M1626 – Peach Elba

In my last post, M1626 – Ready, Sète, Go, I described the port call to the lovely French port of Sète, and the substandard tour I made around the nearby salt water lake, Bassin de Thau. I also described how I had to miss out on lunch so that I had time to explore the town before the ship sailed at the too early time of 4pm. The lack of time in port were as nothing though compared to what was to come on the next day.

Regular readers of this blog will know that occasionally I just have to express my astonishment, frustration and exasperation (in equal measures) at what is to my mind totally stupid decisions by the Fred. Olsen cruise planning department, and our visit to Elba the next day is sadly is just such an occasion.

I think it is widely known what a beautiful and special place that Elba is, and strangely it’s an island that doesn’t often feature in Fred. Olsen’s cruise itineraries. However on this cruise feature it did – even to the point of being flagged up in the name of the cruise – ‘Barcelona, Monaco and the Island of Elba’. I would be prepared to bet a significant sum that a large percentage of passengers on this cruise booked it because we were visiting this iconic island.

So you might expect that the cruise would be planned so that we got a full day on the island, possibly also extending into the evening – or even, dare I say it, an overnight stay. But no, in their infinite wisdom, Fred. Olsen planned for us not to dock until 1pm in the afternoon. To be fair the departure time was not until 10pm, but with sunset at 5:12 that day, it only gave around four hours to view the island in daylight! Words fail me!!

That morning as we continued our voyage from Sète to Elba, I was confused to look out of the starboard windows and see the rising sun! This meant we were sailing north, not the south-east I would have expected. All was revealed a while later when the Captain came on the tannoy to announce that they ship had been requested to help in the search for a person lost overboard from an Italian ferryboat, and consequently we would be late arriving into Elba. While I totally understand and approve of this humanitarian action, it only added to my frustration at the prospect of even less time to view the island.

As we threaded our way between the Italian mainland and other islands of the Tuscan archipelago on our way to Elba, I went up onto the high deck to watch our progress and take some photographs. I was struck by the lovely blue light:

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We took on the pilot for our final approach into Portoferraio, the main port on Elba, thirty minutes later than originally planned. With the fort and multicoloured houses on the hillside looking lovely in the amazing Mediterranean light, it was a stunning sail-in. I was glad I had decided to skip lunch for the second day in a row in order to be sure to see and photograph it:

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It was a measure of the huge interest in seeing Elba on board that they had to take the almost unprecedented action of having to use both of the show lounges to book in the different shore tours due to the sheer weight of numbers involved. While we were waiting for our coaches to be called, we were told there would be a further delay while a medical evacuation was made. Again I have no quibble with this taking priority, but the daylight time just continued to ebb away. Eventually our coach was called, and a short time later we were finally underway.

The tour I had selected was a tour of the eastern side of the island, visiting a village high in the hills and another on the coast. Our ‘local’ guide was actually originally from Scotland – she told us how she was a teacher there, but decided to take a gap year on mainland Italy. Whilst there she came to the island of Elba to visit friends, and fell in love with both the island and one of it’s residents, married him and has been resident on the island for many years since. She gave us a good – and easy to understand – commentary as we drove through the attractive countryside towards our first stop, Capoliveri.

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She explained how iron ore used to be mined on the island and that this was an important source of income and employment, and that later on it was also smelted on the island too. However in the second world war other sides bombed the island at different times, and the smelting works were destroyed. Following the war the works were never replaced, and so the island became increasingly dependent on tourism for it’s income and employment. She said that we would see some relics from the former iron ore mining industry as we walked through the village at our first stop.

Capoliveri, dating back to Roman times, is situated high in the hills and offers lovely views both to the coast and inland:

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The coach was only able to drop us on the outskirts of the village as it’s centre has narrow historic roads unable to accommodate such large vehicles. Our guide led us through to the main square, where we were given free time to explore the narrow streets and even narrower passageways leading off them. The only problem was the sheer number of people – there were seven coaches making the same tour, and with time so short they were inevitably travelling in very close convoy. Despite the crowds I did manage to get some shots without many people in:

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I found a small church with a lovely stained glass picture in its doorway, and also this striking artwork at a viewpoint on the edge of the village:

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It was when we made our way back to the coach pickup point that the vast numbers become most apparent – it was quite a job to join the correct group of passengers and then coach.

On the drive to our second stop, Porto Azzurro, we had some lovely views of the coastline, including this view of the island of Monte Cristo, famous from the adventure novel by French author Alexandre Dumas, “The Count of Monte Cristo”:

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As we reached Porto Azzurro the sun was already setting fast, so once released by our guide for some free time I raced around to capture a few images of the main square and waterside before the light went:

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Unfortunately for the drive back to Portoferraio and our waiting ship we could see very little as dusk had fallen. Oh the frustration of this pathetically short port call!

Later as we set sail at 10pm, I went back up onto the high deck to watch us sail out, capturing these views of the pretty port lit up:

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This all to brief visit had confirmed that Elba really is a peach of a place, and made me determined to return in order to see more of the stunning island one day.

Having visited ports in Spain, France and now Italy on consecutive days, we had a fourth country to visit the very next day – this will be the subject of my next post.

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