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Introduction

Die inselische Autofährtboot

This was one of a series of trips in the footsteps of Andreas Albrecht, whose guidebooks may be taken as recommendations as well as sources of information. The GPS tracks which come with them are useful, but since he writes in a language which means nothing to us we’re reduced to looking at the pictures and difficulty gradings. He has tended to visit places in the German sphere of influence. Elba ist eine deutsche Insel, popular with beach tourists as much as mountain bikers. You’d think it was small enough to be free from the scourge of motorcyclists, but you’d think wrongly.

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.

Sources of information

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.

Hazard

We had lots of punctures. Ivan suggests the puncture vine (tribulus terrestris) but there may have been luzerne des sables (medicago marina) as well or instead.

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.]

Der
Semaphorabstiegsweg

Monte Grosso. Based on Andreas’s ET-17. A road climb to Rio nell’Elba and beyond to the top of a ridge, then join the GTE footpath which offers some entertaining technical obstacles. After a short road section, climb steep doubletrack to the semaforo (under renovation), and on return deviate L to a zigzagging singletrack descent which is thoroughly enjoyable (moderate). Andreas proposes a footpath from Solana Alta to a cove at Cala Mandriola, but we wasted time trying to find a way through, gave up (as did a couple of German walkers), and followed the road instead to the point at which it meets Andreas’s route coming the other way. Here we turned R onto a footpath, needing to push for a brief climb, and finding pleasant mountain biking thereafter as far as the Tonietti mausoleum. Easy going from here to the road taking us to the coastal village of Cava where we had lunch; then tarmac all the way home. [Sun 9; 32km, 850m. The second half of our route is given in our Monte Grosso alternative return GPS track. We repeated the first half a few days later, and it comprises part of our Monte Grosso track.]

Liebespfadfelsen

Eisenerzzug

Sentiero dell’Amore and Miniere. The outward leg reverses a track by marco magrini; the return uses uses Andreas’s ET-15. The Sentiero gives a mixture of single and double track, all close to the sea, occasionally traversing beaches. There’s one rather unkind push uphill. You ride past the 17th century Forte Longone and arrive at the busy tourist town of Porto Azurro.

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.]

Heiligespurrutsche

Holy Trail and Blue Boar. Based on Andreas’s ET-03 and part of ET-11. The Capoliveri bike park is some distance from Rio Marina, so given the distance we thought it made sense to incorporate another sizeable ride at the same time. We followed the road to Capoliveri and Andreas’s GPS track for the circuit. Route-finding is not always easy, even with the help of GPS, because of the number of criss-crossing paths. The riding is not technically difficult, though a couple of steep chutes give reason to pause (or find a way round them). The derelict industrial landscape has a charm of its own. The mountain-biking ends on the road back to Capoliveri, which is preternaturally flat. Lunch.

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.]

Überwucherter Weg

Return to Monte Grosso. Based on Andreas’s ET-12 and ET-17. We rode up to Rio nell’Elba and began our off-road riding with a Mezza Strega – a fairly non-technical route recommended for its views (hidden from us by mist).

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.]

Monte Serra

Monte Serra and Bagnaia. We made the customary climb to Rio nell’Elba and embarked on a little loop of Monte Serra described in the ‘Elba Gravity Park’ leaflet. It begins with a traverse which is followed by a steep climb (push) and then a technical descent (moderate; we didn’t ride it all). The rest of the ride was on tarmac. We dropped down to the beach village of Nisporto, encountering a vicious reascent to get to the next beach of Bagnaia (lunch), a further climb past the striking Volterraio castle, and the customary plummet home. [Fri 14; 32km, 1000m.]

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.

Felshindernissequenz

Brunello (Route 51 east): an enjoyable ride. Varied and difficult, often fairly sustained, offering some nice rock obstacles and some loose extended sections.

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.

Napoleontreppe

Monte Pericoli descents. Scalata Napoleonica (Route 45 east). The hardest of the routes we tried. It starts off easy and flowing, interrupted by a single complicated obstacle, then reaches the staircase itself, a long straight loose descent which Colin rode nearly all of. After this comes a sequence of hairpins, initially posing pleasant challenges, but subsequently guarded by fearsome rock obstacles.

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.]

Ripa Barata

Anello Occidentale. An excellent full day’s ride. The first time we took Andreas’s advice to use the coastal footpath from Procchio to Marciana Marina, and made some route-finding errors subsequently. The coastal footpath is pleasant in parts but includes a vicious uphill push. We include its GPS track as an ‘alternative start’ but prefer the route of our main ‘Anello’ ride.

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.

Granitküstenpflaster

The Zanca–Chiessi–Pomonte footpath is the highlight of the ride. It leaves Zanca near some houses slightly below the main road. The first time round we weren’t sure it was the right way; the second time we gave it a try. ‘Schtrüßflackenz mit Andreas?’ one of the householders asked as we sauntered by. ‘Ja, danke’ we replied, grateful for the confirmation. The path is punctuated by protruding slabs of granite, beautifully sculpted and grippy, delightful to puzzle one’s way through. It comes up to the road near Chiessi, which was our lunch stop on our first visit. From the Chiessi square it climbs slightly above the road for another scenic and entertaining stretch. Roadies below sail by, watching enviously as you botch an obstacle, backtrack to repeat it, bungle it again... After the Pomonte Campo Santo you descend slabbily to the village, which is another lunch option.

Der Schwerkraftexperimentierturm
von Pisa

Pomonte–Fetovaia–Marina di Campo. The route from Pomonte to Fetovaia is mostly off road, on footpaths and vehicular tracks. The terrain is now rather shaley. Fetovaia was our lunch stop on our second tour. Andreas has an off-road descent from the Colle di Palombaia to Marina di Campo, but we didn’t think it was worth the hassle (our GPS track follows the road). All facilities (especially resort hotels) at Marina di Campo.

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’.

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