Elba is not only the largest, but also the best known island of the seven islands that are known as the Tuscan Archipel. All but the northernmost island Gorgona are in between the Apennine peninsula and the French island Corsica: Capraia, Pianosa, Elba, Montecristo, Giglio and Giannutri.
Geologically the Italian islands are the tops of a large mountainous land area that disappeared in the sea millions of years ago. This continent once connected Corsica and Sardinia by land to the rest of Europe. A series of vulcanic eruptions caused this land bridge to disappear.
In Italian administrative terms, five of the islands are part of the province Livorno. Giglio and Giannutri fall under the province Grosseto.
Until recently, only Elba and Giglio had any tourist value. The other islands were forbidden territory for the public: Gorgona, Capraia and Pionosa were penal settlements, Giannutri was private territory and Montecristo was a nature reserve. In the meantime, this situation has changed under the influence of commercial real estate developers. There were plans for VIP residencies on Gorgona and Capraia, and a Pianosa golf course only to be reached by helicopter. But fortunately the Italian government declared the Arcipelago Toscano to be preserved wildlife area.
A short description of the seven islands:
This is the famous place of exile of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the appropriate node, I will describe the island (I was there two years ago myself) extensively in the near future. Shortly, Elba has 30,000 inhabitants, most of them living in the capital Portoferraio, which is a beautiful little city with two fortresses on a mountain looking over the coloured houses and the sea.
After Elba, Giglio is the largest island of the archipel with 1,700 inhabitants. It is 21.2 square kilometers (about 8.7 kilometers long at most, while 5 kilometers wide at maximum). Ferries travel from Porto San Stefano on Monte Argentario to the busy harbour of Giglio Porto, which forms the inhabited part of the island together with Giglio Castello and Campese. Tourists mainly visit the large beach at Campese. Giglio Castello is at 405 meters on a mountain that splits the island in two, and is very picturesque with Middle Age city walls, dominated by the 14th century castle. The largest mountain on this rocky island is the Poggio della Pagana (498 meters).
Giannutri used to be private posession until recently. The little island is a granite half moon, only 2,600 meters in length. A daily boat from Porto San Stefano will get you there in 1.5 hours, but hardly any tourist takes the effort. Most interesting might be the ruins of a Roman villa, dating back to the 1st century. The island is said to be a divers' paradise.
Northwest of Elba lies Capraia, reachable from Livorno and Portoferraio. Especially on this island, the wildlife preservers have beaten the real estate developers who had big plans here. The mountainous island (20 km2) is almost untouched nature with rare flora and fauna, and waters full of fish. In Summer even whales are sometimes witnessed near the Capraia coast. Only the bay is inhabited, with a harbour and the village of Capraia. There is just one road, a few kilometers long.
The former penal colony Gorgona is the smallest and northernmost island of the archipel. It is even less accessible than Capraia. Once a week, a boat from Livorno will get you here. A part of the island still functions as prison. Gorgona was already inhabited by the Etruscans and the Romans. City states Pisa and Florence built fortifications here between the 13th and 15th century.
Unlike the other islands in the archipel, Pianosa is a flat piece of land. Fishermen are bound to get lucky here, although the coral reefs are protected area. Pianosa is still an penal settlement and therefore forbidden terrain for you and me.
Once the island inspired Alexandre Dumas, but nowadays only a lucky few get to enter Montecristo. It lies south of Elba and is 10.3 km2 large. It has been a nature reserve since 1971. People have to get special admittance to visit the island. Only a couple of thousands of visitors are allowed per year, mostly scientists.