Pasta, pizza, historical sites and Italian leather goods are more apt to be on travelers’ reasons for visiting Italy than seeing wildlife. But for Windstar’s guests on the Yachtsman’s Harbors of the Rivieras cruise, a weeklong trip visiting small ports offers time to slow down and chase butterflies, or watch dolphins play in the surf.
Portoferraio, Italy is a port on the island of Elba, best-known as the chosen place of exile for emperor Napoleon in May 1814. Though he only stayed six months, he managed to live well in two mini-palaces, both open for tours today. The island is mountainous with forests, vineyards and beaches, much of it part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Windstar has long included the little known port on its Mediterranean cruises – cerulean sea brushes against beaches and cliffs with small, colorful villages at foot, historical sites and nature trails to explore. Something for everyone to enjoy.
Elba is one of seven islands in the National Park which covers more than 600 square kilometers including islands and sea. It’s the largest marine park in Europe; the other islands included are Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri and Gorgona. Legend has it that islands are gems from Venus’ necklace that fell into the sea.
Birders will find plenty of species to search for on Elba. Keep your eye out for gulls, herring gulls, cormorants, shearwaters, ravens, peregrine falcons, thrush and wild pigeon.
If you are a water and beach lover, head to the shore and wander around the beach, go swimming or snorkeling, or take a kayaking tour. The sea here is rich in marine life and surprises await. Larger marine life sightings here include multiple species of dolphins, sperm whales, fin whales and once in a while, monk seals. The beauty of sea anemones, coral and sea stars can be found at low tide.
For an up close look at local marine life without getting wet, head over to the Elba Aquarium located in the southwest part of the island. The more than 80 tanks were curated by hand to mimic the natural environment of the Tuscan Archipelago as closely as possible. There are 150 different species of marine life here. You will likely see something you’ve never seen before!
Sharks, dolphins, turtles, shellfish, fish, sea stars, urchins, newts, crustaceans. The occupants of the tanks have been acquired through rescues. Many are set free after rehabilitation.
Moving from sea to land, and wings, you’ll also find a Butterfly Sanctuary on the island. Opened in 2009, it is a protected home to 50 different species of butterflies. A trail, path number five, begins at the picnic area of Monte Perone and continues for about 1.3 miles until it ends on the slopes of Monte Capanne.
The path travels through pinewood, Mediterranean bush and open spaces alive with plants and flowers. Along the way, signposts describe the species of butterflies found here and the environmental factors needed to sustain them.
Coming back to Elba for an overnight on the island in the summer months, you will have time to partake in the island’s wild life at nightclubs with DJs spinning tunes, live bands, colorful cocktails and dancing. There’s even a Butterfly Discotheque.
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