Monte Argentario is one of the most famous spots in the Maremma and Tuscany. The promontory, which was originally an island, is characterized by a high, rocky coastline covered by a thick Mediterranean thatch, interrupted by olive groves and vineyards. It is now connected to the land by the Feniglia and Giannella sand bars, two strips of uninterrupted sandy beach and thick maritime pine. The sandy isthmuses are separated by the Laguna di Orbetello, an area protected by the WWF because it sits on one of the most important migratory routes and is one of the principal wintering sites for birds that nest in Europe. The serene tranquility of this lagoon contrasts with the high jagged Monte Argentario coast that hides small inlets in rocks that are inaccessible from the land.
Monte Telégrafo, the highest point on Monte Argentario (635m/2,083ft), lies in the southeast of the peninsula, 17km/11 mi from Porto Santo Stéfano by a road which branches of SS 440 (the Orbetello road), on the south. On this road, commandingly situated at a height of 275m/900ft, is the Convento dei Padri Passionisti. From here there are magnificent views, extending seaward in good weather, as far as the French island of Corsica and inland as far as Monte Amiata.
Dominated by the 17th-century square-plan fortress, built by the Spanish to defend the port, Porto Santo Stefano originated in the 15th century as a fishing village. Fishing continued to be the almost exclusive activity of its inhabitants until not many decades ago, when the town became a famous seaside resort, appealing to a wide range of tourists, the fashionable élite as well as ordinary holidaymakers, some staying for a while, others passing through whilst waiting for a boat to the islands in the Tuscan archipelago. In the summer period the fortress is the venue for a wealth of cultural activities and exhibitions.
Porto Santo Stefano is the largest town on Mount Argentario, and connections leave from here for the islands of Giglio and Giannutri. Porto Santo Stefano is a famous resort with two ports, Porto Nuovo and Porto Vecchio. Every 15 August, they play the Palio Marinaro, preceded by a historical procession in Spanish costumes.
Porto Ercole is located on the eastern coast of the Argentario. It is a charming seaside village that overlooks a bay protected by a small promontory. It is a maze of lanes and stairs that descend tortuously from the fortress to the port. The main sights to visit in Porto Ercole include the 16th century Palazzo Consani, the old parish church of San Erasmo (where Caravaggio was buried in 1610) and the fortifications that date from the period of Spanish domination in the 16th century: Forte San Filippo, Forte Santa Caterina, Forte Stella and La Rocca.
Porto Ercole was the Roman Portus Herculis of antiquity, but finds from a a pre-Roman settlement testify to even remoter origins. The town is set in a bay and climbs up a little headland on the eastern coast: though it is a centre for fishing and a bathing resort with every amenity it has retained its ancient appearance despite modern tourist installations. Dominating the whole are the colossal fortifications, masterpieces of XVI century military architecture, that Philip II of Spain had built to defend the Stato dei Presidi. The harbour and sea are dominated on every side from the heights of the fort La Rocca and this is faced by Fort Filippo and Fort Santa Caterina while Fort Stella rises from a distant hill. The old part of Porto Ercole is reached through an ogival gateway in the Sienese style, cut into the encircling town walls that in earlier times linked the Rocca fort with that of S.Barbara, but, today, these have all but disappeared. The original nucleus, formed of a maze of narrow streets surmounted by arches, dark alleys and steep flights of steps cut into the rock, has an atmosphere that never fails to evoke a response. Looking out over the little square of Santa Barbara is the Palazzo del Governatore which was built at the beginning of the XVI century by the rich Sienese banker Agostino Ghigi. The mansion was plundered and destroyed by the Saracen pirate Cair Heddin Barbarossa, but rebuilt under Spanish domination and was used as the residence of the governor of the fortress. During the Second World War it was seriously damaged and has since been restored. Of the original building there remain only the porches and the facade. At the end of the same square stands the bastion of Santa Barbara, an ancient Byzantine light-house that the Sienese transformed into a small fort. The most ancient church in the township, standing almost directly below the Rocca fort, the old parish church of San Erasmo (where Caravaggio was buried in 1610). Botany lovers may, with the permission of the owners, visit the luxuriant park of Villa Corsini, also know as Casa Bianca, which stands between the lower town and the old walled town. A mile to the north of the Porto Ercole harbour is Marina di Cala Galera. Here, boats of considerable tonnage can put in at one of the best organized tourist landing places on the Mediterranean.
The Convent of the Passionists can be reached through a deviation to the right of the road from Porto Santo Stefano to Porto Ercole, through a route cut between two thick walls of Mediterranean bush. The convent of the Passionists, where almost three hundred years ago San Paolo della Croce started his mission, is surrounded by the green secular plants and by a deeply spiritual atmosphere. As one ascends, the entire lagoon system unfolds, with Orbetello in the middle.
The complex, inaugurated in 1737 and later expanded, consists of a convent area used by the monks, the sacristy and the Church of the Presentation. The church has a Neoclassical facade. The interior seems almost circular, is decorated with Baroque stuccoes and has a few important works of art. On the altar of the transept to the left is the painting of San Michele Arcangelo (St. Michael Archangel), protector of the Passionists. In the chapel to the right of the entry, is a painting that is meaningful in the history of the convent: La Madonna col Bambino che consegna a san Paolo della Croce il progetto del convento (The Madonna with Child who Delivers the Convent Plan to St. Paul), painted in 1880 by Pietro Aldi of Manciano. The painting offers an interesting glimpse of Orbetello and the lagoon as seen from Mount Argentario.