Close this search box.

Exciting Elba Island and Napoleon’s First Exile

Join us in the colourful and exciting island of Elba where Napoleon was exiled and history is rich

We are in the exiting and exotic exile island of Elba.  It has been described as a rich and famous yet in some respects tormented place.  Elba features a diverse natural landscape. Pristine sapphire waters hug the coastline. The luxurious fine grained sandy beaches and pebbly coves are numerous. It is famous for perfume and painterly pink postcard sunsets. Industrially, it has some of the purest minerals and the oldest iron mines in the world, the origins of which reach way back into the mists of time.

They’re right – Elba gives stunning sunsets

Elba’s Rich History

Inhabited since the Bronze Age, Elba is filthy rich in history.  Mythically, Jason and his expedition of Argonauts swung by here in their search for the elusive Golden Fleece. 

In real history, this is where the dynastic Medici family  created their perfectly idealized and strategically fortified town called ‘ Cosmopoli’. Internationally sophisticated yet quaint, culturally diverse yet deeply Italian, Elba is the origination of what we today call a ‘cosmopolitan’ lifestyle.

A statue off the main town square

Napoleon Undaunted in Elba

Elba was the island chosen for French dictator and self appointed emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s first exile. ‘The little general” was forced to abdicate after the signing of the Treaty of Fountainebleu and was sent to Elba  on the “HMS Undaunted”. He arrived here in Portoferraio on 4 May 1814. 

Portoferraio today – the town where Napoleon served his first exile

It was an aptly named ship that delivered him to the island, because even though he had been banished, the little man and his ego remained largely undaunted.  Through no official process at all, Napoleon was granted sovereignty over Elba. Importantly, that meant he would also retain the title of ‘Emperor’.  

Elba was hardly prison. He was granted permission to maintain  a personal guard of around 600 men so continued in some capacity to hold reigns of power.  His mother and sister moved to the island, living a lush and lavish lifestyle in mansions that today are museums.  He lorded his power over the 12,000 inhabitants of Elba which was a considerable come down. Before his surrender Napoleon had held dominion over 70 million Europeans.

Elba’s main town Portoferraio’s town quay today

Short in stature and reputedly aggressive, his attitude surely made him appear taller when he entered a room.  His ego was certainly tall. Napoleon escaped exile on Elba and returned to France in early 1815 in efforts to reclaim the empire.

Napoleon subsequently led a new army that only enjoyed temporary success before suffering a second defeat. The hundred days war preceded another humiliating surrender, this time at Waterloo. As a result he was exiled for a second and final time, to the island of Saint Helena located off the coast of Africa, where he died.

Overlooking Portferraio, Elba

Main Town Portoferraio

We’re anchored in Portoferraio – which pretty much translates as iron port.  Portoferraio is the biggest town on the island.  It strikes us that the boats here today would look very different to the boats here in Napoleon’s time.

The entertaining ferries in main town Portoferraio

There are frequent crisscrossing, cartoon decorated, car carrying ferries. They come from Corsica, Sardinia and the mainland, which is just 10km (6.2mile) away, making the island hugely accessible.   But of course in Napoleon’s time they would all have been sail or steam powered boats. Note: ‘Undaunted’ was a steam ship.  We visited the fuel dock yesterday to top up Waiata’s tanks. It’s an absurdity in some respects – needing to fill up a sail boat so often. As we’ve mentioned before – we think sailing the MED means Motor Every Day. The marine fuel dock is plonked directly in front of historic battlements. It is a visual contradiction in terms and in some respects, a pity. But I guess that’s what many might call ‘progress’.

And the price of fuel on an Italian island today is ….


A couple of centuries after Napoleon’s two exiles, a little Swedish band wrote this song for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. In essence, it is a mini-history lesson, drawing analogies between a woman who gives in to the battle and falls in love, surrendering to her personal ‘Waterloo‘. With their gorgeous lead singers and glam rock costume’s, the song burst into a worldwide hit, putting Abba on the global music map. Interesting fact: the song “Waterloo” was originally titled ‘Honey Pie’. Sweet. 

My my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself

Daily Inspiration

We have added a little Daily Inspiration to our daily messaging. This one features me and clearly I’m no model – but more importantly they feature a simple, short daily inspirational message and our own photographic art work. You can get them direct to your phone or desktop here

2 Responses

  1. Blimey you certainly did have some close shaves. So enjoy reading your daily encounters, but sometimes such a worry.

    1. So glad you are enjoying the posts. It can be a bit stressful living on board, but then it’s also very rewarding. We find those that are prepared do ok when the weather comes in and we do try to be prepared. Did manage to watch a £4M Euro Yacht drag all the way through the anchorage yesterday, until it was finally rescued by the Guardia Costiera and today its calm and peaceful in here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enter you name and email address to subscribe to Sailing Waiata updates

We have two mailing list, one for the main blog (Connie mostly) and one for TODAY I LEARNT. You can sub to both if you want to unsub from one or the other just use the unsub link in the email you receive.