Napoleon’s Elba


Napoleon’s time on Elba, Italy

Elba is a cute little island 6.2 miles off the coast of Tuscany, Italy.  It was discovered early on to be ripe with minerals, mostly high-quality iron. Over the centuries the Etruscans, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and in the 1500’s the Medici family helped themselves to the island’s resources. In those days, it was likely not a very pretty island with quarries and furnaces doting the island, probably lots of soot and heaps of waste all over.  I imagine the ironworkers stripped the island of trees to feed the furnaces. Most inhabitants were likely transient workers with no stake in the island. All in all, not the quiet, pretty island it is today. 

Finally in the 1980s mining wasn’t economically interesting any longer and the last mine was closed. Being a short ferry ride off the coast of Italy tourists, vacationers, and retirees were soon attracted to Elba.  Today there are beaches, hiking paths, nightlife, and cool little towns with restaurants, bars, and shopping. 


The largest town on Elba is Portoferraio (Iron Port in Italian) which has a lovely harbor.  It was in Portoferraio that Napoleon first landed in 1814.  The treaty of Fontainbleu required Napoleon to be exiled from France, but he could retain his title of Emperor, but Emperor of Elba.  A bit of a comedown! However, in the short time he was there (from May 30, 1814, to February 26, 1815) he made significant improvements to the island’s infrastructure and government. 

Napoleon eventually escaping back to France, where he tried to get back to where he left off but was defeated at Waterloo.  He was then exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic (they weren’t taking any chances on another escape), where he died at age 52.

Napoleon’s San Martino home on Elba 

Napoleon’s summer residence on Elba

We only have a few hours on Elba, so we chose to take a tour that visited Napoleon’s summer home and the town of Portoferraio. 

Napoleon had a home in Portoferraio but wanted a quiet retreat where he could get away from work and constant visitors.  He chose a farmhouse in the San Martino area and transformed it into a comfortable retreat. 

After a short, pretty, bus ride we parked in a small lot with a few tourist booths alongside. It’s early, and there is only one other bus.  It’s very quiet, wooded and hilly. I can see why Napoleon chose the area to get away from his busy city life. There is a lovely hotel, Park Hotel Napoleon, right next to the Napoleon home/museum but the architecture fits the area, and there are few we people around even on a summer day in the middle of tourist season. 

 As you walk up the drive the building before you is impressive. The facade is elegant, certainly fit for an emperor. However, we soon learn the neoclassical facade was added later, and the building made into a museum.  The facade would have been raw hillside when Napoleon first rode up to the house.  No wrought iron gates and no paved drive.  However, at that point Napoleon was looking for a restful retreat and the hilly farming area would have been perfect for his needs.  


Napoleon's property Elba

Facade of Napoleon’s San Martino estate on Elba

The estate is built on a hillside so as you arrive and look up you only see the impressive facade. After explaining the history our guide took us up a staircase to the left, and we entered the house from the back on the upper level of a two level structure, the lower level was the kitchen, a large bathroom, and storage areas. The home has a large terrace (the top part of the museum below) with beautiful views.  It was a simple farmhouse when Napoleon bought it, and he transformed it into a comfortable retreat, a place where he could enjoy quiet time but also entertain when needed.  

Elba Napoleon summer residence entrance

Entrance to Napoleon’s summer residence on Elba

Egyptian Room, Napoleon's Elba house

Egyptian room in Napoleon’s San Martino, Elba house

Furniture, Napoleon's House

Period furniture in the Napoleon summer residence


Napoleon's Bed Elba House

The bed Napoleon slept in on Elba. Yes, he was a short guy.


Napoleon's house

Even though he lived on Elba a short time he created an interesting house.


The kitchen on the lower level 

Stove Napoleon's Elba house

The kitchen at Napoleon’s summer house on Elba was stark. In his time there would have been clutter. Dishes and utensils, food baskets, and hanging meat.

sink Napoleon;s Elba House

Kitchen on the lower level at Napoleon’s summer house on Elba

Bathtub at Napoleon's summer residence Elba.

Napoleon’s bathtub

Napoleon's museum below house

This is the museum with the neoclassical facade. Its a museum but there wasn’t much to see. However, it was a beautiful room with an amazing ceiling.

Unfortunately, there is never enough time, but after the visit to Napoleon’s house, we were dropped in Portoferraio for a little over an hour before heading back to port. 

The town is typical for a Mediterranean island, but if you wander a bit off the beaten track, you usually stumble on something interesting and photo-worthy.  We found a quaint pottery shop and gallery, some street art, pretty little sidewalk restaurants, and the usual hanging laundry.  

Portoferrario street art

Street art Elba

Wall leading to Portoferrario pottery studio

A wall in Portoferraio leading to a local pottery studio.

Portoferrario pottery studio

Pottery studio Portoferraio

Portoferrario Pottery studio

Display of pottery at Portoferraio studio


Restaurant Portoferrario Elba

Alley of sidewalk cafe’s in Portoferraio, Elba

Laundry Portoferrario

Laundry on a side street Portoferraio, Elba.


I'm in my sixties with the world at my feet and thoughts mostly of "where to next?". I retired in 2017, sold my house in Massachusetts and most of my furniture and "stuff." When not traveling you can find me in Florida in the winter and Rhode Island in the summer. Travel has been a passion from a young age, over the years I've discovered I'm a traveler, not a tourist. I prefer traveling solo, with a travel friend, or small groups. Whenever possible I would rather spend time in one place rather than moving around. I'll never turn down an opportunity to go to France, but my travels have taken me all over the world. I've met some incredible people and had some fantastic experiences.

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