Porto Ercole is a delightful seaside town on the Argentario promontory on the Tuscan coast. The promontory is a paradise of rugged green hills, hidden coves, and natural harbors. It's actually an island connected to the mainland of Tuscany by three isthmuses. Named for Heracles, the mythical son of Zeus, it has a history that reaches back to the Phoenicians, the Etruscans and the Romans.
The town has a strong fishing tradition, a trade that continues today. It's not uncommon to find sailors on the shore mending their nets, and their colorful boats bob in the water of the port. The natural harbor has attracted seafarers for centuries. Today, you'll find luxurious yachts docked in the marina, too.
The historic center of Porto Ercole is a delightful stone village that rests below the walls of the Rocca Spagnola. Enter the centro storico through the old Porta Pisana, the ancient city gate, and wander through the warren of narrow streets, staircases, and piazzas that make up the old part of the city. It is a pedestrian-only place, so you'll hear only the sea and the jolly voices of the locals instead of traffic and clamour.
The lungomare seaside promenade reaches across the bay with a line-up of restaurants, cafes, and waterfront shops. Artisans have their workshops in old converted fishermen's huts. At the end of the lungomare is where the fresh catch of the day is unloaded. The "strada panoramica" is a scenic drive up the mountain with views of the sea, the islands and the inland hills of Tuscany that you won't want to miss. Porto Ercole is also a hiker's delight with trails that lead to the pebble beaches, or that branch off to other villages on the promontory, and reach the peak of Mt. Argentario.
There are three castles here to visit, constructed by the Spanish during their reign. Forte Filippo bears the typical triangular bastions that were common in Spanish fortresses of the time, while Forte Stella is aptly named because it is constructed in a 6-point star plan (stella means "star"). It has an inner courtyard. Rocca Spagnola is the most visible, sitting prominently above the town.
Porto Ercole has a claim to art history fame, as well - the Baroque painter Caravaggio, whose real name was Michelango Merisi, died here of malaria in 1610. There is a commemorative marker on the clock tower of the town in his honor.
Ortobello is just a few minutes away, while the cities of Grosseto and Tuscania are closeby. In the area, you'll want to visit the Etruscan towns of Tarquinia, the incredible bluff-top town of Pitigliano, and the Medieval center of Viterbo. Lake Bolsena is in easy reach, too.
Been there? Done that? Share your experience and tips!
Haven't visited yet? Have questions about Porto Ercole? Ask them here!
Explore nearby towns
Orbetello is a sliver of a peninsula with and island feel.
On the Gulf of Talamone, Fonteblanda is a village that is officially part of the town of Orbetella.
The quaint medieval town of Capalbio enjoys a nearly perfect setting in the Tuscan hills above the sea.