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‘Elba stole my heart – and inspired my latest novel’

Best known for Napoleon’s exile, Italy’s third-largest island also offers pretty beaches, good diving, charming towns and great food, says author Emylia Hall

Piombino, on Italy’s Tuscan coast, makes an unlikely gateway to paradise, with its abandoned steelworks and concrete port. Elba lies six miles from the mainland, part of the Tuscan archipelago, and during the summer ferries depart for the island all day, every day. Its capital, Portoferraio, is a town built in fruit-bowl colours, with a hilltop fort and the flash of a white marina.

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The City Gate, Exeter: hotel review

This newly-refurbished pub with smart rooms and locally produced food is a great reason to break a journey to or from the West Country

Exeter is so close to lovely beaches, Dartmoor, Exmoor, and pretty towns like Totnes and Chagford it’s a wonder many travellers know it mainly for the M5 services. Being a “gateway” to the West Country is almost an invitation to whizz through.

When the 18th-century Royal Clarence Hotel – often described as England’s oldest hotel – was destroyed in a fire last October, the city lost its most characterful lodgings. The City Gate – a Young’s pub with rooms in a listed redbrick former coaching inn, which reopened in May after extensive refurbishment – doesn’t make up for this loss, but it does provide the essentials for a short stopover. Its 14 bedrooms are smallish but smartly decorated, and the locale is of historical interest: the pub abuts the original Roman city walls and looks out on to the Iron Bridge, built in 1834.

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