You have probably heard about Isola d’Elba – the Island of Elba – the third largest island of Italy and the largest of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is covered with lush vegetation and it is considered to be the greenest island of the Mediterranean. Rich in history, the island was most notably Napoleon’s place of exile. Today, the island is a coveted tourist destination, lined with a beautiful coastline and lively towns.
My post today, however, is about a small seaside village located between the towns of Portoferraio and Rio Elba. It’s the village of Bagnaia, a little gem, away from the crowd and traffic.
Located on the North Coast of the Island, Bagnaia lays at the feet of the Monte Volterraio, on a bay across from Portoferraio that is visible from Bagnaia’s picturesque pebble beach. From the beach you can also spot the island of Capraia and the French Island of Corsica.
Most importantly, while sipping your aperitivo at the beachside bar you will be mesmerized by one the most beautiful sunsets. The red sky with the sun setting between the Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini and the small island of Scoglietto are simply breathtaking. Have your camera ready, as you will want to take many, many pictures!
The protected bay of Bagnaia offers a public beach, a private beach with bathhouse – Lo Scoglietto – two small piers, and a sailing school.
Even in August, renown in Italy as mese delle ferie (month of summer holidays), Bagnaia holds true to its family style profile. Filled with children splashing in the pristine water, proud grandparents spoiling their young grandkids, and games of Burraco (a popular Italian card game) being played under the ombrelloni (beach umbrellas), it is evident that Bagnaia is a destination for families.
A midday snack is readily available right on the beach at the bar/restaurant Il Faro, or just off the beach, where the Snack Bar Villa Maria, the Bar – Ristorante La Rustica, and the Mini-Market (small grocery/deli store) would be happy to prepare you a delicious panino con prosciutto e mozzarella.
But if you are craving for cecina or pizza, simply hop on the “taxi boat” and in 10 minutes you will reach Portoferraio. Off the boat, head to Pizzeria il Castagnaccio, in Via del Mercato Vecchio. Here, Vincenzo sforna (take out of the oven) hot cecina, pizza, and castagnaccio for carry out or dine in.
At lunch time the beach of Bagnaia is almost deserted as the families head home for pranzo (lunch) and a riposino (after lunch nap) – which makes sense since in Italy every mother will tell her children to wait three hours after eating before swimming.
The afternoon is the perfect time to rent a kayak and explore the coastline. Or, with a boat or a gommone (zodiac) you can reach the nearby beaches of the Secche, Ottonella and Ottone.
But, if you are in search of a pristine swimming adventure, take the short boat ride directly across from Bagnaia to the Scoglietto di Portoferraio. Swim with a myriad of fish in the crystal clear water- thanks to a fishing restriction in place at this protected island- or, climb the rocks to reach the faro (lighthouse) on the island summit.
Once a week, on Saturday, in the square of Bagnaia there is the mercatino (open market) where the stands of fresh fruit and vegetables alternate with tables selling clothes, bathing suits, and cover –ups (did I mention that in Italy women change their bathing suit 4 times a day?!). You can practice your bargaining ability here; however, I don’t think anyone would have beaten my mom’s skills in this area (she even bargained with an American Indian at Niagara Falls . . . remember, my mom did not speak English!). The highlight of the mercatino is the food truck of “Pollo allo Spiedo e Patatine Fritte” (roasted chicken and French fries). Even if you place your order early in the morning – which is a must- you will still need to elbow your way to the front to pick-up your coveted brown bag.
While Bagnaia offers a wonderful beach getaway, it is not a place for those seeking exciting nightlife. The evenings are quiet; villeggianti (vacationers) stroll through the small piazza to enjoy gelato, after dinner drinks and caffè. Friendships are formed between families who vacation here year after year, and as such, large group dinners are had. Following dinner, many vacationers enjoy the live performances that take place in the piazzetta a few times a week. The nearby Pizzeria-Ristorante Bounty (also a Bed & Breakfast), once a week offers a theme evening with culinary highlights. Last year our group of 40 attended the “Alla brace “ (on the fire spit) where various meats were grilled in a wood fire oven and on a giant grill to be served with a variety of homemade side dishes and freshly baked bread.
Nearby towns such as Capoliveri, Porto Azzurro and Portoferraio, which offer a more active nightlife and trendy shops, are easily reachable by car.
Although two Alberghi/Bed & Breakfast are located in the square, I would suggest to stay at the Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio. Within the Residenza are the Apartments Sant’Anna and the Hotel Locanda del Volterraio. My brother has been a guest of the Residenza for the past 17 years, and he has rented the same apartment every year. I have been personally a guest of both the Locanda and the Residenza several times. Last year my brother and his wife hosted me for three weeks at the Residenza . . . how lucky am I?
Although it is only a 10 minute walk from the beach of Bagnaia, The Residenza Sant’Anna del Volterraio is part of the municipality of Rio Elba. The Monte del Volterraio, with its homonymous medieval castle, overlooks the Valley below where in an area of 3 hectares lays this complex surrounded by beautiful gardens. Secular olive trees dot the landscape, the pink stone structures covered with vines blend seamlessly with the lush green vegetation, which is softened by the colorful oleanders. The complex also offers 2 tennis courts, one beautiful adult pool, one children’s pool, a solarium, and a wellness center. The original Napoleonic Villa Sant’Anna houses a bar, a TV room, a sauna, shower and dressing rooms.
Within an orange and lemon orchard lays the restaurant, Il Giardino degli Aranci. I must admit that I have not experienced the restaurant’s cuisine; my son, however, tells me that he has enjoyed a tasty dinner while visiting his uncle. The restaurant also hosts – in its giardino (garden) – evening events for kids and families.
The complex is completely car-free, however, covered parking is provided.
There are 6 apartment types, ranging from 2 to 8 beds, but they all have an independent entrance and a patio. The apartments are spacious, simply furnished, but functional and comfortable. I shall say that they start showing their age and some renovations are due. The apartments do not have air conditioning, but fans are provided. Also no Wi-Fi connection is provided. In the evening it is particularly pleasant to sit outside on the patio (furnished with table and chairs) under the summer starry sky.
The Hotel Locanda del Volterraio is composed of 18 double rooms, all with independent entrances and balconies. Unlike the apartments, the hotel rooms have air-conditioning and Wi-Fi Internet (from the lobby). They also boast nice new furnishing. From the balcony you will enjoy great views of the hills and of Monte del Volterraio.
The nightly rate at the hotel includes breakfast, which offers a very diverse spread of food: fresh baked croissant and brioche, fruit tart or torta, cereals and granola are also available. You can also enjoy toast with the assortment of jams, honey, butter or NUTELLA that adorn each table. They also offer a large selection of fresh fruit, however, it appears that your choices are limited if you don’t show up early. Orders for espresso, cappuccino, latte and also American coffee are taken at the table.
I asked my son’s friend, who along with her sister, joined him and his girlfriend at Elba and lodged at the Locanda, to share her opinion about her experience; she used one word: AWESOME! She also noted, confirming my opinion, that the staff was kind and attentive.
The 10 minute walk from the Residenza to the beach is pleasant; the scent of oregano and wild fennel accompanies you along the way. Blackberry bushes border the path and you can also attempt – like my brother – to pick up prickly pears along the way.
Lastly, if you are in the mood for hiking, Bagnaia offers some good trails. From the piazzetta you can follow the uphill road toward Nisporto. You will enjoy some beautiful views of the coastline from up above.
VIEWS FROM MY MORNING WALKS
Last year every morning I went a little farther. On one particular morning I woke up at 6:30 and as I started my walk I decided to reach Nisporto, 5 miles away on an uphill terrain. I went all the way up above Nisporto, then I decided to go down to sea level. While the beach at Nisporto was enjoyable to reach, the trek back up the hill to reach Bagnaia was anything but that.
Thankfully, I made it all the way back and to reward myself I stopped at the Bounty for a custard cream stuffed brioche!!!
Ciao from Elba!
Have you ever been to the Island of Elba?
Where is your favorite little gem in the world?