I was sadly thinking that our Windstar Voyage was almost over, when in a bright morning we sailed in Portoferraio, the largest town in the Island of Elba. Located just 6 miles away from the mainland, Elba is part of Tuscany and in the summer there are regular ferries which connect Elba with Corsica and Italy mainland.
Island of Elba attracts a lot of travelers in the summer season (high months being July & August), looking for a quick escape. Famous around the world for harboring the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte during his 1814 exile, Elba offers unique combination of active vacation (mountain biking, diving, hiking), and relaxation (azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea), combined with rich prehistory dating back to the Etruscans.
Our yacht docked right in the Harbor, and my husband and I eagerly headed uphill to the Old Town. For travelers interested in history, a visit to Villa Mulini (Napoleon Bonaparte's, Residence during his 300 days exile on the island) is a must as well as the two fortresses - Forte Falcone and Forte Stella built by Cosimo Medici as a part of the city defense system back in the 16th Century.
We started wandering around narrow cobblestone streets and after quick climb uphill we reached the Emperor's Villa set on the top of the town. It cost us 5 Euro per person to get an entry and we were fortunate enough to be just one of the few visitors at this late morning hour. The centerpiece of our tour was the expansive library and splendid terraced garden overlooking the Sea.
Located near Napoleon's Residence was Forte Stella easily recognized by it's unique pink brick color. The highest part offered strategical view of Villa Mulini and the gleaming sea.
Elba, like several other islands in the Mediterranean, takes few hours afternoon siesta, thus we had to alter our original plan to visit Forte Falcone and instead spend the rest of the afternoon at Portoferraio's main beach and souvenir shopping along the Marina's promenade.
Are you ready to embark on your small ship Mediterranean voyage?
One of my favorite things about small ship cruising is that you visit less "touristy" ports where the big ships cannot go. After relaxing day at sea, our Windstar Yacht docked in the harbor of Alghero, a charming medieval town in the island of Sardinia, Italy. And Yes, we were the only ship in the harbor!
One of highlights of the island was a trip to the "Neptune's Grotto" which was a spectacular stalactite sea cave complex located at the Northwest part of Sardinia. You can access the Cappo Caccia (Vertical Cliffs) and the Grotto via boat or land (drive, local bus, or organized tour - it takes about 45 min). The road winds around Cappo Cacchia and ends up short of the climb. Be prepared, there are 656 steps down carved into the sheer cliff wall, which lead to the Grotto.
My husband and I decided to take a a local boat tour from a company called "Navisarda", located right in Alghero's harbor. In the summer months, there are trips scheduled every hour. It cost us 16 Euro per person for a round trip.
Travel Tip: Make sure to bring cash to pay for your tickets. There was a separate entry fee of 13 Euro (Cash Only - Total = 29 / person), once we were at the Grotto itself.
After a 45 minute scenic boat ride, we arrived at Cappo Caccia and Neptune's Grotto. Raising high above sea level, the white vertical cliffs looked so magnificent! We saw some birds and other wildlife, which made the Cape their home.
Travel Tip: If you plan this trip, try to have an early morning start! We felt that was already too crowded at noon, considering the fact that was off season.
After being in a few caves in the past myself, I have to say that Neptune's Grotto was one of the most beautiful cave I have seen! It was truly a natural treasure! Created over millions of years, the stalactites were awe inspiring, boasting unique shapes and forms.
Back in Alghero in early afternoon, we were exited to start exploring the Old Town by foot. It happened to be right at Siesta Time (most of the shops and restaurants were closed), but we still found a small al-fresco dining pizzeria in a historic piazza which we loved!
Travel Tip: No need to rent a car, walk or bike is the best way to get around
We spent the rest of the day souvenir shopping, wandering around the narrow windy cobblestone streets, visiting small churches and walking along the medieval town walls we even saw a trebuchet (medieval siege engine)!
Travel Tip: Souvenirs made out of Red coral are traditional gifts
We left Alghero with a heart full of joy and appreciation that we had an opportunity to visit this picturesque town.
Are you ready to embark on a small ship adventure?