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.
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