of the cruise ship is cleared away and no longer dominates a visit.

From Giglio Porto, the road curves around and over the granite hills to the western side of the island. It goes past small vineyards with traditional stone terraces and towards the bay of Giglio Campese.

Then the wreck seems a million miles away.

Atop the hill awaits Giglio Castello, the third town on the 21-square-kilometre island, which has 1,600 residents, a few hundred of them islanders by choice.

Lower down from the town are the gracefully curved bay and the emerald green clear sea, which is a paradise for divers.

But the shipwreck overshadows this paradise like some original sin.

At breakfast on the beach of Giglio Campese, the sun has ventured over the hill and lights up the imposing towers high on the island.

After that, it's time to time to head up to the massive fortifications around Giglio Castello, which is known as "uno dei piu belli borghi d'Italia" - one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

The island's coast features cosy, small sandy coves, framed by cliffs, thickly wooded hilltops and, in the spring, vegetation that stands out with its colours and aromatic scents.

Waiting again for the ferry at Giglio Porto to return to the mainland, the dreadful shipwreck returns to mind.

This is where all the media hubbub is playing out. This is where hundreds of recovery specialists are working to try to get rid of the eyesore by 2014 - ideally before the beginning of the summer so that the Costa Concordia doesn't cast its shadow over a third season.

In the small church of the port town, prayers are still said for the 32 victims of the shipwreck.

The salvage workers from the American-Italian consortium are constant visitors to the harbourside with its small restaurants.

Nearby are shops that sell honey from Giglio and the rare and therefore expensive wine from the island.