What to do in Elba: An island’s secrets revealed

Paul De Tourreil | 26/11/2018
Island of Elba, Tuscany. Things to do in Tuscany.
Island of Elba, Tuscany

The largest island in the Tuscan archipelago is a magnet for tourists, especially from other parts of Italy. More importantly, it may be the last remaining part of Tuscany to resist the invasion of tourists from the rest of the world, at least for now. As such, a holiday in Elba remains quintessentially Italian and utterly charming.

Beaches all around

Elba’s beaches may not be as renowned as others in Italy, but they are no less deserving of attention. There are countless beaches lining the coast: long sandy beaches, quiet pebbly beaches, hidden coves only accessible by foot, as well as the private, full-service bagno-style beaches found all over Italy. 

Marino di Campo is the longest beach on the island and a great example of an ideal beach for your Elba holiday. With one mile of sand, shallow water, and a mix of public and private areas, it’s perfect for families with small children. 

A final tip: If you’re looking to avoid choppy seas in favour of calm waters, check which way the wind is blowing when choosing a beach. On such a small island, it’s a simple matter to head for the sheltered side on any given day.

Driving, 007-style

An aerial view of Elba’s numerous roads paints a picture that would give your average urban planner nightmares. The island is only 17 miles long by 11 miles across, but there are roads sprinkled over every portion of the landscape. Though gas is expensive, the mountainous terrain provides thrill-seekers with an endless series of hairpin turns (see: the road to Marciana). More serene motoring aficionados will enjoy the picturesque routes along the seashore.

Monte Capanne

When considering what to do in Elba, the sightseeing at Monte Capanne, Elba’s highest peak must make the list. In the village of Marciana, the Cabinovia, a kind of cable car, will whisk you to the summit and back. In this case,” cable car” means a two-person, open-air “danger-basket”, and “whisk” means “dangle precariously over wooded slopes” until you drink in a magnificent sea view that stretches all the way to Corsica. Elba, Italy: home to a myriad of unforgettable, exhilarating, albeit perfectly safe experiences. 

The great outdoors beyond the beach

The entire island of Elba is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, which makes it a prized destination for nature lovers. Camping in Elba runs the gamut from luxurious to bare bones, and outdoor activities are accessible all across the island. Family-owned Camping Appartamenti Tallinucci is a favourite for those who enjoy camping right on the beach, and a fine example of the type of unassuming, genuine hospitality that makes camping in Elba such a pleasure.

Hiking

For the outdoorsy types who long to drink deep of Elba’s essence, look no further than the aptly-named “Via dell’Essenza“, a 60 mile hiking trail that follows the coast and encircles the entire island. It’s divided into twelve sections, each named after a characteristic plant or herb — for example, the fragrant Via del Rosmarino, or Rosemary Trail.

Biking

Elba is a cyclist’s paradise. From off-road trails, to lung-busting hills, to the well-maintained paths of the Via dell’Essenza, there’s something for every taste and fitness level… including those who welcome the occasional help provided by an e-bike.

Snorkeling

Crystal-blue waters, abundant undersea life and a plethora of easily accessible sites will satisfy even the most experienced snorkeler. The abundance of anemones, octopus, sea daisies, scorpion fish, gorgonians and more are a feast for the eyes (bring a waterproof camera).

Shopping

A leisurely stroll down the main streets of towns such as Portoferraio, Marina di Campo, and Capoliveri reveals a wonderful variety of shopping options. Browse traditional souvenirs, or pick up a torta ubriaca (drunk cake), a local bread that is liberally soaked in spirits. Here you will also find Elba Aleatico, a sweet wine made from local grapes said to have been brought the island in Roman times.

Elba’s economy was once dominated by mining, particularly for granite and iron. Although the iron mines are now closed, gemstones and granite souvenirs are widely available. In fact, the mountain towns of San Piero and Sant’Ilario are practically carved out of granite. Fountains, benches, stairs, and doorways all attest to the enduring importance of this hard grey stone.

How to get to Elba

Although the airport now connects the island to a handful of Italian cities, most people arrive by car ferry from Piombino on the mainland. There are several Elba ferries, but if you want to support the local economy, you can choose BluNavy, a new ferry service based out of Portoferraio. Driving from Florence, including the ferry ride, will put you on the beach in Elba in about three hours. Buon viaggio!