Contributing editor Bill Scheller got a kick out of driving the crooked, narrow streets in Elba”s main city, Portoferraio. “They were harrowing,” he says. “Even though I was in a teensy Fiat, I realized those streets were never meant for cars.”
A car enthusiast who has participated in The Cannon Ball One Lap of America race, Scheller also wrote Manifold Destiny, a cookbook about preparing dinner under a car”s hood. He is the author (or coauthor) of 22 books, and he runs a small publishing company, Jasper Heights Press, in Waterville, Vermont. His newest title is Best New Hampshire Drives.
A native of Tuscany who lives in Florence, photographer Andrea Pistolesi has been visiting Elba since he was young. “There is a coastal reality to Tuscany that many people miss,” he says.
Pistolesi says he likes the western end of the island best. “It”s wilder; the steep, rocky slopes of Monte Capanne run down to the sea, and small villages dot the coast. You get more of a sense of the island there.”
Pistolesi started traveling when he was 18. He has a geography degree from the University of Florence and has been a full-time photographer since 1985.
Don”t Miss Scheller says that the brooding, romantic ruins of the Pisan fortress at the top of Volterraio are a must-see. Pistolesi”s favorite spot is Santuario di Monserrato, a remote 17th-century hermitage set in a secluded valley along the east coast. Be sure to drive the western end of the island, where the road runs along the sea cliff and has views across the ocean to Corsica.
Beach Time The most famous and popular beaches, such as La Biodola in Portoferraio, are along the northern and southern coasts, but they are mostly enclosed by seaside hotels. Many people prefer the northern beaches, which tend to have surfaces of small stones instead of sand, and clear water. Walking paths lead to secluded coves at several points along the east coast; you can also rent a boat and land on remote beaches accessible only from the sea.
Room Key The hotel Villa Ottone, sited on a private beach in Portoferraio, has its own outdoor restaurant as well as a large, well-trained, and gracious hotel staff. Pistolesi recommends the charming, architecturally interesting rooms in the old villa (about $96 for a double in high season, breakfast included).
What”s to Eat Cacciucco is a traditional tomato-based seafood soup popular on the island. The Ristorante La Barca in Portoferraio has excellent baccalà al forno (baked codfish with chickpeas). Try La Ferrigna for the gnocchi in cream sauce with porcini mushrooms, and the grilled whole squid stuffed with garlic cloves, fresh rosemary, and citron peel. Pizza places and trattorias are everywhere.
On the Road Scheller flew to Milan, then took a train to Piombino, where he caught the ferry to the island. He then rented a car to get around. Pistolesi suggests flying to Florence, renting a car there, driving to Piombino, and ferrying the rental car to Elba. On the island, a compact car such as a Fiat Panda rents for about $30 a day. Scooters are available but not necessarily recommended; the traffic around Portoferraio can be dangerous, and, as Scheller says, “Elba is larger than it looks.” Taxis are easy to find in Portoferraio but less common elsewhere.
Read It and Leap Cadogan”s Tuscany, by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls, has a small but comprehensive chapter on Elba; the other information in the book will be helpful, since you”ll be approaching from the Tuscan mainland. Any detailed biography of Napoleon will cover the Elba of 200 years ago.
Web Headings Check out www.elbalink.it/homeing.html for photos of the island”s 70-plus beaches and listings of hotels, outfitters, and more. For additional information on hotels, camping, and car rentals, go to www.elba-online.com. Visit the Tuscan Archipelago National Park site, www.islepark.it, to find out about Elba”s natural attractions.
Cash Flow ATMs are common only in Portoferraio; changing money is easy.
When to Go From late spring through early fall Elba is overrun with northern- European tourists. Pistolesi recommends visiting in May or anytime from the end of September through the beginning of October, when the island is less crowded and cooler.