Porto Ercole, along with Porto Santo Stefano, offers a quintessential seaport town experience on the promontory of Monte Argentario in the Province of Grosseto. The town, famous for its Spanish fortresses and its characteristic port, offers visitors a thrilling mix of history, beaches, resorts, boating, diving, and other water adventures.
Porto Ercole is a popular stop on the Tuscan coast for lovers of all things beach: boaters, divers, hikers, and beach-goers alike. The seaside is sprinkled with rich history and local lore, as visitors find themselves in the company of 16th century Spanish fortresses Forte Filippo, Forte Stella, and Rocca Spagnola. The views traveling along the scenic highways of the Argentario Promontorio are a spectacle in themselves, as you travel from beach to town to forest to fortress!
Monte Argentario means Silver Mountain, perhaps named for the fact that at night the sea around it shimmers a silver glow. Or perhaps for that it was once the homebase for the Argentarii – money lenders in ancient Roman times. Either way, the silver mountain provides an incredible backdrop of scenery, dining, and history for visitors of Porto Ercole.
Porto Ercole is located in Monte Argentario, in the province of Grosseto in the region of Tuscany. Originally an island, the Argentario promontorio is now a promontory, a landmass extending into the Tyrrhenian Sea. There are two strips of land connecting Monte Argentario to the mainland:
- the Tombolo della Giannella
- the Tombolo della Feniglia.
You can access Porto Ercole most easily by car. You can also get to Porto Ercole by taking a train from the center of major cities. The nearest train station to Porto Ercole is Orbetello, which is a 20-minute bus ride (by Tiemme) away from the town.
Orbetello can be accessed by train from Rome in about two hours, Florence in about three and a half hours, or Pisa in about two and half hours. The train routes are not direct, so traveling by car will definitely simplify your transportation logistics! Once you are in Porto Ercole, a car will also be helpful for traveling between the various beaches. Some can be accessed by foot after multiple kilometers of walking, but a car will make your life much easier in the warm Italian sunshine!
8 Things to See in Porto Ercole
The lungomare named for Andrea Doria – who conquered the town in 1526 for Pope Clement VII – wraps around the port and offers abundant bars, seafood restaurants, rentals for boats and rafts, gelato shops, and pizzerias. A stroll along this well-maintained path will provide a charming angle on the port marina, with plentiful spots to sit and eat your gelato with a beautiful seascape view!
2. The Old Town
The Centro Storico is found on the southern side of the bay, near the Rocca Spagnola. Typically a bit quieter than the tourist-filled beaches, entering the old town feels like a passage through time as you enter through a large city gate located under a picturesque bell tower. Full of churches, old streets, and piazzas overlooking the bay, the centro storico’s charm is unmatched.
The famous painter Caravaggio is believed to have died in Porto Ercole in 1610, after an adventurous flight from the law. Legend has it that after being sentenced to death following a brawl over a tennis match, he escaped from Rome, to Naples, Malta, Sicily, and then went back to Naples.
After powerful supporters interceded on his behalf to grant a pardon for the murder, he set out from Naples for Porto Ercole with three paintings in hand, intended as gifts for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V. At one of the stops on the boat’s journey, he was captured, imprisoned, and released for unknown reasons. Though he was eventually released, he was detained for enough time to miss the boat as it continued on its journey, his paintings still aboard.
He traveled to Porto Ercole and attempted to find the paintings, but fell ill there. For many years historians believed he died on Feniglia beach, but in 2001 a parish record was located that indicated he died in the hospital. His grave was believed to have been found in 2010, and the bones related to a funerary ark in the center of the town and then in the town cemetery where it can be viewed today.
The Rocca Spagnola is one of three Spanish fortresses in Porto Ercole, built in the 16th century on a structure dating back to 1074. A door on the north end connects directly to the old town, but it’s now closed for access. The 16th century additions connected the fortress to the defense systems of the Estado de los Reales Presidios or Presidi State. This territory was of small geographic significance, but it offered ports that established control over trade through the Tyrrhenian Sea to southern Italy. Here there is also a more contemporary addition, the Porto Ercole lighthouse built in the 1800s.
The fortress has been sold to private owners and much of it transformed into residences. It is filled with narrow streets, piazzas, and courtyards. To schedule a visit, you will need authorization from the municipality of Monte Argentario who can be reached at +39 0564 831019.
Porto Ercole’s Forts
Porto Ercole is home to three Spanish Fortresses, dating back to when the town was part of a territory in Italy called the Estado de los Reales Presidios or Presidi State. Though many parts of these forts have been converted to private residences, you can view all of them from the outside and visits are sometimes possible.
Named for King Philip II of Spain, it’s impossible to miss the Spanish connection! You can only visit the perimeter of this one, since the inside is privately owned. Nevertheless, a walk along its walls offers a beautiful panorama of the bay!
6. Forte Stella
Forte Stella also has 16th century Spanish origins, and has the form of a six-pointed star – which you might guess from the name, as stella means star. Surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge and designed to help spot ships arriving far in the distance, the architecture and grounds are rich in character! You can visit Forte Stella on weekends from May to June, and every day from July through September. The cost of entry is 2 euros. It cannot be accessed by car, only on foot. The view from Forte Stella is gorgeous, the port’s inlet just below you. It is easy to see why Forte Stella was so important to the defense of Porto Ercole!
A nearby Spanish Fortress
The Spanish Fortress of Porto Santo Stefano (Fortezza Spagnola) was built between the 16th and 17th centuries, when the town was part of a territory in Italy called the Estado de los Reales Presidios or Presidi State. Today it houses exhibitions on shipwrecks and other maritime history.
This garden, founded in 1868, was one of the first gardens to acclimate foreign plants in Tuscany, and one of the first in all of (newly unified) Italy. This garden contains over 1000 plant specimens of 150 tropical and subtropical species that come from distant parts of the world including Asia and the Americas.
Located on the Tombolo della Feniglia, the Duna Feniglia natural reserve offers a quiet escape into pine forests for your whole family. The park also features a special 700-meter nature trail for the blind in which a handrail guides visitors through fifteen stations with information about the Duna Feniglia written in Braille. Deer, wild boars, foxes, badgers and herons all call the Duna Feniglia home and on a lucky day you might see one of these local critters! You can also rent bikes to explore the area on wheels.
More Things to Do in Porto Ercole
A drive along the strada panoramica offers incredible views of the sea, and will also take you between the cities of Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano, and to many of the Spanish fortresses. Diving and snorkeling are also popular tourist draws, and there are opportunities to explore under the sea for new and experienced visitors alike. For those who prefer to stay above water, there are many boating and kayaking options.
If you enjoy hiking there are many beautiful natural areas nearby with a variety of difficulty levels, including a path between the three Spanish fortresses or to Porto Stefano, the other town on Monte Argentario. And, of course, the beaches! There are many paid resort beaches and free beaches (some with the option of renting a chair or umbrella for cost). The beaches are sandy and the sea is crystal clear, making for a relaxing and exciting day in the sun!
- L’Acqua Dolce means sweet water… enough said! Accessible to the left of the entrance to Hotel Pellicano, this beach is public but chairs and umbrellas are available for rent. The beach offers a mix of sand and small pebbles.
- Le Viste is the closest beach to the town of Porto Ercole, also accessible on the strada panoramica. Access to this one can be a little tricky, as it involves about 200m of steep path. Half of Le Viste is a private resort beach that you have to pay to access, whereas the other half is a public beach.
- Cala Galera is an easily accessible beach just north of the town of Porto Ercole, with free parking nearby. Its port is one of the oldest in Italy! The water is shallow, you can even walk through it to Feniglia beach!
- La Feniglia is another beach that is quite easy to access, and the nature reserve’s pine forests are found right at the edge of the beach.
- Spiaggia Lunga is the “long beach,” accessible from the strada panoramica and offering a mix of sand and rocks.
Porto Ercole offers a wide range of accommodation options: from seafront homes and countryside villas, to hotel spas.
Casa San Rocco
Casa San Rocco is a comfortable and well-equipped 2 bedroom apartment with air conditioning, and close to popular beaches and fishing spots.
Borgo degli Ulivi
Borgo degli Ulivi is a villa with a pool located 2km outside of Porto Ercole in the quieter countryside, and offers both a house and/or an apartment, booked separately. The house is perfect for large groups, boasting four bedrooms. The apartment has one, plus a sleeper couch.
Il Molino offers two holiday homes boasting a garden and patio/terrace, with sea views and proximity to beaches.
A Point Porto Ercole Resort & Spa
A Point Porto Ercole Resort & Spa is a spa hotel with abundant room options. The sauna, Turkish bath, an indoor and outdoor pool will leave you relaxed and soothed after long days in town and at the beach.
Places to See Nearby
Traveling beyond Porto Ercole is sure to enrich your visit! The area of Monte Argentario is full of beaches and nature! Capo d’Omo offers hiking and climbing adventures, while the Convent of the Passionists and the summit of Monte Argentario give astonishing views of the islands of Giglio, Giannutri, and Montecristo. Then there is the second city on Monte Argentario: Porto Santo Stefano. Home to more Spanish fortresses, beaches, scenic roads, and of course incredible seafood. Nearby Capalbio and Orbetello, the train stop for traveling to Porto Ercole, are intriguing towns with charming historic centers. Capalbio’s Giardino dei Tarocchi is of particular note: an indoor-outdoor art museum of sculptures based on classic tarot cards. The Isola del Giglio offers an island coast with move diving, hiking, medieval villages, and a port with colorful houses and crystal clear waters.
Is Porto Ercole worth a visit?
Porto Ercole is a must-see for travelers in Tuscany eager for seafood, water adventures, relaxing beaches and seascapes, and history. Its characteristic port offers beaches, resorts, boating, diving, and other adventures.