There are many beautiful islands in Italy, dotted around the waters surrounding its peninsula. The most famous of these are of course Sardinia and Sicily, which exhibit a way of life and culture all of their own. But these are only two of the many beautiful places that populate the seas around Italy. Many of these islands are part of archipelagos, such as the Egadi, Aeolian or Tuscan clusters. Others lie in some of Italy’s most popular coastal areas, for instance the Amalfi Coast. The nature of such islands can differ. For instance, some are volcanic, such as Volcano and Stromboli. The landscapes here are often rocky, though frequently also very green, given that volcanic terrain can be very fertile. Others are famous for their beaches and luxury lifestyles, such as Capri and Sardinia. Others still have unique communities with their own traditions and culture, and sometimes even language!
Interestingly, most of these dialects and languages can be seen as sister languages, rather than daughter languages, of Italian. This is because Italy and its standardised language is still relatively young. In fact, the Italian we speak today comes from 14th Century Florentine. Just as Florence had its own dialect, so other parts of Italy developed their own. As such, the dialects we hear today originate from these same dialects and languages, which were around at the same time if not before ‘Standard Italian’ was born.
Visiting Italy’s islands can be a great way to immerse yourself in the country’s linguistic history. However, many of the most well-known islands have now become overrun with tourism. This in turn somewhat takes away from the authentic beauty of such a space. Below you will find six islands that remain slightly less overcrowded. Of course, in the summertime both domestic and international tourists flock to these places. However, travelling here between September and June will ensure a slightly less frenzied atmosphere. These are not necessarily the most famous of Italy’s islands, yet they should not be overlooked for they certainly are some of the most beautiful islands in Italy. All have something of a unique beauty to offer their visitor; all retain their own characteristic culture and flair.
La Maddalena is actually the name of an archipelago of islands that lie between the coasts of Sardinia and Corsica. It is also the name of the main island of this group. Being so close to Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, it has been the destination of day trips courtesy of a glamorous group of yacht-users for quite some time. However, this area was up until 2008 home to a NATO naval base, meaning that it has only recently been discovered as a holiday destination in its own right. This also means that many of the inhabitants can speak a good level of English, having cohabited with Americans for so long. This makes it not only one of the most beautiful islands in Italy, but also one of the most convenient for international travelers!
This island’s history is long and interesting. Its first inhabitants were Corsican Shepherds looking to evade taxation by using La Maddalena’s lands. In the 18th Century this island became somewhat of a smuggler’s haven. This is because it had a very vague sense of territorial status after Sardinia was given to the House of Savoy.
In more recent history, La Maddalena became the retiring stop for the legendary Giuseppe Garibaldi, hero of Italy’s Risorgimento. Today, the clear blue and turquoise waters and lush scenery transports La Maddalena’s visitors to a Caribbean-like environment. Though it is growing in popularity, the atmosphere is still that of a secluded and hidden island. Here you will find many tiny coves and bays all along its shorefront, meaning you can quite easily find your own sparsely populated, if not completely empty, beach. The main town of La Maddalena is a happening place with many facilities. This is a great place to stock up on food, enjoy a traditional meal and find tourist information. However, for some truly beautiful and secluded of the island, it is definitely worth venturing further away from this port!
A great way to explore this island is by boat, which you can moor just off the shore of a small beach. Two of the main beaches are the Spalmatore and the Bassa Trinità, however by boat you can search for you own space along La Maddalena’s coastline. Boat is also the only way to travel to the island, which is just 20 minutes by ferry from Palau Port in Sardinia.
The Island of Elba lies in the Tuscan archipelago, just off the coast that stretches between Piombino and Punta Ala. As part of this collection of islands you will also find Giglio, Giannutri and Montecristo. Elba exhibits a very strange shape that some might liken to a fish with its tail facing the the Italian mainland. This whole area is both a Nature and Marine Park, and so benefits from tight preservation controls, which limits the affect tourism can have on the island life.
Elba is most famous for being a home to Napoleon after his exile under the House of Bourbon. Today, however, it could not be further from a place of imprisonment. Its landscapes range from small sandy coves to large piney mountains. The largest of these is the Monte Capanne, which is a great place for any nature lovers looking to hike. These hills and mountains are known for being rich in crystals and metals. In fact, the Monte Calamite is so rich in iron that it can disturb the compasses of ships and boats passing by. The Ancient Romans used this metal to forge weapons, and the Pantheon in Rome stands on columns of Elban granite. Because of this wealth of minerals, Elba was for a long time very industrial. It wasn’t until after the WWII that it slowly started to turn into a holiday destination.
The beaches are small and secluded, and it is not uncommon to find just a couple more people sharing the space with you. The old town of the Elban port is also very beautiful. Here you will find atmospheric little streets that offer restaurants, mini-markets, pharmacies and banks. We also recommend that you try dining at one of its restaurants. Being an island, its specialities almost all include fish, including its famous soup. That said, Elba also cooks up an exquisite vegetarian dish called Guruglione made purely of local vegetables and is also famous for its black rice dishes.
To get to Elba, you can use the ferry that leaves from Piombino. This is not a particularly picturesque town, however a mere hour’s ferry ride will whisk you away to another world entirely.
This is the smallest of the Egadi Islands, which lie just off the coast of Western Sicily. Levanzo used to be an incredibly agricultural piece of land, though nowadays it does tend to fill up with tourists come summer season. Due to its extremely southern position, however, you can come here in October, or even in April and May, and stillenjoy beautiful weather without the large crowds. Thus, it is one of the most beautiful islands in Italy not only for its stunning landscapes, but its convenient and balmy climate, too.
There is a lot to do on Levanzo. History buffs, for example, can visit the Grotta del Genovese. These fascinating caves feature prehistoric art on their walls that are thought to date all the way back to the Paleolithic era! Sicily itself is full of Ancient ruins, however this is one of the oldest set of remains still visible to this day. Alternatively, those looking for an adventure can take diving excursions along the Levanzo shoreline. More treasures await discovery in these depths, as you can swim round Roman shipwrecks from the first century BC. Another great way to explore what this island has to offer is by strolling along its many coastal paths. Not only can you stray further away from its port town, but the surroundings will reward you with gorgeously tranquil views over the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The beaches here are both rocky and sandy. Two of the most popular choices are the Cala Fredda and Cala Minnola. These are delightful, smooth-pebble beaches that remain pleasantly quiet outside of high season. Levanzo is arguably home to one of Italy’s most beautiful beaches. The Caletta del Faraglione offers visitors vibrant azure waters that are clear and free of pollution, making for one of the most stunning sights in Levanzo. Another unforgettable area is the Cala Tramontana. As the name suggests, this is the place to be come tramonto, or sunset. West-facing, this is a truly romantic and unique setting to experience the atmospheric sunset.
Levanzo’s main port is really quite charming, with its off-white buildings and bright blue doors comprising the only settlement on the island. Its harbor holds many tiny boats, making for an altogether picturesque and enchanting welcome to the island. Because it is so small, the town also has very little by way of facilities. Any shops and cafés that do populate the town often close for long siesta breaks, and very little will be open on Sundays. This, however, is not a problem with a little bit of fore-thought. Simply remember to stock up on provisions so that you can cook up your own delicious meals!
The whole island feels pleasantly remote and secluded, making for a great way to catch a break from business and stress. That said, it is only 20 minutes away from Trapani in Sicily, making it one of the more accessible of Italy’s most beautiful islands!
Ischia is the largest of the islands you will find in the Bay of Naples, including its famous neighbor, Capri. Some would also argue that it is even more beautiful than Capri. This island is particularly popular amongst Italian and German tourists,. Nevertheless, as ever, outside of high season the crowds should thin out considerably. What is more, the island is on all accounts attracts fewer tourists than Capri. The split between the two islands first came about in the 1st Century BC. At this time, the Emperor Augustus gave Ischia to Naples in exchange for his preferred Capri.
Throughout history Ischia has been a colony to various populations, from the Greeks to the Romans to the Turks. This is partly because of its greatly strategic position in the Mediterranean. It may also to some extent be due to its thermal waters. Their pools with mineral-rich muds are thought to ease and even cure many pains and ailments. A variety of spa hotels have exploited these properties and now offer some brilliant retreats, treatments and relaxing and restorative packages. Alternatively, you can head over to the village of Panza, where you will find a number of rock pools gently bubbling away. Why not join the locals as they relax here, beer in hand, and watch the sun go down?
This island is also home to the dormant volcano of Monte Epomeo. This nourishes a forest of dense greenery, which is almost reminiscent of a jungle environment. You can visit the volcanic springs of this mountain by taking the short and pleasant hike up to the top. From here you will also have amazing views out over the water and the rest of the island.
The island as a whole is quite typically ‘Italian’. A particularly nice area to visit is the Sant’Angelo village, which hosts a maze of white-washed houses. Here you will find a friendly atmosphere of island life, with many characteristic ceramic shops and gelaterie. Whilst here you can also marvel in the large rock mass that sits on a small peninsula in the sea. This is a truly singular sight, and one of the reasons Ischia is one of the most beautiful islands in Italy.
From mainland Italy, it is best to travel from the ports of Pozzuoli, Molo Beverello and Calata Porto di Massa. These are all in the vicinity of Naples.
Procida lies just outside of the Bay of Naples, between the Bacoli peninsula and the aforementioned Ischia. Though this island is not very well known amongst international tourists, it is much-loved by Italians! As such, it is probably best not to venture out to the island in August, when Italians escape to their favorite seaside resorts and summer haunts. Nonetheless, even if you do venture out at this time of year, you can still avoid the tourist-bubble atmosphere, given that you will be amongst the minority as a non-Italian.
On Procida is one of the most beautiful islands in Italy because it is so quaint and small. Here, the hotels are small and locals roam the streets, chatting away as they go about their daily business. The main occupation of this island is fishing – a culture of which the Procidi are very proud of, and signs of which you can see everywhere you go. There are three main harbor areas: the Marina Grande, Marina Corricella and Marina Chiaiolella. The Marina Corricella is particularly charming and quite breathtaking as it exhibits brightly colored houses all stacked upon each other. The colors actually have a practical use: they help fishermen find their way home through the maze of streets and houses! You can get a great view of this by heading up to the Terra Murata, which gives onto this bay.
This island is home to many ‘black’ sand beaches. The most popular beach is the Lido di Procinta, which in August can become quite overcrowded. However, there are many smaller beaches around the island, they might just need a little more exploring to find. This in itself can be an enjoyable activity, as the landscapes are full of lemon groves and everything is very accessible on foot.
You can travel to Procida from the same ports as you would when travelling to Ischia. In fact, why not visit both of these beautiful islands in Italy’s waters whilst in the area?
Panarea is one of the Aeolian Islands, lying above Sicily’s northeastern corner. It is a fairly quiet island for the majority of the year, though during summer it becomes the temporary home of the rich and famous. Nevertheless, the majority of this crowd will stay in villas, visiting private beaches and valuing privacy themselves. That said, to avoid a more busy feel, it might be worth avoiding at least the month of August.
One of the reasons Panarea is one of the most beautiful islands in Italy is its characteristic beaches. The Calcara beach is surrounded by mystery and superstition. This is because splits in the rocks of this beach exude fume-like gases. Ancient inhabitants believed this to signify the entrance to the underworld. The Zammarà beach is a more traditional beach, with golden sands and clear blue waters.
The Cala Junca is much like this, though it lies beneath something more interesting. Following the promontory at the foot of which this beach lies, you will come across some ancient foundations. The ruins of Capo Milazzese exhibit over 20 dry-stone hut circles that date back to the Bronze Age. It is thus not only one of the most beautiful islands in Italy, but also an island that bears an interesting and noteworthy history.
Panarea has just the one port, which you can reach from various ports on the Sicilian coast. The main port here is that of Milazzo. From mainland Italy you can reach the Aeolian Islands from Naples. You can also visit the other islands in this archipelago from Panarea via hydrofoil or ferry.