Here are a few tips to discover “the best of” the three sides of the island.
The easern side: stories of water and pirates
Rich in water springs, the territory of Rio was ideal for human settlements since ancient times. In the cave of San Giuseppe (currently not accessible), the burials of a civilization dating back to the third millennium BC were found. The ancient settlers forged and traded copper tools, as proven by
the obsidian arrowheads found in the funerary objects now preserved in the Archaeological Civic Museum of Rio nell’Elba. The museum houses artifacts dating until the medieval age, which allows one to experience the island’s past with its many related stories.
Two must-sees for trekking lovers on the eastern side of Elba are the Hermitage of Santa Caterina and Monte Giove. The first is worth a visit especially for its Orto dei Semplici, a botanical garden with rare, native plants. In Monte Giove, one cannot miss the ruins of the ancient castle near the village of Grassera, destroyed by Turkish pirate raids in the mid 1500s.
Another water-realated route in the area of Rio is the Valle dei Mulini – The Valley of Mills, which were powered by the Spring of the Canali, still active today. Next to the Fountain of the Canali, with its five brass mouths, one can also visit the public washhouse, one of the most evocative places on Elba. Even today, walking aroud the area, one can see the remains of the old mills now hidden among the vegetation.
Portoferraio and the secrets of Napoleon’s forest
Heading to the area of Portoferraio, in the center of the island, one of the most interesting routes is the little-known “Strada Maestra di Napoleone” – arranged by the emperor himself to reach Villa San Martino, Napoleon’s summer residence which has become a museum today. Here one can venture into the Emperor’s forest and indulge in the shade of the secular holm oaks Napoleon was very fond of. A visit to the Museum allows one to experience the atmosphere the Emperor created on the island during his exile, between May 1814 and February 1815. In San Martino you can also visit the Demidoff Gallery which displays numerous portraits of Napoleon.
Many other signs of the Emperor’s passage can be found in Portoferraio: from the Palazzina dei Mulini – today a museum in the heart of the historic center – to the Teatro dei Vigilanti, originally a deconsecrated church which became an important cultural center during Napoleon’s reign and, which, today, is dedicated to the memory of the great tenor from Elba Renato Cioni.
The western side, between granite rocks and iridescent tourmaline
One of the most evocative excursions one can take on the western side of the island starts from the small village of San Piero in Campo, which hosts the mineralogical and gemmological Museum “Luigi Celleri”. The wide range of minerals and precious stones on display, are pieces of evidence
of the extraordinary geological variety of the island. The pieces of greatest interest are certainly tourmaline and celleriite. From the museum it is also possible to take an excursion on the road of Granite, to discover the quarries from which blocks were extracted that were also used to build
the columns of the Pantheon in Rome.