Travel /

Isola d’Elba: Fiercely Wild

“If you care enough to go and find out what’s going on there, it will open up for you, rewarding your curiosity with great experiences.”

There is nothing like finding a place that suits you. It makes you feel at home, even if it is 1000 miles from your actual hometown. It is a welcoming, warm sensation that drives you to a corner of the world to find peace and happiness. It can be anywhere, literally, and most of the time is unexpected. It happened to me a few times. While I was driving in Rajasthan, when I was hiking in Scotland, and when I was swimming off the Island of Elba. The connection is so profound that it is difficult to forget, as it leaves a deep groove in the soul. I remember I was swimming by the beach in Capoliveri on the Island of Elba, and I felt it: I was home, I belonged there. With the sun hitting my face while I was floating in the cleanest water of the Mediterranean, I felt safe and sound. I connected with that island, as its spirit opened up to me revealing its wild beauty and fierce soul. Just like falling in love with someone, finding a place that suits us is a combination of factors, some of them inscrutable and mysterious, others are given by specific conditions. I felt so connected to the Island of Elba that since then, I went back several times, finding peace in its green vegetation, deep history and special wines. 

Every time I jump on the ferry from the Tuscan city of Piombino to Portoferraio, the main city on the island of Elba, my heart opens up. I know that everything I need is there: a gentle breeze that lingers in the air, a warm sun, and deep green waters. Elba is a place that allows you to be happy with no effort, as nature has been an extremely caring friend of this Tuscan island. Given its warm winters and not-too-hot summers, Elba has provided its vegetation with a very fertile ground in which it can grow and flourish, offering many micro-climates in diverse settings and scenarios that always keep me busy during my stay. 

On the island, I can move from the Mars-like red landscape of the Vallone site, evidence of the glorious mining past of the island, to white-sanded beaches with turquoise grottos of the southwest coast or climb up mountains 1000 meters above sea level, in rugged and barren settings. Nature was also caring in providing the island with a strong, resistant core, a place for one of the biggest mineral sites in the world, so much that for millennia, it was the primary form of income of the local populations. Since the Etruscan, around the 9th century BC, to the Italians in the 20th century (with Greek, Romans Byzantines, Lombards, Pisan, Genoese, Florentine, Austrians, Spanish and French in between), the populations that lived in this island were extracting and woking the iron and other precious minerals that are abundant on the Elba. Special mention to the Magnetite, capable of screwing up the compasses of the pirates’ ships in the 17th and 18th centuries – the island hosts the biggest Magnetite site in Europe. In some corners of the island, especially in the southeastern part, the smell of iron can be so intense that it reminds the scent of blood, conveying a very spooky sensation. Definitely, a quintessential Elba experience with a touch of mystery. 

Given this mixture of important history – the island has been inhabited for 3 millennia – rugged vegetation, and barren Nature, it may seem odd that Elba is still pretty unknown outside Italy, and that, on top of it, even within the country it remains a place for few. Elba is home for those who love wildness, tranquillity, for those who would rather find an empty beach than a noisy club. This can be attributed to the fact that before the 80s the Island was still considered a working place, a mine site, a place where to live and work, not a resort area, or a tourist destination. The shift happened in the 90s, shortly after the closing of the mines and the end of the iron exploitation. Since then, the island has experienced an increase in tourism, but it is largely a quiet one, more nature-oriented and less crowds-oriented. Elba is a wilderness place, so the tourists have to adapt to it, and not vice versa. 

For those who love snorkelling, scuba diving, rowing and other sea-related sports, Elba is the perfect spot, thanks to its untamed beaches, creeks and coves. Some of them are well hidden but with a local guide it is possible to visit them and discover these savage places. Among many, the Grotta Azzurra situated on the West Coast of Elba is one of the prettiest caves of the island. Generally speaking, if Elba is wild, the western part of the island is even wilder – being the perfect destination for curious explorers. La Grotta del Bue Marino, home to Monk Seals, Gus famous for its light reflections, for creating light blue stone walls and aquamarine waters. The area offers one of the most gorgeous seabeds, perfect for snorkelling aficionados. According to a local tradition, the Virgin Mary, tired after a long walk, sat on a stone inside the Grotta Della Madonnina –  since then it became sacred for the Catholics.

Of course, on Elba, there is also room for some wine drinking. There must be some form of relaxation after all those sports, hiking, swimming, and snorkeling. Although the viticulture in Elba has ancient origins (namely, the Etruscans and the Romans), the peak of the winemaking was reached at the beginning of the 20th century, when terrace vineyards covered the hills of the Island up to 400 meters above sea level. Nowadays, the production has decreased – there are around 350 hectares of vineyards, and only about 125 of them are on the official D.O.C register, but there are still few producers who are focusing on great products, such as the hyper local Aleatico dell’Elba – a warm, intense, red wine. The main white grape varieties of the Island are Ansonica, Trebbiano Toscano (here called Procanico), Vermentino, Moscato and Biancone, while the red grapes are the very Tuscan Sangiovese and Aleatico, with a small percentage of Syrah, Merlot, Ciliegiolo and Colorino. I particularly enjoy the Moscato, which was silky, fresh and sweet, just like I like it. The wines from Elba reflect the nature of the island as they are wild: big reds with strong aromas, very sweet Moscato, bold white wine with marked minerality are just a few features of Elbian wines. Drinking them means inhaling, immersing into the spirit (pun not intended) of the place, understanding the culture and the nature of such a fierce island. Apparently, Napoleon, a man with great taste, fell in love with the Aleatico, praising it in many documents. 

Isola d’Elba is a bashful, reserved place, who will never call for your attention, but it is a place where, if you care enough to go and find out what’s going on there, it will open up for you, rewarding your curiosity with great experiences. Just like me, you might find a home within the coast of this fierce island, a place where to be safe and free like nowhere else.