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Crumbly cliff-top campingoverlooking a quiet bay on a wonderful little island
Not a man to twiddle his thumbs, Napoleon Bonaparte spent his year-long exile on the island of Elba compiling crossword clues and planning a range of branded luxury goods. Of the former the only memorable example is the rather neat palindrome ‘Able I was ere I saw Elba’ and of the latter all that survives is the modish logo that adorns the gates of his villa.

Sadly, the range of quality high heels and handbags for the WAGs of his favourite generals never made it to the production line because, after a year on the island, the little general decided to escape and go double-orquits with one last fling at Waterloo.

Italy’s third-largest island, Elba is a craggy volcanic outcrop off the Tuscan coast, covered in lush, almost tropical, vegetation. It’s a little like the Caribbean, but without the bananas, and is a perfect getaway from the hustle of the mainland.

The Emperor’s villa on Elba is now a museum (€6 to enter and closed on Mondays) and the fancy wrought-iron gates are still topped off with the rather stylish Napoleonic logo of an ‘N’ in a crown of laurel leaves. He obviously liked to remind himself who was boss. But you can’t help wondering, as you walk up the impressive cobbled drive, past bamboo stands, sprigs of wild flowers and the odd eucalyptus, quite why he wasn’t happy just to put his feet up and settle down here. A more modest man would almost certainly have stayed put.

Napoleon wasn’t the first wanderer to land on Elba. Legend has it that Jason and the Argonauts stopped off for a bit of shore leave back in the mists of time. And you’ll be quite happy to have made landfall here, too.

From the picturesque town of Portoferraio you can head up west into the volcanic highlands, east towards the hilltop town of Capoliveri or south, over the shoulder of the hills towards Lacona, where you’ll come across the quiet little bay that Camping Stella Mare overlooks.

The bay’s water is only knee-deep (waistdeep if you happen to be as short as Napoleon) and perfect for kids to splash about in whilst you keep a weather-eye on them from the narrow strip of beach. There’s a host of bars and restaurants to choose from right by the water. Round the back of the site there’s also what is effectively a private beach (and one where it seems occasionally people ‘forget’ their swimming cozzies). This can be reached by some steep steps from the campsite.

And when you’re done sunning yourself for the day, it’s only a short stroll up to the campsite, where the pitches are alphabetised, and the further you go beyond ABC, the higher you climb up the cliff. The ‘A’s are down near the beach, if you don’t want to have to walk too far, and can’t be bothered with the climb. By the time you get to the far reaches of the alphabet – particularly the ‘S’s and the ‘U’s – you’re into pitches that are raked into steep terraces overlooking the water and dotted with dinner-plate-sized cactus plants and all manner of different trees. Most of these pitches are inaccessible to caravans and camper vans; you have to park your car up top and carry your gear down the steps to your pitch. But it’s worth it.

And so if you were Napoleon, surely you’d be quite happy to retire from all that gallivanting about in stiff breeches and a bicorn hat. You’d lie back, let Josephine feed you sculpted melon balls for breakfast on the sun terrace of your lavish villa, and think to yourself, yep, Elba will suit me just fine.

Reviews

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★★★★★

amazing views

Ok yes the pitches are small, and yes its dusty and slightly tricky to be totally in the shade all day, but that said we rolled up mid august, the water was 27 degrees and the hilltop pitches substantially hotter, but we were warmly welcomed and shown to a small pitch over looking an amazing view of the bay with its super yachts, free kayaking and free windsurfing lessons. The facilities were modern and clean but slightly impersonal. The restaurant food was good but the premises a little out of date. We were blown away by the stony secret beech it had an amazing variety of fish and if you swam around the headland you would almost certainly have the beach to yourself, conversely the other beech was sandy and you could walk out hundreds of metres before you got your belly button wet. We were fortunate to borrow a catamaran from the campsite for 1/2 a day and went off sailing. We stayed at Stella Mare for 4 nights and we have fond memories of the site, the swimming pool is beautiful and extremely modern. The sandy beech was very narrow with a gradually slope into the sea, perfect for young children, having said that the climb back to the pitch not so much fun! Our children 7/11/10 loved it here. However, they did not get involved with the kids clubs, we saw only one other English number plate here during our 4 night stay. I've never paid so much for a camping pitch as we did here, but I would do it again!
Dec 31, 2017 by Jo O'Brien
★★★☆☆

Nice beach but slightly soulless

First things first, we stayed here in high season, so it was stiflingly hot, the place was choc-full of families, and prices were very much at the top end of the spectrum. That much was to be expected. But we had read coolcamping's description carefully and decided that Stella Mare must be worth a visit. Yes, there is a nice, reasonably secluded beach near the site which makes for a pleasant day's sunbathing. But overall, the experience was distinctly lukewarm. We arrived in the evening and were told to camp by the carpark till the next day when we could be re-sited. When it came to move, we asked for a shaded spot but were shown to a small exposed patch of dust, butting up to a campervan. When we again politely asked for a shady patch, they begrudgingly relented. We were not allowed to take the car near the pitch (we noted that some of the Italian campers were) so it took several trips in the midday sun to haul our gear over. The local area, including nearby restaurants and flea market, are lively, but purpose-built to serve the hordes of tourists. If you're looking for Italian authenticity, you'll need to drive to other parts of the island (which are, incidentally, very charming indeed). Unlike other campsites on coolcamping, the photos above are somewhat misleading. They mainly show other parts of Elba - which are a drive away - and the ones of the campsite itself are taken from a distance.
Aug 8, 2016 by Barney

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