The crystalline waters of Isola d’Elba and the blue and white billowing umbrellas of the Tuscan coastal towns will remain images from travel posters, for now. Because we are traveling off-season, many of the reasons tourists flock to a certain place, the weather, the beach clubs the calm surf, are non-existent.
What we have discovered is that when you arrive somewhere off-season you are seeing the essence of what draws tourists in, but without the crowds. There is always a reason a place feels magical but that reason is not always evident during peak season.
When we arrived in Bolgheri on a blustery March afternoon, the cyprus lined streets escorted us right to the village gate. In the summer and fall, people from all over the world descend on Bolgheri as it is the home of many world-renowned wineries.
We felt we stumbled upon a hidden gem – a sleepy picture perfect village where the salty air perfumed the Sassicaia vines. We ducked into a café with a blazing fire for a cappuccino and we laughed as we warmed our rain-soaked bodies. There was a warmth that even the summer sun could not have filled us with.
We were warned about going to Isola d’Elba off season, “everything is closed, the seas are rough, the ferries are expensive.” We went anyway. It was true, I was devastated when Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini was closed even though is was supposed to be open. I guess they figured no one would come on a drizzly Tuesday in March.
The day progressively improved and was capped off with a Carnival celebration in Portoferrario. The streets were full of locals and their children. The children were in costume and throwing confetti at anyone they could. There was face painting and gelato for all! It was all locals and it appeared we were the only tourists at this community celebration.
Many people explained to us how they retreat to the hills during peak season because it is just too hard to even move down the sidewalks in the beach towns. At that moment, feeling completely engrossed in a community, we felt so grateful.
What we learned in Bolgheri, San Vincenzo, Marina di Castagneto Carducci and Isola d’Elba is that the essence of a place is created by the people who inhabit that place. In March, they have the time and space to explain how they feel about where they live and we have time to listen. The result was a rich experience fit for a queen!