Italy’s sun-kissed coastline is undeniably easy on the eye, but that doesn’t always translate into great beaches. Take the Amalfi Coast: surely one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world, but its pockets of grey sand (or silver, as the locals spin it) can come as an anti-climax.
In general, Italy can’t rival the likes of Spain and Portugal for broad, golden stretches of sand, but its 7,600km of coastline does harbour plenty of stunners, particularly in the far south and islands.
Natasha Foges shares her top locations for an Italian beach holiday, from remote coves to perfect buckets-and-spades family beaches.
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.
Santa Maria di Castellabate is ideal for a family trip © Gimas/Shutterstock
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Best for nightlife: Rimini, Emilia-Romagna
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.
Rimini has a buzzing after-dark scene © Nikolay Antonov/Shutterstock
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.
Chia beach in south of Sardinia, Italy – one of the island's best © Elisa Locci/Shutterstock
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.
Best for remoteness: Salento peninsula, Puglia
Picture your perfect beach: powdery sand, azure sea and not a soul in sight? Such is Italy’s beauty that un-touristy corners are sadly rare. But spots that are harder to get to (often in the poorly connected south) remain undisturbed by mass tourism.
The Salento peninsula, in the heel of Italy’s boot, harbours some of the mainland’s loveliest beaches – understandably popular with Italian tourists in high summer, but blissfully quiet the rest of the year. The eastern side is craggy and dramatic, with the historic seaside town of Otranto a high point, while the western side is flatter, an almost unbroken stretch of pristine white-sand beach and Caribbean-blue sea.
On the eastern side, the road winds above the rocky coast, past Moorish-style fishing villages, caves and underwater grottoes, to lovely Santa Maria di Leuca at the tip, where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea in a stunning bay.
The standout beach on the western coast is gorgeous, dune-backed Marina di Pescoluse – nicknamed “the Maldives of the Salento” due to its offshore sand banks that resemble small islands at sunset.
The Salento Peninsula has some of the Italian mainland's best beaches © Marco Fine/Shutterstock
Best for a city break: Mondello, Sicily
Can’t choose between a city break and a beach holiday? Have both. Base yourself in Palermo, Sicily’s capital: a fascinating city with plenty to see and do, just a short bus trip from Mondello, the town beach, which boasts beautifully clear water in a gently shelving bay.
With pastel changing cabins backing the beach and a whimsical Art Nouveau building, “The Charleston”, crowning a pier in the middle of the bay, it has a pleasingly retro feel. Though the beach is packed with palermitani on summer weekends, you won’t find many foreign tourists here, and the lively holiday atmosphere is infectious.
Explore more of Italy with The Rough Guide to Italy. Compare flights, find tours, book hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image: Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock