Legend says that the Tuscan Archipelago originated from 7 pearls from the necklace of Venus, goddess of beauty and love, which fell into the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Legend aside there is no doubt that the islands of the Archipelago are fragments of paradise.
On the other hand, few other tourist resorts in the world can boast an offer as rich and varied in the space of a few kilometres: from the seabed (true paradise for divers), to the mountains surrounded by age-old woods, from the beaches and coves framed by Mediterranean maquis to small hilltop villages immersed in timeless tranquillity. Every visitor can find their own dimension of vacation, practicing their favorite sport, indulging in a sunny day or going to discover what the Tuscan Archipelago can offer in terms of history, culture and gastronomy.
Just 10 km from the mainland, with an area of 224 sq km, Elba is the largest island in the Tuscan Archipelago and the third largest of the Italian islands. For some years it has been part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park together with Pianosa, Capraia, Montecristo, Giglio, Gorgona and Giannutri.
(The island of Pianosa can be reached from Marina di Campo, via some boats, and it is possible to independently visit the now abandoned small town and the beach in front of it, but the visit to the remaining part of the island can only be done by guided tours on foot, by carriage, by mountain bike and/or by kayak. Once the site of the maximum security prison, today it is a protected area rich in flora and fauna and a wonderful sea).
Over 70 beaches are nestled between the ravines and rocks of the island. The most beautiful and renowned are in the western part formed by white granite sand (Fetovaia, Cavoli, Sant’Andrea, etc.); but no less are the others that boast a unique variation of colors and minerals.
The island also enjoys climatic conditions with Mediterranean characteristics, with an average annual temperature above 20° and rainfall is concentrated in the autumn period and is quite limited.
For the variety of its coasts, for the amenity of the beaches, for the majestic beauty of Monte Capanne (it is the highest mountain on the island with its 1019 meters from which it is possible to see the entire Tuscan archipelago, and can be reached both feet thanks to the various trekking routes that surround it, both by cable car and from the village of Marciana Alta directly to the summit) and for the uncontaminated nature, it has rightly become one of the world-famous tourist attraction centers.
Food and wine
The wealth of this island is not only given by its beaches, coasts, the many natural and historical- cultural beauties. On the island of Elba there are also typical dishes that have come down to us from our old grandparents, only to be revisited and re-proposed: traditional recipes and gastronomic specialties that will enrich your journey with taste and tradition.
- Stoccafisso alla riese. One of the very first specialties to taste. The main ingredient, of course, is stockfish, prepared in a casserole with garlic, parsley, potatoes, onion, tomato, chilli pepper, black olives, anchovies, capers and pine nuts.
- Sburrita. Another typically Riese dish. Sburrita is a fish soup flavored with spices and vegetables: this dish is prepared with soaked cod, catmint (also called wild mint), chilli pepper and homemade Tuscan bread.
- Gurguglione. It is one of the most famous typical dishes of the island of Elba. The recipe is based on vegetables (onions, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes) cooked in a pan. The gurguglione can be served both as a side dish and as a single dish. You can find different variations of this recipe based on the area of the island where you are. The name, very particular, seems to be of Spanish derivation.
- Imbollite. The imbollite is very ancient dish of the island of Elba: It is made with grasselli figs, very common on the island.
- Sportella. An aniseed dessert that is prepared during the Easter period (but it is also possible to find it during other periods of the year).
- Fish. Elba is still an island. It is therefore normal that typical fish-based dishes abound. Like boiled octopus, favolli soup, marinated or fried zerri, squid and cuttlefish prepared in various ways, fish soups. And the inevitable cacciucco, prepared with different types of fish (octopus, cuttlefish, cicadas, scorpion fish).
- Schiacciunta. A cake baked in the oven made with eggs, flour, sugar, lard and grated lemon zest.
- Schiaccia briaca. Typical dessert of the Christmas period, the Schiaccia briaca is prepared with raisins, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and a small glass of Aleatico wine.
To accompany these ancient recipes, we find a large variety of excellent quality wines which for some years have been controlled by the DOC brand, in particular we find: Elba Bianco, Elba Rosso, Rosato, Ansonica, Moscato and Aleatico.
And finally we can find other typical products that characterize this splendid island, such as extra virgin olive oil, honey, jams, bonito in oil, preserves, sweets, beers and many liqueurs.
- Romans, who greatly appreciated the island for its deposits of iron, for the thermal mud as remembered by the remains of two splendid patrician villas and in particular for the granite (modelled for the construction of various columns later used for the Pantheon in Rome, but also to the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. And even some testimonies affirm that 18 large columns of Elban granite are found in the cathedral of Aquisgrana)
- Napoleon, who reigned there for ten months, from 3 May 1814 to 26 February 1815. In particular, the places of greatest interest surrounding his figure are:
- The Villa dei Mulini, his main residence, is perfect for its strategic position overlooking the sea in order to be able to monitor any arrivals of boats. The villa owes its name to the presence of two windmills which, however, had already been destroyed before the arrival of the emperor, who had completely restored and furnished it. Today it is possible to relive the emperor’s daily life by visiting the villa for a few euros.
- The Villa di San Martino, where in the locality of the same name, about 10 minutes from the center of Portoferraio, Napoleon bought his second villa, used as a summer residence. The elegant Villa di San Martino is surrounded by greenery and, in addition to offering a breathtaking view of Portoferraio, it allows you to admire various Napoleonic prints and period furnishings. Entering this villa will give you the feeling of being inside a princely fairy tale, seeing is believing!
- The Teatro dei Vigilanti, a beautiful theatre, also located in Portoferraio, was built at the behest of the emperor and is still active today with shows of all kinds. Every summer, for example, it hosts some concerts of “Elba Isola Musicale d’Europa”, a festival full of international artists of great importance from the world of classical music and jazz.
- Paolina Island. Even the famous sister of the emperor stayed on the island during her exile and she too was fascinated by these places. She in particular loved a beach in Marciana Marina, so much so that the islet in front of this beach was renamed in her honor.
- The Sanctuary of the Madonna del Monte, located in Marciana, is the oldest on the island, where Napoleon stayed for a few days in the summer of his exile. The Sanctuary of the Madonna del Monte is certainly a place to visit, not only for enthusiasts of the history of the French emperor, but also for the more sporty. In fact, to reach it you have to walk a path in the woods for about an hour. Certainly tiring, but trust me, it will be worth it to admire the landscapes and the enchanting panorama.
- The Etruscans. In particular you can find in some areas of the island, traces of heaps of slag from the Etruscan “melting furnaces”, with their particular circular conical shape. With them, the extraction and processing of iron became a real organized industry: they had extended their dominion to Elba precisely because of its massive ore deposits. Subsequently, due to the exhaustion of the woods, and therefore of the fuel for the reduction of iron, the processing moved to the Tuscan coast. Since then various eras have followed which have led Elba to be one of the main iron mining sites in all of Italy. But the turning point in the capitalist-industrial sense began in 1897 when the idea of developing a modern steel industry was born in Italy. The large iron and steel industry is organized using the iron ore of Elba: magnetite, hematite, limonite, siderite and pyrite, as the first and main
source of steel. And so the two main extraction areas were born on the island: one located near Rio Marina and the other near Monte Calamita.
In 1924, at the S.p.A. Elba is succeeded by the Concessionary Company of the Elba Mines, absorbed in 1931 by Ilva. In 1939, the contract passed to “Ferromin”, which made use of extensions until 1970. Subsequently, the concession passed to Italsider for ten years. From 1950, with the advent of the economic boom and tourism, competition, strikes and failed agreements, the closure of the mines on Elba began and ended definitively in 1981 with the abandonment of the last mine: the Galleria del Ginevro. In 1980 the shipyards closed and production ceased. Since 1980 the concession has continued to be in the hands of Società Nuova Italsider, today Ilva, which until 1992 regulated the excavation of serpentine and magnesium silicate at the Santa Filomena construction site in Rio. Today the Isola d’Elba Mining Park and the Calamita Mining Park guarantee, through museums, guided excursions and educational workshops, the enhancement and conservation of the mining sites and the historical and cultural memory of Elba, which only up to thirty years ago was the island of iron and fire.
- And finally, one of the last and most important monuments that the island has to offer is the Castello del Volterraio which is also the oldest fortification on the whole of Elba. The origin of the name is uncertain. Some scholars trace it back to ‘Volterra’ or ‘Volterrano’, thus attributing the foundation to the Etruscans. Others start from the same root, however linking it to what is considered the true founder of the fort, the architect Vanni Gherardo Rau, commissioned by the Pisans to oversee the reconstruction of the castle and who was originally from Volterra. Finally, another hypothesis traces the name back to the Latin Vultur (vulture), which once would have nested up here. The Castello del Volterraio is located on a rugged hill of 394 meters, visible from almost every point of the island and also from the ferry arriving in Portoferraio. The place was chosen by the Etruscans to build the first sighting post. Going up the mountain, on the top of which it is built, it is understood why this strategic position was chosen: on three sides the castle overlooks steep walls and cliffs and from up there it is possible to monitor and defend almost the entire territory of Elba. In 1281 the structure was then enlarged by the Pisans who continued to use it for defensive purposes. Around 1440 and in the context of strengthening the defenses of Elba wanted by Jacopo III Appiani, Lord of Piombino, it was enlarged and strengthened and was still used as a lookout fortress with wide-ranging guard functions and defense of the whole territory of Elba. The Castello del Volterraio is one of the few fortresses on Elba never conquered by the Turkish pirates who raided Elba several times during their raids: it was also used as a refuge by many Elbans who found refuge there during the sieges of 1544 and 1554.