Grateful was I ere I saw Elba.
OK, I've ruined the palindrome* (Able was I ere I saw Elba) but it's true. I was grateful for two reasons. First, I always feel grateful when we arrive in a port at the end of a difficult upwind journey. Second, we'd been intending to visit Elba since our first summer in the Mediterranean, and we'd finally managed it. Even though we were trying to make a fast passage to Genoa, we decided to stay for a couple of nights and have a look around.
For our first night, we dropped our anchor in a lovely cove called Barbarossa (English translation Red Beard) just around the corner from Porto Azzurro. The depths were around 50 feet, but fortunately there was enough swing room for us to put out lots of chain. With the anchor well set, we turned in early and slept for a very long time. The next morning, we moved the boat over to Porto Azzurro. Arriving just as numerous boats were leaving, we had no trouble finding space. This time, we were only in about 20 feet of water. The view of the town from the water was enchanting.
Porto Azzurro is a pretty little town, but exploring it didn't require a lot of time, so we decided to rent a motorcycle and drive across the island to see Portoferraio. The price of 45 euros for a part-day rental was the most we'd ever paid, and we hoped it would be worth it.
It's always fun to see an island from a motorcycle. The drive across the island was lovely, taking us past beautiful vineyards and fields of hay. Much of southern Italy is a toasted brown colour at this time of year, but we could already see that things are different in Tuscany. Elba was green and lush everywhere we looked. Porto Ferraio itself was a bustling and busy spot, resulting in some heart-in-throat moments on the motorcycle. Once the bike was parked, we were able to relax over lunch in a café on the pretty waterfront. The food was delicious and the bill came with a beautifully coloured scallop shell on top, which the waiter told me I could keep. Italians have such a great sense of style! After we settled our bill (naturally with a bigger tip than usual) we set off to explore the historic centre of the town.
The most famous episode in Elba's history was undoubtedly Napoleon's exile there in 1814-1815. Following the defeat of France by the Sixth Coalition (comprised of various European countries including Russia, Austria, Prussia, the United Kingdom and others) Napoleon was forced to abdicate the French throne. The deal allowed him to reside on Elba with sovereignty over the island and a substantial income. Napoleon's home of Villa dei Mulini is now open to the public as a museum. We decided to visit, but an accidental detour took us first to the nearby Star Fort.
The woman who was selling tickets from the Star Fort's guardhouse wasn't getting much business, and was obviously finding the time long. "What's the capital of Pakistan?" she asked, pointing to her crossword puzzle. Luckily for her, geography is one of the skipper's many strengths, and (doubly lucky) Islamabad has the same name in Italian and English.
The view from the ramparts of the fort was glorious. Below us, a sailing regatta was taking place.
The Villa dei Mulini was beautifully situated and lavishly decorated. Rick and I could have happily settled in here, but it was probably still a bit of a comedown for an Emperor.
Among the most interesting items were Napoleon's camp bed (so tiny!!!) and a gown belonging to his sister Pauline, who kindly moved to Eba with him when his wife would not. Pauline by the way, was immortalized by Canova in a reclining sculpture called "Venus Victrix", now in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Go to see it if you get the chance.
Travel writers often ask why why Napoleon would have wanted to escape from such a beautiful place, but Elba must have been a pretty small pond for such a big fish. I imagine he would have been scheming to get out of there from the minute he arrived. The bigger question is why he was permitted to bring his own warship with him, which gave him the means to escape from Elba after only 10 months. He sailed to Golfe-Juan and from there easily made his way to Paris, where he reclaimed his throne. As everyone knows, he met his Waterloo shortly thereafter, and was then exiled to the island of Saint Helena, which presumably was a bit more difficult to escape from. He died there in 1821 at only 51 years of age.
Returning to the waterfront, we climbed back onto the motorcycle and plunged back into the traffic. We had intended to explore a bit more of the island, but the sight of a serious motorcycle accident outside Portoferraio made us think twice. Instead, we made a short stop at a roadside stall to taste some Elban wine and olive oil. We were back in Porto Azzurro on time for late afternoon drinks and snacks on the waterfront. By this time, the anchorage was crammed with boats, and we were glad we'd arrived early.
Early the next morning, we lifted the anchor for our passage to Genoa. Sailing down the coast past Rio Marina, we saw the red earth that is evidence of Elba's now-defunct iron ore mining industry.
The journey to Genoa took only 22 hours, but it seemed much longer. With high winds from behind and very rough seas, I found it difficult to manage the sails alone at night, and Rick got only a few hours of sleep. We were both very tired when we arrived in Genoa at dawn the next day. It wasn't until later that it occurred to us that we'd just finished our last Mediterranean passage on Aisling. But long naps and a walk through the amazing historic centre of Genoa raised our spirits immensely. I think we're going to like it here!
*In case you were wondering, a palindrome is a word, phrase or sentence that reads the same forward or backward. Another famous example is "Madam I'm Adam".