12 of the best beaches in Italy
From wild, forest-backed sands to dazzling turquoise shores, Italy’s coast is notched with blissful beaches. Here’s a dozen of the best to inspire a coastal getaway.
1. Best for views: Capo Peloro, Sicily
Cleaving Sicily from mainland Italy, the beautiful Strait of Messina is a place of legend — Homer set part of The Odyssey here. At the north-eastern tip of Sicily, Capo Peloro sits where the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas swirl into each other. Spilling out in front of the village, the beach — a nature reserve — is a wide, flat expanse of sand, unfurling beneath a mammoth electricity pylon, which was once the tallest in the world (there’s another mirroring it across the water in Calabria). Dolphins frolic in the crystalline waters and swordfish pass through the strait in summer, while the Calabrian coast looms on the horizon.
Where to stay: The slick, modern Capo Peloro Hotel is just over 300ft from the sea. From €75 (£64), B&B.
2. Best for snorkelling: Baia di Riaci, Calabria
The Capo Vaticano peninsula — the knobbly ‘bunion’ on the toe of Italy’s boot — is home to some of the country’s most spectacular beaches, with turquoise waters and sugary sands at the bottom of cliffs. Baia di Riaci, one of the best, is a crescent of sand belted in on either side by fossil-rich rocks. There’s even a tiny islet to climb if you fancy some offshore sunbathing. The area is known for its marine life, and the calm waters here are great for snorkelling. Clamber around the rocks to the right of the beach and you’ll find a quieter area, ripe for sunning yourself or, of course, more snorkelling.
Where to stay: Go for old-school glamour at Villa Paola, a former convent in pretty Tropea converted into a lavish villa in the 1920s. It’s now a lush hotel. From €290 (£250), B&B.
3. Best for nature: Marina di Alberese, Tuscany
Tuscany’s northern beaches are tended to as meticulously as supermodels, but if you prefer something wilder, head south to the Maremma area, near the border with Lazio. Here, deep within the Maremma regional park, you can drive or cycle along tree-lined avenues and through buffalo-filled fields to find a pine forest that abuts a four-mile stretch of sand. There’s no concession offering sunbeds here, but you can improvise a shade and a windbreak (there’s often a delicious breeze) with just a towel and some driftwood. Just be aware that you won’t have the beach to yourself — you’ll be sharing it with the semi-tame foxes that roam the forest behind you and lope around the beach at sunset.
Where to stay: You’ll get a taste of laid-back Maremma life at L’Andana, a glorious country house hotel, a little further up the coast. From €440 (£376), B&B.
4. Best for families: Pescoluse, Puglia
Maybe it’s because of the crystalline water flashing between turquoise and jade, the sugary white sand, the little sandbars forming islets offshore, or the lilies sprouting from the dunes behind, but this region has become known as the ‘Maldives of Italy’. Whatever the reason, see it for yourself on the Salento peninsula — the spiky bottom of Italy’s heel. The east side of this finger of land is an Amalfi-style rollercoaster of corniches and coastal roads, while the west has a crop of incredible beaches on the super-still Ionian Sea. Pescoluse is arguably the most stunning and, with its slowly shelving waters, it’s great for families, too.
Where to stay: King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon used to spend his summers at this 16th-century country estate in Salento, which has been repurposed as an elegant hotel, the Masseria Relais Casina dei Cari. From €80 (£68), B&B.
5. Best for photographers: Cala Rossa, Favignana
Off the coast of western Sicily, the Egadi Islands offer one barnstorming beach after the next. Cala Rossa, on the buzzy isle of Favignana, wasn’t always so lovely — those chunky cliffs rearing up behind are evidence of its past as a limestone quarry. Today, though, people flock to the beach via a 10-minute walk on a footpath through the rocks, or — more easily — in hired boats that bob in the croissant-shaped bay. Legend has it that the water was once tinged red in a particularly bloody battle between the Romans and Carthaginians (hence ‘rossa’), but rest assured it’s now a vivid turquoise, shaded by meadows of seagrass and gleaming white sand.
Where to stay: A 15-minute drive from the beach takes you to the stylish I Pretti resort, in Favignana port. From €130 (£111), B&B.
6. Best for old-school Italy: Santa Maria di Castellabate, Campania
Santa Maria di Castellabate in Cilento, home to Campania’s loveliest coastline, is the kind of place you might fear no longer exists — a tiny, laid-back fishing village with great restaurants, no nightlife to spoil your sleep and a lovely little beach. Heading south towards here from Salerno, time seems to unravel as you pass the Greek temples of Paestum and the medieval hilltop town of Agropoli, and continue along the pristine Cilento peninsula to reach your destination. Santa Maria is a gorgeous little town, with a handful of pretty crescents of sand right in the centre, and a long strip of lidos (private beach clubs) within easy walking distance of the centre.
Where to stay: In the hills above the coastline is the medieval commune of Castellabate, where Residenza Tamara has sweeping views down to the sea. From €65 (£56), B&B.
7. Best for seclusion: Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa
For many, ‘Rabbit Beach’ — an almost circular bay, with dunes, scrub and low cliffs giving way to brilliant white sand and peacock-blue water — is Italy’s most beautiful. The only issue is that it takes a while to get there. The island of Lampedusa is actually closer to Tunisia than it is to Sicily, let alone Italy, so you’ll have to fly or take the ferry from Sicily. The beach is so fragile that only 550 people are allowed to access it at any one time. That means it doesn’t feel crowded, even in peak season. You can book a free morning or afternoon slot at prenotazionespiaggiaconigli.it.
Where to stay: Who needs a luxury hotel when you can stay right on the water at magical B&B Cala Pisana di Paolo e Melo, just a 20-minute drive away? From €80 (£69), B&B.
8. Best for adventure: Spiaggia delle Due Sorelle, Marche
South of Ancona, the Riviera del Conero is an antidote to the perfect but manicured beaches that characterise the Adriatic. A wild regional park, it’s known for its natural landscape, from rolling hills to dramatic cliffs with picturesque beaches at their feet. One of the best is Due Sorelle, a wild, pebbly beach at the base of vast cliffs. Just offshore, two toothpaste-white rocks (‘the sisters’) give the beach its name. It’s at the end of a bulging promontory, so is best accessed via the sea — boats depart from Numana, some five miles south, or you can hire a dinghy from nearby beaches. This is a completely wild beach, a rare thing in Italy, so bring everything you need.
Where to stay: As the name suggests, Fortino Napoleonico is a former Napoleonic fort. Built in 1811, it’s now a beachside hotel in Portonovo, north of the beach. From €84 (£72), B&B.
9. Best for architecture: Viareggio, Tuscany
The beach at Viareggio is one of Italy’s all-time Tyrrhenian classics, with butter-coloured sand raked to perfection, sunloungers racked up along the waterfront and dozens of beach clubs vying for your attention. It’s part of Versilia, Tuscany’s most famous coastline, but while Forte dei Marmi is more glam and Pietrasanta arty, what makes Viareggio special is its liberty-style architecture, Italy’s answer to art nouveau. Here, the seafront becomes a giant architectural catwalk of shell-shaped windows, striped facades, brightly tiled roof turrets and sinuous lines. You can sunbathe at the wedding cake-like Bagno Martinelli beach club, completed in 1928 with a colonnaded, turreted façade; or eat at Gran Caffé Margherita, where wildly colourful stained glass and painted ceilings elevate it beyond your average cafe.
Where to stay: Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte is a 1920s grande dame that’s been beautifully renovated for the 21st century. From €405 (£348), B&B. principedipiemonte.com
10. Best for spa-lovers: Maronti, Ischia
On the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, Maronti found fame in the novels of Elena Ferrante, who set parts of her My Brilliant Friend series here. But those in the know have been coming to Maronti since Roman times, not only for its sandy beach, but for its thermal powers. On the western side of this actively volcanic island are steaming fumaroles shooting out of the ground, as well as an area of searingly hot sand, warmed by the thermal activity below. Some areas (clearly marked) are no-go, but in other parts you can bask on volcano-warmed boulders, or outside of peak season, get a sabbiatura (sandblast) — an on-beach treatment where you’re buried in hot sand, which is said to be excellent for the joints. Don’t miss lunch at Ristorante Emanuela, where chicken and octopus are cooked under the sand. In a gorge halfway up the beach are the thermal pools of Cavascura, popular since antiquity.
Where to stay: Villa Egidio, overlooking Maronti in the dinky town of Sant’Angelo, has supremely comfy rooms and knockout views. From €80 (£69), B&B.
11. Best for hikes: Punta Aderci, Abruzzo
Park up and take the footpath past vineyards and fields of swaying sunflowers towards one of Italy’s wildest beaches, set in the Punta Aderci nature reserve, outside the town of Vasto. The headland here might feel familiar — there’s a hint of Cornwall or Pembrokeshire in the field-covered cliffs and the coastline unfurling beyond — but the sound of cicadas reminds you this is southern Europe. Follow the path down and then up again onto the billowing Punta Aderci itself. From here, you’ll spy what’s down below the crumbly headland: a beach of pebbles worn into perfect circles by the Adriatic. You’ll find no sunloungers here, but huge driftwood tree trunks act as benches, while gargantuan lumps of fallen rock provide welcome shade.
Where to stay: Tra Gli Ulivi in Vasto is a gorgeous, upmarket three-room retreat in an olive grove, where the sea is just a few minutes away. From €60 (£52), B&B. +39 339 308 6309, or book on booking.com
12. Best for partying: Riccione, Emilia-Romagna
The Adriatic coast from Cesenatico to Ancona is an 85-mile stretch of classic coastline: deep, feet-diggable sand, water that’s neither too shallow nor too deep too fast, hundreds of bars, restaurants and beach clubs to cater to your every need. This is Italy’s Florida, so to speak, and Riccione its Miami — a full-on party town, so famous for its nightlife that it lent its name to a classic Italian summer anthem, Riccione, by indie pop act Thegiornalisti. The beach is like Miami’s, too, all soft sand and look-at-me sunbathers, while things get lively once the sun goes down, with nightclubs on the beach and in the hills behind town, plus concerts and live music from radio station Radio Deejay, which broadcasts from Riccione over the summer and brings the likes of Italian rock band Måneskin to perform.
Where to stay: Grand Hotel des Bains is a refurbished grande dame just off the beach. From €350 (£300), B&B.
Published in the September 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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