Elba: Sea, land, wind, and ancient traditions

The island’s extraordinary biodiversity reflects its complex history, and vice-versa. This unexpected synergy of nature and history will surprise and delight you.

Legend has it that Aphrodite emerged from waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea to meet her beloved Eros who was waiting on the shore. In doing so, she lost the pearl necklace given to her by Paris. Seven of these pearls, instead of sinking, remained on the surface and became the seven islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. Among them: Elba. The island is a big rock shaped like a fish-swimming west. Lush, green, and full of life, her heart is made of precious metals and gems. The legends and history of her people are still the anchors of the island, the common thread that unites nature and history and that perfectly illustrates the charming yet powerful Island of Elba.

Ancient peoples and flourishing trade. Human beings came to Elba around 4,000 years ago, but it was with the arrival of the Etruscan-Roman people that Elba became a center of trade. Elba exported its gorgeous chestnut wood, which Europeans desired for civil and naval construction and to feed the coal mines. Elba also exported wine and crops from every fertile hill and valley, all just a few meters from the sea. Classic homes, castles and villas in Elba were desired by every European citizen. In the same houses in which they lived centuries ago you can see the remnants of unlucky amphorae that fell to the bottom of the sea during unsuccessful water crossings. These houses have become the classic museums in which Elba’s glory is relived.

From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, under the threat of the black sails. The Moorish pirates, sailing from Algeria and Turkey, attacked Elba and the Tuscan Archipelago for thousands of years. Numerous coves and beaches, now renowned for their natural beauty, still carry the memory of the bloody events. Visit Cala Rossa in Barbarossa or Innamorata Beach, which tells the story of Maria and Lorenzo and their young love struck down by the Saracens.

Many fortresses were created in defense against the pirates. Today these glorious buildings, fused with rock and granite, are part of the island itself. You cannot miss a visit to Volterraio, the tower of San Giovanni, and the fortified town of Portoferraio, a stunning example of Renaissance architecture built for Cosimo I de 'Medici. He named it "Cosmopolis" and filled it with ramparts and defense systems by exploiting the natural resources of the surrounding land.

Napoleon, emperor of the island. A few centuries later, the French tyrant headed to Elba to recover strength and take a break from his wars. Enchanted by the rich landscape and nature, he restored ancient villas, like the mills of Portoferraio and San Martino. He dedicated the lovely theater of Watchers to his sister Pauline and constructed numerous gardens which he adorned with citrus and exotic plants. Napoleon’s legacy also includes schools, new crops, administrative and civic structures that helped him win the love of the people of Elba. He brought a certain European rejuvenation to Elba that you can still feel today.

Contemporary history and conflict. Many European armories were constructed on Elba during the two great wars due to its prime location and large supply of iron resources. The tunnels between Procchio and Biodola, which were the firing positions of Chief Poro, are evidence of this. Other remnants include the military barracks and powder magazines of Cape Enfola and the naval customs patrols of Chiessi and Monte Grosso. As you walk Elba’s trails you will discover ancient walls covered in moss and steeped in stories of the soldiers, generals, peasants and their donkeys that carried water and food. In their honor, you will find the “Millelire” donkey tributes on various promontories around the gulf. These tributes commemorate the landing of the Anglo-American troops on June 17th, 1944 who went on to liberate Elba. You can relive this experience, “at the pace of a donkey,” through many of the themed excursions on historical routes around the island.

Myths, legends and stories are intertwined with the sea, the rocks and the trails of Elba. She is filled with a stunning history to be told and relived. Bit by bit, you will grasp the stories the wind whispers. And you, like the first inhabitants of the island, will be enchanted by its beauty and never want to leave.