For visitors, the real gems of Tuscany are Capraia and Elba. These two islands, part of the Tuscan archipelago, lie in startingly clear turquoise waters between Piombino on the mainland and Cap Corse on the northern tip of Corsica.
The jewel of the chain is Elba, whose rocky coastline is heavily indented by coves and larger sandy bays. The harbour of Portoferraio (the islands capital) in the north provides the best shelter and shopping alongside relics of Napoleons’s ‘Little Empire’.
The islands real attraction, however, lies in its natural beauty with wooded mountains rising more than 3,000ft, isolated sandy coves – such as Zuccale, and Fetovaia on the south side – and the beaches of Marino di Campo.
Itinerary – Elba
Day 1 – Punta Ala
Punta Ala is part of a large leisure development that includes several hotels, apartments, a golf course and a riding school. The wild country setting is wonderful with the Scogli Porcellini running out from the point. The beaches are simply to die for – in fact, they are so unforgettable that they have their own Facebook group: the Punta Ala Beach Fans. Never windy and so close to the pine forests that there is always some shade to sit in, these beaches are a must for anyone visiting Punta Ala.
Day 2 – Cavo
Cavo is a tourist resort with a sandy beach that goes as far as Capo Castello, where there are the remains of a Roman villa from the first century AD, and a beautiful coastline of cliffs that goes from Capo Castello to Capo della Vita. You can also admire the Tonietti Mausoleum, a unique liberty style building that stands out above the wild vegetation on the island and was designed by the architect Adolfo Coppedè on behalf of the Tonietti family who wanted a sepulchral chapel. The Toniettis were the first concessionaires of the iron mines on the eastern side of Elba after the unification of Italy.
Day 3 – Portoferraio
Few people fail to fall in love with Portoferraio. Behind the harbour, the 18th century buildings in shades of cream and ochre are tucked under the craggy 16th century citadel, built originally by Cosmino I, Duke of Florence. The warrens of alleys and staircases are lined with dwellings, shops and restaurants and occasionally lead to unexpected views of the sea behind. You should climb to the citadel walls to watch the sunset and sea below turning liquid red and sepia as it washes over the rocks and reefs – we cannot imagine why Napoleon ever left.
Day 4 – Marciana
This was once the fashionable quarter for a country residence in Elba and it is pleasing to this day: elegant 19th century houses line the seafront amongst palms, oleanders and magnolia. It is a green and colourful spot that enchanted the exiled Napoleon. It is now a small tourist resort, though in no way spoiled. Behind the harbour the highest peak in the island, Monte Capanne, can be ascended in an aerial railway, carrying small and somewhat precarious cages. The rugged hinterland around and the view from the top make an excursion well worthwhile.
Day 5 – Campo
Lying on the edge of a cultivated plain and hemmed in by the mountains, Campo is an attractive and popular tourist resort. At the harbour you are close to the old part of town and away from the activity on the beaches further around the bay. The inner harbour is packed with trawlers adding a touch of colour and chaos to the place. Good fresh fish can be obtained at the fish market nearby.
Day 6 – Porto Azzuro
Crowded it may be, but Porto Azzuro is a gem. The citadel above was built by the Spanish in the middle of the 16th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries it was a prison for hardened criminals, both the political and Mafioso type, and the original name of the fortress, Longone, has always been associated with criminals in Italy. The name of the village was changed to Porto Azzuro to break the association and attract tourists to this beautiful spot and, judging by the numbers of tourists arriving here in the summer, the ploy has worked wonderfully well.