Elba Main

elba-main

You have to wonder about Napoleon. There he was, comfortably settled on an island just six miles off the coast of Tuscany - and all he could think about was France. Granted, he was in exile, but he was virtually the emperor of Elba during his 10 months on the island. And he what did he give it up for? Waterloo.

You don't have to be an emperor to appreciate Elba these days. The island's eastern end was long an industrial wasteland of iron mines, and it wasn't until the last 30 years, after the iron ores gave out, that the natural beauty of the rest of the island was rediscovered by Italian tourists. Today about half this unpretentious island is a nature preserve, attracting a new generation of hikers (the view from the highest peak, Monte Capanne, takes in not only the Italian mainlaind but a quartet of islands, including Corsica) and mountain bikers. (a 14-mile, single-track trail follows the crest of the island from Marciana).

Beaches? More than 50 of them, some sweeping strands blessed with golden sand (the most popular scattered along the southern coast), others lined with smooth rocks and sheltered by seacliffs. There are also castles, Roman ruins, and charming hill towns to explore (brush up on your Italian, because English speakers are scarce) - and plan on working up an appetite. This is Tuscany, after all.