Arriving at the port in Piombino, the Isola d’Elba sits clearly across the water just a few nautical miles away. The frequent connections offered by the ferry companies bring visitors to the island in just over an hour, bestowing the first views of Elba as the boat enters the Portoferraio bay. There are many printed and digital guidebooks that list the services available and beaches worth visiting on the island, but we want to suggest an alternative version to the typical visit, with fun facts and interesting sights that might not always be at the top of the visitor’s list.
If you come to Portoferraio on a day that’s not too hot or in the morning when it’s still early, you can hike to the slopes of Monte Volterraio, heading past the Schiopparello and Magazzini beaches; from here, you can walk along the trails before reaching the ruins of an old castle that sits at the top of the mountain.
The main trail that leads to Volterraio Castle is a small but well-marked dirt road, and takes about 45 minutes in total to walk. The effort will be worth it though, with the mountaintop boasting incredible views of the entire Portoferraio bay, from the Torre del Martello to Schiopparello bay. You have to pay to explore the castle ruins, and recent renovations have improved the itinerary and building.
Local legend says that at night, strange apparitions, ghosts and souls of residents past wander through the castle. Ask the islanders: you’ll be sure to hear a story or two.
Heading back to provincial road n. 26, you’ll come to Capoliveri after just a few kilometres. The centre of the town, slightly above sea level, offers spectacular views of the coast and the nearby towns, which by night light up the island’s mountains. Small restaurants and stores selling summer clothing and artisan jewellery dot the ancient, narrow streets. Travellers from all over the world walk these roads in loose clothes and flip-flops, their skin still sun-kissed from a day on the beach.
Many of them, however, don’t pay much attention to something important nearby: Monte Calamita, which until 1981 was home to a thriving mining industry. To learn about the history of this activity on Elba, visit the Mining Museum in Capoliveri. The museum’s mission is to introduce visitors to the tough work the miners had to do and to try to convey their great strength by narrating the difficult living conditions the miners were forced to put up with just to bring home their daily pay. A guide can also bring you down into the mines, diving into the darkest part of the island. Equally interesting are the remnants of extraction machinery that can still be seen in the Vallone open-air building site that overlooks the sea. These silent skeletons marked the destiny of many a man.
Leaving Capoliveri and following the southern coast of the island, passing by breath-taking, priceless views of the other islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, you’ll come to the town of Pomonte and the Ogliera beach. Ogliera could seem like a normal island bay, but not everyone knowns that its seabed is home to an attraction that often captures the attention of snorkelling enthusiasts. We’re talking about the wreck of Elviscot, an Italian merchant ship that hit some rocks off the coast of Ogliera in 1972 and sank. The wreck is laying on its side 12 metres below water about 100 metres from the shore. It’s just a short swim or pedal boat ride away. You can swim down to touch the upper parts of the ship, like the command bridge. The thrill of coming so close to a wreck, literally touching its railings, wading through the countless fish that have made the sunken ship their home, is 100% worth it.