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Isola d'Elba: Hotel Cernia Isola Botanica

Capo S.Andrea - Marciana, Phone: 0565.908 210

Reviewed by: Janet Z from NY, review #1993

When: July 2007

Botanical oasis on the island of Elba.

The pool and lush gardens of Hotel Cernia, photo by Janet Zinn

I fell in love with Hotel Cernia Isola Botanica from their lovely website. As I could find no reviews in English on the web I booked with some trepidation, but I need not have hesitated - Hotel Cernia lived up to its photos, and then some!

The hotel is situated up the hill from the small beach of Capo Sant'Andrea (it actually is in the town proper, which isn't clear from the website; but it is so well landscaped that you don't ever feel that you are "in town".) The town as such consists of one block: a small market, a gift shop, a couple of beach restaurants, and of course the beach (which is a three minute walk down the hill).

The hotel is set in a lush, multi-level botanical garden which is filled with mature plants and whimsical ceramic sculptures. Throughout the colorful garden there are chairs and shaded tables for anyone to use.

I can only describe the ambiance of this hotel as laid-back, unpretentious elegance. The hotel is family-owned and run with true love by its charming hostess/owner Francesca and her husband Cristiano. One truly got the feeling that this was their labor of love and we were guests in their home. All of the staff were warm and welcoming. Each evening before dinner there was live piano music in the lounge (playing rather ambient, easy-listening music). It was just so civilized to relax in the open-air lobby drinking a prosecco before dinner, listening to the piano music and playing with the resident cats.

On Saturday evening there was a full piano recital after dinner, which was graciously introduced by Francesca and it truly felt like being invited into someone's private "salon" evening. On Sunday before dinner, guests were invited for a free drink and snacks at the bar. Little touches such as artfully arranged seashells and driftwood on the tables gave everything a casual, elegant feel. The lobby, dining room and all common rooms were open, airy, and bright.

Half-board is mandatory but welcome because the food was gourmet and excellent, and you really couldn't go anywhere else for dinner ... no other towns nearby and the roads of Elba are not for the faint of heart, even in daylight.

Dinner consisted of a salad buffet (eaten first in the American way, oddly - as guests were primarily Italian and German), and always three choices for primi and secondi ... usually two pastas and a soup to select from, and a meat, fish, and vegetarian secondi. Plus a lavish dessert table and an extensive and well-chosen wine list with many options from all areas of Italy, in all price ranges. Breakfasts were more than ample with scrambled eggs, crepes, cereals, fresh fruit, cakes, fresh baked breads.

The rooms were variable ... our room #30 in the "Esquisito" category was one of the older rooms, built into a giant rockface with an actual rock wall inside. This gave it some character and charm. With a/c, tv, and a private patio with a bit of a sea view, I think it was one of the better rooms. The rooms in the newer wing have less character -more like a regular hotel room - but were comfortable with ceiling fans, some with a/c, and all with a patio or balcony.

The pool is fantastic, quite large, with a kids area and a deeper adult end; and a small poolside bar. The bartender (who I think was Francesca's sister) made us yummy mojitos with great delight and relish - although not in quite the traditional way!

As for location - it's a bit longer of a drive from the ferry than we'd expected - 45 minutes at least; as we'd not expected Elba to be so mountainous - but once you are there, there's not much reason to go far afield. The area is heart-stoppingly beautiful. There are several hikes and short walks that can be done right from Sant' Andrea.

We drove about 25 minutes to a fabulous sandy and shallow beach at Fetovaia, and one day had seaside lunch in Marina di Campo, about another 25 minutes further. We drove over the top of the western end of the island, to Monte Perone -a spectacular mountain drive with a picnic area at the top situated in a lush pine forest.

Hotel Cernia is truly a wonderful place to relax - I only wish we'd had another few days to explore the beautiful island of Elba. We'll be back.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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