There was a time not so long ago that Elba was best known as the island where Napoleon went into exile. Those times have gone and the island of Elba is now best known as a very popular summer destination with picturesque towns and villages, numerous attractive beaches and lovely scenery - and rightly so because it has a great deal of charm and interest.
In many ways you can think of Elba as a 'mini' version of Corsica or Sardinia about 50 kilometres further to the west, as it shares many of the characteristics of these islands with beaches, clear waters and rocky coastline, traditional villages and ports and a forested mountainous interior to explore. Also in common with these other Mediterranean islands, Elba produces some excellent wine!
Apparently there are more than 150 beaches on Elba so you can visit a different one every day even if you are staying for several months! We mention some of the most popular below but there are many others we have not visited and that you will discover when you visit.
The principal towns and villages on Elba are Portoferraio (on the north coast) and Porto Azzurro (on the east coast).
On your arrival, Portoferraio is a pleasant introduction to the island with an old town where you can explore the narrow streets and squares such as Piazza della Repubblica, an ideal place to pause in a cafe.
After a while you reach the Villa dei Mulini where Napoleon spent his exile: the villa is now open to the public, and the terraced garden is the highlight. In the old town of Portoferraio we also suggest a visit to the Archaeology Museum which has various ancient artefacts discovered in the waters around the island.
West of Portoferraio
If your principal goal is to get to the beach as quickly as possible you can travel a few kilometres west from Portoferraio either on the road to Enfola and Viticcio or on the road to Scaglieri and Biodola, where you will find lovely sandy beaches: the beach at Biodola is one of the most popular and largest on the island.
At nearby Sansone the beach is unfortunately of small stones rather than sand, but the setting with cliffs sloping down to the beach and startlingly clear water helps to compensate!
Further to the west on Elba the principal seaside resort is Marciana Marina.
As well as enjoying the holiday atmosphere and pebble beaches in the lively resort we suggest you find the time to explore inland where the medieval villages of Poggio and Marciana are worth visiting. Both have lovely historic centres with ancient alleyways to explore and extensive views and are our favourite villages on Elba.
Marciana is also ideal if you want to take the vertiginous chair-lift (actually "stand up in a basket lift" would be more accurate than "chair-lift") to enjoy the exceptional views from the top of Monte Capanne, the highest point on Elba. Both wild sheep and wild boar still live in this mountainous area.
Continuing further west, the road that loops through Sant'Andrea, Chiessi with its pebble beach and Pomonte is quite quiet and gives access to small, mostly stony beaches.
South of Portoferraio
Alternatively continue to the southern coast of the island for the extremely popular sandy beach and resort at Marina di Campo, once a small fishing village and now the largest resort on the island.
Just a few kilometres west of Marina di Campo at Cavoli you will find one of the most popular sandy beaches on Elba, and the small beach at Fetovaia is just a little further along the southern coast.
East of Portoferraio
Heading east from Portoferraio you will reach the resorts of Rio Marina and Porto Azzurro among others, and a large selection of beaches along much of the coastline.
Porto Azzurro, overlooked by its 17th century fort, is our favourite of the sea resorts in this region while Capoliveri is the most attractive town inland in this part of Elba. The pebble beach at nearby Capo Bianco is yet another of the exceptional beaches on Elba and well worth the effort to get there.
As a result of the many attractions on Elba, during the summer months the island can become very crowded, so you might prefer to visit in the months just outside high season if possible. It is true to say that the inland parts of the island are rather quieter than the coastal resorts if you want to escape the crowds for a while!
Of course, water based activities such as swimming, windsurfing, snorkelling and scuba diving are the main acticvities here but you will also find plenty of opportunities for walking and cycling, both on road and off-road. There are several off-road cycling routes here that are generally considered to be among the most challenging in Tuscany.
Due to the popularity of the resorts and beaches it is easy to overlook the mountains but hiking here actually offers some of the most impressive views in Tuscany so we recommend you try one if you are staying a few days. You can get information from the tourist offices in any of the resorts.
Another popular leisure activity is to take one of the boat trips that leave from the porta on Elba to explore the coast of the island or the other islands in the Tuscany archipelago such as Capraia. You can even take a day trip to Corsica by boat! If you are competent at handling a boat you can also organise boat hire in most of the harbour towns.
Getting around Elba
Getting around Elba is easy, although we suggest you try cycling, scooter hire or the local buses to get around where possible rather than driving a car to avoid spending lots of time stuck in traffic on the busy roads. A very nice way to reach some of the more isolated beaches is by boat, with trips available from the major ports.
Getting to Elba
To get to Elba you will take the ferry from the terminal at Piombino on the coast of south-west Tuscany. Most visitors take one of the ferries to Portoferraio, the principal town and port on Elba.
The 20 kilometre crossing takes about one hour and operates more or less all day every day from early morning to late evening. Ferries are also available to some of the smaller ports on Elba.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.