With more than 450 islands, Italy is home to some incredible beaches and coastlines, many with fascinating ancient history—but the secret’s out for many of them. For a quieter, more authentic experience, head to these eight Italian islands before the crowds do. Gelato, ocean vistas, and seclusion await.
This fishermen’s island might be small, but you’ll want to stay forever. As you pull into the port you’re met with shops, restaurants, and brightly painted houses that curve along the promenade. With the freshest seafood, hospitable locals, turquoise waters, and magnificent grottos (thanks to the island’s volcanic origin), Ponza is worth adding to your Italy bucket list. Located in between Naples and Rome in the Tyrrhenian Sea, it’s accessible by hydrofoil or ferry from Naples, Formia, Anzio, and San Felice Circeo.
Where to Stay: Hotel Chiaia Di Luna overlooks Half Moon Bay, surrounded by breathtaking rocky cliffs.
While this island might not be secret to Italians—Giorgio Armani has a villa here, after all—it’s certainly undiscovered by many foreign visitors. Pantelleria is closer to Tunisia than it is Sicily, and you can even see the African country’s coastline. Known for its food, and home to cotton, fig, and olive fields, the island also features natural wonders to explore, like hot springs and caves.
Where to Stay: The Mursia and Cossyra Hotel is a Mediterranean dream with white-washed architecture, a spa, outdoor pools, and a terrace restaurant.
Islands might not be the first thing you imagine when you think of Tuscany, but the Tuscan Archipelago is a wonderland just waiting to be discovered. Elba is the best known, but for local flavor, head to the smaller Isola del Giglio. Giglio’s three towns each offer something different. The Giglio Porto is a bustling cluster of shops and local commerce. About 15 minutes away by car or bus, Giglio Campese offers an unhurried beach town feel—and a gently curving sand beach to match. Follow the winding road up the island’s steep slopes, passing clusters of vineyards growing the island’s signature white wines, to discover Giglio Castello. This fortress town, guarded by iconic Tuscan umbrella pines and thick walls, speaks to the island’s long history as an Etruscan, then Roman, stronghold. Known for its offshore reefs, underwater archeological sites, and shipwrecks, Giglio is also a snorkeling and diving hot spot.
Does the name Giglio seem familiar? In 2012, the CostaConcordia cruise ship ran aground just off the island. Islanders rushed to help, offering food and shelter to stranded passengers.
Where to Stay: Hotel Castello Monticello is one of the few hotels on the island and is just a few minutes’ drive from all three of Giglio’s towns. It offers Old World charm and unbeatable sea views.
The second-smallest of the Aeolian Islands, Panarea looks more like a Greek island than an Italian one (it could have something to do with the fact that the island was settled by Greeks at one point in time). Panarea is home to clear, blue waters full of islets to explore. You can also catch a helicopter ride to the nearby active volcano on Stromboli.
Where to Stay: Hotel Raya has been around since the ‘60s and has a cult following. The hotel offers boutique accommodations, dining, and wellness experiences.
Also part of the Aeolian Islands is Vulcano, which is exactly that: a volcanic island. Here, you’ll find therapeutic natural mud baths, a black sand beach, hot springs, and, of course, a steaming volcano crater. It is not at risk for an eruption but does emit sulfur, a smell most visitors get used to after a while.
This Italian island was dedicated to the God of Fire by both its Greek and Roman settlers.
Where to Stay: Therasia Resort Sea and Spa is the place to stay on Vulcan. From the lava rock from Mount Etna used as a material to the infinity pool and generous buffet, the hotel spares no detail.
If you’re traveling to Venice, make time to explore one of the islands in the Venetian Lagoon. While Pellestrina is difficult to get to, it offers a breath of fresh air from busy San Marco. The narrow island is about seven miles long and is home to restaurants popular with locals. (Get your camera ready because Pellestrina has dreamy, colorfully painted houses.)
Where to Stay: Locanda Stravedo is a small inn set in a Venetian atmosphere. Located in the lagoon, it boasts incredible views, warm hospitality, and modern amenities.
La Maddalena, Sardinia
While this is the most developed island of the La Maddalena archipelago, many overlook this group of islands for nearby Sardinia. So if you’re looking for beaches and famously blue-turquoise water without foreign tourists, head here. There are plenty of restaurants and bars, and you can island hop to the other parts of the archipelago.
Where to Stay: There aren’t too many accommodations on this island, but Villa Mica has its own private beach and garden, and offers seclusion for families or groups of friends.
Of the Egadi Islands (to the west of Sicily), Marettimo is the most rugged and remote, which makes it a diver’s haven. With a rocky coastline home to caves and robust marine life, the waters are also the largest protected marine area in the Mediterranean. For non-divers, there’s a village with shops and restaurants, as well as inland paths for walking and hiking. To get here, there are ferry and hydrofoil options from Trapani, Sicily.
Note: The island is car-less, so you’ll have to walk or ride a mule to get around.
Where to Stay: Marettimo Residence is one of the only hotel-like accommodations on the island. It is eco-friendly and has a swimming pool, a hot tub, and full-service apartments and suites.
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Christine Sarkis also contributed to this article.