The Australian - Wish Magazine
FORTE SAN GIORGIO
On a solitary island in the Tuscan Archipelago a fort with a colourful history is enjoying its own renaissance
If you believed in ghosts, there would an eclectic bunch of figures walking around this former fort on the tiny Italian island of Capraia. Think pirates from the 1500s, famous British naval captains and disco revellers from the 1970s. Now an 11bedroom, 10bathroom private villa available for holiday rental through The Thinking Traveller, Forte San Giorgio has had quite the past.
The rocky outcrop where the fort is located – 500 feet above the sea – was first occupied at the beginning of the 13th century before a piratewarrior ominously named Dragut set fire to it in 1540. The Republic of Genoa (a citystate until 1797) took control of the island, one of seven that make up the Tuscan Archipelago, and set about building Forte San Giorgio to improve its defences. Stonemasons, craftsman and more than 100 soldiers spent a year building the castle on the cliffs, complete with cannons. Fortunately they were not used over the next 200 years, until Genoa sold the island to France in 1768 and it became a base for French warships. That annoyed the English immensely, so they sent an upandcoming British navy officer named Captain Horatio Nelson to invade and take possession of Capraia.
The British occupation only lasted a month but the fort was later occupied by the Italian military, then the Germans in World War II. It finally made it into private hands in the 1950s, when it was briefly a hotel and then a disco, in the 1970s.
It was well into the new millennium that the present owner, Hilary Riva, spotted the fort after sailing past it. She and her family spent the next decade painstakingly restoring the 3400sq m property spread over five buildings, creating an 11bedroom home with multiple living areas, a kitchen designed in consultation with Michelinstarred chef Riccardo De Pra, and two pools.
During the extensive renovation process, workmen uncovered the remains of the medieval Church of Capraia beneath one of the buildings. There are ancient pillars, vaults and a stone altar – all on display in the space that is now is used as an entertainment area, complete with a pool table, a tennis table, a bar and a cinema room. “We wanted to make it contemporary while respecting the history,” Riva told The New York
Times of the property’s extraordinary transformation.
Forte San Giorgio accommodates 21 guests, and any stay includes a daily maid service and a private chef. There are stunning Mediterranean gardens and a path that leads down the rocky cliffs to the sea, so you can go for a dip if you want a change from the pool. The island and its surrounding waters are part of a national park, which means there is an abundance of wildlife such as dolphins and whales and the island itself is 95 per cent unoccupied, so it’s great for rambling about on foot.