The toughest place to get into in Italy is not the hottest restaurant in Milan or a chic underground club in Florence. It is an island off the coast of France.
Up until 10 years ago, Montecristo wasn't open to tourists at all, and access is still extremely limited. The island opens to visitors twice per year — once from April 1 through 15 and again from Aug. 31 to Oct. 31 — but not just anybody can go. The Italian government only gives out 1,000 day permits per year to visit, and 600 of those spaces are reserved for students.
But demand to visit the island is high, considering it was the setting of Alexandre Dumas’s famous novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” In the story, the main character, Edmond Dantès, is serving a prison sentence off the coast of Marseilles when a fellow prisoner tells him of treasure to be found on Monte Cristo. He eventually goes off to find said treasure, rebrands himself the Count of Monte Cristo, and heads back to France to seek revenge on his enemies.
While modern visitors to the island may not be so lucky as to come across a fortune, they will find another sort of fiercely protected treasure. Montecristo is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park and home to a number of endangered species on the Montecristo Nature Reserve. The biodiversity is protected by a ban on fishing and on swimming within one kilometer of the coastline.
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Montecristo also contains other treasures dating back thousands of years: The Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans all occupied the island throughout its history. Turks, Catholic monks, and the French have also passed through.
If you’re looking to get onto the island, consider rounding up 39 friends. "Individual applicants who are not organized in groups of at least 40 people may encounter difficulties in organizing the trip," Aurora Ciardelli, a spokeswoman for the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, told The Local.
Applications to visit Montecristo can be found online, but be prepared: You might wait years for a response.