Travel: Experience Napoleon at Elba

Typical view of one of Elba's splendid bays

 The Island of Elba (Tuscany) is to highlight its most famous “guest” this year in a multi-faceted seven week project called the “Napoleon Experience”.

 Starting in May 2023 a 7 week-long series of trekking and mountain bike excursions are to be launched, centred round the figure of the exiled French emperor, who made a profound impression on the island and its inhabitants during the ten months he lived there.

 Apparently Napoleon was a great walker, who took advantage of the many footpaths and woodland tracks that cover the island to explore the territory and the series of Napoleon Experience walks proposed set out to follow his footprints.

 The Napoleon Experience has its focal point at the Villa San Martino, the Emperor's summer villa that borders on the most extensive forest on the island, dominated by venerable holm oaks. On special occasions, guests can be treated to a Bonaparte epoch “full immersion” presented by the island's historic reenactment groups: “Association La Petite Armée Island d'Elba” and the “Historiae Associatione”. This involves dinner with a classic 18th century menu and entertainment provided by troupes of costumed dancers performing the stately dances of the period. To add to the flavour, the Emperor himself makes a special appearance, complete with his typical bicorn hat, graciously bowing to the guests as he circulates among the tables with his left hand characteristically inserted inside his waistcoat.

 When Bonaparte wanted true peace and quiet, however, he would retire to the isolated Hermitage of the Madonna dei Monte at Marciana Martina, a secluded summer retreat and the clifftop love nest, where he could rendez vous with his mistress, the Polish Countess Marie Walewska, far from the eyes of his court.

 The main source of income for Napoleon's new little reign came from the rich mineral deposits on the island. The old mines have now become a fascinating museum: “The Mineral Park of Elba” at Rio Marino. Originally dug out by the Etruscans, they passed into Napoleon's hands with their rich deposits of iron ore and semi precious minerals like haematite, limonite and pyrite (the so-called “Fool's Gold.”)

 The Emperor, with his scientific mind, could not have failed to be fascinated by Elba's “magnetic mountain”, Mt. Calamita, and it is not impossible to imagine that he probably followed the local tradition and carried out experiments with a compass. What is certain nowadays is that the area contains some of the finest views in the island and can be reached on foot or by mountain bike.

 A full immersion in the “Napoleon Experience”, however, would not be complete without a visit to the old town of Capoliveri, the only place that objected to his presence on the island. Bonaparte was so insulted when the local authorities refused to hand over the keys to the town that he lined up his canons and threatened to bombard the houses. Luckily, a young and pretty local girl called Amelia Vantini appealed to him for mercy. Napoleon, always susceptible to female charm, was won over and the town was saved.

 For further information on events, hotels and facilities on Elba:


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Napoleonic Ball at Villa San Martino