Today, Elba is the heart of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, a protected area of about 180 square kilometers, and a UNESCO MaB Biosphere Reserve, a prestigious program dedicated to biosphere resources and the protection of nature reserves.
Here, amid the scents of Mediterranean scrub, Elba is home to a lively and original variety of wildlife: from flamingos to proud birds of prey, such as the peregrine falcon, to industrious bees; from the small wall lizard, endemic to Elba, to colorful butterflies.
These very fascinating creatures are the guests and protagonists of the Butterfly Sanctuary, created in an area near Mount Capanne. A thematic path that tells the story of butterfly life, a magical world where meadows and rocky areas come alive amid the flapping of wings of Lycaeides villai and Coenonympha elbana, two species endemic to the Tuscan islands. A place where fragile and beautiful specimens come together, defined as a "sanctuary" because of its sacredness, which provides an ideal environment for the life of these unique butterflies and where the presence of more than 50 species has been recorded, some of them very peculiar and different from those found in nearby areas.
Among the most incredible were the showy brightly colored Cleopatra, the dark blue-winged Oak Tecla, the colorful and elegant Jason, Podalirio and Macaone. Also observed was the multicolored Vanessa, which had not been recorded in Elba since 1916 and was now considered extinct! In 2019, thanks to the work of a group of researchers, Legambiente, the National Park and the cultural association le Macinelle, a new area of the Butterfly Sanctuary was inaugurated: the San Piero Butterfly Oasis, the only area in the world where the rare San Piero butterfly lives, thanks to the presence of the nurse plants, the Aristolochie.
Continuing to fly through the nature of Elba, we also arrive at the Orto dei semplici at the Hermitage of Santa Caterina, where "the man who whispers to the bees" - Roberto Ballini, born in 1944, a former professional cyclist - takes care of the hives. Over the years Ballini has developed a system of communication with the precious pollinators that distinguishes two different sound frequencies. Through these voice modulations, he is able to converse with them by giving simple directions, in harmony with the incredible biodiversity of the Orto dei Semplici, an almost mystical place of great essentiality that preserves specimens of plants native to the island, including even six rare varieties of fruit native to Elba, such as the Pero Angelica dell'Elba or the Pesco Sanguigno Settembrino dell'Elba.
The island's pristine marine environment, traversed by food-rich currents, is home to an amazing variety of life forms. Already from the shore, the first small fish can be spotted, and then, swimming offshore with a mask, one can admire posidonia meadows, rock mullet and damselfish; wiggly octopus and seahorses; turbot and barracuda; sunfish, gorgonians and lobsters. But the stars of the sea are the cetaceans, such as stenellas and bottlenose dolphins, which are often spotted around the Island and, with a little luck, can also be admired up close on pleasant boat trips.
Elba is also a hotspot for birdwatchers thanks to the extremely rich avifauna consisting of resident and migratory birds. Among the most life-rich environments are: capo d'Enfola, where cliffs provide shelter for birds and are perfect for hosting the nests of the Herring Gull; Monte Capanne and Monte Serra, ideal places to observe the sumptuous flight of birds of prey. Among those nesting on the island, it is a must to point out the fastest winged predator, the peregrine falcon, but barn owls, kestrels, barred owls and buzzards can also be found. Of great attraction are the colonies of greater and lesser magpie and Corsican gull. Testifying to the important biological resources that the territory of Elba Island offers, the basin of the ancient salt pans of San Giovanni is once again home to pink flamingos, already spotted in past years and once again confirming the richness of life in the area of Portoferraio Bay also populated by herons, lapwings and curlews.
No less valuable, Mount Calamita and the aforementioned Mount Capanne are sites of great importance for their naturalistic value. Calamita has been accredited throughout history as a place of absolute fascination because of the rarity of the species it hosts: among the shrubs of the Mediterranean maquis you can spot wild goats and hares, while from the summit you can spot one of the largest colonies of herring gulls (Punta Calamita is also known as Costa dei Gabbiani, due to the presence of the numerous nests). On the Capanne, on the other hand, you might come across the marten along the paths, which in some seasons of the year offer the spectacle of the flowering of the viola corsica ilvensis, an endemic species of Elba Island.
The beach is named after the islet a few meters from the shore, itself named after Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister who, according to a legend (probably created by a tourism entrepreneur in the 1960s) loved to sunbathe on these rocks.
Designated as a summer residence, Napoleon purchased the property from the Manganaro family in 1814, with the intention of transforming it into a comfortable and refined abode that would have nothing to envy from Parisian residences.
Built in 1724 by Grand Duke Gaston de’ Medici, it was Napoleon’s city residence during his first stay on Elba Island.
It was built as a sign of gratitude in 1606 by José Pons y León of the Dukes of Arcos, Spanish governor of Naples and first governor of the square of Longone (part of the state of principals). In September 1814 Napoleon, accompanied by Pons and Bertrand wanted to visit the sanctuary.
While the Elban economy today is based on tourism, the fact remains that the people of San Piero and the west coast (Pomonte) have also lived and continue to live off their granite and marble
Visit the harbor where Maria Walewska landed and the armed watchtower visited by Napoleon himself in 1814