It is the fourth largest island of the Maddalena Archipelago, the only one that has brought us evidence of prehistoric times and where the abandoned military constructions provide the best narration of centuries of events, from eighteenth century battles to shipwrecks, bombings, the ‘cold war’ and American marines. Today, the island of Santo Stefano is an unmissable stop during a tour in the La Maddalena Archipelago National Park and its western coastline is the main theme of the short ferry ride from Palau to La Maddalena. Its 3 square-kilometre expanse, the summit of which is Monte Zucchero (101 metres), is dominated by pink and white granite rocks, dotted with Mediterranean greenery, and the various roads branching off lead to the main points of interest.
The island has brought us traces of human presence dating back to the ancient Neolithic period (4th-3rd millennium BC), found inside a tafone: these were obsidian and porphyry objects, probably used for hunting. In the Middle Ages, several communities of monks found peace and isolation here and they built sanctuaries that have now disappeared. To the southwest of the island, stands the fort of San Giorgio, built in 1773 to protect the canal between La Maddalena and northern Sardinia. From here, Napoleon coordinated an attack on the town of La Maddalena twenty years later. Two small underground rooms were used as a prison or for storage, while on the square above there was a room and an armoury. Near the fort, you can visit the square tower, also known as 'Napoleonic', because the French general stayed there for a few days.
From 1972 to 2008, there was an American naval base in the eastern part of Santo Stefano. Today, a support base and a depot managed by the Italian Navy still remains. On the opposite coast, to the west, the Spiaggia del Pesce (Beach of the Fish) appears, with its fine white sand, crystal-clear water with blue and turquoise reflections and a shallow, sandy seabed. Opposite, surrounded by tiny coves, the Isolotto Roma stands out. This islet gets its name from a ship that sank there during the Second World War. South of the sandy shore, a granite promontory covered with Mediterranean scrub embellishes the landscape.
Next to one of the coves, Cala Villamarina, there is a granite quarry that was in use until the first decades of the 20th century. Here, you will see the impressive, never completed bust dedicated to Costanzo Ciano. The beach has medium-grain golden sand and pebbles. The southern stretch is characterised by the beaches of Punta Santo Stefano and Cala Levante, separated by a rocky spike and overlooking the coast of Palau. The emerald green colour of the sea contrasts with the pink of the rocks.