Monday, October 8, 2012

L'isola di Elba

Melanie and I had booked an apartment by the beach for 6 days, and so in early September, we rode our heavily laden Vespa Zita down from Lucca to the somewhat dreary port town of Piombino (which translates as 'plumb bob'...). We rode onto the ferry, and 45 minutes later arrived at Elba on a sunny afternoon.  As well as being a popular Italian beach holiday destination, the Tuscan island of Elba is known for the brief exile of Napoleon, who immediately set out to improve the island infrastructure, building palaces and forts that now beautify the streets of the capital, Portoferraio.

On the patio of our 1950s style apartment
As is common when checking in to any accommodation in Italy, we gave our passports to the cute 87 year old proprietor Augusto for registration.  Almost an hour later, he rushed to our room, excited that we were Australians!, and therefore 'paesani'.  Turns out he was born in Richmond St, Richmond in 1925 and spent the first 5 years of his life playing there with the local kids, before his family re-emigrated back to their home on Elba (back to what was the Depression, the Fascism of Mussolini and then the Second World War). He said seeing our passports brought a tear to his eye....

After this story, it was off to the sandy beach of Morcone, which was a 2 minute walk away. It was a lovely small cove, busy but not crowded, and with amazingly clear turquoise coloured water.

Over the next few days, we quickly got into the routine of a morning visit to the beach, followed by lunch, then back to the beach for the afternoon - OK, we may have had the occasional nap here and there.....It was a blissful trip of sun and sand, and we had a wonderful time.

The clear waters of Morcone beach

The neighbouring beach of Pareti
Pareti beach again

A fish dish on a fish dish!
One night we went to dinner at a recommended restaurant with the (unfortunate) name of Koala.  They had yummy seafood based meals - here's Melanie enjoying a delicious fish dish with home-made fettucini.

As we Vespa'd to dinner in the nearby hilltown of Capoliveri, we noticed the main street was named 'Via Australia (Cardwell)'.  We learned from the restaurant proprietors that a significant percentage of the population in Elba, and particularly Capoliveri, had emigrated to Australia in the 1950s, ending up either in Melbourne, or cutting cane in the canefields of Cardwell.

Another day we rode to the capital town of Portoferrario and had a look around.  It's a picturesque town, set on a harbour, with the ubiquitous cute historical centre to stroll around in and enjoy a gelato.

Fishermen were selling fish directly from their boats in the harbour, and we enjoyed an interesting archaelogocal museum featuring 5th Century items recovered off nearby shipwrecks, that in some cases had been found only in the last 50 years by scuba divers.

Another seafood meal on a balmy night, this one at a restaurant just off the beach of Innamorata, which means 'Darling'.  Of course there's a story (there's always a story in Italy) to explain the name.  It's 1534 and a fisherman, Lorenzo and his lover Maria meet on a secret beach every evening - Maria is the daughter of a noble family who disapproves of the match to a lowly fisherman.  One evening, as Maria arrives she sees Lorenzo being seized by Saracen pirates, and after a brief fight, they dump his dead body into the water as they leave.  She tries to find his body, and then in despair, drowns herself.

Well, the 6 days came and went all too quickly, and with another fantastic holiday under our belts, back to Lucca we went.  As we were riding home through the renowned wine region of Bolgheri, home of the Supertuscans Ornellaia and Sassicaia, we popped into a winery and managed to find some room in Zita's compartment for a bottle of wine.

The church of San Michele illuminated solely by candlelight
Back in Lucca, it was the night of Volto Santo, Lucca's most important religious event of the year.  A 1000 person procession walks the streets of Lucca, with all electric lighting switched off, and each building along the streets sets up candles in their windows and facades. It is estimated a total of 15,000 candles illuminates the route.

The procession ends in the Duomo, where people pay their respects to a (reputedly 1st Century) sculpture of Christ on the Cross before staying for Mass.

Elba done, now Venice, here we come!

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