Scottish Daily Mail


A family sailing trip to the island where Napoleon was imprisoned is a historic hit

- By Robert Hardman

HIs legacy is everywhere on this glorious island. From roads and agricultur­e to the design of the local flag, napoleon Bonaparte transforme­d Elba when he was banished here in 1814. Famously, he didn’t stay for long. It was 200 years ago that he escaped, bound for Waterloo and on to a more permanent exile in st Helena. But the locals still revere the celebrity prisoner who, for just under a year, was formally recognised as the King of Elba.

In this anniversar­y year, there are plenty of pageants and parades in his honour. Yet, as I sit bobbing on the waters below his villa, I can’t help thinking that napoleon must have spent his later years wondering why he ever left.

For there is something magical, something other about Elba.

Half the size of the Isle of Wight, this fish-shaped island has 3,000ft peaks, coral reefs, beaches of every complexion and Italy’s lowest crime rate.

Though just 12 miles off the coast of Tuscany, it bears little resemblanc­e to the chi- chi tourist trap of Chiantishi­re. The vast majority of visitors who make the one-hour ferry crossing from Piombino are ordinary Italians (we don’t meet a Briton all week).

With a tiny airport, it has been spared major developmen­t, and half of its 85 square miles area is national park. Many beaches and bays can be reached only by hiking, biking or, better still, by boat.

That is why Elba is perfect for a sailing holiday, whether you are a sailor or not.

A comfortabl­e six-bed, 40ft yacht can be a lot cheaper than a hotel or villa. You’d be hard-pushed to find a view to match the one from our deck as we sit back, beer in hand, and watch the sun set behind Monte Capanne.

KENT-BASED nautlius Yachting has yachts all over the Med and has been organising charters around Elba and the Tuscan archipelag­o for years. We settle on a Bavaria 40, a popular cruising yacht with a flip-down bathing platform at the back.

The only question is: who will do the sailing?

nautilus can organise a skipper for £90 a day. But having been messing around in boats since childhood, I want to take charge. You might almost call it a napoleon complex (my wife does). so I have to go back to school.

The basic requiremen­t for renting anything larger than a day boat is the Royal Yachting Associatio­n’s day skipper certificat­e, within easy reach of the average dinghy sailor. It involves a five- day practical sailing course plus a detailed theory course. You can do the latter online, but you must live aboard for the practical part.

sunsail runs flotillas and courses all over the world, and I join the fleet on the solent. It proves invaluable; after five days mixing with ferries, container ships and hovercraft in one of Europe’s busiest sealanes, I am more than ready to steer a course for Elba. And you don’t have to worry about tide in the Tyrrhenian sea.

We pick up the boat at Puntone discarlino, a mainland marina 90 minutes by car f rom Pisa Airport. Cleverly designed, it has three double cabins, two separate shower / loorooms — plus a shower on deck — and a solar panel for extra power.

setting off i n napoleon’s wake, we are s wi mming off Elba’s eastern shores three hours later.

I had feared that our three children would soon start moaning — or being sick. But they adore life aboard.

We keep the sailing to an hour or two each morning before dropping the anchor in a pretty bay, swimming and exploring in the rubber dinghy (every boat comes with one).

I had hoped to spend a night or two on the quayside in a pretty little fishing town such as Marciana Marina on Elba’s northern coast, but there’s no chance in mid-August (unless you know the harbour master).

so we anchor off towns like Porto Azzurro and go ashore for pizzas, i ce cream and people-watching, then head back — by torchlight — to our haven, far from the nightlife.

Elba’s capital, Portoferra­io, is well worth a visit. Walk through the old town to the ramparts at the top. napoleon lived up here and his villa is now a popular museum. You don’t need to eat on the waterfront; the best local food is to be found in the back streets.

A few miles further along the coast, we find our favourite spot, the Gulf of Biodola. This three-mile crescent of sand, where the trees come right down to the water, is home to Elba’s smartest hotel, the Hermitage.

When daddy’s attempt at spaghetti al pesto results in a thumbs- down followed by a mutiny, we jump in the dinghy and, five minutes later, are at the poolside buffet. More adventurou­s sailors would, no doubt, sail right around the island, taking in the wild western shores. some would trek up to the mountain t o wn of Capoliveri or strike out for the other islands in t he Tuscan archipelag­o — or even reach napoleon’s native island of Corsica. Pottering along at our child-friendly pace, we only do half of Elba. And I never do f i nd the place where napoleon hatched his escape plan.

never mind. I t means that, unlike him, we will have to return.

 ??  ?? Shipshape: Elba and, inset, Robert’s children
Shipshape: Elba and, inset, Robert’s children

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom