Arriving by sea, visitors to Portoferraio, capital of Elba, are welcomed by the view of its lovely, safe Darsena Medicea, or Medici Harbour, protected by the massive fortifications built by Cosimo I de’Medici, who renamed the town Cosmopoli in the XVI Century. Today, the remains of this impressive defensive project can be seen in the Forte Falcone and Forte Stella, the two forts which, with their connecting bastions, overlook the sea and are linked to the Martello Tower, the first defensive structure encountered when entering the semicircular old harbour. The XVIII Century Forte Inglese or English Fort, originally the San Giovanni Battista Fort, to the west of the old town, was the last part of Portoferraio’s defences to be built.
Portoferraio is therefore very rich in history, with many thrilling and fascinating reminders of past times. Although the town’s urban structure virtually all dates from the late Renaissance, first the Ligurian tribes, then the Greeks and after them the Romans all appreciated the strategic importance of a settlement in this location, and have left us wonderful traces of their presence, such as the ruins of the Grotte and Linguella Villas. Napoleon Bonaparte‘s period of exile on the island also left a lasting impression on Elba, and especially in its capital. The Palazzina dei Mulini with its panoramic cliff-top gardens and the outlying Villa di San Martino, the Maison Rustique with the adjoining Demidoff Gallery, are only a part of the Emperor’s priceless cultural heritage.
Elba’s most populous municipality, the location of a large number of public and private offices and the main hub for ferry services to and from the island, Portoferraio has somehow played down its qualities as a holiday destination, even though it has the Island’s finest, loveliest beaches.
From the very central Ghiaie beach along to the Enfola promontory, a heavenly succession of white shingle coves are set into the gleaming cliffs. Unique of their kind, the crystal-clear waters with their unmistakable turquoise hue are unimaginably beautiful on days when the Sirocco wind blows. A few kilometres from Portoferraio, framed by large hotels and lush vegetation, lie two well equipped sandy beaches, Biodola and Scaglieri, which offer spectacular views at sunset.
Not to be missed ….
… the European Street Market. For three days at the end of May, Portoferraio is transformed into the market of the world, with vendors from all over Europe displaying their traditional foods and crafts.
For the Ferragosto Elbano, celebrating the public holiday for the Feast of the Assumption on 15 August, Portoferraio hosts a firework display, preceded by music and entertainments.