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Italy Travel Guide

15 Secret Italian Islands for Your Next Vacation

All of the natural beauty of Italy's well-known beaches without the crowds.

Italy’s not just about the art and La Dolce Vita. Holidayers also flock here for its stunning beaches and charming sea resorts. But when it comes to picking the most pristine spots with crystal-clear waters in the Mediterranean, Italian islands simply rule.

There are roughly 450 islands off the coast of Italy so it’s hard to choose. But if you want a special holiday, look beyond the obvious islands of Capri, Ischia, Elba, and the big island regions of Sardinia and Sicily. Narrow it down to the tiny, under-the-radar remote Italy islands, little-known even to most Italians.

Far from the touristy spots and the VIP buzz, these islands offer peaceful, unplugged stays amid tropical-like oceans and untouched surroundings.

Don’t expect any super luxury on these secret islands, the vibe is simple and adventurous, and there’s very little choice of restaurants and hotels. If you’re asking which one to pick, as long as you’re a fan of the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle any of the below will be a fantastic experience.

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Crescent-shaped Giannutri, the jewel among the Tuscan Italian islands, is one of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secrets. With only a handful of residents, you’ll be living the hermit life surrounded by tall ragged cliffs and the ruins of a Roman villa and an old lighthouse. Even during summer, there’s no social buzz. People kill time by floating and snorkeling in the clear waters of Cala Spalmatoio and Cala Maestra, two hidden coves. It won’t be an easy holiday. There are no restaurants and the mini-market sells just the essentials to survive. For long stays, you either need to bring your stack of food along or have it shipped over from mainland, in Porto Santo Stefano. There’s just one bar that sells sandwiches.

WHERE TO STAYLe Dimore di Mimmina has only a few apartments to rent, so you better book in advance.





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You’ll get high on adrenaline. This Sicilian island is super-hot and hyperactive, literally. Its volcano erupts every 10 minutes with red lava flows that fall into the sea, leaving scars on the flanks called Sciare.

Heat oozes out of pavements, roads, and stone walls. Cliffs are patchworks of yellow, red, orange, black, and green sand, and rocks are covered in pink flowers. The jet-black scenery clashes with the translucent aquamarine water and the white village. Scuba divers can explore the depths of Strombolicchio, a nearby sea stack that looks like a dinosaur jutting out of the ocean. Expert guides take amateurs to the dangerous crater, while local fishermen organize night boat tours to admire the lava fireworks.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYPark Hotel has panoramic rooms and the restaurant serves delicious fish dumplings.


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Of all Italian islands, Marettimo is the one with a mystical pull. Part of Sicily’s Egadi archipelago, it’s a place that invites you to forget about the outside world. You can kayak along spellbinding purple labyrinths and pink sea-grottos, which are home to monk seals. Tall mountain-like stacks jut out of emerald-green water.

There’s only one quaint, sleepy village here and it’s frozen in time. Made of white-washed, low-cut dwellings with blue balconies and windows, it’s an abandoned spooky fortress that rises atop a precipice. Prayers in a local dialect are written on walls and doors to keep storms at bay. Paths lead to secluded pebble beaches and inlets dotted with altars and chapels built by Byzantine monks.

WHERE TO STAYAt Marettimo Residence, a cluster of no-frills, cozy apartments surrounded by bushes. Expect to bump into deers.


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This is by far the most remote Italian island and one of the best southern ones for a stress-free vacation. Located off Sicily’s coast, it’s actually closer to Tunisia. The island is wild and jet-black due to its volcanic rocks and lava pebble beaches. Prickly pears and capers grow out of brick walls, and the waters are swarming with sea turtles and, further into open sea, hammer sharks. Guided boat tours will take you out at sunset. Grab a cocktail at the bar on the Mars-like beach, La Pozzolana. It’s a snorkeling heaven. The only social life is found at a tiny fishermen’s village lined with brightly colored dwellings where the elders gather in the evenings.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYDelicious couscous with fresh fish is served at Errera Tavern, which also rents cozy studios.


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Here you’ll find the clearest waters of any of the Italian islands. Dubbed the ”pearl of the Pontine archipelago,” it’s just off Rome’s coast. Palmarola is totally uninhabited except during summer. If you travel here you’ll go on an unplugged, castaway holiday. There’s a primeval vibe with dramatic scenery: massive cathedral-shaped sea stacks, rock arches, pink coral pebble beaches, purple grottos, white granite rocks, and waters the color of blue Curaçao. Forget roads, shops, electricity, A/C, minibars, and internet. Even mobile phones don’t work. At dawn, hike up to the high Tramontana peak to stare at the bleeding sky.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYThere’s just one beach restaurant, O’Francese, that rents out tiny fishermen grottos cut inside the cliffs. The owners give guests flashlights and serve beach dinners with freshly caught fish.


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By far the most remote of the Sicilan islands, it’s also the most peculiar and, in some ways, even freaky. Part of the Aeolian archipelago, it lures yoga addicts and people longing for some deep soul-searching. Locals spin tales of flying women and donkey ghosts; some claim that for decades their ancestors fed on rotten bread coated witha hallucinogenic  fungus that caused mass hallucinations.

The isle is shaped like a pyramid. You’ll need a pair of muscular legs to climb the 10,000 steps that connects the dwellings. There are a few donkeys around that are used to take luggage along dusty paths.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYSeafront hotel Ericusa has panoramic rooms and a picturesque tavern.

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Unpolluted nature rules on Filicudi, one of the best Italian islands for vacation. Part of Sicily’s Aeolian archipelago, it has dense forests and green prairies that cover extinct volcanic craters. The pastel-colored dwellings clash with the black, red, and yellow cliff slopes burnt by past volcanic eruptions.

There are clear blue and green waters with mazes of grottos and sea-stacks, while the shore is lined with abandoned cottages. Fishermen bring tourists to admire the “lovers grotto,” where it’s said couples, in a fit of romance, enter in as two and exit in three. The main village of Pecorini a Mare used to be a mafiosi open-air prison, where they were allowed to roam free.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYAt the beachfront La Sirena hotel, you can sleep and eat like gangsters used to.


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Of all the Tuscan islands, Capraia is the most off-the-beaten-track. The ferry boat from Livorno takes over three hours to get here. It’s at the center of the so-called Cetacean Sanctuary, swarming with dolphins and whales. A scuba diving hotspot, there’s an underwater giant groupers city restricted just to expert divers, as it’s 40 meters (130 feet) deep. An uphill path leads from the harbor to a cliffhugging castle and a medieval stone village circled by pirate lookout towers and abandoned dungeons. Snorkelers gather at Ceppo Bay and Cala Mortola. Once a penal colony where prisoners were sent to suffer, today Capraia has several nightclubs.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYFor some real Tuscan food head to Da Beppone, which also rents spartan rooms.


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Of all the Sardinian Italian islands this is the most untouched paradise. Only a restricted number of tourists are allowed each year. There is no village, just pure nature. Car-free, there’s a new little train that takes visitors around. The protected ecosystem is home to a unique species of wild albino donkeys. Asinara used to be a quarantine hospital for sick and mad patients and later a prison. Now, it’s bliss.

WHERE TO STAYYou can live the “privileged prisoner life” at the former dungeons turned into a hostel.


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Flat as a pancake, it’s the most secret of all the Tuscan islands, mainly because it’s still a prison isle, where only a few people people live including several inmates on probation. In the 1800s its name was Devil’s Island due to the many criminals sent here to perish. The tiny village features the ruins of the ancient prison fortress. There are secluded beaches and inlets surrounded by pinewoods. You’ll kill time swimming in crystal-clear waters, admiring colorful butterflies, and hiking to the ancient Christian catacombs that are said to be haunted by ghosts.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYThere’s only Hotel Milena, which is run by reformed inmates who cook, serve breakfast, clean the rooms, and mingle with guests.


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It’s the tiniest of all the uncharted islands off the coast of Italy, barely a mile wide. Reachable from the harbor of Formia, north of Naples, it’s part of the Pontine archipelago. Packed with history, there are new guided tours to an ancient Roman villa, cisterns, old fisheries where Roman soldiers used to bathe, and a picturesque harbor with caves. After scuba diving inside a war wreck, get lost in the fields of lentils dotted with crumbling red cottages, or relax sipping fennel liqueur on Cala Nova beach. Ventotene was a prison island for adulterous ancient Roman noblewomen and later for anti-fascists. The former prisoners’ cells, overlooking the castle, have been restyled into brightly colored summer houses.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYCliff-hanging Hotel Mezzatorre, built within a fortress, has panoramic rooms and a dining terrace that serves outstanding lobster and buffalo milk mozzarella.


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It’s the cutest of the Sicilan islands, part of the Egadi archipelago. The sparkling white fisherman village overlooks fluorescent blue waters dotted with boats and dinghies. The great thing here is that you can walk or swim to all the beaches. A sense of nostalgia envelops the island. When families migrated decades ago in search of a brighter future, houses were abandoned and a few still look ghostly, with broken doors and windows. The top spot to bathe is at the Faraglioni pebble beach, which has massive sea stacks. So the myth goes, these were once rocks thrown by angry Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant cyclops blinded by Odysseus, against the Greek hero’s fleeing ship. The cyclops’ lair is believed to be inside a huge prehistoric cave covered in the graffiti of ancient people. Side note: there are also ruins of a former nudist retreat called the Flintstones Village.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYHotel Albergo Paradiso is renowned for its spaghetti with sardines fried in bread crumbs, pine nuts, raisins, and wild fennel.


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There’s a fishy vibe on this Sicilian island. It comes from the grand tuna-trapping factory, dubbed tonnara, which once ruled the island; even still, it pervades everything and every spot. Tuna is king here, although it’s no longer killed in these waters. The factory has been turned into a museum where the original tuna-trapping wooden boats are displayed. The shores are lined with abandoned quarries where locals sunbathe naked–the most spectacular is Cala Rossa, which has clear blue water.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYSottosale serves hundreds of tuna dishes: grilled, fried, tuna T-bone steaks, carpaccio, tuna meatballs, and tuna pasta.
I Pretti Resort is a restyled 1800s sardines storehouse with designer suites overlooking a lush garden.


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The ancient Romans thought it was the door to Hell. This Sicilian island is an active volcano, hence an open-air spa. Indulge in bubbly sea fumaroles that work as natural jacuzzis, soak in the steaming mud baths that kill cellulitis, and get high on healing sulfurous vapors. The climb to the crater is a killer: prepare for an eight-hour journey with a heavy backpack containing three liters of water and four pairs of clothes if you tend to over-sweat. But it’s worth it: there’s a spellbinding lunar scenery of colorful rocks,  black pebble beaches, and palms. Watch out for snakes when you explore the “lava park” with solidified magma rocks shaped like monsters.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYGawk at blood-red sunsets from Therasia Resort’s panoramic suites and two restaurants, which have views of the entire Aeolian archipelago.

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San Domino

It’s among the most quaint must-see Italian islands. Located in the Adriatic Sea, it’s part of the rocky Tremiti archipelago. Forget comfy beaches: it’s all steep cliffs and rocky shores. Bring along a pair of sneakers rather than flip flops, or even better, just your flippers as snorkeling is the best way to explore the inlets. The harbor, where ferry boats land, is connected to the village by one long, super-steep uphill road that will test your physical resistance. The fittest jog up and down until their legs scream in pain–hence the name, “death climb.” The most popular scuba diving site is the Devil’s Eyes, a set of underwater caves swarming with tuna.

WHERE TO EAT AND STAYExpand your waistline at Hotel Gabbiano, renowned for its succulent fish dishes, with private access to the sea.