On my recent Seabourn cruise around the Mediterranean, our first port of call was the Tuscan island of Elba.
It’s the third largest island in Italy, after Sardinia and Sicily but is only a fraction of the size and is just 10km off the coast of Tuscany.
We were smitten with this slice of Mediterranean paradise at first sight.
As we sailed into Portoferraio, (the main town), the sun was reflecting off the flat facades of the medieval buildings. The bastions, built many years ago to protect the town from pirates, are still intact and provide great shelter to the bay.
The first thing that struck me was the incredible natural beauty of the undulating island, sprinkled with small villages.
While public transport and rental cars are available we got a driver to take us to the eastern side of the island to Capoliveri and Porto Azzurro as we were only there for a day.
Capoliveri, once a mining town, is set well above sea level in the middle of a green peninsula overlooking the sea. It is quaint and pretty and has its fair share of churches, but then, we are in Italy.
Porto Azzurro too, is a delightful busy fishing village, set deep in an inlet. This was once a pirate haunt but it has morphed into a beautiful resort, particularly over the summer months.
The island has kilometres of stunning coastline, with nooks and crannies creating one beach after the other.
In the southern part of the island, the waves break on pale rocky outcrops and the beaches are sandy. And the northern side of the island, rocky gorges and small inlets are lined with rust-coloured pebbles.
But Elba is famous for more than its landscape and beaches. It is steeped in history and was home to Napoleon for a period of time, 200 years ago.
In 1814, after his defeat in Europe and forced abdication, Napoleon was exiled to Elba.
He retained his title as emperor and was given sovereignty over the island and in the short nine months he lived there he left an indelible mark on the small island.
He set up the infrastructure for the exploitation of iron, the main economic industry on the island and carried out a series of economic reforms to improve the quality of life and modernize the existing society.
In 1815 he escaped back to France before being exiled again to the island of Saint Helena, off the coast of Africa.
His main residence, Villa dei Mulini over looks Portoferraio, with wide sea views providing a strategic position to see approaching boats. The Villa is now a national museum and well worth a visit.
It would be easy to loose yourself in Elba for a week or more and enjoy the Med at its best.
How to get there
Elba is an easy ferry ride from Piombino, on the Italian mainland and costs about 14 Euros. Book online www.mobylines.com