Italian islands: discover off the beaten path

Ponza Island

What are the first Italian islands that come to mind? Sicily? Sardinia? Capri? These islands are rightly famed for their breathtaking beauty, food and culture, but they’re just the starting point. For an unforgettable Italian summer away from the crowds, we recommend researching an alternative island getaway…

Ponza – the jewel island of the Tyrrhenian Sea

This gorgeous Italian island in the Lazio region is a popular summer destination for Romans searching for spectacular sea and a laidback atmosphere.

It also has a rich history, having been inhabited since the Neolithic area. In Roman times Ponza and nearby Ventotene were home to the exiled relatives of the emperors Caligula and Augustus. Gazing at the dramatic, rocky landscape of Ponza, surrounded by dazzling blue sea, you can’t help but reflect that there are certainly worse places to be exiled to…

Book a tour or rent a boat for the day to make the most of your trip – many of the best beaches and swimming spots are only accessible by boat. After a day soaking up the sun, take a stroll through the picture-perfect historic centre. Don’t forget to enjoy some local specialities like linguine all’aragosta (pasta with lobster) or coniglio alla ponzese (rabbit with tomato and herbs).

Ponza is the largest of the Pontine Islands. Ventotene and Palmarola are also well worth visiting, and easy to reach on a day trip from Ponza.

Italian islands Ponza
Italian islands: Ponza

How to get there

During the summer there are regular ferries and hydrofoils departing from the ports of Anzio, Formia and Terracina. All these ports can be reached by train from Rome or Naples. The boat journey from the mainland to Ponza takes between 45 minutes and 2 ½ hours, depending on the boat.

Isola del Giglio – a tiny paradise island off the coast of Tuscany

Isola del Giglio (“Island of the Lily”) is even more of a hidden gem than Ponza. It made international news in 2012 as the site of the Costa Concordia disaster. In July 2020 the island was again news, when the island was one of the few places to remain untouched by Covid-19. But aside from these incidents, the island hasn’t attracted much attention. Which is great for the locals (and tourists in-the-know).

This Italian island is the perfect destination for anyone seeking a little peace and quiet, and contact with unspoilt nature. Go for treks in the hills, relax on the sandy beaches, or dive into the crystal-clear water. If you’re lucky, you may even spot dolphins and whales. The vast majority of the island is uninhabited and untouched – a natural paradise.

The pace of life is slow, and there’s not much in the way of nightlife in sleepy medieval villages like Giglio Castello. If you’re looking to get away from it all, this is the place to go.

Italian island, Isola del Giglio
Italian islands: Isola del Giglio (Source: Maria Piccinini, Wikimedia Commons)

How to get there:

There are regular ferries from Porto Santo Stefano on the coast of Tuscany (journey time 1 hour). The easiest way to get to Porto Santo Stefano is by car. Alternatively, if you’re taking public transport from Rome or Florence, get the train to Orbetello Monte Argentario, and then a bus to the port.

Favignana – a beautiful Italian island to add to your bucket list

The butterfly-shaped island of Favignana – the largest of the Aegedian Islands in Sicily – is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a beach holiday with a difference. For a start, there are only a couple of sandy beaches. The best places to soak up the sun and dive into turquoise water are scenic coves. To access the sea often you will need to carefully navigate the rocks. Make sure you bring a pair of rubber-soled beach shoes!

Despite some difficult descents, it’s well worth the effort to get in the water – the sea around Favignana is truly spectacular. The most famous swimming spot, Cala Rossa, is often listed as one of the best beauty spots in the whole of Italy.

The island has a sleepy, laidback charm. Its compact size and mostly flat terrain make it perfect for cycling, which is how most people choose to get around. For a perfect day in Favignana, rent a bike and cycle from one swimming spot to another. For example you could cycle from the transparent waters of Cala Azzurra to Bue Marino, a former quarry where yellow cliffs meet the deep blue sea.

Isola di Favignana, Cala Azzurra
Italian islands: Isola di Favignana – Cala Azzurra (Source: Gianni via Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t forget the food..

And needless to say, as this is Sicily…the food is to die for. Fish and seafood are the specialities – particularly tuna – as well as pasta with pesto alla trapanese (red pesto made with tomatoes and almonds). For a quick lunch on the way to the sea, try a panino cunzato – a delicious sandwich with cheese, tomatoes, anchovies and oregano.

Favignana is also a good base for exploring two Italian islands that are truly off the beaten track – Marettimo and Levanzo. These two tiny islands have just a few hundred inhabitants, and are ideal for a day spent swimming or diving. Many of the best swimming spots are only accessible from the sea. Therefore, to make the most of the Aegadian Islands, it’s worth booking a boat tour or even hiring your own.

How to get there:

There are regular ferries to Favignana from Trapani (30 minutes).

Pantelleria – a stunning volcanic island in Sicily

Pantelleria is known as “the black pearl of the Mediterranean”, but despite its incredible natural beauty, it remains something of a secret.

Located to the southwest of Sicily, this Italian island is closer to Africa than Italy – just 60 kilometres of sea separate Pantelleria from the Tunisian coast. The island’s original Arab name translates as “Daughter of the Winds”. This refers to the strong winds that blow in from Africa.

The island’s remote location and mix of cultural influences make it a fascinating place to visit – it’s not your typical Italian island experience. The local dialect is influenced by Arabic, while one of the popular traditional dishes is not pasta but couscous, mixed with fish and vegetables.

Pantelleria is a volcanic island, full of caves and pools where you can enjoy a natural spa experience. The most famous attraction is the Specchio di Venere (“Mirror of Venus”). This lake with hot thermal water provides an incredible panorama of the surrounding landscape through its reflective surface.

Isola di Pantelleria, Lago Specchio di Venere
Italian island: Isola di Pantelleria – Lago Specchio di Venere (Source: Luca Volpi, Wikimedia Commons)

A note for beach-lovers – the sea around Pantelleria is as beautiful as you would expect, and perfect for swimming, but there aren’t any real beaches. Most swimmers perch on the rocks and jump directly into the sea.

And finally, a word of warning – Pantelleria is very expensive (and hot!) to visit in August. Prices for accommodation and rentals rocket in the summer season. Consider going in May or June for the best experience.

How to get there:

There are very few direct flights to the island’s airport, so you’ll probably have to get a connecting flight (45 minutes) from an airport on mainland Sicily (Trapani or Palermo). You can also get a ferry or hydrofoil from Trapani. The quickest option is the Liberty Lines hydrofoil (2 hours), but it only operates from June to September.

There are many other Italian islands worth exploring – too many to cover in this article. An obvious choice missing from the list is the island of Procida, near Capri. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post all about Procida – the Italian capital of culture in 2022.

For more tips on planning your trip to Italy, contact the team at Roads to Rome Private Tours!

Read more:

How to spend 3 days in Ponza, Italy (Culture Trip)

Tuscany even has amazing islands and here’s how to visit them (Forbes)

A guide to Favignana Island, Sicily (Along Dusty Roads)

Pantelleria: Italy’s secret island (The Telegraph)

 

Written by Alexandra Turney

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