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Elba - fit for an Emperor

In the summer the British head for Tuscany in their thousands, lured by the sun, scenery and fine wines. But the Italians head for Elba, ‘Tuscany’s island’ with its plentiful beaches, romantic villages and mountains made for hiking and cycling.

Tiny Elba is perhps best known for being the place of Napoleon’s exile in 1814. Although contemporary cartoonists portrayed Boney perched on an Elban cliff looking sulkily out to sea, it seems he actually had quite a good time here. He was given the title Emperor of Elba and allowed to rule its 110,000 people as well as live in some smart houses. His country villa at San Martino still stands grand and secluded behind its wrought iron gates, set in pine filled grounds and, these days, overlooking a smart hotel. He found time for family and friends to visit, with his sister Paolina having quarters in the Portoferraira villa, but his wife and son never joined him on Elba.

Although most of his time was spent in Portoferraio, Elba’s capital, which today houses his former city residence, it transpires he left the heat of the capital and he enjoyed trysts with a Polish girlfriend at the picturesque chapel of Madonna Del Monte, close to the town of Marciano. He even favoured the waters to be found in this part of the island and insisted it was served to him at every meal. The Fonte Napoleon is just near the pretty medieval town of Poggio.

Marciano is just a short drive from my base at new boutique hotel, the 20 room stylish Hotel Ilio. The hotel is located in Capo Sant’Andrea, a seaside hamlet and one of the most fashionable retreats in Elba, located on the north-west coast of the island. Hotel Ilio is perched on a cliff overlooking the bay. It’s difficult to imagine anything disturbing its sleepiness, but the calm in this tiny quarter has been shattered the day I arrive by the wreck of a small boat against the rocks here. A group of Florence weekend divers from Florence are investigating.A pretty collection of fish, electric eels and rays are among the sea life to be spotted around the coast.

It is an adventure in itself to get here. Although flights come into a number of nearby airports, I have flown into Pisa airport and picked up a rental Fiat Cinquecento which is to accompany me for the next few days

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