1. The beach of Fetovaia.
I would have liked to have started with something more original, but I couldn’t. There are countless beaches and some say even more beautiful ones, but Fetovaia has an immediate simple fascination and you can’t leave without at least seeing it from the coast road. It is enclosed by a lovely 800 metre tree lined evergreen rocky promontory and is just under 500 meters long (don’t lets forget that this is an island and beaches of 500 meters belong to a middle size category). The water is fairly shallow and the sand is the result of erosion of crystalline rock (granite) which emits a bright unusual glow. A short swim from the beach on the promontory side, but also reached by wading, a cove reveals itself with shallow transparent water, almost exotic, and which will never be erased from your memory. The beach itself has resorts, pedalo hire, a surf school and parking. Here I have to say something obvious, during certain times in high season it is very very crowded. Don’t be put off, but as the parking situation can be a problem, it means leaving the car some distance away. Fetovaia gulf is very protected from the wind, but don’t visit during a Scirocco south west) as the sea isn’t so clear then.
2. The streets of Sant’Ilario
Among the numerous places on the island that you remember from holidays and from television is Sant’Ilario, a tiny hill town that Gin Racheli, an amazing tourist guide working here in the 80’s explains better than anyone “The town is the amongst the most beautiful on the Island, and the best advice is to leave your car on the edge of town and loose yourself in the narrow streets, wander past the houses jutting up against each other with their flowered balconies, and flowers displayed in every corner that the inhabitants can find to express their love of nature. It’s a place where you can breathe in the silence, and the strongly structured houses with their archways and passages resolve the difficult problems of the roughness of the terrain.; the complete cleanliness in the awkward streets, and the total serenity painted on the faces of the few inhabitants speak of a very civilized place.”
“Le Isole del Ferro” – Ed. Mursia.
Sant’Ilario faces the gulf of Marina di Campo, and the most popular beach on the Island, although there is only a difference of some 200 metres, it already seems like a completely different and separate world.
3. A bench in the square in Porto Azzurro. At dusk.
Porto Azzurro is a labyrinth of streets and alleyways that all lead to the beautiful wide square overlooking the sea. It lies between the 16th century Fortress of St. Giacomo (today a prison) and the tourist harbour. Unlike other similar places, it gives the impression of a an easy worldliness that immediately makes you feel at home. The square is the heart of the town with public benches dotted around under flowered arches where children endlessly play together. If this peace inspires you to have an aperitif or eat a locally made ice cream or have dinner in a restaurant by the sea you will be spoilt for choice and you will find everything right there in the square! On summer evenings the streets fill with market stalls alongside the good quality shops that never close.
4. Dive into the sea at Ghiaie (Pebble) beach. With a Scirocco wind.
Those who don’t know Elba very well imagine Portoferraio just as the harbour where the ferries travel to and from the mainland. Therefore they abhor the idea of swimming off one of the beaches there. As usual cliches turn out to be common errors. In fact the Ghiaie beach in Portoferraio on the opposite side from the harbour is the oldest, and at the moment only, natural biological nature reserve on the Island. As the name suggests, it is a beach made up of pebbles of various sizes, all pure white and flat which make it very comfortable to lie on. The interesting thing is that you just swim along by the shore and immediately you are surrounded by swarms of fish looking for food, and the bottom is rich with Poseidon and sea life. When the wind comes from the south especially the Scirocco, the water takes on a Caribbean like transparency and in those circumstances the experience is truly unforgettable.
5. The areas of Cotone and Marciana Marina
It’s an natural inlet of a few square meters protected by a large “cote”, or rock, of pink granite (so nothing to do with the fabric) to provide a fragile shelter for the small boats of ancient fishermen. It has a resemblance to the Ligurian coast and is unusual for the Island of Elba. This small nucleus gave birth to the smallest town in Tuscany, and the beautiful village of Marciana Marina with its promenade along the marina bordered by tamarand trees and a 16th century watchtower.
6. Monte Capanne 1.019 mt s.l.m.
There are many footpaths and a cable car to reach the highest peak of the Tuscan Archipelago, from the summit you can admire the other islands, the Tuscan coast and Corsica. The cable car leaves from Marciana, not Marciana Marina and the trip takes 15 minutes to reach the top where there is a bar stocked with sandwiches. If you choose to walk then the round trip takes around 5/6 hours. As to the possible paths, I will give you more specific information in another place, because although the traditional Marciana – Capanne n.o. 1 path is nice, I prefer others, one of which could actually save you 300 meters in altitude, whereas Marciana is a little more than 300 meters above sea level and the summit is at 1,000. The final and most grueling part of the route is out in the open, no vegetation, stony ground, but this at 850 meters and the air is cool even in summer.
7. The opencast mines.
This is a little known and little used part of Elba. No white sandy beaches, but the glitter and dark hues of the hematite clay ore dominating the landscape. If you can’t make it to the ancient village of Rio Nell’Elba or the mining beaches at Topinetti, treat yourself to a visit to the old opencast mines of Rio Marina. For several decades they have been inactive and now come under the management of the Mining Park, which organizes many activities, including a guided tour of the mining sites aboard a small train. If you love colours you will certainly come back again.
8. Monte Calamita on a Mountain Bike
It is not a coincidence that this path was chosen in 1994 for the World Cup mountain bike race. It is about 20km almost entirely made up of of good dirt roads, the scenery is great with a panoramic route, it is not especially difficult with impossible gradients. The start is at Capoliveri and it continues along the only coastal dirt road in a round circuit which returns to the main road between Capoliveri and Porto Azzurro. The last part crosses some small uncrowded beaches in a beautiful environment. The first half of the course can also be done in a car.
9. Sunset at Capo Bianco
In the area of the White Cliffs of Portoferraio there are beaches which you shouldn’t miss, but I will talk about that in another part. I have flagged it up because summer is the ideal time to watch sunsets. The beach at Capo Bianco is set in an ideal location as it is open to the sea in such a way that the sun sinks right in front of it. It’s a popular beach and often the car park is full up so you have to park down the road a few hundred meters before, but even on hot days if you arrive after 17.30 or 18.00 you can usually find a spot and may even avoid the fee. At that time the swimmers, exhausted from a day at the beach, climb the stairs that lead to the parking place leaving the field free for evening visitors. Many have dinner on the beach, in the company of gulls and their chicks who are hovering in the hope of grabbing a few bites of your dinner.
10. The roofs of Capoliveri …… in the evening.
The square of this small medieval town is situated in a marvelous position in relation to the rest of town and the sea below. Even a brief visit will fill your eyes and heart because despite of the summer crowds ever present in this small village, when the summer evening air caresses the warm tones of the sunset, it gives you a huge feeling of contentment. Apart from the view and the atmosphere you can be served in the bars, restaurants, shops and stalls of every kind in the square.
Now wait for the other 91 things not to be missed on Elba.
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