Find superb architecture, a maze-like old quarter and Napoleonic history in this grand old town, safeguarded over the centuries by Medici-built fortifications.
Portoferraio is the largest town on Elba Island and an enchanting introduction to the Tuscan Archipelago. Explore the historic portside quarter and find a jumble of picturesque old buildings nestled around the town’s natural harbor. Experience the faded glory of Napoleon’s 18th-century palace or wander up winding hillside alleys to find artisans’ workshops and traditional restaurants serving fresh-caught fish.
Take a trip through time when you explore the storied streets of Portoferraio. It is believed that Greek heroes, the Argonauts, came ashore in Porto Argo near the modern town’s Ghiaie Beach. Skip forward to the Roman period, when Portoferraio was known as Fabricia because of its rich iron ore. Learn about the town’s Roman heritage at the Museo Archeologico della Linguella, which exhibits fascinating fragments from the town’s ore-mining era.
Admire the windswept 16th-century fortifications of Forte Stella, which were established by Cosimo I de’ Medici to protect his home against pirate attacks. Step inside Napoleon’s official residence, the Palazzina dei Mulini, which now houses the island’s Museo Nazionale. As you explore his restored palace, learn about the French emperor who spent 300 days in exile on Elba Island in 1814.
Stretch out on beautiful beaches hemmed in by dramatic cliffs and go swimming in the pristine waters. Punta Pina and Biodola are the town’s most popular swimming beaches.
Experience Portoferraio like a local when you take part in the annual festivities for the grape harvest in September. Check out jazz and classical music festivals or join the revelry at Vigilanti Theater, a magnificent old church that was transformed into a lively theater venue by Napoleon’s sister, Paolina. If you visit in April, don’t miss the tasty traditional octopus dishes at the “Polpando e gli antichi sapori” festivities.
Portoferraio is home to Elba Island’s major port. Catch a vehicular ferry from the port of Piombino and arrive in Portoferraio within 70 minutes. Spend the night in boutique hotels that look out across the town’s natural port.