Elba is a green oasis within the Tuscan Archipelago, an island of endless horizons: crystal clear water, sundry beaches, granite rocks, stories of people blessed by the sun. It is the third largest island in Italy, after Sicily and Sardinia, and it is part of the province of Livorno.
Each of the hundreds of beaches in Elba is different: you can find long ones with golden sand, black sandy ones, with pure white shingles, or you can find tiny pebble groves, and even smooth granite cliffs.
French emperor Napoleon I was exiled to Elba after his forced abdication in 1814, with a personal guard of six hundred men. Although he was nominally sovereign of Elba, the island was patrolled by the British Royal Navy. During the 300 days Napoleon stayed on the island, he carried out a series of economic and social reforms to improve the quality of life, partly to pass the time and partly out of a genuine concern for the well-being of the islanders.
The Tuscan Archipelago National Park covers over 600 square kilometres of sea that go from Livorno to the Argentario Cape, and it includes seven islands: Capraia, Elba, Giannutri, Giglio, Gorgona, Montecristo, Pianosa, as well as the Formiche of Grosseto and other small rocks. The biggest island is Elba (223,5 square km), and the smallest is Gorgona (2,23 square km). The island furthest from the mainland is Montecristo, 68 km away, famous for being the location of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.
Despite their being so small, the differences from one island to the other are remarkable: Elba's territory is segmented and complex, Pianosa is flat, Montecristo is a rocky cone. Along the coastline that has been shaped by the waves, cliffs and grottos alternate with tiny beaches protected by wild promontories, and colourful flowers cover the rocks and turret masts so as to remind us that man's presence on the island goes back thousands of years.
Land and morphology depend on the geolocical origins of each island. Gorgona and Montecristo come entirely from granites, Giglio and Elba from granites and sedimentary rocks (limestone and marl), Giannutri and Pianosa from limestone. Capraia from magmatic rock, both intrusive and effusive.
Before the arrival of tourism, mining was the main industry and source of income for the islands. As the years passed it became more and more important, and the effects of this on the vegetation can still be seen today: an enormous amount of charcoal was needed for timbering the mines and then working the minerals, and this explains why there are hardly any holm-oaks to be seen. The characteristic layer of vegetation of the islands has now become "high": heather, arbutus berry trees, lentisks and myrtle.
In the windy areas, on the other hand, we find the "short" layer of vegetation, with mostly red and sea cistus. A beautiful wood full of hornbeam, alder, chestnut trees, as well as yew trees, can be found on the sides of Monte Capanne, on the Island of Elba. Endemisms like the violas and the cornflours of Elba, or the toadflax of Capraia, are vey important, because they don't grow on all the islands.
Birds are the largest component of the fauna: the herring gull, the gull, the cormorant, the shearwater, the raven, the peregrine falcon, the thrush, the wild pigeon. And all sorts of migratory birds.
The sea around all these islands is like an immense field where all the characteristic Tirreno Sea flora grows: posidonia, sea grass, sea anemonies, coral, and starfish. There are also different species of dolphins, as well as the dusky grouper and the rare moonfish. An odd time some sperm whales and fin whales are sighted.
The most popular dishes are those that require long and complicated preparation, and one of the hot favourites is without a doubt the Rio style stockfish, an exquisite dish made from salted anchovies, onions, tomatoes, basil, parsely, green peppers, black olives, pine nuts, capers and of course oil, chilli peppers and salt. Gurguglione is another Rio speciality made with vegetables; cuttlefish ink risotto, stuffed tattlers, the famous cacciucco or fish soup, but also very simple dishes like boiled octopus, fried picarels or stuffed sardines.
After all these delicious dishes you could only finish off with a good wine, even though, sad to say, Elba used to have about 3.000 hectares of vineyards but over the past fifty years they have gone down to less than 200. However the Elba wines are first class and many bear the DOC label, such as the excellent: Elba White, Elba Red, Rosato, Ansonica, Moscato and Aleatico (DOCG).