Porto Santo Stefano: All You Need to Know

Porto Santo Stefano’s Location

Porto Santo Stefano is nestled in the southern part of Tuscany, within the province of Grosseto, and it is one of the two urban centers situated on the Monte Argentario Promontory, the other one being Porto Ercole.  The town is placed along the northern coastline and has developed within a vast bay, framed by the old port of Pilarella and the newer one of Valle, which are separated by the long arm of Molo Garibaldi. 

Porto Santo Stefano overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and is located roughly 40 kilometers southwest of Grosseto

It’s a perfect spot to reach the main islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, such as Giglio Island and Giannutri, especially given the ample departure area from which the ferries of our company, Maregiglio, depart. 

Want to know more about Porto Santo Stefano? Read our detailed guide to find out more!

A Brief History of Porto Santo Stefano

The strategic location of this area was identified by the ancient Romans, who built several ‘domus’ here—maritime villas that were vital centers of production, mainly fishing, due to the presence of numerous tanks for rearing sea bass, mullets, gilthead bream, and tuna.

This led to the emergence of Villa Domiziana, whose remnants are still visible just after leaving S. Liberata, and Villa Dentiliana, located in Pozzarello where a small naval station was established.  Sadly, there are hardly any traces of the port and villa today. Finally, Villa dei Muracci was built not far from the port of Valle, where there was a processing and preservation plant for tuna.

This land has deep Roman roots, which probably influenced its name as well.

Apart from Emperor Nerone, who spent time at the Domiziana in his youth, it was the powerful Enobarbi family that settled here. Being bankers, or ‘Argentarii’, it’s easy to see the connection with the name Monte Argentario. 

Following the end of Roman rule, the promontory temporarily faded into obscurity until it was mentioned again in the second half of the 13th century as a transit port and refuge for passing ships and fishing boats. 

This maritime activity gradually led to a more stable situation with a small resident population in the port area of Pilarella, whose inhabitants mainly engaged in fishing for tuna and coral.

In the 16th century, the entire promontory became part of the Spanish State of Presidi, and the small village of Porto S. Stefano was equipped with an imposing fortress that dominated the houses and protected them from frequent corsair raids.

What to See in Porto Santo Stefano?

One of the must-visit places is the Spanish Fortress, a majestic 16th-century structure that towers over the town and offers a spectacular panoramic view. 

Today, the fortress, which is a symbol of Porto Santo Stefano, houses two permanent exhibits on local nautical craftsmanship and underwater archaeology, and continues to oversee a town that, although no longer small, has never lost its connection with the sea.

The sea is the town’s main tourist attraction, so much so that a dedicated site, the Mediterranean Aquarium of Argentario, located on Lungomare Navigatori, has been set up. 

Opened in 2001, this aquarium presents an accurate reconstruction of the seabeds found in the Monte Argentario Promontory and houses a wide variety of local marine species within it.

The Traditional Mid-August Maritime Palio

Every mid-August, the sea of Porto Santo Stefano becomes the main stage for the Monte Argentario Maritime Palio.

This is a rowing contest between the four districts of Porto Santo Stefano: Croce, Fortezza, Pilarella, and Valle.  They compete in a rowing race using traditional gozzi, wooden boats manned by a coxswain and four rowers. 

The race spans about 4 kilometers, with the picturesque backdrop of Porto Santo Stefano harbor setting the scene. The Palio festival is more than just the race – it involves songs, dances, dinners, and fireworks, lending an even more festive and engaging atmosphere. 

Each victory is celebrated throughout the year, up until the next Palio, making this tradition one of the most anticipated and cherished events in all of Argentario.

Where to Go for a Beach Day in Porto Santo Stefano

Porto Santo Stefano offers various options for a day at the beach; let’s see what they are. 

La Cantoniera is a beautiful and easily accessible beach at the town’s entrance, connected to Porto Santo Stefano through tunnels. It offers both a resort with a bar and restaurant and a free beach. 

Punta Nera, reachable from La Bionda beach, is a small cove you’ll find just before the village. It doesn’t have parking, so you’ll need to walk a short distance.

La Bionda is located near the Pozzarello area, just outside the town of Porto Santo Stefano, and can be reached on foot through the characteristic tunnels. 

Pozzarello, with its resorts and small free beaches, is easily accessible directly from the provincial road.

La Soda is located at the town’s entrance and is easily visible from the road. This pebble beach is divided into two parts by a small jetty, offering both a beach resort and a free beach.

Finally, we mention Bagni di Domiziano, a small bay located on the road leading to Porto Santo Stefano. This hidden cove offers a very picturesque path through an olive grove to reach the beach.

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How Do You Get to Porto Santo Stefano?

To avoid repetition, we have already extensively covered how to get to Porto Santo Stefano using the main modes of transport (car, train, bus). As a result, we leave you the link to read the dedicated detailed discussion, as well as all the instructions on where to leave your car in Porto Santo Stefano once you arrive there.

Where Do You Catch the Ferry from Porto Santo Stefano?

Porto Santo Stefano remains the main departure point for exploring the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. Maregiglio is the shipping company that fits your needs to reach your destination easily and enjoy high-quality onboard services. 

To take the ferry from Porto Santo Stefano, following the route to Giglio Island or to Giannutri, you need to go to the Ferry Terminal, located at Piazzale Candi 8, in the Porto del Valle area, which must not be confused with the nearby pier.  

Here you will find the departure point for the ferries to the islands. If you are traveling with your car or motorcycle, you can leave it at the boarding terminal, respecting arrival times: it is advisable to arrive 30 minutes before the ferry departure. If you are a passenger without a vehicle, it is enough to arrive 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

These advance times are CRUCIAL, as boarding is not guaranteed for those who arrive late, despite the regularity of the documents.

How long does the ferry ride from Porto Santo Stefano to Giglio Island take?

The ferry journey from Porto Santo Stefano to Giglio Island typically lasts around one hour, covering a distance of roughly 22 kilometers, or 12 nautical miles. We always remind you to book your tickets well in advance, especially during the peak tourist seasons. 

To make things easier, you can conveniently book online at this link (or otherwise purchase at the physical ticket office located at Piazza Facchinetti 6/7 in Porto Santo Stefano). Here you can also find all the information on the schedules of our ferries.

How long does the ferry ride from Porto Santo Stefano to Giannutri take?

The ferry trip from Porto Santo Stefano to Giannutri generally takes about one and a half hours and covers a distance of roughly 29 kilometers, or 18.3 nautical miles. The ticket information we’ve just discussed also applies here. You will find the updated schedules for both destinations in the timetable section, including for Giannutri.

What ferries depart from Porto Santo Stefano?

All ferries from the Maregiglio company embark from Porto Santo Stefano, following the two routes to Giglio Island and Isola di Giannutri.

On the Porto Santo Stefano – Giglio Island route, two ro-pax ferry ships operate:

  •       M/N Isola del Giglio, which can carry up to 595 passengers and 40 vehicles;
  •       M/N Dianium, which can carry up to 345 passengers and about 12 vehicles.

On the Porto Santo Stefano – Giannutri route, the Costa d’Argento Motorship operates, solely for passenger transport, with a maximum capacity of 350 people.

But that’s not all, as Porto Santo Stefano also hosts several of our captivating mini cruises, daily tours specially designed to let you explore the best of the Tuscan Archipelago’s beauty.

From Porto Santo Stefano, the following depart:

To conveniently book one of our mini cruises online, simply visit this link.