A narrow and tortuous road descends towards the sea, with a few houses surrounded by thriving and unspoilt nature… In Capo Sant’Andrea, the chestnut trees sweep right down almost to the coastline, a sign of the perfect combination of sea and mountains. This should not be surprising, as the area is located right at the feet of the highest mountains on Elba: Monte Capanne, Monte Cote and Monte Giove. Where the road ends is a beach with very fine sand and a small docking area with fishermen’s rowing boats. The scenery is beautiful: the water is so clear the seabed can be seen even in the deepest parts.
At the sides of this splendid beach, a pathway dug out of the rocks leads to some rocks which are unique in the world; not the usual seaside rocks, but dunes in unusual shapes formed by orthoclase crystals set in granite magma which solidified seven million years ago – an ideal place to sunbathe in an almost lunar atmosphere.
Much can be said about Capo Sant’Andrea. Not by chance was it chosen as a settlement by the Etruscans; its geographical conformation and unique granite rocks provide good protection against attacks, defending from the wind off the sea, and are both a gateway to the Tyrrhenian and at the same time a refuge. These illustrious ancestors of ours came to Capo Sant’Andrea, which was then covered in forest and rich in water, to work the iron extracted in the eastern part of the island, as the abundance of wood enabled the furnaces to be properly and safely stoked. Even today, searching among the vines and shrubs, away from the tourist trail, one can still find traces of “skimming”, residues of the fusion process used by the Etruscans to purify iron. Later on, the Romans came across the sea, as proven by the discovery of two wrecks in Capo Sant’Andrea itself, from among the many which surely perished. The first of these two wrecks is right on the tip, at a depth of about 10 metres, and the second is about 45 metres below sea level. Many of the items found in the waters around Capo Sant’Andrea can now be admired in the small but interesting archaeological museum in Marciana.
The position of Capo Sant’Andrea, its orographical conformation and weather conditions – which are unique in their kind – make the entire area almost an “island in an island”, a place rich in treasures to be discovered. The seaside at Capo Sant’Andrea can be enjoyed as anywhere else on the island, on the two beaches at Capo Sant’Andrea and Cotoncello, or one can enjoy the adventure of reaching the coastline and the most beautiful rocks on Elba, also enjoying the fascinating world of the mountains between swims. Walking along the ancient pathways, restored and indicated by CAI and the Mountain Communities, which wind their way from the coastline to Monte Giove (which reaches a height of about 800 metres), an enormous range of flora and fauna can be encountered, providing unforgettable experiences to those who enjoy new challenges. Walking along the paths means discovering cyclamen, violets, flowering heather, anemones and juniper bushes; taking in the intense perfume of helichrysum and lavender, rosemary and mint; experiencing the fluttering flight of the red-legged partridge or surprising flocks of grazing mountain sheep, or even coming across an abandoned goat-pen or the remains of prehistoric settlements.
This is true, as the microclimate of Capo Sant’Andrea ensures that the water temperature is perfect even in October. You will not find the usual Teutonic tourists used to the northern cold here!…
A few years ago, right on the “Docks” at Capo Sant’Andrea, a chemist (German!) took the temperature of the water at a depth of one metre using a calibrated electronic thermometer. Over a period of more than a decade (1991-2003), the average temperature of the water between the 1st and 10th of October varied between 22.46°C and 21.55°C, with a thermal variation of between +1.64°/+1.65° and -1.06°/-1.35°. If one considers the effects of global warming, it can be surmised that this average has increased.
For those who enjoy scuba diving, these seabeds are very interesting to explore. Here in Sant’Andrea, marine biologists have observed that the posidonia, a marine plant with long and thin green leaves, sexually reproduces, which is a rare event in this part of the Tyrrhenian and is testimony to the cleanness of these waters. Its fruit, similar to small olives (they are actually called “sea olives”) are visible in the spring. The carpets of posidonia on the seabed are the ideal habitat for numerous species of fish living here in abundance. Shoals of small Mediterranean chromis, which are electric blue in colour, swim among the brilliant green of the posidonia, together with wrasses, needle fish, bream and porgies.
There are also starfish and noble pen shells on the seabed.
For more experienced divers, there are some very interesting dives near the rocks known as the “Formiche della Zanca”, to the west of Sant’Andrea. Descending down the seaward side, at depths of 40 metres and more, there are intensely coloured gorgonians to be found, and it is easy to come across lobsters, moray eels, large fishing frogs and dentex. Moon fish can also be seen during the summer, with a bit of luck.
As already mentioned, two wrecks of cargo boats from Roman times were also found just off Sant’Andrea. The first is right next to the coastline at a depth of only 10 metres, the second 193 metres from the coastline at a depth of 45-47 metres. The former transported sacks of grain and the latter amphorae of wine from Campania. Many of the findings from the two ships are exhibited in the archaeological museum in Marciana and that in Portoferraio. However, the seabed is still a natural museum safeguarding the two ships and their cargoes, despite numerous expeditions by “predators” intent on stealing these treasures from the past.
Capo Sant’Andrea is the ideal point for excursions into the Capanne mountains and the nearby coast. In late spring, when the Mediterranean forest is thriving during May, these walks are enriched by particular and indescribable sensations, perceptions, perfumes, shapes and colours. I have often tried to describe this, but once I have sat down at my improvised writing desk, a table set up out in the open in the shade of the leafy trees, the emotions of the moment are so strong and beautiful that my pen forgets about the pathways…
The afternoon sun filtering through the rooftop of eucalyptus leaves, the perfume of juniper and other spring flowers enhanced by a slight breeze, the continuous alternation between the heat of the sun and the regenerating freshness of the air, the sounds all enhance the sense of being lost.
This is not all, and the atmosphere is made more magical by the subtle background of waves breaking on the nearby coastline, the song of innumerable birds, among which the hollow and raucous song of the turtle dove and the angry and sudden whistling of ravens are the most recognisable. The presence of man is almost unnoticed and can only be heard intermittently and far away by the sound of working tools, softened by the dominant sounds of nature.
Sounds and colours merge: the blue sky and sea transpire towards the pines and eucalyptus trees, the flowering juniper bushes and the colourful geraniums and white daisies.
In the background is an incredible variety of shades of green and yellow covering the mountainside: the brownish green of the heather, now devoid of flowers and the bright green of new chestnut leaves; the hollow green of the evergreen oak and the thousands of shades of the forest gradually merge with the first rocks on the mountain.
The brown granite of Masso Omo towers over the surroundings, almost a symbolic sentinel in mysterious equilibrium safeguarding the wild and beautiful, varied and harmonious nature. Perhaps man is beginning to love and respect nature, because it is the real source of life here.
Marciana, Marciana Marina, Poggio and the western coast of Elba
This is certainly the more beautiful side of the island, where the sea is clearer and the landscape more interesting. These are some of the places to be visited near Sant’Andrea.
High up in the mountainside (630 metres above sea level), and also overlooking the sea, the medieval hamlet of Marciana is a labyrinth of alleyways and stairways to be explored. Walking through this village is very pleasant; each doorstep and door encountered along the way is decorated with potted dahlias and geraniums, which are the pride of the local people. Climbing upwards, one passes through the Medieval vaults and crosses small squares which are the crossroads for the network of alleyways. The church of San Francesco (17th century), the fortress and the archaeological museum are all worth visiting.
Another ancient hamlet, a few kilometres from Marciana. There is a source of water here immersed in the chestnut forest and known as the Fonte di Napoleone (Napoleon’s fountain). It is said that the Emperor demanded water form this font on his table everyday during the ten months he spent on Elba.
A typical fishing port (but now also a very well equipped tourist port), and pleasantly lively during the summer. The “Quartiere del Cotone”, the historical centre of the village characterised by the pastel coloured houses which are a reminder of the old houses in villages in Liguria, is not to be missed.
The provincial road from Marciana to Sant’Andrea follows the western coastline of the island in the direction of Cavoli and Marina di Campo, providing a spectacular view of gulfs, promontories and small very picturesque villages of white houses. Even in the middle of summer, quiet corners can always be found: La Zanca, Patresi, with its lighthouse, Chiessi and Pomonte. If you drive along this road at sunset, stop at Punta Nera (between Patresi and Chiessi); the suggestive dark rocky promontory above the sea is the westernmost part of the island, where the sun reflects off the sea and the rocks in the light breeze which is always there.
Once joined to the mainland, the island of Elba has traces of human life dating back to the mid and upper Palaeolithic period. The civic museum in Marciana has some stone artefacts made by these nomadic hunters, while other items made from obsidian are proof of the presence of Neolithic man, who already possessed tools for navigation. As early as 2,000 B.C., the island was already renowned for its natural metals, and the weapons of the Homeric heroes may well have been forged from iron from Elba. There were people in the late bronze age who were farmers, and there are still traces of them in the dolmens and caves near Marciana.
THE ETRUSCANS AND THE “IRON FACTORY”
Sant’Andrea was especially renowned to the Etruscans due to its location, sheltered from the wind off the sea, its fertile land and thriving vegetation. The minerals extracted on the other side of the island were brought here because of the abundance of wood to feed the furnaces which reduced haematite to iron, and the remains from this ancient technique are still well visible on the land which is now used to cultivate olive trees and vines. Chalcopyrite, a precious mineral used to obtain sulphur, iron and copper, was also mined here. Because this mineral has the colour and brightness of gold, people from the area have always called it “Cava dell’Oro” (literally the Gold Cove).
The Romans decided to end the use of the resources on Elba; from then on, they only used minerals coming from the provinces of Spain and Austria, and prohibited the lighting of fusion furnaces by law, mainly to protect the area from the risk of deforestation. In the meantime, the citizens of the Empire has begun to appreciate the island for its therapeutic mud, its climate and its wine. The island also maintained its importance in trade exchanges. There was a trade route used by the Roman galleys passed through Sant’Andrea, as shown by the two wrecks of cargo ships, the amphorae and ceramic remains of which can be seen in the museum in Portoferraio and the small, but very interesting, archaeological museum in Marciana.
Decadence followed, with the domination of the Lombards and, at the time of the Maritime Republics, constant squabbles for domination between Pisa and Genoa. The entire 12th century was a series of bloody naval battles for control of the islands in the northern Tyrrhenian. A battalion of Genoese soldiers attempted to land at Sant’Andrea, but it is said that the local population ran en masse down to the beach, forcing their assailants to return to sea in a hurry. However, some Genoese must have managed to get share and remain there. How else can the curious similarities between some recipes from Elba (and Sant’Andrea in particular) and those from Liguria be explained? For example egg soup, a poor but nourishing dish based on crackers, garlic, oil, eggs and marjoram.
The dominance of Pisa has left visible signs on this side of Elba: the Fortress of Marciana (which was expanded in the 14th century by the Appiani family) and the village of Marciana itself, which is one of the few medieval hamlets in the area, with the nearby village of Poggio.
In later centuries. Capo Sant’Andrea was somewhat isolated from the different dominations by the Medici, the Spanish and by Napoleon, maintaining its traditions of fishing and mountain life. In recent times, the modern phenomenon of tourism has made this rather secret and unspoilt part of the island renowned, and modern day visitors still recognise a world that has kept its ancient fascination intact, by the warm and friendly welcome they receive here.
CONNECTIONS BY ROAD
FROM THE PORT OF PORTOFERRAIO (about 35 km from Capo Sant’Andrea), continue along the road through Procchio, Marciana Marina, Marciana and then Sant’Andrea.
FROM MARINA DI CAMPO AIRPORT (connected to the main towns during the summer and 29 km from Capo Sant’Andrea),continue through Procchio and follow the above itinerary.
FROM PORTOFERRAIO: (departure from the port) take the CTT bus to Zanca. Information on bus timetables available from CTT +39.0565 91.43.92
During the summer, the Commune of Marciana has is a bus service from Zanca (connecting with the CTT bus service to and from Portoferraio) to Capo Sant’Andrea.
There are taxis, car hires, mountain bikes and mopeds available in Portoferraio, Marina di Campo airport and Capo Sant’Andrea.