Elba – a Tuscan Island Retreat – 31st March – 7th April 2011
Anticipation adds to the experience! This was certainly the case with our Ramblers Worldwide Holidays trip on Elba, booked months before, giving time to buy a map to drool over, and note the Napoleonic connections. Indeed, we were able to visit Napoleon’s summer and winter palaces, as part of two of the walks.
On 31st March, a pleasant flight took us from Heathrow to Pisa, and a coach to the little industrial port of Piombino. From here we sailed in the steamer “Moby Lally” for a delicious hour towards the mountainous island, green and inviting, with little rocky inlets. The final stage on landing at Portoferraio, was to walk up to our hotel, beneath an imposing fort, in good time for the first of Villa Paduella’s substantial and jolly meals.
All days were enjoyable, but for me, the best were the two days we walked from Marciana.
After a stout breakfast, we were down at Portoferraio’s bus station for 8am, and drinking coffee in the ancient hill village before 10 a.m. On the Tuesday, our walk took us along a good track through woods, gradually rising to a junction, where we embarked on a steep rocky path towards the summit of Monte Capanne at 1009m. Encouraged by our pleasant and efficient leader, half of our party made it to the summit for extensive views of Elba, and the many islands beyond. The others chose a relaxed picnic lunch at a lower level.
More typical was our walk on Wednesday, investigating the steep streets of Marciana, and taking the uphill route of the Stations of the Cross, leading us out of the village to the church of “Our Lady of the Mountain”. From here we circled round on a good track in scrub, to lunch, sheltered between rocks, at a windy corner below M Troppolo (748m). Here and elsewhere, the flowers were wonderful. We descended a clear rocky path to the coast at Chiessi leaving time for a fruit juice (or stronger!) in a bar before returning to our base at Portoferraio.
It didn’t matter to us that the hotel people had hardly any English, nor we (and all but 2 of our party plus the leader) had any Italian – what did matter was their big smiles early in the morning, when the party was getting an 8 am bus, and little things like the provision of free bottles of water on the table at dinner – and no snooty looks because I drink mostly water, not wine!
But most of all our delight was the hilly, tree-covered countryside and the secret little paths, winding in the hills, and the availability of fairly good maps.
At the ends of the season it is not busy, but I met a resident Italian / Scot on the bus, who told me the beaches are crawling in high summer. In April, Roger and I could go out by ourselves in the couple of hours before supper and after the walk, wander a kilometre and find a magic little beach under limestone cliffs all to ourselves, with wild flower species to count as we climbed the steep steps back up to the road, and the route to supper. And as we sailed away in the return ferry, I looked back, and wondered if I would be lured this way again?