Cycling Elba Island, Italy.
Who and where?
Aleks my boyfriend and I set out on this journey in order to train for our trip to Spain and Portugal. After a 66 km ride around the undulating terrain of Tuscany our legs were feeling a little weary but we figured why not try the next stage of challenge for a multi day tour. I had been looking at ferries to remote islands close by to where we had been staying. Aleks suggested that he had never explored Elba Island (the island where Napoleon was detained) and had been curious to see it for quite some time. I started researching it and found photos of crystal blue waters of the Meditataranian sea (Tirreno) and that was it. We packed our bike bags and jumped on a ferry the next day at 12 am. We had done little planning apart from looking up a few beaches, buying a few supplies of food and deciding on a route we found on bikemaps with 2630m which was 112km going around the island with. We figured we could figure out the rest over there.
This route is dubbed the ‘Bush Mint Route’ and is located on Elba Island, off Tuscany, Italy. Further details and more details are in the link here:
Who should go and when?
This is recommended at an audience who love eating pizza and gelato by the sea and are looking for a cruisy 3 day road bike tour seeing the beautiful coastline of Tuscany minimising the crowds by escaping to Elba Island. It is recommended to go before peak summer season when it gets hectically busy and would not be the same peaceful island that we experienced. We went on this trip in April.
For this trip you need any bike, a good attitude and a willing to adventure! I was riding my Surly Troll and my partner was riding his old mountain bike, which squeaked as he pedalled and he kicked but on it, which goes to show you, don’t need fancy equipment. There are cafes and pizza restaurants all around the island or if you want to live cheep bring your own or buy food at the small stores or supermarket.
Instagram - zoenicholson27 (Zoe Freckleson)
Favourite snack? - Almonds or a good crunchy muesli.
Favourite brew? - To sit down and have a chat with people is a SUPER FROTHY soy cappuccino with some honey in it!
About you. - Hiking has been my main activity for a long time as I work as an outdoor wilderness guide yet now I am getting into the new adventure medium of bike touring whilst I am traveling. It has been a wicked adventure so far! I am really enjoying it as I am able to combine my passion of being in the outdoors with being able to cover a lot more distances.
The ferry ride took 40 minutes from Piombino to Portoferraiowhere we started our journey. From there we started riding to a village called Marciana Marina where we could see in the distant the old town on the hill we were riding up that afternoon. On the Elevation profile we looked at 345m in elevation with confidence and although we were full of strength from it being the first day we also were still getting into the rhythm of things so this made the climb very long, arduous and hard. Along the entire route we saw pretty much every other person on a bike, but they were riding e-bikes! At this point going up that hill we were thinking vaffanculo (aka: fuck you) as they went past with ease hardly pedalling. For some reason e-bikes seem to be a huge new trend over here. As we arrived at Marciana, the village on a cliffy mountain range, we decided it was time for a well-earned beer. The three restraints in this city all overlooked the two citied we had just ridden from below. As it turns out Europe is a lot harder to camp then Australia is.
I naively have been living in a bubble in Australia that you are able to camp almost anywhere if you are not in a ‘public’ area. It turns out Europe is not the same.
Camping is quite hard to find and when there is camping it costs a lot. There is no sneaky camping in a national park or down a cheeky lane way. As the sun begun to sink my stomach also begun to sink with worry. I started realising that we had no clue where we could sleep for the night. All the people in the town that we were asking were saying that you cannot ‘camp’ anywhere around here its illegal and you have to ride to the nearest town another 30km away. By this point we had ridden 30km and it had been a big day of transport and driving, the sun was going down quickly and we were tired and ready to stop. The first option, which I wasn’t so excited about, was to sleep under a bridge, yet there was farming nets all around it, so we went on. After asking a few more people we chatted to a kind man who ran a vegetable shop and mentioned that the people on his street were currently away so we could stay in their parking. So we had a place to rest our heads for the night, in the parking space of someone’s house. I decided to make a tea for both of us as Aleks had already made his way into bed looking ready to pass out. Aleks had found some nice bush mint from the driveway to put in it. A few minutes later we were both in bed with wicked headaches and feeling nauseous. Maybe driveway mint wasn’t the best place get wild mint from. Maybe we were having nightmares, maybe was real, but in the heart of the night mysterious creatures covered by the dark where at one meter from our heads. The sound of hooves when we scared them could have come from deers, boars or, if in a dream, from a centaur. Anyway waking up fresh the adventure continued. We pushed the bikes up the giant driveway hill we had ridden down to get to the parking and jumped on our bikes again.
The morning was still, the sun was rising, frost on the leaves was slowly melting and the birds were all singing their morning songs. We had the entire roads to ourselves. All of the small little villages on Tuscan coast of this island were characteristic in there own way but they all had a few things in common - pizzerias (as the rest of Italy is), gelato shops, little old nonnas, colourful ancient buildings and amazing costal roads. It really sunk in to us that this was an amazing place for a bike tour.
The second afternoon we planned to stop to Lacona. We had seen that there was a bio farm campground called Gli orti di mare (the organic farm married to the sea).
They had an organic farm, which they produced food to sell at their café and restaurant. The campsite was in the bush overlooking the sea. There was toilets, hammocks, a hot tub and all the rest. The other cool thing was there was signs all around the place about the environmental actions going on around the island, interp signs on the flora and fauna of the island and the hiking routes in the area. It was definitely worth 12 euro. Unfortunately our dinner that night didn’t live up to our amazing location. We attempted to make soy medallions yet with no oil or salt they looked and tasted like bread that had been sitting in water for four days. Soggy. Chewy. And watery… Gross!
The last day we rode 19km to the end point it was a pretty quick ride with only two steep inclines. As we rode the long down hill into the town of Rio Marina we felt a sense of achievement we had made it around the island. At that point our legs were feeling pretty sore so we were happy to welcome a finish. I had been having troubles with my knees throughout the trip so I was happy to give them a break. We went to look at the ferry timetable from Rio Marina to Piombino and realised it wasn’t for another 5 hours so we reluctantly figured the best thing to do was to ride to the next town (Cavo which was 6km away) where the ferry was expected to leave at 1pm. Again flying down the hill into Cavo we let out a big yelp of excitement to be finished (for the second time). We quickly found out that the ferry had been cancelled from Cavo as it was too windy so we had to ride all the way back another 6km. When we arrived back in Rio Marina we were ready for a cold brew and to rest the legs!
Thanks Aleks, my love and crazy adventure buddy for coming on this wild journey with me. He had an average mountain bike (which he kicked butt on), zero planning and forgetting his sleeping mat meaning a comfy few nights sleep on the ground in order to help me train for my future adventure and the pure willingness of spontaneous adventures. May we have many more adventures to come!