Turquoise water, secret beaches and plenty of adventure: discover the 7 things to do to experience Elba Island like a local.
The Elba island is one of the most popular seaside destinations in the Mediterranean.
Turquoise waters, spectacular granite mountains and an excellent culinary tradition have put it on the maps of European tourists.
Elba is versatile because it adapts to many types of tourism.
It's bustling with life in the summer but is pleasantly quiet in June and September. It boasts beaches of fine sand or pebbles, a seabed rich in marine life and mountains to explore on foot and by mountain bike. The picture is completed by the small villages scattered along the coast, the Napoleonic residences and the iron mines.
In this chaos you could get lost and not fully enjoy the experience: for this reason we have prepared some recommendations to add to our evergreen guide on things to see on the island.
Discover the 7 things to do on the Elba to experience the island like a local: follow our suggestions for less frequented beaches, mountain walks, panoramic views and excursions not to be missed.
7. Climb mount Capanne
An unforgettable 360 degree view.
The gaze gets lost between sea, sky, trees and granite rocks.
The top of Mount Capanne is the highest point on the Elba island and offers a spectacular panoramic view, 1000 metres above the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The mountain is located in the western part of the island and can be climbed on foot or by cable car.
Hikers who want to enjoy the view just have to follow the path beginning at Marciana and finishing at the mountain top.
The trek is not too demanding: there’s an easy start in the shade of a chestnut wood and a steep finish between granite rocks and barren Mediterranean scrub: the 8 km uphill route can be completed completing in about 4-5 hours, with an altitude difference of 800 metres. There are several paths, so it is best to plan the excursion in advance to avoid getting lost.
Climbing on foot is ideal for appreciating the wild nature and hoping to see local wildlife (such as hawks, buzzards, mouflons and wild boars).
We advise you to plan the climb on a sunny day with clear skies, to better appreciate the view and avoid the haze. The best option is to walk up and get down with the cable car, to avoid the steep steps of the downhill path. The cost of a single cable car trip is 12 €.
The other option to climb the Capanne is to take the recently-renovated cable car both ways.
The entrance and the car park are located in Pozzallo, just 1 km from the village of Marciana. The ascent by cable car is fun and fast (about 18 minutes to get to the refuge), but it is not recommended for those suffering from vertigo. The structure consists of 55 small baskets that can only accommodate 2 people at a time.
It is useless to dwell on the beauty of the landscape, this excursion is a must-do if you are visiting Elba.
The cost of the return ticket is € 18 (single journey costs € 12). There are excellent discounts for children. The cable car is usually open in the morning and in the afternoon, closing at lunchtime.
6. Take a day trip to Capraia or Pianosa
Elba is the stepping-stone for visiting the other small islands of the Tuscan archipelago.
A full day excursion, ideally organised with a local tour operator, is the best way to explore this corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The Tuscan archipelago consists of seven major islands. For a day trip, the most popular and easily accessible islands are Capraia and Pianosa.
The island of Pianosa is about an hour by boat from Elba, with departures from Marina di Campo and Rio Marina. To protect the Pianosa ecosystem, the last mile of navigation is forbidden to private boats; it is therefore ideal to join one of the many tours taking visitors there in the summer.
The guided tour of Pianosa will make you discover the famous penal colony and the pristine beaches, where you can snorkel and dive. Tours usually last from 10am to 5pm and only a handful of visitors can sleep on the island (thanks to the conversion of the prison director's residence into a hotel).
Capraia is the only island of volcanic origin in the entire archipelago, with only 20 square km of surface. It is 90 minutes by boat from Elba, but the effort of a longer journey is rewarded by the spectacular landscape of the island.
The ferry to Capraia gets close to the wonderful Cala Rossa cove, where you can admire the contrast between the red volcanic rocks and the turquoise water.
The boats dock in the village of Capraia, where you can find all restaurants, shops and tourist agencies (perfect to organise your diving and the boat trips). There are many tour operators organising half-day excursions in the wilderness, but you can also rent a mountain bike to explore the island on your own.
The islets and rocks of Capraia are perfect for divers. If you prefer a more relaxed approach you can surely enjoy the clear waters in one of the many small beaches. Capraia also features two interesting viewpoints: Punta Bella Vista and the Tower.
5. Rent a SUP at Fetovaia beach
White sand and turquoise water framed by a scenic ring of trees and rocks.
We can thus summarise the gorgeous beach of Fetovaia, in the Elba southwestern part.
Fetovaia is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy: just look out from the road that overlooks it to understand why.
The beach of fine white sand is just over 200 meters long and offers an area equipped with sun loungers and umbrellas, but there's also a free area. You can enjoy bars and restaurants too, along with various accommodation facilities. Fetovaia is also excellent for families, thanks to the shallow water where children can play.
The bay is protected by a narrow rocky promontory on one side and by a mountain on the other: this protects it from bad weather and makes the water always calm.
For this reason, Fetovaia beach is perfect for renting a SUP (stand-up paddleboard) and exploring the long strip of coast embracing the bay. Thanks to the absence of waves, this is a great spot for learning to stand on the SUP.
The average cost of renting a SUP or kayak is about €10. If you prefer an easier activity, you can rent a pedal boat at similar costs.
Fetovaia is very popular with tourists and locals, so it is important to go in the morning to ensure a good spot in the sun (or under an umbrella).
4. Discover the least crowded beaches
The over 100 beaches in the Elba island have two common denominators: crystal clear waters full of life and a breathtaking landscape all around.
The most famous beaches on the island are also those most crowded by tourists: during the summer months it is sometimes difficult to secure a spot under the sun.
Precisely for this reason, locals and some visitors opt for smaller and quieter beaches and coves, no less attractive than the famous Fetovaia, Lacona, Biodola and Procchio.
If you are looking for an enchanting and quiet cove (but with no services), drive to Marciana Marina and follow the signs for “La Crocetta”. Take the steep path and go down the steps leading to this pristine cove, right under the ridge of the mountain. Find a comfortable spot among the rocks (better bring a mat) and enjoy a swim in this unique setting.
Another great beach for those seeking tranquility is Sansone, with the rocky walls overlooking the pebble beach. The unique trait of Sansone is the incredible water colour, reaching incomparable shades of blue. The calm water and the small caves to explore along the coast make Sansone a favorite among locals. To get to the beach, just park along the road and follow the directions on foot (about 20 minutes).
It is impossible to list all the small hidden jewels of the island but keep in mind these beach names: Cotoncello (only 30 meters but quite scenic), Patresi (clear sea, some sun beds to rent, excellent for snorkeling), Ripa Barata (very isolated and wild) and Buzzancone (about 50 meters long, with Mediterranean scrub, excellent for diving).
3. Spend a night in Marciana
Marciana is the oldest village on the Elba Island.
Perched on the slope of Mount Capanne, Marciana is very popular with locals and tourists for its nature, its views and the cool temperature (even in summer).
Marciana boasts a relaxed atmosphere, very different from the noisy seaside tourism. You can wander among its narrow streets and scenic squares taking a look at the traditional restaurants, bars and shops: everything smells of ancient, from the doors of the local houses, made of granite, to the romantic evening lighting.
Marciana is the perfect place to spend an evening eating traditional food, to have an aperitif and to explore the Pisan Fortress.
Start your evening with drinks and snacks in the local bar or brewery ("birreria") in via Cà dè Santi.
For a dinner based on local specialties, try the fish dishes on the terrace of the Osteria del Noce or enjoy the fabulous traditional schiaccine (a soft and tasty type of pizza) of the Monilli restaurant. If you love ice cream, don't miss the Zero Gradi gelato shop.
After dinner, it's time for a stroll: explore the hidden squares and streets by climbing the granite steps up to the Pisan Fortress, in the upper part of the village.
Built in the 12th century during the Pisan domination, this massive quadrangular fort with towers offers a stunning panoramic view of the Elba north coast. The spacious internal courtyard of the fort is often used in summer for cultural events (check the schedule). The entrance fee is only € 2 and you can buy a cumulative ticket to visit the other museums in Marciana.
Finally, don't get confused! Marciana is also known by the name of Marciana Alta (almost 400 meters high) to distinguish it from the nearby Marciana Marina (right on the beach).
2. Explore Capoliveri in mountain bike
The scenic village of Capoliveri dominates the south-east side of the Island of Elba.
Perched on a hill, this ancient village surprise its visitors with a square with a sea view and its narrow alleys full of artisan shops and restaurants.
But the real gems of this area are the spectacular trails (on asphalt and dirt) that wind through the hills, tailor-made for mountain bikers.
So if you love mountain biking and adventurous holidays, the Capoliveri Bike Park will make you fall in love, with 5 permanent tracks of increasing difficulty for a total of 100 km.
You can pedal in the unspoiled nature of the promontory of Mount Calamita, among barren landscapes, Mediterranean scrub, coloured rocks and fabulous panoramic views. This area was shaped by the work of man in the iron mines, making the terrain suitable for MTB, as it created many ups and downs.
The passion for cycling exploded in Elba in 1994, after the Italian stage of the Mountain Bike World Cup held on Mount Calamita.
You can cycle in the arduous path (only for pro) as it follows the original competition track, or explore the other 4: all the tracks are well marked and identified by a different color:
- The green route is the easiest, a panoramic loop around Mount Calamita.
- The red route is of medium difficulty and explores the area of the iron mines.
- The yellow path is winding and quite demanding, running along the sea.
- The black path is the shortest but it's also very hard, with a scenic single track downhill.
- The blue path is called "Legend Cup" because it follows the tracks used during the 1994 competition.
If you want to travel light and not bring your bicycle, you can rent your mountain bike in one of the many shops in Capoliveri.
1. Dive to fall in love with underwater life
The seabed in the Elba Island is teeming with marine life and vibrant colours.
The coast of the island is the great destination for divers (both scuba and free divers) and snorkellers: Elba is a natural aquarium where you can appreciate the biodiversity of the Mediterranean.
The underwater show includes the dramatic rock formations and continues with caves, sheer walls and the "prairies" of posidonia, the marine plant with long green leaves.
Thanks to the clean waters of this habitat, Elba is home to a myriad of colourful life forms: sea bream, moray eels, white breams, salps, damselfish, snapper, starfish and many others.
We recommend you some of the best places to dive:
- About 3 km from the Zanca promontory, you will find the outcropping rocks called “Formiche della Zanca”: among the multicoloured gorgonians you'll find different types of fish, moray eels and lobsters.
- The “scoglietto di Portoferraio”, a protected biological area in front of the Ghiaie beach. The seabed is full of life and you can also see barracudas and snappers.
- The "scoglio della triglia" in Marina di Campo is an easy dive, and at 15 meters divers can spot the statue of the Holy Mary placed on the seabed by local fishermen.
Finally, the island boasts two interesting wrecks that can be explored by divers.
The most famous is the Pomonte wreck, just 150 meters from the beach. The wreck of the Elviscot lies 12 metres deep, near the Ogliera rocks. It's a merchant ship sunk in the 1970s and today is home to a varied marine life. The dive is easy but only the most experienced can enter the wreck and reach the engine room. The ship can be spotted also by snorkellers.
The other wreck is that of the Santa Rita, another merchant ship sunk during WWII: it is located in Marciana Marina, at about 70 meters of depth, so it's recommended only to experienced divers.
The Elba offers several diving centres (especially in Marciana Marina and Portoferraio) where you can find a diving guide and rent equipment. Get recommendation for nice itinerary and dive into in this natural aquarium for an unforgettable experience.