Find a Walking Paradise on the Tuscan Island of Elba


Elba is the largest of Tuscany’s islands, being a paradise of white beaches and clear waters, with some fabulous walking routes thrown in.

It can be packed-out in summer, so best to come nice and early in the spring . . .

The third largest island in Italy, Elba lies less than ten miles off the coast of Tuscany, but it has always been very far removed from the mainstream of Italian history. Essentially, nothing has ever happened here. Except for Napoleon’s brief banishment to the island in 1814, of course. (Never one to sit still, the diminutive French emperor did an awful lot for Elba in the ten months he was confined here – building roads, streamlining the economy, and improving law and education.) Elba was sometimes referred to by the Romans as ‘the island of good wines’. But from ancient times until the 20th century’s start of package tourism, Elba was above all just a place to be mined for its minerals. The name of the island’s main town, Portoferraio – ‘ironworker port’ – tells you everything about Elba’s chief usefulness to the outside world. It might have been a do-nothing backwater for most of its life, but Elba unexpectedly helped create some of Italy’s greatest cultural masterpieces. Ochre pigment from the island’s super-rich soil went into the paintings of Michelangelo. And high up in Elba’s mountains you can still see the holes where the columns for Rome’s Pantheon were quarried. Indeed, some half-hewn old columns are still lying about up there. Today, the island’s mining industry has been vigorously supplanted by tourism. Crystalline seawater, pale sandy beaches, charming little towns – its visitor appeal can make Elba crowded in the summertime. Which is why it’s best to come here at the comparatively empty start or end of the season – plus it’s a good time to relish the island’s hiking routes in spring’s floral glory.

Elba’s walking routes are among the island’s best features. But they’re often overlooked by visitors, who can’t bear to tear themselves away – quite understandably – from the beautiful beaches. The walks range from hearty treks to piece-of-cake strolls, all on well-marked paths that snake around the coast, wriggle across stout peninsulas or plunge off into the mountains. Climb a footway to a hillside where spring flowers smile shyly and giant granite boulders lie weathered by the winds into smooth, eerie sculptures. The views down to the coast and across the island are breath-taking. Standing there, you realise that the black, magnetic lump of land lining the western horizon is Corsica, and happily trace the island’s silhouetted geography.

Evening could see you in the chic coastal village of Sant’ Andrea, just in time to hear the nightingales tuning up for the coming twilight performance. Take a pre-dinner stroll along the lanes, past lemon groves and pines all glowing in the hot orange light of sundown. Then turn down a footpath and emerge at a deserted crescent of sand hugged by two sculpted stone headlands. It is one of the most perfect beaches you’ll ever see. More a stage set than a piece of real geography. No wonder so many people are drawn to Elba . . .

Richard Reeves is the founder of Essential Sailing and if you have been inspired to relax on a luxury sailing holiday, why not make this idyllic world your reality.

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