The island looks like a majestic limestone massif overlooking the sea, roughly rectangular in shape, about 6 km long and 1 km wide; it rests on a granite rocky substrate that clearly emerges in some parts; reaches a maximum altitude of 565 meters above sea level and at the ends it has two more easily accessible items. The cape on the west side of the island (Spalmatore di Terra) faces Loiri Porto San Paolo and welcomes the scarce civil settlements on the island and the most beautiful beaches. There were also docks for small boats, which connect the island with the port of Loiri Porto San Paolo. The cape on the east side, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea, consists of Punta Timone, which divides two small bays (respectively exposed to NW and SE). It houses, in addition to a maritime signaling beacon, a NATO military base, managed by the Navy, intended for very long range and very low wave frequency terrestrial telecommunications. Its three antennas, more than two hundred meters high, are easily visible even from a distance. Near Punta del Papa there is a majestic natural arch above which are the ruins of the old lighthouse, abandoned because it was built too high and often hidden by the blanket of clouds. The island is crossed by a small military road, with large sections in the tunnel, which connects the military base to a landing pier on the west side of the island, used when the weather and sea conditions make it difficult to land in the small port attached to the military base. .
The presence of man on the island is attested with certainty from the Middle Neolithic and numerous remains have been found in the Grotta del Papa. In the Upper Palaeolithic Tavolara was connected to the mainland and to the island of Molara but following the raising of the level of the sea and the continuous erosion exerted by the waves and the strong winds first separated from the mainland and only ten thousand years ago from the nearby island. In the early Iron Age (10th-9th century BC) on the flat tongue of the Spalmatore di Terra it is documented the presence of a stopover of navigators from the opposite Etruria, at the time of the Villanovan cultural events. Hermaea and Turarium were the ancient names of the island of Tavolara. In the middle of the 5th century it was visited by San Mamiliano and by other anchorites, followers of him. During the Middle Ages little is known about the island which was almost certainly not permanently inhabited but used as a military defense. It seems that a colony of pirates settled on the island shortly after the year 1000. Even in the eighteenth century, the naturalist Francesco Cetti wrote that pirates were often present on the island. After the arrival of the Genoese settlers, at the end of the eighteenth century, the population of the island grew to a maximum of about sixty inhabitants, largely thanks to the arrival of fishermen from Ponza in search of lobsters, only to be finally abandoned to the early sixties. The lime production industry developed in the past, easily obtained from the local rocky substrate and from the abundant juniper wood by means of special ovens clearly visible at the marina.