There are more than 400 islands in Italy, and while showstoppers such as Capri and Sardinia are famous the world over, there are so many more that you can explore – especially without the crowds. Here is Culture Trip’s pick of the top 12 to visit – and the places to stay once you’re there.
Ponza has been a favourite summer escape for the Romans for centuries. Although you’re likely to spot an international pop star’s yacht out in the harbour, there is none of the glitz – or chaos – that comes with many of the more famous Italian summer hotspots. To really enjoy this island, rent a boat from the Brooklyn-born Luigi in the main harbour and spend the day exploring rocky coves and clear waters.
Getting there: 2 hours 50 minutes by ferry from Naples to Ponza from €29 (£26.20) one way.
High on the hillside overlooking the port of Ponza, the 1920s-built Villa Laetitia is covered in antique tiles. You’ll find colourful pieces dotting the cobblestone steps, a millstone table encrusted with sea-blue patterns and a mosaic of tile fragments adorning the walls in the common area. The rooms are named after spices – the Cacao has a trumpet-reminiscent bed frame and chocolate-coloured bedding, while the two-bed Zafferano boasts vaulted ceilings, a mezzanine level and a sun-yellow palette. Each has a balcony with views of the sea and a ceiling fan for humid nights. A continental breakfast is available every morning.
The Hotel Torre dei Borboni sits on the top of a cliff with incredible views across the sea, bay and citadel. The storied structure, an 18th-century tower built on the ruins of a Roman fortress, nods to the past with vintage furniture, while airy rooms decorated in warm yellows and deep blues draw on elements of the postcard-worthy surroundings. Cool off with a dip in the outdoor pool and relax on one of the loungers with a cocktail. Then get ready to dance the night away at one of the clubs down by the port.
You may not think of beaches or islands when you think of Tuscany, but you should. Giglio is a part of the Tuscan Archipelago and a short ferry ride from the mainland. The clear waters and protected status make for a scuba paradise, and the Campese beach is must-visit.
Getting there: 1 hour 30 minutes by train from Rome to Orbetello from €9.75 (£8.80), followed by a 15-minute bus ride to Porto Santo Stefano from €2.60 (£2.35) and a 50-minute ferry from Porto Santo Stefano to Giglio from €15.28 (£13.80) one way.
Carved into granite caves on the shores of Giglio, La Guardia is a stone’s throw from the ocean. Wake up to crashing waves in air-conditioned rooms decked out with natural materials – including rattan chairs, wooden side tables, macramé wall hangings and cacti in wicker baskets – and breathe in the sea air. For direct access to the beach, stay in the Junior Suite – with the walls of the bathroom hewn right out of the rockface. In the restaurant, you can devour dishes seasoned with fresh herbs picked from the hotel’s organic garden while watching the boats drift past over the ivy-spilling walls of the terrace.
This bold red-and-white, 19th-century lighthouse-turned-hotel cuts a striking image on the remote coastline. Dig into a breakfast buffet of home-made cakes, fresh fruit and pastries every morning, then clamber down past craggy rocks to explore the hidden coves beneath. Once you’ve had your fill of sunbathing and swimming in the sea, return to lounge in rooms with brushed-pearl walls, dark headboards and quilted bedding. All have private patios or terraces with 360-degree sea views.
This low-key sleepy paradise, off the west coast of Sicily, has water in shades of blue you didn’t even know existed, plus some of Italy’s best gelato. If you’re visiting in late spring or early summer and you’re not too squeamish, try and catch the mattanza – an annual and somewhat gory hunt for tuna.
Getting there: 1 hour 10 minutes by bus from Palermo to Trapani from €9.60 (£8.70), then a 40-minute ferry from Trapani to Favignana from €12.23 (£11.05) one way.
Favignana sits off the coast of Sicily
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A cluster of traditional 19th-century buildings set among gnarled trees, manicured lawns and stone walls, Il Baglio sull’Acqua promises a calm getaway. As you enter through swirling filigree gates, you head towards the outdoor pool, sun-drenched garden lined with loungers and a shaded terrace where you can retreat from the heat with a glass of wine. Inside, wonky stone archways and slanted ceilings add charm to rooms with chequerboard tiling and African-style decor. Most include a small courtyard with pillowy furniture, while the top-tier suite has a Jacuzzi that overlooks the olive grove.
A stone’s throw from the town centre, within walking distance of Lido Burrone beach, the peach-coloured Hotel Tempo di Mare has Instagram-worthy views across the Mediterranean to the island of Levanzo, framed perfectly by its archway entrance. Fish wall hangings, potted cacti and twisting coral ornaments feature throughout, inspired by the coastal setting, while the bright rooms have french windows or a balcony. In the evening, head down to the hotel bar, Corallo Cafè, for sunset cocktails.
Part of La Maddalena National Park and one of seven islands off the north coast of Sardinia, Budelli’s main attraction is its soft-pink sand beach, Spiaggia Rosa, on its south shore. The delicate ecosystem that creates this phenomenon can only be seen from a safe distance, but you can relax nearby at the breathtaking Cavaliere beach.
Getting there: A 57-minute bus ride from Olbia to Palau from €3.32 (£3), then a 15-minute ferry from Palau to La Maddalena from €4.20 (£3.80) one way.
The beautiful Spiaggia Rosa, or pink beach, on the island of Budelli
Grand Hotel Resort Ma and Ma
Courtesy of Grand Hotel Resort Ma and Ma / Expedia
The Grand Hotel Resort Ma and Ma exudes luxury from the moment you walk through its revolving doors, with giant pots of jungle-like plants flanking the entrance and glistening crystals framing a mirror in the ceiling. Each elegant room is individually styled – think deep-mocha browns, crushed-velvet golds and polished leathers – with ensuite marble bathrooms and mosaic-tiled showers. Outside, an hourglass-shaped pool lies in the picturesque garden – perfect for a light lunch under the sun or an evening drink under the stars, illuminated by fairy lights that twist around the trees. For deeper relaxation, book yourself a Tibetan sound massage in the hotel spa.
The Santo Stefano Resort and Spa guarantees you a prime spot right by the seafront, with direct access to two beaches. When you’re not busy sunning yourself on one of the cobalt loungers or walking along the dirt tracks in search of peaceful coves, you can take advantage of the Turkish baths and sauna in the hotel spa. The 300 air-conditioned rooms offer garden or sea views; some come with private patios where you can watch the waves, a glass of bubbly in hand. For a fun workout, there are three tennis courts, or feel the sand beneath your toes playing beach volleyball.
This island off the coast of Naples is for poets and romantics, having served as a backdrop to the classic Italian film Il Postino (1994). Hike up to the tiny island’s highest point and get a perfect snap of the candy-coloured fishermen’s cottages for your Instagram feed.
Getting there: A 40-minute ferry from Naples to Procida from €18 (£16.30) one way.
The colourful fishermen’s houses on Procida are picture-perfect
With picture-perfect views of Marina di Corricella bay framed by vibrant bougainvillaea, the 18th-century Casa sul Mare is set in a beautiful garden on a hillside overlooking the sea – where better to enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice and scrambled eggs each morning? The classically elegant rooms feature antique furniture and wrought-iron bed frames, and each has a private terrace with rattan loungers. Stroll down the cobbled street to a quiet square for an Aperol spritz, or hop on a free shuttle bus to the beach.
This crimson castle-like building, surrounded by twisting vines, has a stripped-back interior, with soft blues and yellows adding a splash of colour to the white rooms – one of which has been decorated by local artist Luigi Nappa. Each comes with a minibar and flat-screen TV, while suites also have a Jacuzzi. The spa at this former watchtower offers intriguing wine treatments comprising a body peel, face mask and biomassage, plus there’s an outdoor pool, bucolic gardens and a bar that serves wine from the hotel’s own estate.
Salina is among the most elegant of the Aeolian islands, but it’s also one of the most relaxed. It offers the perfect mix of fine dining and casual eateries, from Michelin-star restaurants to beach bars that will deliver freshly made sandwiches directly to your sunlounger by a basket rigged by pulleys.
Getting there: 1 hour 45 minutes by shuttle bus from Catania-Fontanarossa Airport to Milazzo from €25 (£22.60), then 1 hour 35 minutes by ferry from Milazzo to Salina from €23 (£20.80) one way.
Salina is elegant yet laid-back
Capofaro Locanda and Malvasia
Courtesy of Capofaro Locanda and Malvasia / Expedia
Picture yourself sipping wine as you listen to the waves lapping the rocks, or swirling your feet in a freshwater pool while the smell of home-made bread wafts from the kitchen. This estate comprises a vineyard, a 19th-century lighthouse and 27 rooms; each has a private terrace with garden and ocean views. Breakfast includes fresh ricotta, hand-sliced charcuterie and Sicilian pastries, while gastronomic candlelit dinners are put together using local ingredients and vegetables grown in the hotel garden.
The exposed beams, stone staircases and majolica tiles date back to the Hotel I Cinque Balconi’s former life as a 19th-century winery. A sun-trap garden full of crooked lemon trees infuses the air with a citrusy fragrance, carried by the breeze into rooms decorated with warm yellows and greens, antique trunks and artistically distressed furniture. Some include balconies with views of the sea, while the junior suite treats you to an iPad and a private terrace with an outdoor shower.
If you are looking for a rugged and fiery adventure, sail over to Stromboli – another island off the coast of Sicily – and trek up one of Italy’s most active volcanos. Alternatively, you can take a sunset cruise and watch the natural fireworks show from the water.
Getting there: 1 hour 45 minutes by shuttle bus from Catania-Fontanarossa Airport to Milazzo from €25 (£22.60), then 2 hours 45 minutes by ferry from Milazzo to Stromboli from €26.41 (£23.85) one way.
The active volcano provides a dramatic backdrop for La Sciara. You can watch smoky plumes puff out of its crater from the hotel pool, hear the rumble of its small eruptions from the solarium terrace and admire the volcano in full while paddling just off shore. Paths lined with palm trees, age-old cacti and floral bushes lead to soundproofed rooms, each with a balcony and idyllic sea views. Breakfast is your choice of fresh fruit and pastries. You can hire a bike from reception to explore the area on two wheels.
La Sirenetta Park Hotel’s whitewashed buildings lie steps from the charcoal sands of a black lava beach. A jungle of bougainvillaea, cacti and swooping vines hide an outdoor saltwater pool, hot tub and tennis court as well as the shaded, understated rooms. Step onto the cooling cobalt tiles of your private terrace each morning, and snap some shots of the Strombolicchio – a craggy sea stack featuring a 1920s lighthouse. Alternatively, go for a refreshing swim and gaze up at the smoking volcano.
If you prefer freshwater lakes to salty oceans, you’re in luck. Italy has islands in lakes, too. Sitting between lakes Como and Garda, Monte Isola is the largest lake island in Europe and almost car-free – exceptions are made for the mayor, priest and the ambulance service. Take a stroll and explore the fairytale island’s medieval and renaissance churches, villas and gardens.
Getting there: 2 hours 22 minutes by train from Milan to Sale Marasino from €13.32 (£12), then a 30-minute ferry from Sale Marasino to Monte Isola from €4.10 (£3.70) one way.
Monte Isola is the largest island on a lake in Europe
Castello Oldofredi’s weathered oak beams and stone fireplaces give the place a rustic elegance. Inside, aged wooden doors lead to the restored suites and apartments, each one unique – think floral vintage armchairs, old-world photographs and candlelit nooks stacked with books. Discover keepsakes from around the world scattered throughout the fully equipped apartments. Then spend a while swaying in the garden’s hammocks with a good book, or cool off with a dip in the outdoor pool. Ringed by olive trees, it boasts killer views of Lake Iseo.
Hotel RivaLago sits on the banks of Lake Iseo, overlooking the emerald peak of Monte Isola. A row of loungers and tables line the edge of the garden, so you can sip on sundowners and look out across the lake and cool off in the outdoor pool. The soundproofed, air-conditioned rooms range from standard with honey-hued walls, smart TV and minibar to the sprawling Senior Lake Suite with arched windows and a private terrace.
In less than an hour by vaporetto, you can leave behind the crowds and chaos of Venice and spend some time on the lagoon island of Mazzorbo. There is not a lot here, but that is part of its charm. You can have a Michelin-star meal at Venissa, then take a stroll around the colourful island of Burano, which is connected by a footbridge.
Getting there: 33 minutes by ferry from Venice to Mazzorbo from €10.45 (£9.45) one way.
Luring you in with the promise of rare wines, Michelin-star meals and views across a sunset-dappled lagoon, Venissa offers quite the luxury package. The blush-pink hotel sits beside a 14th-century belltower, a tavern and a fine-dining restaurant in a medieval-walled vineyard. Rooms feature exposed-beam ceilings and bird-shaped mirrors, while the suites are set with window seats, charming vintage wardrobes and romantic views across the gardens and lagoon. Don’t leave without trying the vineyard’s famous white wine, made from the native dorona de Venezia grape.
San Domino is the largest of the five tiny islands in the Adriatic Sea off Italy’s southeast coast, north of the Gargano Peninsula. Head to Cala delle Arene for a sandy beach and azure waters. For the scuba enthusiast, there is a Roman-era shipwreck to explore not far off the coast.
Getting there: 3 hours 45 minutes by bus from Rome to Termoli from €22 (£19.90), then a 50-minute ferry from Termoli to San Domino from €28.44 (£25.70) one way.
Tucked away in a thick pine forest, with private access to a secluded cove, Hotel Kyrie is a short stroll from the village and buzzy harbour. White walls and towering trees keep the rooms shaded and cool, and you can peer out into the tangle of branches from your balcony to find birds tweeting in the morning. Downstairs, the outdoor pool is surrounded by terracotta tiles and gingham-draped tables where you can indulge in a meal and aperitifs from the bar.
Hidden amid lofty palm trees and floral gardens, Hotel Eden is minutes from Cala dello Spido beach. If you fancy exploring the depths of the Adriatic, there’s a diving centre offering equipment rental and courses for both beginners and the more advanced. When you emerge from the salty waters to unstick your goggles and slip off your fins, an airy room with wooden furniture, a minifridge and a Juliet balcony will be waiting for you. There’s also a nature-wrapped terrace, serving traditional Italian cuisine and a complimentary breakfast.
The five towns that make up the Cinque Terre can get frustratingly crowded. Plan your escape and spend a day on the nearby Unesco World Heritage site, the island of Palmaria. Take your passeggiata along the palm-tree-lined boardwalk, and you will quickly see why this spot reportedly inspired Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
Getting there: 2 hours 12 minutes by train from Florence to Portovenere from €14.65 (£13.20) one way.
Housed in a former Franciscan monastery, the Grand Hotel Portovenere has a prime position overlooking the sunset-coloured houses along the harbour of Palmaria island. Rooms are inspired by the Italian Riviera, with ocean greens and sandy hues, not to mention luxury touches such as marble bathrooms and leather chairs. The Suite del Castello is a gem – think monkey-print wallpaper, handmade furnishings and a large wooden terrace with elevated views. Find relaxation in the sauna and Turkish baths of the spa, or book an in-room massage.
The bright lemon-yellow façade of Hotel Belvedere peeks out from behind trees on the rocky shores of Portovenere. From the art nouveau building’s terrace you have a front-row seat to take in the Gulf of La Spezia, while a large sitting room dotted with retro furniture glints in coloured light streaming through stained-glass windows. Fresh yellows and greens decorate the rooms, some of which have sea views from a small balcony. Swing by the friendly reception for advice on exploring the Cinque Terre and its colourful seaside villages.
A heart-shaped lake known as the Mirror of Venus is just one stunning piece of Pantelleria’s cinematic landscape. The volcanic island – which graced the screen in the Tilda Swinton film A Bigger Splash (2015) – is also home to numerous hot springs, natural saunas and even prehistoric tombs found in craggy pockets and grottos in the mountains. If you have a sweet tooth, try the passito wine made from the island’s zibibbo grapes.
Getting there: 1 hour 10 minutes by bus from Palermo to Trapani from €9.60 (£8.70), then a ferry from Trapani to Pantelleria from €43.69 (£39.50) one-way.
Passing through the golden doors of Sikelia feels like stumbling into a secret paradise. Paths wind through the grounds, taking you to centuries-old dammusi dwellings, with whitewashed walls, Arabic arches and domed roofs, under which the dreamy suites are housed. Each one is equipped with an iPod dock and Morettino coffee machine, alongside natural details such as bowls made of volcanic rock and gold-painted pebbles. Outside, you can order snacks and drinks to your sunlounger, lining the curved pool, or pull up a seat in the palm grove of the Themá Restaurant and Lounge for an Arabic spin on Sicilian fare.
The Zubebi resort is set in Eden-like gardens with a crescent-shaped pool and wellness centre. Lofty suites feature beds tucked into nooks, antique furniture and cultural pieces, while outside, a terrace or patio provides the perfect excuse to sip sweet zibibbo wine under the stars. If you need some pampering, head over to the spa where you can detoxify in the Finnish sauna or take a long soak in the Jacuzzi.