Elba – Napoleon’s Isle

October 22, 2013 / Places
Elba, Tuscany

Sailing into the bay of Portoferraio, one can’t but think of him: Napoleon, emperor of half of Europe, who can’t have been much impressed by the beauty of the Mediterranean island paradise. A mere 10 kilometers off the Tuscan coast, Elba is Italy’s third biggest island (ranking right after Sicily and Sardinia, but with its 223 km2 much smaller than the first two).

Bagnaia to Sant'Andrea
Piombino - Portoferraio1

Beautiful beaches with Caribbean style water didn’t mean much to a man who had set out to conquer the world. Workaholic that he was, Napoleon wasn’t prepared to spend time admiring Elba’s natural treasures, but immediately started a series of major works to improve the island’s infrastructure. Roads were built, the iron mines were reorganized and his small republic’s jurisdiction was overworked.

Biodola e Scaglieri 208

But all the bureaucratic tasks couldn’t keep a man like Napoleon busy enough. Who knows, maybe he could have made friends with his fate, if it wasn’t for the view towards Corsica’s mountains. Born and educated on Corsica, he had left that island as a young man to become the most important political figure of his time. Watching the Corsican mountains appear on the horizon during sunset may be a highlight for the average traveler, but it must have been a rather humiliating experience for the ex-emperor.

Arriving at Portoferraio, Elba to the left, Corsica in the back and Capraia to the right

After 11 months on Elba, Napoleon managed to escape, reconquered France and started his second reign – now known as the Hundred Days – which came to a sudden halt with the notorious battle of Waterloo. He swiftly asked for political asylum with the Brits. But this time round Europe had learned its lesson. Yes, it would be exile again on an island, but one that couldn’t be reached that easily. Elba was far too close to the European mainland for one of the most important military strategists the world had ever seen.

Saint Helena, a tiny island lying 1870 kilometers off the western African coast, was a much safer option. It was continuously circled by naval ships and heavily monitored by British soldiers. Napoleon Bonaparte would never see his homeland of Corsica again.

(…pictured here in the background, with Portoferrario, Elba in the foreground)

Portoferraio with Corsica in the far back

Katja Meier

by Katja Meier

Katja Meier, Swiss miss for anything Tuscan – wine, food, culture, art and beaches – basically anything that will sort out that Renaissance hangover. She blogs about  Southern Tuscany in general and Siena and Montalcino in particular. 

8 Responses to “Elba – Napoleon’s Isle”

  1. Bob Blesse

    Very interesting and what a beautiful island—can’t wait to visit it.

  2. Elba is on my bucket list of most wanted places to visit, perhaps next year… just to sit at the water’s edge and ponder the past and look to the future. This article makes it even more beautiful than I had hoped!

  3. Reno Iezza

    One small fact is missing. During the 11 months that Napolean was on Elba he was under house arrest in a beautiful villa overlooking the Mediterranean.

  4. David Barneby

    What a beautiful island , I’m sorry I never visited when i was living in Italy .
    I admired the beautiful yacht too . Thank you so much !

  5. Thank you all! Elba is an amazing island, but best visited from September to mid June. In July and August things get very busy and beaches are far too crowded.


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