An insight into Isola d'Elba and the best places to visit!
With Elba being the third largest island of Italy after Sicily and Sardinia, as well as being the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago in size, we just had to visit this special place! Located in the Tyrrhenian sea, the Island is circled around with the most amazing sea life such as swordfish, bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales - exploring the sea is one of our passions, given that we’re enthusiastic scuba divers. Not only does Isola d’Elba have beautiful beaches and amazing wildlife, but the Island is home to some of the best Italian food and yes, you guessed it - delicious wine! Keep reading for a full run down on the best parts of Elba and places you must delve into when going there!
The history of Elba
When researching the history of Elba we were amazed at how many different eras it had passed. From being ruled by the Etruscans, to the Romans and even the domination of the Medici, Elba has had its fair share of fame throughout the years. After the end of the Iron Age, the Etruscans were able to increase their riches with the natural mineral wealth of Elba, making this island the main place for ore processing. Aristotle called Elba ‘aethalia’, meaning spark in Greek and Elba became known amongst Greek sailors as spark due to the constant high and bright flares of the furnaces. However, the cutting down of trees to provide timber for the furnaces was inevitably leading to deforestation. Therefore, in order to save Elba’s forests, the Etruscans moved their processing stations to nearby land, mostly in Populonia. The Romans eventually took over ‘Ilva’ (their name for Elba) continuing the mining of minerals but also making use of mud baths and enhancing the island’s culture. In the Archeological Museums of Marciana and Portoferraio, you can see breathtaking sea treasures found by the Romans as well as the remains of ships used for the abundant transportation of goods from Ilva. After some time, mining in Elba came to a decline due to Spanish competition. We found that Elba became ruled by many other Italian leaders such as the Duchy of Lucca and was also invaded by Greek and Norman pirates.
The Island became famous again during Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile, leaving his mark in the Museums of Napoleonic Residences - two villas called Villa dei Mulini (in Portoferraio) and Villa San Martino (in Marina di Campo) - as well as the Vigilanti Theatre. From what we’ve understood, due to Napoleon’s power-hungry attitude with almost waging a war against Russia, he was abdicated as emperor of France and banished to Elba in 1814. Due to his reputation of being a good leader and reformer in France, he became Elba’s leader for 300 days improving infrastructure, drainage systems, hygiene, roads, schools, most of their legal system and even dealt with the issue of stray dogs. Napoleon brought in a great deal of tourism as many wanted to meet the incredible Emperor. However in 1815, Napoleon planned his escape from Elba as political tensions within Europe were rising; of course he left in style, throwing a grand masquerade ball and leaving well disguised. When you do visit Elba, you can remember Napoleon as the flag he made for Elba has remained white with a red stripe and three golden bees were later added. Not only does he resonate in the flag, yet the Elbans celebrate him each year with a suffrage mass on the 5th of May in the Chiesa della Reverenda Misericordia, in Portoferraio.
How to get to Isola d’Elba
Before planning your trip to Elba, we advise that you avoid going in August as most small Italian businesses close to take their longer holidays, so the island can get quite packed with tourists. June and July are most definitely the best months to plan your trip as there will be a little less tourists and you can still soak in the summer sun! If you prefer traveling without the scorching sun, then we’d say to pay a visit during May or September as the climate is cooler and you can still enjoy the summer activities.
The best way to reach Elba from mainland Tuscany is by taking a ferry from a coastal place called Piombino, there they have ferries that depart around every hour. There are a choice of 4 companies to book your one hour ferry ride with: Moby Lines, Corsica Ferries, Toremar and BluNavy. These ferries depart from Piombino and arrive at either Portoferraio or Rio Marina.
There are also buses during the summer months that part from Italy’s main cities, such as Florence, Milan and Rome, which can take you all the way to Elba. Lastly, the special Island also has its own airport called Marino di Campo Airport which you can fly to and from with the airline Silver Air, taking 45 minutes from Pisa and 50 minutes from Florence.
If you would like to go to Elba in style and you have a license to drive boats or speed boats, they can be rented from various companies in Piombino or Baratti - there’s also the option of a boat driver accompanying you for your thrilling ride.
Getting around Elba
Whether you decide to bring your car to Elba or not, there are many transportation methods on the Island.
- Public transport is available, there are many buses that can take you around the Island from east to west and north to south. Daily or weekly paper tickets can be purchased at the local newsagents, tabaccheria and even some bars. If you’ve caught the grasp of online digital tickets, they can be bought via the app ‘TABNET’.
- In the larger cities of Elba such as Porto Azzurro, Portoferraio, Rio Marina and Capoliveri, there are taxis accessible.
- You can rent a car or motorbike as there are a lot of rental companies (tip: book in advance if you can). Some companies that may be useful are TWN Rent, Happy Rent or Rent Chiappi.
- As Elba has a distance of 45 km from one side to the other, you could travel at a lower cost by renting bikes to get around, absorb the breathtaking views and ride through the fascinating streets. Here are a few of the available rental companies for MTB and E-Bikes: Elba 4 Fun, Country E-Bike Rent, Elba MTB and E-Rocks.
Fortresses of Portoferraio
Forte Falcone and Forte Stella were both established under the rule of the Tuscan Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici, built in the 16th century. They were made to offer protection for the island, which were used for military purposes and as watch towers. An attack was dared by the horrendous Dragut from Turkey and his group of pirates who came with many ships funded by the French, studying the fortresses they deemed them to be impenetrable. Torre della Linguella is another fortress that was constructed by Medici, built on Elba’s strong rocks. This structure was used not only for military purposes but also as a prison. A poor fool named Giovanni Passante was sent to this prison after he attempted to take the life of the King of Italy Umberto I. Still standing today with the help of some renovations we are able to visit and adore this spectacular piece of architecture in Portoferraio.
Archeological Museums of Marciana and Portoferraio
Want to dive into the history of Elba? These museums contain many alluring artifacts, some have dated back to the Bronze Age! Others have been dated back to the Etruscan era, Middle Ages and many more eras. Our favourite part of these museums is that they also exhibit underwater archeology, where you can witness items found in shipwrecks.
Art and Architecture
The mini palaces where Napoleon stayed during his 300 day exile are open to the public to visit. Villa San Martino in Marina di Campo and Villa dei Mulini in Portoferraio are both open to the public, what better way to see the remains of Napoleon on Elba? Although some of the villas’ furniture was replaced in the 19th century, most of the environment is still very authentic.
Castello del Volterraio
We once went to Elba by ferry and we could see a castle, along with some of the other fortresses whilst approaching Portoferraio as they were built quite high up! The castle we saw was Castello del Volterraio and is one of the most ancient structures Elba has, assembled a long time ago by the Etruscans. The castle's magnificent arches and stones were one of the few fortresses to be untouched by Turkish Pirates in the 16th century. This structure’s strategic position not only helped to protect the island but also makes a jaw dropping viewpoint from the top of the mountain, so if you’re able to, definitely climb to the top!
Fly board and jet ski
We discovered at Cavo (a town in Elba), a company called Cavo Rent where you can go for hair-raising jet ski rides and even more exciting flyboard rides! We’d never actually heard of flyboards before finding out about this sport in Elba, it’s very similar to the flyboard used by the Green Goblin in Spiderman, just, on water. They also rent speedboats, for some boats you do not need a license, whether you need a license or not depends on the engine size of the boat.
During our visit to Elba, we wanted to explore the Elban cliffs and sea on a canoe, that’s when we stumbled across a fantastic company who offer excursions. Located in Procchio, we noticed Elba Water Sports - we thought what better place to go, to help us on our canoeing adventure? Little did we know that they offer a huge range of water sport activities and excursions! From windsurfing to kayaking, from sup e surf to sailing lessons, from one hour excursions to two hour and even group excursions. Our canoe ride was relaxing and unforgettable. We recommend Elba Water Sports in Procchio if you’re stuck on what to do or are looking for a place to taste the Elban waters.
Water games & land excursions
Whilst looking into water sports that we could do in Isola d’Elba, we found Elba Excursions in Portoferraio. Similar to Elba Water Sports in Procchio, they offer a wide range of water activities, but a couple of differences that we noticed were that they have water games. A couple that caught our eye were the banana tour and wakeboard - next time we visit Elba we will definitely have a go at those! Other than water games, another main difference is that they also host land excursions as well as water if you were looking to go for a trek and view the picture perfect landscapes of Elba.
Looking to lay back, relax and absorb the Elban sun? Here are some of our favourite beaches to visit in Elba:
Spiaggia di Lacona
If you would like to be immersed in the nature of Elba, surrounded by the crystal blue sea, golden sand, emerald green pine trees behind and white flowers, this beach will definitely float your boat. The water here is also a great destination for scuba divers like us. With lots of posidonia beds, unique sea creatures can be found. As well as a relaxing beach, water sports are also available and fun activities all throughout the summer.
Spiaggia di Sansone
Although the walk to Sansone in Portoferraio from the Enfola provincial Road might leave you out of breath like it did to us, once you are encircled by the tall ivory coloured cliffs and turquoise sea, you will surely agree that the mini trek was worth it. We saw many people on canoes traveling to the stack not far from the shore, which convinced us to rent some kayaks again!
From travelling on the road to get to this beach and finally touching your bare feet on it’s soft sand is like entering into another dimension. One of the reasons we recommend that you pay a visit to Sant’Andrea beach is because our favourite part about this beach is admiring the view of the horizon, seeing the nearby islands of Capraia and Corsica while listening to the gentle whooshing of waves against the granite coloured sand. There are also various bars and restaurants right on the beach, so you can enjoy an Italian cocktail or gelato at the same time as appreciating the astonishing views. We love the fact that Sant’Andrea beach has shallow water until far out into the sea, again making it perfect for scuba divers and snorklers.
If you’re lovers of great Italian wine and are looking to savour some of Elba’s finest, then keep reading to find out some of our most adored places for wine tasting.
Tenuta La Chiusa
In Portoferraio, ‘a stone’s throw away from the sea’ can be found Tenuta La Chiusa. This winery has some history behind it as the old hamlet and cellars have been dated back to the 1500s, the mansion and walls were built in the 1800s and we learned on our visit that Napoleon Bonaparte also stayed there twice. We’re sure that you’ll find their wine as interesting as it’s history! With 20 hectares of vineyards creating red wine, white wine, rosé, aleatico (Elba’s famous wine) and extra virgin olive oil, you will definitely find the perfect product to take back with you. La Chiusa has previously won awards for their delightful wines from Vinibuoni d’Italia and Gambero Rosso.
Tenuta delle Ripalte
Looking over the beautiful beaches of Capoliveri, the ‘natural oasis’ Tenuta delle Ripalte is certainly one of our go to wineries in Isola d’Elba. The 16.5 hectares of vineyards were planted in 2003 to restore the traditional Elban grape Aleatico in order to continue traditions and attract tourists - which they doubtlessly have. With the Aleatico grape Ripalte makes their most well known wines, Aleatico Passito dell’Elba and Rosato di Aleatico. We were also pleased to try their Vermentino wine, as we are fans of a good glass of Vermentino. If you’re looking to have some fun and savour some great Elban wine over a breathtaking view, Tentua delle Ripalte is your go to place.
Azienda Agricola Arrighi
Producing wine for more than 100 years, starting with Antonio Arrighi and passed down through his family, the wine that Arrighi produces is as grand as their story. The farm is in Porto Azzurro, so you can enjoy the heart-stopping panorama of the island while tasting remarkable wine. We were very intrigued to have learnt that this winery uses an ancient method of production, a method that was used 2500 years ago in the Island of Chios (in Greece), to make marine wine. They submerge their grapes, that are closed in particular wicker baskets, into the sea water for a certain amount of days to help increase the rate of the grapes drying in the sun as the bloom is removed from the skin of the grape. This leaves a long lasting aroma in the wine, preserving the taste for longer. The grape used is a typical Elban grape by the name of Ansonica, a white grape with a harder and crunchier skin that makes it suitable to stay for longer periods of time in the sea. Trying Nesos, Arrighi’s marine wine for the first time was really inspiring for us, the sip of freshness was enough to leave a stamp on our hearts, as well as the other wines.
Speaking of great Italian food, we’ve put together some of our best picks of restaurants around Elba that we’d recommend for you to try. Get ready to have your mouth watering…
Our favourite restaurant, La Caravella, can be found at Porto Azzurro (right at the entrance of the port) and has lasted for generations, starting with the late Aladino - the creator of the restaurant, who started off as a fisherman and has passed down his traditional recipes through his family. The restaurant stands over shore with a beautiful view and is shaped like an old vintage wooden boat which we found really cool and attractive. Stepping into the restaurant, the decorations of the sea and ships made us feel like we really were having lunch on a boat, everything was so detailed and well thought about. The food is even more appealing! Between our group of friends, we ordered: white house wine, a Sea-Prawn Cocktail, Tagliolini Admiral Style, Paccheri with Octopus Ragù, Mussels ‘Marinara Style’ and Il Tris which is a selection of three kinds of cooked octopus. If that sounds like too much fish, not to worry as they also have meat and vegetarian dishes on the menu. For our second course, we got a big Frittura to share, which is a mix of fried fish that was delicious! We all enjoyed our different meals and got to try a wide range of unique dishes that the Caravella offers. The spices and textures of the food were heavenly, the service was optimum as we didn’t wait too long for our food and the staff were very polite. We couldn’t leave without trying a dessert, so we decided to try the Cheesecake ai Frutti di Bosco (cheesecake with forest fruits), just thinking about the creaminess of that cheesecake makes us want to go back!
Slightly on the more extravagant side, this elegant restaurant gave us a very rich plate of pasta and exquisite Elban wine that we won’t forget. Based in Marciana Marina, Capo Nord is placed right next to a little beach called Fenicia, so you can imagine the impressive view from the restaurant. Established in 1958, when tourists started flooding Elba, Capo Nord wasn’t an official restaurant, it was known as a jukebox where people used to come and dance, later turning into a small restaurant with a mini club. Over the years, the owners decided to expand the restaurant and change its character to become more lavish and prestigious. Both settings allure us, but we would have loved to have a blast from the past and see how it was as a mini night club - haha! Our first time trying octopus ragù was at Capo Nord and it left a mark on our taste buds, we ordered the Spaghetti al Polpo - spaghetti with octopus ragù - which was so pleasing to eat, we tried to recreate this dish a couple of times but have failed…we won't give up! With our delightful pasta, we enjoyed a bottle of white DOC Elban wine recommended by the kind staff, named ‘La Sabatinaccia’, which was organic and the taste was in harmony with our fish based dish. The wine was dry and had citrus notes which we enjoyed. For dessert, we had ‘Quasi Tiramisu’ which was a mousse of marscapone with Baileys flavoured ice cream and it had the perfect balance of coffee, booze and creaminess, we absolutely can’t wait to have it again!
If you’re looking to dine on the land rather than close by the sea, we’ve got you covered! The restaurant Montefabbrello is a part of the farmhouse Azienda Agricola Montefabbrello in Portoferraio who cultivate their own vegetables, grapes for wine and many other organic produce. We are fond of their ethos ‘respecting the environment which surrounds us’, as that is our main goal on our journey to establishing our own farmhouse. You’re immersed in the nature around you with peaceful trees and particular birds, the setting is wonderful for a day time lunch likewise for an evening meal. From Bistecca alla Fiorentina, to grilled vegetables, fried vegetables, fresh goat cheese and enticing DOC and IGT Toscana red and white wines - you will not be disappointed! We dined on their beautiful veranda during the summer, however they do have more seating indoors and outdoors. For starters we had a large platter of tuscan salami, ham and cheeses, which really filled us up and was of amazing quality. For our main course we had a succulent steak made from Chianina meat that was cooked to perfection, just the right amount of softness and flavour of fresh grilled meat. Our side dish was a mix of fried vegetables of the season that really complimented the steaks; the red wine we had complimented the steak even more! We asked the polite waiter to surprise us with a bottle of red wine and he brought the ‘Sussurro Del Vignaiolo’, an IGT red wine made by Montefabbrello themselves. The bursts of fruit and tobacco taste flattered the heavy red meat. By the time we’d finished our main course, we were absolutely stuffed, so we just got one dessert to share - a delightful lemon sorbet that helped us wash everything down.
NOTE: Most restaurants in Elba are usually open from 12:00 - 14:30/15:00, close, then reopen around 18:00 until 22:30, so make sure to schedule your day and we advise that it’s better to book in advance.
Hidden Gems of Elba
Spiaggia di Ortano
The spiaggia di Ortano is a smaller beach but usually has fun events going on. We passed this beach with our friend Lydia on a speedboat as we went to visit Ortano’s small island and it was astonishing! Almost like a mini private island, not many people go there and if they do they’re all on their boats. Apart from the marvelous clear turquoise sea and breathtaking neighboring forests, we saw the remains of a bridge that used to be used for loading minerals onto the ships transporting during the time that Elba was mining for iron. A fun activity we liked doing in Ortano was jumping off of the boat and swimming to the sand between the smaller island and Elba, as on the other side of the sand we would put our goggles on, snorkel and swim under the sea between the two islands, between the two gigantic rocks, observing the fascinating fishes and sea bed. To get to the small island of Ortano, you can either go by boat or reach by canoe, swimming or walking on the rocks from the beach of Ortano - it will be 100% worth the short journey!
La Grotta Azzurra
Translated in English as ‘The Blue Cave’, we also heard Elban people calling this gem, ‘Grotta di Mare’, meaning cave of the sea and boy it’s one of the most beautiful forms of nature that we’ve seen! Located on the west of Elba between the beaches of Colle Palombaia and Cavoli, we got there on a boat with our friends as the cave is tall enough for smaller and shorter boats to enter. If you’re planning to get to the cave by boat, watch out for snorkelers! As we were entering the cave, we could see the change in colour of the deep blue sea, becoming clearer and clearer until we could see the sand and pebbles on the sea bed. The reflection of sunlight makes the water crystal clear in the cave and we were in awe of the grottas beauty! Diving in for a swim, we saw beautifully coloured fish and rocks, slightly on a more dangerous note, we also noticed a few jellyfish so beware. The Grotta Azzurra is only reachable by sea as the cliffs and rocks are too steep to walk, thus the only way is by boat. If you have a boat make sure to check your dimensions and judge whether or not you can enter safely, if you’re not able to then you can anchor nearby and swim into the cave. Pedal boats can be rented from the close by beaches of Cavoli and Colle Palombaia which are fun to use in groups and small enough to enter the cave! Another way you can get to the cave is by joining a sea excursion boat at Marina di Campo which leaves everyday from Marina di Campo Port, stopping by the Blue Cave for tourists to have a closer look and swim into, then continues the excursion onto other particular sights of Elba.
Terra e Cuore
A stunning land jewel that can be found on Mount Fabbrello in Portoferraio is Terra e Cuore. Going for a hike, we passed by a unique farm and restaurant with a beautiful landscape, called Terra e Cuore. We stopped for a break on their wooden benches for a cheeky glass of wine during golden hour where the sun was setting and mesmerised the peaceful nature surrounding by, as well as the captivating view of the sea and sky. The restaurant is a part of Fattoria Cuore D’Elba, an organic farm which focuses on making products from goat milk, such as cheeses and ice cream. The goats were very cute and looked well taken care of. If you’re looking for some fresh Tuscan food (literally) with hand picked herbs from their farm or great ice cream with a romantic view, definitely have a walk up to Terra e Cuore!
One of our favorite places to chill out and have a cocktail in Isola d'Elba is Porto Azzurro, where we enjoy having fun in the sun as well as the night life in this special place. Apart from the beautiful scenery of this town, the shops, restaurants and bars are very unique and are perfect for souvenir shopping! There is a boat excursion that you can book in Porto Azzurro, on a vintage style wooden boat called 'Lady Lillij', that we find both fun and relaxing. This is where the restaurant 'La Caravella' is located, that we mentioned earlier. With a delightful mix of lots of diverse shops, food and activities to try here, we believe you'll make a memory that you won't forget in Porto Azzurro.
We hope that we’ve given you a detailed insight into Isola d’Elba and our experiences in this enchanting part of Tuscany. There is so much more that we could say about Elba, but we believe it’s best to go and explore for yourselves to truly understand the rare beauty of this island.