Mouth-watering cuisine, majestic landscapes, pristine beaches – and more than a few superyachts thrown in for good measure. The islands that dot the edges of Italy’s coast are indeed some of Europe’s most exclusive and glamourous travel destinations, but you don’t have to be rich or famous to experience this exquisite of this part of the world.
So, grab your shades and prep your spritz, we’re going island-hopping in Italia!
The beauty and allure of Capri is no secret. This idyllic island of the gulf of Naples has been a sun-seekers mecca for centuries – and for very good reason. Beyond the extravagant designer shops and glamorous bars and restaurants (of which there are many!) you’ll find experiences with a lot more substance: hiking (or taking the chairlift) to the top of Mount Solaro for 360 views of the island; strolling Via Krupp, a famous zig-zag street that leads to a small marina; and swimming at Faraglioni beach, to name a few.
In peak season Capri is ridiculously busy, particularly as day-trippers make their way across from Italy’s mainland. But finding a quiet spot is still possible – for a more tranquil alternative, opt for Ana Capri, located at the foot of Mount Solaro.
By far the most frequented attraction in Capri is the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto) – an underwater cave where the sea glows electric blue, a natural phenomenon caused by sunlight passing through. Throughout the day, a stream of people wait patiently to enter the grotto in gondolas. But there’s a better way to do it – you’ll need just a little bit of daring in you. Rather than lining up, opt for a late lunch and sunbathe nearby. By late afternoon the gondolas depart, and if you’re patient you will get the opportunity to swim into the cave. It’s a far superior way to see this natural wonder (and it’s free!). For this experience alone, it’s worth spending at least one night on Capri.
If you fancy a dip in a hot spring, the volcanic island of Ischia is worth its weight in mineral-rich water. Thanks to its unique topography, an abundance of natural thermal springs have given birth sprawling spa towns (as well as some incredible gardens!). Maronti Beach in the South is one of the best places to experience the bubbling thermal water.
To balance out your spa time, there are some beautiful attractions that you can’t miss: the Aragonese Castle, the tropical garden of La Mortella and Cartaromana Beach, where Roman remains lie beneath the seafloor.
Ischia is a large island and many of the attractions are spread out, so spend more than a day if you have the time. The best way to get around is by bus – the system is incredibly well-connected and reliable.
Next up is the tiny (just over four square kilometres) island of Procida, which is often overshadowed by Capri and Ischia, but definitely worth a visit. Upon arriving at Procida you can’t help but be enchanted by its understated, yet breathtaking beauty. Fun fact: the island has featured in several films, including The Talented Mr Ripley and Il Postino.
Two spots you must visit are the walled medieval town of Terra Murata and the charming port of Corricella, known for its vibrant, colourful housing. And whether it’s lunch or dinner, be sure to stop into one of the local trattorias and order the local delicacy, spaghetti with sea-urchin.
If you’re stretched for time, a day trip is enough, but if time allows and you like taking things slow – spend a night or two, you won’t be disappointed!
Moving further west is the French island of Corsica, which sits in the Italian Peninsula. The fourth largest island in the Mediterranean, Corsica is a distinctive destination – a homage to its unique history and geography.
Be sure to visit the Scandola Nature Reserve and Bonifacio – a town on the southern tip of the Corsica, which is known for its lively marina and its majestic limestone cliffs. The island is also home to one of Europe’s most notable hiking trails, the GR20. At 180 kilometres, the whole trek can take around 12 days, but many people opt for shorter walks.
Though Corsica has a lot to offer all year round, to make the most of everything opt for May or June – the weather is warm enough to swim and it’s not too hot to go hiking.
Due to its size, you will want to spend a few days (or more) here. The easiest way to get around on the island is by car or train (taxis are limited and often hard to find). However, to really discover Corsica’s shoreline, you need a boat – as many of the wildest and most beautiful places and beaches are inaccessible by car. If you do this, be sure to visit: Rocapina and Bodri.
Just a short boat ride off the southern Corsican coast you’ll find the Lavezzi Archipelago. It’s technically the southern-most point of France, but carries as much of an Italian flavour and feel, given its history and location.
The only inhabited island of the Lavezzi Archipelago is Cavallo, which is accessible by public ferries for the summer months only. As you approach the island, you will be greeted by majestic granite boulders, which create quiet coves and idyllic sunbathing spots. Beyond eating, swimming and lounging, there isn’t too much to do on Cavallo. And that’s kind of the point, really: the vibe is understated and there are no cars, major resorts or cruise ships. Lay back and take it in.
Within the archipelago, you’ll also find Isola Lavezzi – which is uninhabited but a very popular day trip from Corsica. If you’re relying on public ferries, be prepared to get there early to stake out your place on the beach. However, if you’re travelling under your own steam, and anchoring in a quiet cove, you’ll have the place to yourself once the day-trippers go home.
Just past Lavezzi Archipelago – and only 11 kilometres from Corsica – is Sardinia. If you’re looking for the best beaches, it’s hard to go past this island. With hundreds of beaches, you are guaranteed find more than your share of places to roll out the beach towel. If you like diving, head to Cagliari’s coast to experience the underwater Nereo Cave and Nora’s submerged Roman ruins.
If you can resist the pull of white sand and crystal water for a day or two, venture into Sardinia’s mountainous interior (known by many as ‘the real Sardinia’). For an authentic experience make your way to Bitti, a small village in north-central Sardinia. If you make it, you must stop into Agriturismo Calavrina – the menu boasts an array of simple local dishes and the service is incredible!
Visiting the islands off Italy’s coast offers an array of diverse and unique experiences, filled with adventure, beauty and excellent food. To get the most out of your trip (and to avoid the peak tourist hubs) you should try to spend at least a night wherever you go. And, always try to explore by boat too – as many of the secluded and most beautiful spots are inaccessible by car or by foot.
Feature image by Mada_Cris