Elba Island // my new favorite island
My favorite thing about Elba Island might just be the fact that it is shaped like a fish. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with Elba and there are so many things that get me excited about this little Tuscan island, but it is actually shaped like a fish. How cool is that?!
I knew nothing about Elba Island apart from “Napoleon” and that many Tuscans call it their summer destination spot, especially for sailing. That’s it. Prior to May of 2018 that was the extent of my knowledge. Good researcher that I am, I marked my map with a big fat X, rented a car, and grabbed two girlfriends to come along with me for an Elba adventure.
It was unseasonably cool when we went in May, so you’ll see in the photos we were still in long sleeves and pants. I would suggest visiting late May through September. (In fact, I’m thinking about organizing a 5-star sail and sip from Tuscany to Elba to Sardegna that would run in July and September for 10-12 nights and each with about 8 guests. Thoughts?)
You can’t fly to Elba so the best way to get there is to rent a car and take the ferry from Piombino. This automatically assumes you are comfortable driving in Italy and that you can tap into your zen and conquer the ferry process. If you can check these two boxes, you can drive from Florence, hop on the ferry, and be on the beaches of Elba within about four hours.
BONUS – you drive through Bolgheri wine region (uh Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tigna-freaking-nello!) and can make a day of it stopping on your way to or from to taste some of Italy’s best wines. Of course we did this.
Arriving in the port town of Portoferraio, I booked a little B&B that was on the hill overlooking town to the southeast and had a view of the open sea on the north and west. It took about 10 minutes to drive up the hill and the owner of the B&B greeted us to check us into our own apartments with kitchens, gardens and cute little porches.
We started our adventure with a casual lunch and hike near the beach. There are trails for hiking and biking everywhere on Elba!
Elba offers so much and until NOW, the visitors are really mostly German and British tourist. They are ready for us, America! There is sailing, hiking, biking, wineries, amazing food, spas, resorts…really there’s something for everyone. The Elbani (natives of Elba) know how good they have it and they are ready to share their secrets with us - both rugged and wild, and refined and VIP worthy.
Elba was formed by volcanoes, which you can see remnants of from the ferry. It is about 25 miles long and at its narrowest point is only about 3.5 miles wide. The tallest peak, Monte Caponne, is 3,343 feet high, but from most peaks you will enjoy a 360˙ view. While vistas of the mountains are staggering and dramatic, it is somehow still open and rolling at the same time. These hills and the Mediterranean climate make it an ideal location for grape growing. Ding ding ding! Sound the alarm – I am officially hooked.
I have been a wine tour guide in Tuscany for several years, yet there are grapes and wines native to Elba that I had never even tried, and some that I had not heard about until stepping foot into their vineyards. Yes, there are vineyards and wineries where you can stay, play, eat and drink on Elba Island. Wine and beach at the same time, seriously? Yes, seriously. And both the beaches and the wines are of world-class quality.
Try (to find) these wines!
Elba white – made with trebbiano (called procanico in Elba) and vermentino grapes
Elba ansonica – gold in color and ranges from dry to sweet
Elba rose - made from ansonica and sangiovese
Elba rosso – made mostly from sangiovese grape
Elba aleatico – a delicious sweet wine made from 100% dried aleatico grapes
Hands-down my favorite activity on Elba was getting lost on the gravel road high up on the mountain on our way to find the goat farm that produces fresh cheeses and gelato make from goat milk. Did you just fall out of your chair? I did when I first found out this place existed and that they offer tastings and sell product right out of a little window in the barn.
We made it to the top of the hill and once again, were struck by the views – the sea is everywhere here. There were two lovely bearded gentlemen who were quiet and eyeing us from their perch upon the fence. “I hear you have goat cheese,” I say in Italian, “and we are here to eat it.”
Over the next several hours we were there, the guys warmed up to us and even invited me to help milk the goats. Yep! I met Attillo, officially certified as the cutest goat ever to roam the earth (certified by me), and at a long picnic table in the grass, we snacked on a plate of assorted cheese ranging from fresh to aged and in flavor according to which nearby herbs and plants the goats had been snacking on the day before. The gelato was the same – the flavors included lavender, mint, and of course goat cheese.
My most spiritual moments often happen when consuming food and wine, and without being as cheesy as I like to be, spirit was with me, with all of us, on top of that mountain that day. Cheese, cheese and gelato please. Amen.
Another highlight was spending the day at Tenuta delle Ripalte Winery and Resort with owner. I found this winery online and sent over an email asking if we could visit for a tasting. The three of us were excited but in all honesty were a little reluctant to drive to the south side of the island just for a quick tasting. We didn’t realize the owner was meeting us until we got there, and we certainly did not expect we would spend the entire day there and be treated to a 4-course amazing lunch prepared by the most charming gentleman in a funny white hat you have ever met.
I want to share this place with you, not because I feel obligated because they were so hospitable, but because I loved it so much. I truly loved everything from the villas and hotel on property to the winery, the wines, the lunch and the private beaches, as well as all the lovely people we met that day.
It was on this property that I decided my husband and I should plan a wedding every single year in new and gorgeous locations. Oh normal people don’t do that, you say? It’s called an anniversary and don’t be a psycho about it? Oh fine.
Breathtaking is a good word to use here. There is a southern plot of vineyard that sweeps down and falls into the sea, where if you look hard enough you will find little private villas hidden along the shoreline that are rentable during the summer months. The place offers villas, rooms, cabins and yurts for its guests, as well as activities like horse back riding, golf, yoga, trekking, mountain biking, and my personal favorite, wine drinking. Down a 3-mile stretch of road, still on the property, you can reach a gorgeous beach with a restaurant and bar on site that look out towards Porto Azzurro.
I will admit that I was not expecting anything special with the restaurant and wine, but also admit that I was completely wrong. We sat on the patio of the gorgeous villa that doubles as the major restaurant on site. The sprawling back lawn is shaded by umbrella pines that line the path down to a pergola (where I’m getting married again next year), which is set just perfectly in front of the sea. The food was a lovely highlight of local favorites paired with their best wines.
Back near Portoferraio and our B&B, we made even more best friends on boats and in restaurants. Cecina isa chickpea flour crepe enjoyed from Elba up to Nice, France and is really only found on the coast (and in a few inland towns such as Lucca). It’s a simple snack made with only chickpea flour, EVOO, water and a pinch of salt. It is notoriously tricky to make - you need the exact right proportions of ingredients and a hot, shallow pan in a wood-fired oven. These guys have been doing it right for decades and gave us demonstrations and plenty of samples. It might be true love.
In conclusion, I love Elba Island. I cannot wait to return. I hope you all come with me, or at least check it out for yourselves. Get off the beaten path and go explore! Let me know if you need my assistance in planning your Italy travel adventure!