Nestled between Tuscany and Corsica lies the island of Elba, once the home of exiled Napoleon I. OAG takes a trip around this Mediterranean gem
Elba is a small fish-shaped island of 223 square kilometres and 10km from the Italian mainland. At first glance, this pretty and surprisingly hilly island appears to be just a place for peace-seeking holiday makers. But peering further beyond the quaint cafés the island has much more to offer.
Due to the stormy wet weather on arrival Elba reminds me very much of the trip I took to the isle of Rum off Scotland three years ago. Unlike Rum though, the island has a good network of quiet roads.
For a Mediterranean island it is very green thanks in to Napoleon’s ten month tenure in the early 1800s. He and his men did much to improve the island. They planted dozens of sweet chestnut trees from Corsica some 80 km away which have subsequently spread across the entire island. Their considerable efforts have matured into a stunningly beautiful landscape coupled with the warm pink washed houses and their uniform pine green shutters.
Because of its national park status there are strict building regulations. No big chain hotels or modern villas. The old village hamlets perching precariously on top of stone outcrops have a uniform look. Only three types of pan-tiles are allowed to retain the integrity of architecture.
Of the other outlying islands, two are homes to secure prisons and another, Montecristo, is a dramatic looking island with a single rugged peak. Only two people live there and visitors are restricted to just 1,000 every year.
WHAT TO DO
The island is covered with a network of ancient cobbled paths through deeply wooded valleys, rocky outcrops affording expansive views along the 156km of coast. There are many deserted beaches to be discovered too.
We walked from Sant’ Andrea in the top left (the fish eye) of the island along the appropriately named ‘Chestnut Walk’ to the church of ‘Madona del Monte’ at 600m with the top of the route opening up at 1,000m. From here, we could see Corsica and it’s snowy peaks glistening in the distance.
There are over 15 well signposted linear and circular walks of varying lengths all over Elba, ranging from 5km to over 20km and including the summit of the highest peak ‘Monte Capanne’ at 1018m in the west of the island.
There are two walking festivals every year, on in spring and the second taking place 29 September – 4 November 2012.
Sea kayaks are available to hire from Sant’ Andreas beach to explore the coastline. For the inexperienced a guide is recommended as there are several caves to explore too.
It goes without saying this is a sailor paradise. Beginners can learn the ropes with a qualified instructor aboard a fleet of yachts and dinghies.. Per person, per day from 50€. Club del Mare, Marina di Campo.
Snorkelling and diving
In Janurary 1972 the Italian cargo ship Elviscott en-route to Marseilles capsized onto the Ogliera rocks opposite Pomonte beach. The stern of the ship is still visible in the crystal clear waters just 3m below the surface and is now home to several species of fish, shell fish and sea plants.
The Formiche della Zanca has a network of narrow caves to explore too. A three hour guided trip costs from 30€ with Andreas at Il Careno Diving Philosophy based in Sant’ Andrea.
Hotel Ilio in Sant Andrea describes itself as a ’boutique hotel’. Set amongst trees the white washed hotel has views across the bay. The rooms are simple and modern. . Dinner included cured tuna fish and red cabbage, truffle filled pancake with parmesan and almond ice cream washed down with wine from Cecilia, one of the islands eight vineyards. From 60€ pppn
Easy Jet runs a daily service to Pisa from Gatwick. Prices from £29 each way.Pisa to Piombino takes approximately 1 1/2 hours by car. There is a train service from the airport to Piombino ferry port costing only €15 each way. The ferry from Piombino to Portoferraio takes an hour and costs from €5 with Toremar ferries.