Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 17, 2017

Able I was ere I saw Elba

This wonderful palindrome is attributed to Napoleon. He is supposed to have said it while in exile on Elba. It is unlikely that he did say it, his first language was not English for a start…but it is a good story.

Elba is an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Tuscany. It is probably best known as Napoleon’s place of exile. He was on Elba for 300 days between 1814 and 1815. He kept himself busy while he was there organising economic and social reforms to improve the quality of life for the locals, as much to keep himself busy as a genuine desire to help.

He had 2 houses in Elba. Both are now open to the public, but were not open when we visited. Here is one from the outside.

The gates look very imperial.

Our friends stayed a little longer and managed to get inside the houses. They took these photos of the lovely interior of one.


Elba is part of an ancient tract of land that once connected Corsica to the Italian Peninsular. There are rich seams of iron ore thrust to the surface in geological changes. This iron ore attracted many interested parties. The island has been inhabited since ancient times.

It was known by travelling Greeks, the Argonauts rested there, Etruscans invaded and later the Romans, followed by the Ostrogoths and Lombards. It became a possession of the Republic of Pisa, the Visconti of Milan. Barbary pirates invaded, Cosimo I di Medici fortified Portoferaio and renamed it “Cosmopoli”. Philip II of Spain captured Porto Azzurro and had 2 fortresses built there. In 1802 the island became a French possession.

In the Congress of Vienna the island was restored to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In 1860 it became part of the new unified Kingdom of Italy.

…and on a warm spring day in 2017 we arrived.

The terrain is varied, with a mountainous area to the west with some dramatic coastlines.

The central part of the island is a flat corridor where the main centres can be found and there is a hilly section to the east.

Elba is a popular holiday destination these days because of the beaches. Most brochures show them from above to show the pretty little coves and bays and the gorgeous azure sea.

On closer inspection we found them somewhat lacking. Some had sand, but it was not white like our sandy beaches in Australia. I almost preferred the pebble beaches.

This is not a complaint, we don’t come to Italy to go to the beach. We loved Elba and in the next post I will show you some of the lovely places we visited.

See here and here why I prefer the beach at home.



  1. Another beautiful Italian place to visit…..

  2. Ciao Debra, you may not come to Italy for the beach, but we do. Puglia has some fantastic beaches, crystal clear blue/ green waters, where we can swim safely, no fear of strong waves or sharks.

    • I am not interested in beaches without surf, besides I am rarely in Italy in hot weather. I know there are some pretty beaches in Italy, but I like Main Beach and Noosa. The sharks don’t put me off…and there are sharks in the Mediterranean.

  3. Elba is a lovely island, I would not mind being “exiled” there, but obviously Napoleon would not agree… As for beaches, very few can compare to the Australian ones, I would say that a few Brazilian beaches would be at the same level, the sand is also so incredible that it makes the same sounds as you walk on it. Great photos!

    • I have been to the beach in Brazil. I know that squeaky noise the sand makes.

  4. we love Elba. One of our favorite places. Inside and outside of Napoleon’s houses. And funnily enough, my children love swimming in the Mediterranean there more than any other location. They do not care for the beach. It is what’s IN the water that interests them.

    • I grew up with surf and find still water a bit boring.

      • Boring? The Mediterranean? I grew up with surf too. It’s just different. Ocean vs. Sea. All beautiful I think.

      • I think they are both beautiful, I just prefer to swim in the surf.

  5. Another place to add to my must see! Great photos.

    • Elba is lovely, we will return.

  6. Elba is great trekking country too. We climbed to the top of monte capanne when there and enjoyed great views

    • I will keep that in mind for our next visit.

  7. We really enjoyed our few days on the island. Beautiful coastline and I agree the beaches in Australia are pretty special.

    • Porto Azzurro was our favourite spot.

  8. Looks like a lovely place and a rather lovely place to be exiled! I remember seeing his apartment at the Louvre-he really lived a plush life.

    • He knew how to look after himself.

  9. Sorry to disappoint you but the building in the first photo is not Napoleon’s country residence Villa di San Martino but the so-called Demidoff Gallery, a palace built by Anatoly Demidov, a Russian aristocrat and industrialist who was married to Napoleon’s niece. It was built several decades after Napoleon’s death and now houses a museum. Napoleon’s less imperial looking villa is hidden behind this monster.

    • Thank you for that. It is all we could see from the gate.
      I tried the leave a comment on your blog, but it has that silly captcha code that makes leaving comments difficult. In this case it wouldn’t let me through at all.

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