One of the highlights on the Isle of Elba in the real sense of the word is climbing up to Forte Falcone and the Medici fortresses in Portoferraio. They stand on the highest point, 79m above sea level and from the highest vantage point you look out over the Tuscan archipelago from about 84m height.
The large fortress complex is due to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I, with the approval of Charles V of Spain, and so construction started in April 1548. The fortification system planned by the architects Bellucci and later Camerini has two defensive areas, the Linguella at one end of the peninsula, and the Fronte di Attacco at the other extremity of Portoferraio. The whole is connected by strongholds and covered communication trenches ending in the north in Forte Falcone and Forte Stella, the strongholds, which were also put to good use during the Second World War, albeit fortified with steel ceilings in the vaults.
There is the story that the Turkish pirate Dragut, under French orders, attempted to enter the fortress, but desisted from attacking once he had a closer look at the unapproachable walls.
As it is, it’s a beautiful walk from the Piazza della Repubblica where you can park through narrow streets with laundry flying high at the window, up long flat, seemingly endless stairs that occasionally lead past a church, up to the Forte Stella, past Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini and steeper still, over the drawbridge into the strong fortifications with its moat and breathtaking views.
Inside you can see displays from the reconnaissance of the Marines in the Second world war, an exhibition of Cosimo I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s town Cosmopoly, many walkways and lookouts and a very nice snack bar with homemade schiaccini (a kind of pizza sandwich) on the top floor. If you acquire a combined ticket, Napoleon’s villa and theater etc. can also be visited within a week.