I have just returned from five magical days on the island of Elba. Positioned about 20kms off the Tuscan coast the island is easily accessible by ferry from Piombino, south of Livorno.
Taking the car on what turned out to be an easy, well-signposted drive, we boarded a lunchtime BluNavy ferry for the short hop to the island. As the ferry approached our destination, I was immediately struck by its raw beauty.
Pulling into Portoferraio the first thing one sees is a huge fort overlooking the harbour. Built by Cosimo de Medici in the sixteenth century, it gives an imposing first impression to new arrivals from mainland Italy.
It took about twenty minutes to drive from there to Porto Azzurro, where we stayed at The Plaza Hotel overlooking the harbour. Porto Azzurro is a little town on the sea with winding, narrow streets, tiny shops and restaurants by the score. There is also a terrific walking trail around the fortress high on the hill overlooking the bay, which takes about an hour to circumnavigate.
Having read plenty of guide books and articles on line, I fully expected that, by September, the island would have begun its slide into the quiet season, having been advised that July and August were murderous months to visit, due to the crowds.
On that basis, I was surprised to find that there were still plenty of tourists in evidence. However, upon seeing the spectacularly beautiful beaches touching the blue, blue Mediterranean, I was astonished no more. The island of Elba is a truly desirable holiday destination with everything the holidaymaker could wish for: well serviced beaches; plentiful restaurants and picturesque towns to visit.
The island owes much of its fame to the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte was sent into exile there in 1814 and stayed as its ruler for nine months. He, apparently, made a huge difference to the island in that short period of time, revamping its infrastructure and bringing new prosperity.
During our stay, we visited Napoleon’s Villa Mulini, located in the centro storico (historic centre) of Portoferraio. A light, airy house with views out over the old harbour made me wonder why on earth he left!
Capoliveri was another town we visited, heading straight for the centro storico as usual. Sitting outside under an awning having lunch and watching the passing parade, including a spectacular vintage-car rally and hundreds of cyclists, was a lovely way to pass half a day.
We visited two beaches during our five days there. Our first port of call was Lacona, where I had seen on line that it was one of the most beautiful “undiscovered” beaches in Europe. Well, it seems that it has since been “discovered” as it was absolutely packed with sun-worshippers of all sizes, shapes and nationalities.
The other beach was at Capoliveri Marina and was just as busy. But the facilities on both beaches were good and it was lovely to lie in the sun, ducking into the sea to cool off now and then when the going became too hot.
A visit to a vineyard occupied us for a couple of hours one morning. We asked about the local wineries at the hotel and they recommended we visit Arrighi, whose wine we had been enjoying the previous couple of evenings at dinner. We were given a tour of the premises and brought to see an amphitheatre of grapevines by the owner Antonio Arrighi. Needless to remark, I purchased several bottles of their fabulous Tresse, which is aged in a terracotta vat lined with beeswax in the ancient tradition of Roman winemakers.
Five days was not enough time to do justice to this magical little island, where walking, lying in the sun, sight-seeing and eating dinner on the terrace at night, while the moon rose over the harbour of Portoazzuro, was a sublime experience.