Published on: 2 February 2014 | Last updated: 6 January 2020
This tour of the island of Elba offers a great mixture of moderately challenging cycling, some fabulous sea views and some of Italy’s best beaches. Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…
This route is 138 kilometres long, with slightly under 3000 metres of climbing. There are some people who might contemplate doing this in a day, and it would definitely be possible for reasonably fit touring cyclists to do it in two days, but this is a route that’s made for taking at a relaxed pace, mixing cycling with time on the beach or just relaxing.
I started at Portoferraio and this is the main ferry terminal with frequent services to and from Piombino, however there are also ferry services to Cavo and Rio Marina. Cavo has a campsite nearby and would make a great place to start or finish.
I did this route in an anti-clockwise direction so that I would be on the side of the road nearest the sea. Most cyclists seemed to be doing the route in the opposite direction (or at least the circuit of the western end). I’m not sure why. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it going clockwise if you’d rather.
The roads are generally extremely quiet - with the exception of the road that connects Portoferraio with the tourist areas of Lacona and Marina di Campo.
Map and altitude profile
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I started out of Portoferraio on a narrow scenic road that skirts the northern side of the town heading towards the isthmus of Enfola. Although it’s not an especially touristy area but there are some beautiful beaches are along this stretch of coast including the spiaggia di Sansone, the spiaggia di Padulella, and the Cala dei Frati. Be prepared for a bit of a climb if you do decide to detour to the beach.
The first destination is Enfold an isthmus that’s a mere 75 metres wise at its narrowest point. You could omit the detour to Enfola, but it’s a lovely road. There’s a nice campsite if you’re looking to stay the night, and a decent bar and restaurant.
Coming back from Enfola there’s a climb with some great views towards Procchio. This is one of the few relatively busy roads on the route. Near Procchio is the Golfo di Biodola with the spiaggia del Forno and the spiaggia di Biodola with its fine white sand, another of Elba’s top beaches.
Procchio itself is a wee bit touristy but not overly so. Once past Procchio the route heads on towards the Marina di Marciana a little port with a watchtower and a nice place to stop for a drink or something to eat.
After the Marina di Marciana there’s the climb to Marciana itself - the biggest climb on the route - a total of 362 metres over just under 9 kilometres. The Rough Guide describes Marciana as Elba’s most attractive village - and they are probably right. There’s a belvedere (viewpoint) with a number of bars, restaurants and gelaterie (ice cream shops). If you have the energy it’s worth making the climb to the Castello Pisano - at the high point of the village.
It’s mainly downhill From Marciana around the western coast. On a fine day, you should be able to see Sardegna to the north-west and Corsica to the west. If you enjoy scenic coastal rides you’ll love this section. Bear in mind that there’s very little in the way of services, or places to stay, until you get to Chiessi at the 50-kilometre mark. The dramatic coastal road continues, with more beautiful beaches at Fetovaia and the spiaggia di Cavoli.
At Cavoli the road turns inland towards Campo nell’Elba and the resort of Marina dell Campo and on from there to Lacona. These are the major tourist centres of the island - although development is still fairly low-key. More white sandy beaches and plenty of choice of campsites.
The Capoliveri peninsula
After Lacona comes the Capoliveri peninsula. The eastern side of the island was, a major mining centre, for three thousand years or so, until the 1980s when the mines closed. The land on the Capoliveri is still owned by mining companies and there are few tarmac roads and little in the way of development. The town of Capoliveri and the peninsula would make a good detour. If you have an off-road capable bike you can make use of some of the trails that form part of the Capoliveri Bike Park (italian only). You can also visit the remains of one of the mines, at Punta Calamita - info: minieredicalamita.it (Google Map). There are also some nice beaches: (the Lido di Capoliveri, and the spiaggia dell’Innamorata, as well as the spiaggia della miniera formed from waste excavated from the mines).
If you haven’t already had your fill of beaches, there are even more at Porto Azzurro on the north-eastern corner of the Capoliveri peninsula (as well as some campsites).
After Porto Azzurro there’s a shortish climb (152 metres altitude-gain) and then a descent to Rio Marina. If you’re pushed for time, you could head for the village of Rio nell’Elba and then take the Via dell Volterraio towards Portoferraio - but the loop to Cavo and the northern tip of the island is well worth the effort.
North to Cavo
At Rio Marina there are bars and restaurants where you can make a stop before heading on towards Cavo. The ride from here is not particularly difficult. Look for the rich red rocks showing the iron ore that was once the wealth of the island. Heading north you can see the remains of the old opencast mine workings and a jetty that was once used for loading the ore onto ships.
There aren’t any services between Rio Marina and Cavo. Cavo itself has shops, restaurants and bars as well as a decent (but not sandy) beach. There are also ferry services and a campsite so you could start and finish your tour here rather than in Portoferraio. Look out for the Isola dei Topi: London may have the Isle of Dogs but Elba goes one better with the Isle of Rats.
The Via Volterraio
After Cavo come the last couple of climbs of the tour reaching a maximum altitude of 324 metres. The views on the way up are excellent but the showstopper is definitely the view from the top as you look down over the bay towards Portoferraio, with the ferries heading for the terminal and on the left, as you look towards Portoferraio are the remains of a ruined castle the or Fortezza (or Castello) del Volterraio. The present castle dates back to 1000 AD but, as the name suggests, there may well have been fortifications from the Etruscan era on the site.
There’s a great descent down from the pass, and if you want to prolong your visit a little longer you could head for the little beach resort of Bagnaia. If you can cope with unsurfaced roads you could head as far north as Nisporto.
The last leg into Portoferraio is straightforward. If you can do, it’s worth checking the ferry timetables to see whether the next departure is from Moby or Terramar ferry terminal - although the services are so frequent that it won’t be the end of the world if you end up at the wrong one.
You could do the ride as a figure of eight if you prefer.
On a clear day you can see both Sardegna and Corsica from the island and a tour of the islands would definitely be a practical proposition if you have the time. There doesn’t seem to be a direct ferry to either island, so you would need to take the boat to Piombino and from there head for Bastia and then go round Cap Corse and down the western side of Corsica before catching the ferry to Porto Torres in Sardegna (Sardinia).
You could easily split this route into a couple of circular day rides: I would suggest that Lacona or Marina di Campo would be the best bases.
The island also attracts a lot of mountainbikers coming to the Capoliveri Bike Park (Italian only). Capoliveri is an old mining town on a peninsula at the south-east of the island. Much of the peninsula is still owned by mining companies so there are few surfaced roads and not much tourist development - but the dirt roads are open to mountainbikers.
When to go
I would definitely avoid anywhere on the Tuscan coast in the peak holiday weeks of mid-August. Many campsites on Elba stay open long late into October - so it’s a perfect place for a late summer (or early autumn) break.
Taking the ferry
The most convenient alternative for getting to the ferry terminal (stazione marittima) is the road to Piombino. There are a fair number of cars moving fast but the road isn’t too scary, and not many lorries. I didn’t do this on say a Saturday in the peak holiday season when probably the road would have been pretty busy. It is possible to take the train from say Populonia to either Piombino or to Piombino Marittimo which is in the port itself. Alternatively, there are unsurfaced roads between Piombino and Baratti.
Piombino has two sides - to the east there’s a steelworks (under threat of closure) and an industrial area, but on the western side there’s an attractive centro storico with an old castle - a good place to stop unless time is against you.
The ferry takes about an hour. The two main companies are Moby and Torremar. Moby bought Torremar from the Regione Toscana at the beginning of 2012. When I passed through in September 2012 they were operating ships under both names, with common ticket offices (biglietteria) and tickets are valid on both services. The only practical difference from the customer perspective, so far as I could tell, was that the ships leave from different parts of the port in Portoferraio - so if you are keen to get the next available service then its worth checking the timetable and heading for the appropriate terminal, but you’ll not have to wait long even if you go to the wrong part. There are also ferry services offered by BluNavy and Corsica Ferries.
The major ferry terminal on Elba is Portoferraio, however, there are also ferry services to Cavo and Rio Marina/Porto Azzurro. Both Cavo and Porto Azzurro have campsites close by.
At the port
There’s a Torremar-Moby ticket office just outside the port area. All four companies have ticket offices in the main terminal building.
I paid €34.50 (September 2013) for a return ticket (about €20 for the outward portion, and about €14 for the return). Lots of websites offer online tickets and campsites offer deals, but probably no great savings to be made by booking online and turning up and booking was very easy and simple. That may be different in high season - certainly if you are in a car rather than by bike. Motorbikes and bikes were squeezed in along the sides.
Bikes and motorbikes are loaded first so go to the head of the queue on the quayside, and embark when you are called. It’s worth going as close to the other end of the boat as you can - otherwise you risk being stuck behind a motorbike with its engine running as its rider waits to disembark.
Maps to print out or view offline
About the maps
The maps are in two versions: A4 portrait format - for printing and maybe also for viewing on an iPad, and A5 for smaller tablets and smartphones. (A4 and A5 are international paper sizes).
Links open in new windows unless you ‘save as’ etc.
- Elba Tour gps files
(.zip file containing 3 gpx track files)
- Italy Points of Interest
POIs are like waypoints, but while you can usually only store a limited number of waypoints on a device, you can store thousands of POIs. These files include information about campsites and hostels, bike shops, train stations, drinking water sources as well as warnings for tunnels and roads where bikes are banned. Please check the ReadMe file for instructions. Updated April 2018. The file format is only compatible with Garmin GPSes .
Places to stay
Hotels and B&Bs etc
Find and book places to stay with Booking.com
Booking.com pages for places on Elba:
About these links
If you use these links to book accommodation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.
I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirmation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accommodation.
I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the opportunity to let me know if there’s a problem.
Many properties offer free cancellation but it’s a good idea to check the conditions as these vary from property to property.
There are lots of excellent campsites around the island. Not only did the quality seem high but value for money was excellent. Many campsites on the island are open until mid-October while nearby campsites on the mainland were closed by mid-September.
I stayed at these campsites:
I also visited the Elbadoc near Cavo which seemed like nice place to stay with friendly staff.
Note however that there are no campsites at all on the western end of the island. I stayed in Chiessi thanks to a very good deal from booking.com.
Articles in this series
- The Tuscan coast: overview
- The Tuscan coast – Part 1: from the border with Liguria to Viareggio and Pisa
- The Tuscan coast – option: taking the high road
- The Tuscan coast Part 2: Pisa to Livorno and Populonia
- The Tuscan coast – Part 3: from Populonia to Marina di Grosseto
- The Tuscan coast – Part 4: through the Maremma to Capalbio
- The Tuscan coast – option: a tour of Elba