Elba: island of adventure, relaxation and voluntary exile
Tuscany Promozione Turistica
June 7, 2021 – 10:19 AM
Adventurous, calming, hair-raising, maddening, breathtaking, demanding, sensual, active, restful, scenic: the adjectives used to describe Elba island are as varied as the Tuscan island itself. The Florentine savored the island of Elba in the name of Tuscany Promozione Turistica, Regional Tourist Office of Tuscany.
Arrival in Rio Marina. Ph. Helen Farrell
It’s the bluest of days as we board a smaller ferry from Piombino to the jewel port of Rio Marina. Excitement builds during the 45-minute boat ride as the brackish breeze caresses our bare arms in a promise of Mediterranean delicacies. Spaced out and masked, given this period of our lives, passengers are held spellbound on starboard, the mantle of deep Elba green shrubs acting as a siren call. From a distance, it’s hard to imagine how a ship laden with passenger cars and trucks carrying freshly squeezed laundry from the mainland will dock in the small, terracotta-hued port, but disembark and our adventure begins.
It’s mid-morning, so we sit in a seaside cafe and watch our ferry depart, a welcome feeling of seclusion as we sip steaming espressos and munch on sparkling pink. schiaccia briaca, a traditional Elban cake sprinkled with nuts and dried fruits, lightly dipped in alchermes liqueur. A leisurely stroll reveals the town’s mining past, as evidenced by the shimmering black hematite sand beside the harbor and the reddish-brown iron content of the surrounding hills. Now immortalized at the Minerals Museum, budding geologists can peek at the more than 1,000 stone samples mined from the island and get a glimpse of ancient mining culture before taking a walking tour of the Minerals Park. lunar type.
The road to Cavo. Ph. Helen Farrell
With the sun high in the sky, we follow the scenic coastal road north to Cavo, where locals work on their early summer tans, basking on the long white gravel beach. Our carefree drive now becomes a mind-blowing adventure as the inner loop winds through dense forests heading south towards Rio nell’Elbe, a mecca for bikers and cyclists, who park for a bite to eat and a restorative glass of Ansonica white wine in the picturesque plaza. Botanists appreciate the nearby Orto dei Semplici, a renowned showcase of plant species endemic to the Tuscan archipelago and spectacular sea views.
We continue our journey south towards a pretty postcard Porto Azzurro, whose name effortlessly describes the color palette. Lined with enticing shops, restaurants and immaculately maintained buildings, our destination is a section of the Monserrato hiking trail, which is a testament to the Spanish presence on Elba Island. A strenuous ascent along the seafront, where divers explore the blue depths, past prickly pears brings us to the fortress of San Giacomo, which was erected by King Philip of Spain III in 1602 to protect the island against the raids of the Saracen pirates. If you’re in good shape and feeling hyperactive, the five-hour trail continues to the Sanctuary of Madonna di Monserrato, a 17th-century reproduction of the temple built near Barcelona.
Ansonica vineyard on the island of Elba
The second day of our stay on Elba begins in the deep south-east of the island, at the end of a long gravel road with seemingly endless views over the Mediterranean. We wake up refreshed by the sea air and begin our activities with an hour of tennis. Concentrating on the ball is no easy task, given the sea glistening temptress through the umbrella pines in the distance. In the end, we put our snowshoes away and tackle the tight hairpin turns until Remaiolo Beach, an isolated silver shard covered with transparent turquoise water. Reading the newspaper soon turns into a nap. Waking up feels like dreaming as a galleon with billowing sails glides surprisingly across the bay, a tourist attraction no doubt shaped during Napoleon’s exile in 1814-15 as ruler of the island. It’s lunchtime, so we’re electric biking down the dusty north road to the lovely Capoliveri, a gem of a city with narrow streets, charming arches and houses in a kaleidoscope of nuances. A salad of fresh octopus and potatoes is reconstituted before resuming our relaxation on Innamorata Beach, a perfect sand arc almost at the southern tip of Elba Island. Umbrellas in all colors float in the sea breeze as couples use their arms and fingertips to form hearts in a fitting tribute to the romanticism of the natural wonder. The backstory is tragic, however. Legend has it that a young lover, Maria, made the ultimate sacrifice in the 16th century to save her beloved Lorenzo from a pirate ship.
Back in 2021, another day brings another experience: it’s time to explore the western part of the island. We pass through the densely forested central mass, taking a break in the popular tourist towns of Marina di Campo and Campo nell’Elbe, with their granite and sandy beaches well sheltered from Cavoli and Fetovaia. Heading north, we enjoy an exciting tasting of dry wines and desserts produced from native Ansonica and Aleatico grapes while the owner of the estate explains the microclimate and growing conditions of the island to us. Marina marciana is our next stopover. The northwest town sits in a small bay surrounded by pine and chestnut trees. The pastel colors of the seaside buildings and captivating lanes attract visitors as the yachts sail through the harbor and the fishermen unload their daily catch. A climb to the hamlet of Cotone is essential, a nice extension on the cliffs to the east of the flowery promenade in all directions. It is the old romantic fishing village with multicolored houses weathered by the elements, although still beautifully maintained.
View from Monte Capanne
Reaching for gold on a clear day we find ourselves at Mount Capanne, the highest point of the island at 1,019 meters. As you reach the top, the panoramas stretch across the Tyrrhenian Sea to the other Tuscan outcrops of Pianosa, Capraia, Montecristo and Gorgona, and even Corsica. Bird watchers are busy spotting rare birds of prey through their binoculars, and nature lovers are enthused, pointing out the fragrant flowers and native grasses. Many of our fellow travelers braved the hike up the slopes, while others ascended using the yellow Marciana cable car, delighted as the Mediterranean scrub fades to make way for granite boulders and ancient carved dwellings. in strange shapes over time blown by the wind.
It may be the main gateway to Elba Island and the island’s de facto capital, but Portoferraio still has only 12,000 inhabitants. Centuries after its foundation, the port city retains the same Renaissance charm with its impressive 16th century walls built by Cosimo I de Medici. Besides the fortifications, the first thing you’ll notice when arriving at Portoferraio is the hexagonal Martello or Passannante tower, named after the man whose unsuccessful attempt to kill King Umberto I in Naples resulted in his imprisonment here. Above the old town is the star-shaped Forte Stella, which houses one of the oldest lighthouses in Europe, erected by Leopold II in 1788. The panoramic point also offers a beautiful view of the Villa dei Mulini, Napoleon’s winter residence and now a museum in his honor. Higher still is Forte Falcone, whose Medici bastions remain the most prominent on the island of Elba. In their time, they succeeded in repelling countless Saracen attacks. Today’s city is a mix of winding streets and steps leading to picturesque squares lined with old houses and flowered balconies. It is the liveliest town on the island, teeming with locals exchanging news and visitors looking for a shady spot to contemplate the extraordinary riches of Elba Island.
Villa dei Mulini
Elba is known around the world as the island where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled, but he actually only stayed on the Tuscan island for ten months. The French military and political leader landed at Portoferraio on May 3, 1814 to take control of the island which had been given to him in exchange for his abdication by the Treaty of Fontainebleau. In February 1815, he escaped and took command of France. Its heritage on the island of Elba has remained intact today. In addition to items housed in Villa dei Mulini, Villa San Martino and the Napoleonic Museum, where visitors can marvel at Fontainebleau’s furniture, priceless works of art, imperial decorations and over 1,000 books, Napoleon also created a theater and one of the island’s main roads.
Ferries run daily from Piombino to Cavo, Rio Marina and Portoferraio. For more information on Elba Island, see www.islepark.it.