Italy is home to over 400 islands, from great hulking Sicily at the bottom of Italy’s boot to tiny unoccupied islets off the France-Italy border. They range from long established celebrity hotspots like Capri to lesser-known volcanic archipelagos like the Aeolian islands. While the landscapes may vary, days here are best spent perfecting the art of dolce fa niente (sweet nothing) — alternating between eating, swimming and wandering. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite idyllic islands in Italy.
The Most Idyllic Islands in Italy
1. Procida, Campania
Campania is no stranger to pretty islands, with a string of blockbuster destinations like Capri and Ischia dotted around its coast. We think pint-sized Procida is one of its prettiest. Popular with the romantic poets, its tumbling colourful fisherman’s cottages and craggy cliffs have featured in films like Il Postino and The Talented Mr Ripley. Despite this, it remains relatively quiet all year round, with far fewer crowds than the neighbouring big-hitters. There are plenty of scenic spots for long and lazy lunches too.
2. Panarea, Sicily
The dinkiest of the Aeolian Islands, Panarea is also the most exclusive and expensive. It’s where the wealthiest Italians head in the summer; yachts line the glittering harbour and the music is cranked up, stylishly of course. Cala Junco, with its rusty red sand, is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Divers can also explore the wreck of an old English merchant ship that sunk in the early 1900s and now sits 40 meters below the water. Beyond the island, there are even smaller islands to explore: Basiluzzo, Bottaro, Lisca Bianca and Dattilo.
3. Elba, Tuscany
Just 10 km off the coast of Piombino in Tuscany, Elba is best known as the island on which Napoleon was exiled. This always surprises first-time visitors; the island is the antithesis of prison. Think pristine beaches, secret coves and a rich culinary tradition. The water here is also famous throughout Italy, crystal clear and perfect for scuba diving. It’s the third-largest island in Italy, with plenty to occupy you for at least a few days.
4. Ponza, Lazio
Halfway between the Eternal City and Naples, Ponza is where the Romans holiday. It’s quieter and less-well known than sites like the Cinque Terre but, with its candy-coloured clifftop houses, it certainly rivals them. There are no major sights to speak of, so days here are best spent paddling in the turquoise waters or sunbathing on vast sandy stretches. Or eating, of course.
Ponza may be a little off-the-beaten-track but it hasn’t always been, it features in Homer’s Odyssey.
5. Borromean Islands, Lombardy
You can’t actually stay on these islands, but you can visit — and that’s good enough for us. The picture-perfect group of tiny islands and islets floating in the heart of Lake Maggiore. Isola Bella is the largest and home to the 17th century Palazzo Borromeo. Then there’s the Isola Madre, best-known for its botanical garden. The islands have been owned by the Borromeos, a Florentine aristocratic family, since the 14th Century.
6. San Domino, Puglia
One of five tiny islands that make up the Tremeti Islands, this archipelago was once a penal colony. It’s still an off-the-radar destination but its low limestone cliffs, clear waters and tiny coves are putting it on the map. San Domino is a popular diving destination thanks to its coral reefs and underwater caves, but its fragrant pine woods are perfect for gentle trekking. Family-run trattorias still run the roost here, so save space for lunch.
7. Mazzorbo, Veneto
Mazzorbo is the the perfect tonic for Venice’s crowds. One of the quietest islands on the Venetian lagoon, Mazzorbo is a kaleidoscope of rich and rusty reds, burgundy and ochre. It’s small, but it boasts a few worthy sites, including the tremendous Venissa, a michelin-star star restaurant. Take a stroll down the colourful streets, dip into frescoed medieval churched and potter around independent shops.
It’s linked by a footbridge to the more famous Burano island, famous for its lace and linen.