These under-the-radar beaches offer an authentic Italian experience.
The boot-shaped peninsula is filled with breathtaking coastline–there’s so much more to an Italian beach holiday than the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre. While these coastal destinations are stunning in their own right, check out this list of beaches where Italians have long been spending their summers.
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Gaeta is a gorgeous coastal town just two hours from Rome (toward Naples) with a fishing tradition, heritage protected sights, sparkling sea, and local to-die-for cuisine. Here you’ll see fishmongers line the beachfront streets selling fresh their daily catch and giving you an authentic glimpse into the daily life of a historic fishing town. Spend your days at the beach, evenings feasting on local seafood, and late summer nights with a cocktail in hand at one of the many lively bars in Gaeta Vecchia, the historic center. It’s also home to the Sanctuary of Montagna Spaccata (the split mountain), a natural marvel and wonder. According to Catholic teachings, the mountain is cracked due to the earth shaking at the very moment Jesus was crucified. Off the beaten path, this is where many Romans and Neapolitans spend their summer and on arrival, you’ll understand why.
INSIDER TIPFor a modern take on many traditional seafood dishes, head to Il Follaro. And don’t forget to try the local specialty, the Tiella savory pie.
Italy’s deep south is all warm hospitality, incredible food, and even more incredible beaches. Yet foreign tourists are often hesitant to explore it. Located just 20 minutes from Reggio di Calabria and its airport, Scilla is a picturesque seaside town with views across the Strait of Messina. Day trips can be easily organized for the lovely Aeolian islands. The former fortress Ruffo Castle stands imposingly atop the town. To one side is a beach promenade with turquoise water and on the other, the charming district of Chianalea. Walk through its narrow cobblestone streets and buy locally-made products and artworks, or dine on one the many decks at its waters edge.
For sea view dining at Chianalea head to Blue de Toi. Down on the beach promenade, Da Pippo makes a mean spaghetti alle Vongole (pasta with clams). For a day trip, Reggio Calabria boasts the famous Riace Warrior bronze statues at the National Archeological Museum (and around the corner don’t miss the gelato at Cesare Gelateria–it won best gelato in all of Italy in 2016).
This island is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. It’s been the holiday spot for Romans for centuries. The scenic town and port are dotted with pastel-colored buildings and come alive at night with an aperitif, late night dancing, and live entertainment. Ponza nightlife is known to attract the VIP elite and Italian soccer players but it somehow retains an air of simplicity as a local town with a beach feel.
INSIDER TIPDon’t leave without a boat day around the island and the nearby Palmarola. Hire and skipper your own boat or book into an organized excursion. For a beach lunch try the spaghetti with fresh lobster at Da Igino at Cala Fonte beach.
Located in the province of Grosseto on Tuscany’s Maremma Coast, Punta Ala provides the perfect mix of beach and nature. Lying at the northern hillsides of the Punta Ala Promontory, it has been a popular seaside town for Italians since local tourism developed here in the 1970s. Some hotels have private beach clubs, and their many coves and secluded beaches to enjoy. Luxury yachts line the port harbor, and a day trip to explore the breathtaking coastline here is a must. Nearby Castiglione della Pescaia and Follonica are especially worth visiting at night where they come alive at night with bars, restaurants, and summer entertainment programming.
Stay at the 5 star Baglioni Resort Cala del Porto with its exclusive beach club and day spa, La Vela. The beach-themed hotel can organize a day trip out to the sparkling waters of Cala Violina on your very own private boat or inland to wineries like Rocca di Frassinello for a wine tasting experience.
Santa Margherita di Pula
On the most southwest tip of Sardegna, Santa Margherita di Pula is a 45-minute drive from the regional capital of Cagliari. While the entire region is renowned for its crystal clear beaches and white sand, the southern part of the island has more of a reputation for being untouched. And the beaches in Santa Margherita di Pula are just that: clean, pristine, and a million shades of turquoise. Interestingly, the ancient city of Nora lies just to the north of the area and can still be visited to this day. Popular with Italians because the area has a wide selection of beach resorts from the high-end luxury to the more accommodating of families with children, offering kids clubs and nightly entertainment.
The impressive Forte Village features eight elegant hotels and nine villas spread across 120 acres of parkland right on Santa Margherita in Pula beach. With over 30 restaurants and bars, an outdoor entertainment arena, and state of the art spa complete with Sardinian seawater pools, there is something here to suit all tastes and budgets.
At the end of the elegant town of Taormina, Isola Bella is one of Sicily’s most beautiful and popular beach areas. This is where archeology, dining, shopping and sunbathing combine for the perfect beach getaway. In a beautiful protected sandbar, the tiny island boasts still, emerald-colored waters which are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The best thing is that just up the hill, are bars, shops, and restaurants at your disposal, while the beach area is removed enough for a quiet escape. There is an Ancient Greek amphitheater in the area, and organized trips for hiking up the Mount Etna volcano can be arranged by local tour operators.
For a relaxing and luxurious stay, you can’t beat La Plage Resort. With its private beach club right in front of Isola Bella and a fully equipped day spa, you won’t want to leave. Their Fusion Bar mixes up delicious cocktails, while Baia delle Sirene is perfect for a sampling of all traditional local Sicilian dishes.
The entire Amalfi Coast is full of colorful towns that cling to cliff faces, yet travelers rarely venture beyond the popular Amalfi, Positano, or Ravello. But one town remains relatively unspoiled with vibrant houses built around a domed church and a small port and beach dotted with old wooden fishing boats. Historically a fishing village, it’s always been self-sufficient and so mass tourism has never really been on the agenda here. Instead, it’s known for anchovy and tuna specials and the world-famous colatura di alici, an exquisite extract of fermented anchovies referred to by locals as “liquid gold.” The beach is pristine and it’s a great base to explore other towns across the coast.
Head to Pasquale Torrente’s historic Al Convento for a serving of the famous local specialty spaghetti with colatura di alici. Their delizia di limone (local limoncello-soaked sponge cake slathered in lemon flavored cream) is pretty good too.
This archipelago of islands off the Gargano National Park peninsula in Italy’s southern region of Puglia just sparkles like diamonds in the Adriatic Sea. Ferry services connect Tremiti from the mainland towns of Vieste, Peschici, and Termoli, among others. While there are five islands in total, the main ones are San Domino and San Nicola. It’s possible to visit the other three by boat and here you can enjoy the islands’ rugged terrain and fantastic scuba diving. There are no cars allowed on the islands but it is small enough to be explored on foot. While most of the beaches are coves or rocky, there is an easily accessible sandy beach at Cala delle Arene.
INSIDER TIPIf diving is your thing, the underwater caves and coral reefs will impress, as will an ancient Roman shipwreck off the coast of San Domino at Cala Zio Cesare. Organise a day trip with local dive companies or a boat day around the islands at either port.
Favignana is the largest of the Egidian group of islands located off the coast of Trapani and Marsala in northwest Sicily. This archipelago consists of another two islands, Marettimo and Levanzo and remains Europes largest protected marine area. Favignana is the largest and most developed of the three and like the others, is rich in inlets, coves, and sea caves. The color of the water, in particular at the famous Cala Rossa, is a stunning turquoise. Many beaches are rocky but sandy shorelines can be found and, while it’s an area growing in tourism popularity, the coastline remains unspoiled and pristine. Favignana has become increasingly popular with younger elite Italians and has a growing summer nightlife scene.
INSIDER TIPExplore the nearby Trapani and Erice on mainland Sicily, easily accessible by ferry or private boat, and don’t leave without a granita. This flavored ice crush is served with whipped cream on top and a brioche (sweet bread) on the side for dipping.
Giannutri, Monte Argentario
When people think Tuscany, they think Chianti wine country, sprawling green hills, and medieval towns. But the Maremma Coast is a long stretch of turquoise water and beach towns from north Lazio to southwest Tuscany. The island of Giglio or the Monte Argentario with the pretty seaside towns of Porto Ercole and Santo Stefano are a great base for exploring the area. Giannutri is an island accessible only by boat and with not even a dozen inhabitants. There’s a bar, one hotel, and small pebble beaches and secluded coves.
Treat yourself at the eco-friendly and luxury boutique Argentario Golf Resort and Spa. This 5-star property boasts hectares of golfing ranges, a state of the art spa and gourmet restaurant. An oasis of tranquility, it’s the perfect base from which to explore this region.
Sandy beaches and crystal clear water characterize the 12-kilometer stretch of beach known as Capalbio. Just north of the Lazio border, this picturesque part of Italy is actually in Tuscany, but it’s closer to Rome than it is Florence and therefore makes it an easy playground for Roman holidaymakers. Rugged and mostly untouched, there are many free public beaches and it’s also a haven for watersports lovers with many private areas dedicated to windsurfing and kitesurfing. The town center has retained its medieval look and features a number of historical markers like a fortress, a palace, churches, ancient walls, and frescoes.
Stay at the luxury country house, La Capalbiola for stunning panoramic views from the Argentario Coast towards the idyllic island of Giannutri. After your breakfast with a view, check out the beach in the warmer months and in shoulder seasons enjoy the asparagus or even truffle harvest or the Saturnia thermal springs only 30-minute drive away.