We stayed in rented houses in two parts of the island; Rio Marina on the east coast for the first week, and Portoferraio on the central north coast for the second. We managed comfortably without a car. We got to the mainland port of Piombino by train from Pisa and crossed by ferry to Rio Marina; transferred to Portoferraio by bike (not oblivious to the hill in the way); and returned by ferry from Portoferraio to Piombino and back to Pisa by train.
Elba is a good but not superb destination for mountain biking. There is a dense network of cyclable footpaths and the east of the island, in particular, is well set up for cycling. This applies especially to Capoliveri in the south-east, which has a cycle-friendly gelateria (but no water fountain, alas). It seems to be the main centre for mountain biking on the island, having hosted a stage of the cross-country world cup in 1994.
The scenery in Elba is good but not as spectacular as we’ve seen in some other places. The most appealing views are the glimpses of coves from above as you ride near the coast.
The island is geologically varied. The west is granite (like much of Corsica), a beautiful solid rock which offers enjoyable obstacles. It was quarried in ancient times and provided some of the building materials for the Coliseum.
The east is made of more friable stuff, rich in iron, which gave the island its economic importance (and gave the capital Portoferraio its name). The ore ilvaite is named after Elba. In consequence the rock on the east is often rather chossy, while some trails have a soil surface which is little more than compacted powder. The first photo on p148 of Andreas’s book is no advertisement for the island.
Andreas’s book is Elba mit dem Mountainbike entdecken (2017). Kompass map 2468 covers the island. We picked up a free ‘Gravity park’ map in a restaurant at Rio nell’Elba, which has descriptions of 8 routes in the north-east of the island in Italian and English.
A useful web resource, concentrating on the south-east, is the isoladelba site, with brief route descriptions, photos, and GPS tracks (in Italian). There are also good tracks on Wikiloc.
Rides from Rio Marina
Monte Fico. An introductory ride based on Andreas’s ET-13 and its first variant. A steep climb on a dirt track followed by an unpleasant rubbly descent (difficult/S2) and then a nice flat ride home along the Sentiere d’Amore. [Sat 8; 9km, 270m. Distances and climbs are not always those of the GPS tracks: they are what we did on the day, including false turns etc.]
From here it’s a tarmac road back past Rio nell’Elba. An inconspicuous footpath leaves the road and makes a nice descent to the Laghetto delle Conche, which is a dark ferrous red (and was almost empty when we were there). Tracks start proliferating, and route-finding becomes tricky, as you head through old quarries, reaching the mineral museum and an easy descent to Rio Marina. [Mon 10; 35km, 740m.]
For the return we tried and failed to find an off-road connection from Capoliveri to the Blue Boar. We reverted to tarmac and took a footpath L from the Via Cariglio. This is very steep; a parallel farm track a few metres south would have reduced the effort. The footpath and track join after 150m. At this point we switched to the track, found that it no longer went the right way, reversed, and rejoined the footpath. The footpath becomes a track again, continuing to gain height. When you’ve finished the main climb you turn left to join the Blue Boar itself, a narrow undulating footpath beside a barbed-wire fence. There are a few obstacles – one very difficult – but the main challenge is the narrowness of the path. We weren’t especially keen.
You emerge on the road traversing the Capo Vita peninsula. Climb slightly to cross the ridge-line; plummet down to Rio nell’Elba and Rio Marina. [Tues 11; 61km, 1480m.]
We returned to Rio nell’Elba and rejoined the Monte Grosso trail, turning off from the climb to the semaphore when we reached the zigzagging footpath descent. The road took us back to Rio nell’Elba for lunch, and we found a loose gravelly descent towards Rio Marina. [Weds 12; 33km, 990m.]
The next day we climbed back to the castle, paying it a visit before continuing to Portoferraio (lunch) and checking into our new abode. [Sat 15; 25km, 470m.]
Rides from Portoferraio
Napoleonic Woods. There are two wooded hills south of Portoferraio – Monte Poppe (about 200m above sea level) and Monte Pericoli (about 300m) – each offering a variety of ascents and descents. Napoleon’s villa nestles at the bottom of the latter. A happy day’s riding can be obtained by combining ascents and descents, but there’s no interest in describing any of the permutations available: instead we will describe the individual components. Here we just mention that our Sun 16 tour comprised 48km and 1290m ascent; that our Weds 19 June tour (including Enfola) comprised 16·5km and 480m; and that our Fri 21 June tour comprised 36km and 790m.
Monte Poppe ascents. Route 48 (from the north): a straightforward gravel track.
Gusto Retro (from the south): a flanking road climb to the unnamed pass with the eponymous restaurant, then a straightforward gravel track.
Monte Poppe descents. Seccione (to the north east): we weren’t madly keen on this. It starts off as flowing singletrack, but when some obstacles appeared they were far too big for us. After this (forgive our failing memories) the route may have become overgrown.
Le Cime (Route 51 west): also enjoyable. For once we found it easier than Andreas led us to believe (he rates it S3, i.e. v. dif.). We rode most of the obstacles, which were true tests of skill and included a huge step.
Monte Pericoli ascents. Route 65. The climb leaves the main road at San Giovanni, where it can be unpleasantly busy and the drivers unpleasant. It gains height initially on an attractive minor road, reaching the Colle Reciso where you join an easy-going track.
San Martino. The one positively enjoyable ascent, which follows a footpath of good enough quality to be rideable uphill. It joins the Route 65 ascent track on the ridge somewhat to the east of the summit.
Route 44 (from Procchio). A long, rather disagreeable climb on a stony military road.
Colle Pecoano (Route 45 west). Twisty-turny rider-made trails, mostly not too hard. There’s a chute down to the road at Colle Pecoana (watch out for traffic) and after crossing the road you follow a track until you reach a footpath to the right. When you get to Procchio your GPS points you down a flight of steps. Don’t ask questions – do as you’re told. The gelateria at Procchio is your recompense.
Enfola. The promontory is irresistible for its pretty shape, and rewarding for the views down to the shore. We climbed the zigzag track to the summit, then pushed our bikes into what appeared to be a cavern, but which turned out to be a tunnel. This led to a clockwise circuit of the hilltop. The technical bits are narrow and exposed (Andreas says S3), so we pushed them. Anticlockwise might be better.
Le Trane. A rather disappointing ride derived from Andreas’s ET-07. Andreas had an off-road segment to the Colle Traditi, but when we tried following it we found Strada Chiusas, a barnful of howling dogs, and no obvious continuation; so we back-tracked and used the road (which is pleasant and quiet). It leads to the Fattoria “Terra e Cuore”, from whose car park you have to find a footpath descent. Two alternatives seem equally unconvincing. In fact they join to make a decent footpath. There’s little technical interest but nice views. [Mon 17; 30km, 630m.]
The alternative start climbs out of Marciana Marina on a steep footpath from the beach. We found it hard to credit that this was the intended route, but no alternative presented itself. In fact it’s only 100 vertical metres, but sweaty and a little desperate. It emerges at a vehicular track which you follow west until you turn off onto a footpath dropping down to La Cala. Another climb, less severe, takes you to a minor road leading to Zanca.
The Poggio–Marciana–Zanca route includes its fair share of climbing, but mostly on a quiet and scenic road. A little short of Poggio a mule track provides a short cut. It doesn’t live up to the hair-raising signpost at its foot – it’s safely rideable. Perhaps there was an accident here once. Poggio is a delightful village with a Napoleonic spring, Marciana a pleasant village; and then you get the reward for your toils in a gleeful tarmac descent to Zanca.
Marina di Campo–Procchio–Portoferraio. Andreas’s route to Procchio is again off road, and this time a good one, though care is needed in the route-finding. It didn’t seem worth following his guidance for the final descent. Gelateria at Procchio, then the somewhat overfamiliar road over the Colle Pecoano back home. [Tues 18/Thurs 20; 71km, 1370m.]
Farewell to Pisa. We lazed by the pool at the ‘B&B Ai Condotti’ and said goodbye with an excellent meal at the ‘Osteria Bernardo by il Giardino Nascosto’.