The Santo Stefano island is situated in the straits of the sea dividing Palau and La Maddalena. It is the fourth largest island of the Archipelago with a surface area of 4 square kilometres.
The highest peak, Monte Zucchero, reaches 101 m above sea level. The island is of granite origin and the colour of the rocks range from pink to white. The first inhabitants lived in rock niches during the Neolithic period. Almost 70 percent of the objects from this period, found on the island during archaeological excavations, are made of obsidian. The absence of this material on Santo Stefano confirms commercial and cultural exchanges in this part of Sardinia in prehistoric times. Despite the name of the island – in English Saint Steven – there is no proof of the existence of any place of worship.
What can we see on the island?
Santo Stefano has a triangular shape. On its southern coast, not far from the natural bay called Villamarina, there are the most interesting places from historic and touristic point of view: an old granite quarry, the Villamarina Tower, the San Giorgio fortress and the only accommodation facility on the island – a 4 star hotel Santo Stefano Resort. With exception of the hotel, the area is infrequently visited. On the eastern coast there is an Italian Military Naval base that hosted the American navy for more than 30 years.
The old granite quarry
At the end of the 19th century a quarry was inaugurated on the island. It provided top quality granite. The concession was granted to Francesco Susini from La Maddalena and for a certain period it was one of the best equipped quarries in Italy. In 1964 it was closed. Inside the quarry there are still some half-worked granite blocks. Among them, there is for example, a huge bust of Costanzo Ciano, the father of Mussolini’s son in law. The whole sculpture would have reached 18 meters in height, but only head, shoulders and torso have been preserved.
The Tower of Villamarina
Not far from the southern coast we can see the Tower of Villamarina. The square plan Tower was built in 1773 and it is surrounded by a wide ditch. It is also called Napoleon’s Tower after Napoleon Bonaparte, who at the time of the occupation of Santo Stefano was only an artillery Lieutenant Colonel. From here the La Maddalena was targeted. When the French fleet arrived close to the town, the local population mobilized immediately and the French sailors were forced to regroup on Santo Stefano. At the end of a long battle on the 23rd February 1793 the French were defeated and forced to flee the archipelago. The local population won the battle thanks to the courage and the inventive genius of a helmsman from La Maddalena, Domenico Millelire. After the battle he was awarded the first gold medal for Military Valour of the Sardinian Royal Navy.
The San Giorgio Fortress
Not far from the Tower, but enjoying a higher elevation is the San Giorgio Fortress. The Fortress was built in 1808 to protect the stretch of the sea between the islands of Santo Stefano and La Maddalena as a result of the experience after Napoleon’s attack and the attempt of French and Corsicans to reach land. The Fortress was built to the specifications of Admiral Baron Giorgio Andrea Des Geneys. The same person who founded the Italian Royal Navy School in 1816. It’s task was to train the officers, nowadays it is known as the Livorno Naval Academy.
Santo Stefano Resort
The Fish Beach on the western coast of the island was incorporated ino the large Santo Stefano Resort. Many years ago the resort was run by the Club Méditerranée who would propose to their guests so-called odysseys – boat trips with an overnight stay on board or on one of the minor islands of the archipelago.