Island of Elba – Napoleon’s pleasant prison

Elba would not be so world known as it is, not being Napoleon. And despite the fact that the famous chieftain was here for less than 10 months.

Elba Island is located about 20 kilometres from the port city of Piombino, between the Italian coast and Corsica. With its area of ​​224 square kilometres it is the third largest island in Italy (just after islands of Sicily and Sardinia).

The island was already well known in ancient times, when it was inhabited by ligurian tribe of Ilvats. From them the island got its original name Ilva. Inhabitants soon discovered deposits of iron ore here, which was a very valuable raw material already at that time. No wonder that the Etruscans forcibly occupied the island and opened the first mines here.

Beach Fetovaia, Island of Elba, Italy
Beach Fetovaia, Island of Elba, Italy by Phil Tizzani

Island of Elba has quite a long and rich history. It survived several wars, e.g., the port of Porto Azzurro was occupied by Spaniards in the early 17th century, who left very impressive fortifications here that are now visited by thousands of tourists. French people came here in 1802 which started up the economical growth of this island.

And such, after several years of various historical twists, is coming the most famous period in the history of the island. On 3rd May 1814 came Napoleon Bonaparte here into forced exile. Officially, he was appointed emperor of the island and even had a personal guard to the strength of 600 men. His freedom, however, ended in the surrounding waters, guarded by British ships.

But Napoleon didn’t relax even here and instituted many economic and social reforms, which contributed to improving the lives of local residents. On 26th February 1815, he managed to flee back to France where he ruled again for a while until his final defeat at Waterloo (18 June 1815). After that was moved to more desolate and distant island of St. Helena. But that’s another story.

Let’s go back to Elba, which later went under Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and in 1860 became part of a united Italy. With the exception of World War II, when it was occupied by German, the island remained Italian until these days.

Portoferraio, Island of Elba, Tuscany, Italy
Portoferraio, Island of Elba, Tuscany, Italy by Andrea Puggioni

At present, Elba is a tourist destination boasting natural beauty and favorable climate. However many visitors are also coming here to look for traces of Napoleon. Among the attractions of the island is lush subtropical vegetation with many species of succulents, eucalyptus, oleander, fig, etc. The island attracts also the lovers of charmed stones.

It is because of the fact that Elba is a home to the beautiful gemstones and generally interesting minerals. If you add the pleasant Mediterranean climate and crystal clear sea, providing all the possibilities for diving and exploration of marine life and several sunken wrecks, then Elba will surely fulfil anyone’s dreams about the best holiday destinations.

You will meet with the typical Italian architecture, picturesque houses, narrow streets, nice shops, inviting café and restaurants, offering different foods – from pizza or pasta to fish and seafood. You can visit the lighthouse Forte Stella or the strength of 16th century. Tourists will certainly like the option to climb to the highest mountain in the island, Monte Capanne (1019 m above sea level), those less able can use the lift leading up to the top. Either way, you can enjoy spectacular views.

Monte Capanne, Elba, Tuscany, Italy
Monte Capanne, Elba, Tuscany, Italy by Roberto Ferrari

During the tour of the island you find traces of mentioned ore, on the east coast, in Rio Marina you can see the surface mines. And what about Napoleon? Perhaps the most prominent monument to his residence is located 6 km west of the capital Portoferraio, on the slopes of wooded hill of Monte San Martino (370 m). Here, among the lush vegetation, is Napoleon’s villa, the former summer residence of the emperor.

Elba is not a large island, for any trip around the island you will need just one day if you rent a car or scooter. A more detailed survey of course takes longer. While most visitors remain on the beaches in the hotel complexes and coastal resorts, during the tourist season the inland is quite overcrowded as well. Exploring Elba is then better to do out of season.

Elba is also suitable for mountain bike enthusiasts as there are a lot of cycle paths. And if you want to enjoy more peace, head to the southwestern coast, which is the least populated area of the island, but one of the most beautiful.

And after all, do not forget to taste some of the renowned local wines of excellent quality.

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