Best for families: Santa Maria di Castellabate, Campania
If you have kids in tow – along with armfuls of beach toys, sun hats, towels and sunscreen – a small-town beach is ideal, as you can shuttle easily between hotel, beach and café without any fraught car journeys.
Unassuming Santa Maria di Castellabate, in the secluded Cilento region a couple of hours’ drive south of the glitzy Amalfi Coast resorts, is family-holiday gold: a venerable Aragonese watchtower overlooks a lovely crescent-shaped bay with sparklingly clear water, mellow waves and a jolly seafront passeggiata.
The labyrinthine, UNESCO-protected old town, high on a hill above the bay, is ripe for exploring, while the spectacular Greek temples at Paestum, some 20km away, are an essential trip.
Image by stebox78 on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The resorts of Rimini and next-door Riccione can be brash, but if it’s nightlife you’re after, there’s no better place. By day a busy, family-friendly stretch of beach, by night Rimini’s seafront is a place of cocktail bars and beach parties, while the hills above town hold the best of the clubs.
Weary partygoers sweat out their Aperol Spritz hangovers on the handsome, 15km-long beach – before starting all over again come sundown.
Image by Jason Lee on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Best for variety: Sardinia
Sardinia is many Italians’ summer-holiday destination of choice (tip: avoid August), and it’s easy to see why. Its coastline is glorious, and wonderfully varied. Hiring a car or moped and pootling between its beaches – from spectacular stretches of dazzling white sand to rocky coves with limpid waters – is a fun way to spend a week or two, particularly if you quickly tire of parking yourself on the same lounger with the same view every day.
Excellent beaches are too numerous too mention, but don’t miss Chia in the far south – a dreamy stretch of peach-coloured sand and turquoise water – and Piscinas further north, a remote beach with towering dunes and a wild, end-of-the-road feel.
Best for old-world charm: Viareggio, Tuscany
With its classic seafront prom lined with Art Nouveau facades, Viareggio is a refined throwback to more genteel times. Though somewhat faded these days – the hotels along the front are no longer quite so grand – something of the glamour of its heyday lingers, especially in the lively evening passeggiata.
The beaches themselves are sandy and broad, and for the most part colonised by private beach clubs, with neat ranks of parasols and loungers lined up for weekending Florentines.