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Italy holidays: Bestselling author Mary Bly on why the island of Elba is a must-visit

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My husband stayed on Elba as a child and for years we followed suit, driving onto the ferry in a car crammed with bloated dinosaurs and eager children.

When I was writing Lizzie and Dante, I thought of the island as a character unto itself, an essential ingredient in a wonderfully happy vacation. When Lizzie and Dante fall in love, I hope readers fall in love with the island.

Elba is not luxurious, like Capri; even the yachts that sail to small bays and towns are human-sized. It’s a great place to go when you are heartbroken or tired, when you crave excellent, simple food, sunshine day in and day out and perfect sunsets over the sea.

Elba is the setting for Mary Bly’s new romantic novel Lizzie and Dante, which is out now. The American writer was introduced to the island by her husband, who summered there as a child. Pictured, the island’s Sansone Beach

To reach Elba, take a train or car from Rome or Florence to Piombino near Livorno and take one of the ferries to the town of Portoferraio (pictured)

To reach Elba, take a train or car from Rome or Florence to Piombino near Livorno and take one of the ferries to the town of Portoferraio (pictured)

Mary writes: 'We celebrate the journey by walking directly into the Stella Marina restaurant [in Portoferraio, above] overlooking the harbor for a relaxed lunch full of wine'

Mary writes: ‘We celebrate the journey by walking directly into the Stella Marina restaurant [in Portoferraio, above] overlooking the harbor for a relaxed lunch full of wine’

Most beaches slope down to shallow turquoise water: rent an umbrella, dig in the sand, take your dog to restaurants.

Unpretentious food galore: grilled fish, octopus and potato salad, pizzas always cooked ‘al forno’ (in the oven), regardless of the heat in the kitchen. Their signature ‘Elba’ wine is a milky, slightly sparkling white; ask for vino della casa, or the house mix.

To reach Elba, take the train or car from Rome or Florence to Piombino near Livorno and take one of the ferries to Portoferraio.

We celebrate the trip by walking directly to the Stella Marina restaurant overlooking the harbor for a leisurely lunch full of wine. If you don’t mind a stroll, the Ristorante ‘da Gianni’ (down an alley a few blocks away) specializes in amazingly good handmade orecchiette, pasta shaped like a child’s sweet ear.

Mary says if you want a slightly more elegant scene, continue up the coast to the cape of Sant'Andrea, pictured.  Here she says that 'young Italians in tiny bathing suits are walking on the beach, dodging children who build sand castles'

Mary says if you want a slightly more elegant scene, continue up the coast to the cape of Sant’Andrea, pictured. Here she says that ‘young Italians in tiny bathing suits are walking on the beach, dodging children who build sand castles’

Biodola beach is also 'beautiful', says Mary, with a stretch of golden sand as seen above

Biodola beach is also ‘beautiful’, says Mary, with a stretch of golden sand as seen above

Portoferraio's Ristorante 'da Gianni' specializes in 'amazingly good' handmade orecchiette (stock image)

Portoferraio’s Ristorante ‘da Gianni’ specializes in ‘amazingly good’ handmade orecchiette (stock image)

From Portoferraio you can choose from beautiful villages that are located in the hills around the coast of Elba. I recommend Marciana Marina, the smallest town on the island, just a tumble of pink and orange houses leading down to a white beach.

Don’t eat at a restaurant overlooking the water (an island rule, frankly): go down an alley to La Scaletta, a small ristorante that started out as a panino stall years ago. The black squid pasta and gnocchi are excellent.

If you are lucky enough to have your own kitchen, head to the dock in the morning to pick your fish when the fishermen come.

Marciana Marina pictured is the smallest town on the island - 'just a tumble of pink and orange houses leading to a white beach'

Marciana Marina pictured is the smallest town on the island – ‘just a tumble of pink and orange houses leading to a white beach’

In Marciana Marina 'don't eat in a restaurant overlooking the water (an island rule, frankly): go down an alley to La Scaletta' (pictured)

In Marciana Marina ‘don’t eat in a restaurant overlooking the water (an island rule, frankly): go down an alley to La Scaletta’ (pictured)

Buy delicious figs and apricots in the market right on the water and excellent bread opposite the church in the small square. (The cafe makes tea with real boiling water, another plus!) If you prefer a hotel, the Marina Garden Hotel has very friendly service, clean rooms and excellent internet, not to mention a swimming pool.

If you want a slightly more elegant scene, continue along the coast to Sant’Andrea. Here, young Italians in tiny bathing suits walk on the beach, dodging children who build sandcastles.

Don’t eat on the beach! Walk a block or two to the Trattoria di Mare La Nassa restaurant.

Biodola beach is lovely too, with a stretch of golden sand; if you fancy a splurge, Hotel Hermitage has great food, three pools, and a spa. People dress up for dinner, leading to some great people-watching (we ogle a rock star one night!).

“If you can’t visit Elba this year, I hope Lizzie and Dante will enchant you enough to take you there next year — if not in the future, in your imagination,” says Mary

Elba is the setting for Mary Bly's new book Lizzie and Dante

Mary Bly also publishes under the pseudonym Eloisa James

Elba is the setting for Mary Bly’s new book, Lizzie and Dante. It was published by Little Brown and now costs £8.99. Mary Bly (right) also publishes under the pseudonym Eloisa James

If you feel like exploring the island, don’t hesitate to stop at one of the ristorante/pizzerias that cling to the mountain by the side of the road. For example, Osteria del Noce, in the hills above Marciana Marina, offers incredible views of the countryside and excellent traditional food.

If you can’t visit Elba this year, I hope Lizzie and Dante will enchant you enough to take you there next year – if not in the future, in your imagination.

Mary Bly’s new book Lizzie and Dante, published by Little Brown, is available now for £8.99. For more information visit www.littlebrown.co.uk

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