All of the natural beauty of Italy's well-known beaches without the crowds.
Forget the glamour of Capri and the VIP beaches of Sardinia. Italy is a treasure trove of pristine remote islands that give the Seychelles and the Bahamas a run for their tourist money. They are secret paradises far from the madding crowd, so don’t expect any social buzz (and be prepared for a long journey).
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Prickly pears, hammer sharks, black underwater scenery. To get here you need to embark on a 12-hour trip from Rome–but it’s totally worth it. This volcanic atoll is so far south it’s close to the Tunisian shore. Prepare to land on a Mars-looking heaven. The jet-black beach of La Pozzolana has sulfur-yellowish and red layers. Dip your mask into the water and it’s a translucent black aquarium where loggerhead turtles freely swim. Volunteers work at a marine hospital here to heal those caught in fishermen’s hooks. At night under starry skies, sea tortoises come to lay their eggs. The tiny fishermen’s village is a cluster of bright yellow, purple, and pink dwellings. The minuscule harbor is where locals gather for a granita slushy. One single road circles the island, lined with dry stone walls covered in capers. The hike to the extinct crater of Monte Vulcano is a killer one but with great views. A bunch of hammer sharks swim around the nearby desert atoll called Lampione.
It’s the pearl of the Pontine archipelago off Rome’s coast. Dubbed by many globe-trotters as one of the world’s most beautiful islands, it’s uninhabited except during summer. There are no roads, no shops, no electricity. Prepare for a Robinson Crusoe thrill. There’s just one beach restaurant and a few, exclusive fishermen grottos stuck inside the rocky cliffs up for rent. One even comes with a private dinghy. There’s a Jurassic age vibe with massive sea stacks shaped like rifles and cathedrals, rock arches, pink coral pebble-stone beaches, purple sponge grottos, white granite rocks, and tropical waters the color of blue curaçao swarming with baby barracudas. Forget AC, minibars, and internet. Not even mobile phones work. When the sun sets, it’s just torches and candles. You wake up at dawn to hike to the highest peak to admire the sunrise and dine with fresh fish from the net.
Welcome to the most remote and quirky island of the Aeolian archipelago. When the sea is rough, not even a dinghy can dock. You’ll enjoy a castaway, no-frills vacation. Time has frozen. Forget cars, donkeys are the sole means of transport–that is, other than your own legs. Prepare to stretch muscles. Instead of roads, 10,000 stone steps connect the village layers and miles of dusty mule paths that unwind uphill to old ghost districts. Weird mushroom-shaped rocks and natural arches dot the pebble beach.
INSIDER TIPBring cash along. There are no ATMs, clubs, cigarette vendors. No electricity, just the stars as natural flashlights. But taverns serve delicious food and locals rent their bright dwellings if you feel like drowning in sweet self-oblivion.
On the wildest and most stunning of the Aeolian islands, uncontaminated nature rules. It was a gangsters’ paradise. You can stay and eat in Pecorini, a Mare fishing hamlet where Mafiosi were confined–albeit free to roam around like holidayers. A winding hairpin curved road and stone paths connect to white-washed houses covered in bright bougainvilleas where locals dine on rooftops with panoramic views. Trekking paths unwind to the sleeping volcano craters. Cliffs are black, green, and red with labyrinths of grottos and scorched scarred flanks of pasta lava flows. Sea stacks such as La Canna, shaped like a cobra head, jut out of the emerald sea. Ruins of a prehistoric hamlet and crumbly farmer huts dot the shore. The legend goes that a cave still hides a pirate treasure, but nobody has yet to find it.
This rocky Tuscan island is close to France’s Corsica and is a diving heaven. Part of the so-called Cetacean Sanctuary, it’s great for dolphin and whale watching. Giant groupers with white dots greet divers at 40 meters below sea level, staring at you straight in the eyes. Pirate lookout towers and an overhanging castle dot the reddish volcanic cliffs. The quaint medieval village with old stone cottages was once a penal colony, with ghost dungeons. It’s quiet but happy hour on wooden platforms suspended above the sea is a ritual, just like the “squid festival” lures fish eaters. Top sunbathing spots are below the Zenobito tower, at Ceppo bay and Cala Mortola, the island’s only beach accessible by taxi boats.
It’s a spell-binding spot off the northern tip of Sardinia. The sea color is fluorescent blue, just like in the Maldives. Once a quarantine hospital where sick and mad people were shut, today it’s part of a protected marine park with limited tourist access. The only inhabitants are local albino wild donkeys who freely graze the land welcoming tourists and hundreds of unique animal species. Park guards constantly patrol the isle to make sure no whacky visitors spoil the pristine habitat. That’s why no cars are allowed–just bikes and organized Jeep tours. You get to sleep and eat in a former prison, which is the only hostel around. But don’t expect any luxury: the rooms are very spartan with bunk beds.
The name nods to the flat shape of this former prison isle, resembling a butterfly. Only a few hundred visitors are allowed to visit each year, which makes it exclusive. Snorkeling and scuba diving are allowed just in certain areas. Beaches are covered in fossil and shell dust. At night baby barracudas perform moonlight dances as they swim around the harbor lined with abandoned buildings crumbling to the ground and a desolate fortress built by Napoleon. Dubbed the Devils Island, many convicts were once shipped here including noble Roman women. Guided mountain bike and horse-back tours will bring you uphill to admire old Christian catacombs. Pianosa is the only still functioning prison isle in Italy which is open to visitors. Ten residents live here, and they rub shoulders with inmates on supervised release who run the only hotel restaurant and bring guests on walks.
Don’t be fooled by how tiny it is: just two square kilometers wide. Located off the coast midway between Naples and Rome, there’s so much to see: the mosaic-covered floors of an ancient Roman villa, cisterns, old fisheries where you dive inside, a Bourbon castle, fields of lentils, and an old harbor cut into the tuff rock with cave pubs. Cute little yellow dwellings give the fishermen’s village a cozy laid-back vibe that clashes with its dark past. The island used to be a jail center for adulterous Roman noblewomen and later for anti-fascists. The former prisoners’ cells have been transformed into low-cut pink, yellow, and purple summer houses. Locals dive off funny mushroom-shaped sea stacks. It’s a diving mecca dotted with Roman vases and a sunken warship.
It’s sleepy and secluded, with pristine shores and clear tropical-like waters. Marettimo, the wildest and farthest island of the Egadi archipelago off Sicily’s western coast, is the kingdom of silence. Tall pinkish granite cliffs resembling the Alps, Byzantine chapels, solitary pebble-stone inlets, and animal-shaped grottos where sea monks hide dot the shores. There’s just one village with dazzling white and blue fishermen dwellings. Forget noisy beaches and crazy partying. Solitary inlets are great for solo suntanning and skinny-dipping. There’s just one seaside hotel with independent studios and a bunch of houses rented by locals. Sunset dinners are in front of a spooky, crumbly overhanging pirate fortress. Locals kill time chatting at the picturesque harbor where fishermen sell their daily catch.
This is the icing on the cake of the Egadi Islands. The sparkling white fisherman village with several abandoned ghost houses overlooks a fluorescent blu sea the color of an aquamarine gem, dotted with boats and dinghies that take tourists out on daily tours. The seafood is great, particularly minnole fish omelet and spaghetti with sardines fried in bread crumbs, pine nuts, raisins, and wild fennel. Locals suntan naked behind huge sea rocks. The great thing is that you can walk to all beaches. The top spots to bathe in translucent waters are the Faraglioni pebble beach, which has a massive sea stack, and Cala Minnola, sheltered by pine woods. Cliff-hanging old military barracks offer spectacular views. At night a magical vibe kicks in. The harbor seems alive with bright boats lulled by the waves as fishermen prepare their nets for the next morning.