Have you ever been to Rome in August and wondered where all the locals are? The truth is that they’re likely in one of these towns, as Italians in major cities make a mass exodus toward the coast every summer.
Many of the well-known beaches get crowded or too touristy, but this list also includes some under-the-radar gems where you can escape the hubbub.
From the Italian Riviera to the farthest reaches of Sicily, there are plenty of seaside villages to please travelers in search of pristine beaches, ancient ruins, art, culture, and delicious cuisine. So why not do as the Romans do and head to the sea ?
Where: Amalfi CoastIt – Wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Positano is one of the most beautiful places on earth. This small town on the Amalfi Coast awes visitors with its pastel-colored houses perched on mountains that rise above the sea. Positano has lived many lives—as part of Amalfi’s maritime republic during the Middle Ages, a major trade route during the Renaissance, a forgotten fishing village, and finally, an idyllic beach town experiencing a modern-day renaissance. John Steinbeck, who lived here in 1953, wrote, “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” Then again, you might never want to leave. Insider Tip: Bring comfortable shoes. Amalfi has only one street, and the rest of the paths are steep staircases. On your way to the beach, stop by Le Sirenuse, Steinbeck’s stomping ground, for a meal or a drink by the pool.
Where: Amalfi Coast – Amalfi may be more famous, but Ravello tops it— literally. French author Andre Gide wrote that it’s “closer to the sky than the sea,” and he’s right. The town is poised high above the Bay of Salerno, and is celebrated for Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, two romantic gardens offering spectacular views of the water. Ravello became famous as the home of the noble families of Amalfi’s 12th-century maritime re- public. It has also inspired countless artists, including M. C. Escher, Virginia Woolf, Joan Mirò, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Wagner, who is celebrated every year with a music festival. Insider Tip: After climbing up to the highest point of Villa Cimbrone, known as the “Terrace of the Infinite,” head over to Cumpa’ Cosimo for a hearty and delicious meal.
Where: Naples and Campagna – The island of Capri was once the vacation spot of Roman emperors and derives its name from the herds of goats (capra in Italian) that once inhabited it. The natural beauty of the Grotta Azzurra is unparalleled and became a symbol of the pastoral Romantic ideal when it was “discovered” by Germans August Kopisch, a poet, and artist Ernst Fries in 1826. A hidden opening in the cave al- lows light to refract, making the water appear an incredible shade of sapphire blue. Today, the secret’s out and Capri draws crowds of tourists, but it’s worth a trip for the island’s stunning beauty. Insider Tip: If you have a few days, the near- by island of Ischia is known for its hot springs and is said to have healing properties.
Where: The Italian Riviera – All five towns that make up the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera are beautiful, but Manarola is the most picturesque. The whole village is built on a foundation of black rock, and colorful buildings hover over the small marina. Manarola was established in the 12th century and features the church of San Lorenzo, built in the 14th century. Stepped vineyards curve around the hillsides that join the five towns. The town produces wine and olive oil, which are readily available at shops in the historic center. Insider Tip: The other four villages—Riomaggiore, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare— are easily accessible by a train and a hiking trail.
Where: Tuscany – When we think about Tuscany, we usually envision rolling hills dotted with cypress trees and Medieval cities, but Tuscany has a coastline too, and a gor- geous one at that. About halfway between Florence and Rome lies Porto Ercole, “Port Hercules,” in the province of Grosseto. The town is the final rest- ing place of Caravaggio, who died there on his way back to Rome to receive a pardon after being exiled. Insider Tip: Porto Ercole is accessible by train, though it’s generally easier to get there by car.
Where: The Veneto – The Venice Lido became the first European bathing resort in the 1800s when Lord Byron, Lido’s first famous foreign tourist, arrived. He certainly wasn’t the last. The Lido is a seven-mile strip of beach in Venice that became known as a luxury destination for the likes of Serge Diaghilev, Coco Chanel, and Thomas Mann, author of Death in Venice. As if Venice wasn’t already beautiful enough, the Lido only increases La Serenissima’s charm. Insider Tip: Every year in late August or early September, the Lido hosts the Venice Film Festival, which draws a large international crowd.
Where: The Italian Riviera – Portofino became famous for la dolce vita in the 1950s and ‘60s, when movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Loren vacationed here. The town is still a star-studded destination—Madonna, Cate Blanchett, Heidi Klum, and Gwyneth Paltrow have all been photographed in the Italian fishing village in recent years. Long ago, Portofino was an ancient Roman colony, seized by the Republic of Genoa in 1229. The French, Span- ish, English, Austrians, and a 16th-century band of pirates have all taken their turn at ruling Portofino. Insider Tip: Portofino caters to its affluent visitors, so if you’re traveling on a budget, you may want to stay in nearby Camogli or Santa Maria Ligure.
Where: Lazio – Located about halfway between Rome and Naples lies the charming town of Sperlonga, once home to the Emperor Tiberius. A museum constructed on the former villa of Tiberius displays sculptures celebrating the deeds of Odysseus, which were discovered in the grotto for which the town is named. Long stretches of pristine beaches draw Romans to the village today. Insider Tip: Sperlonga is easily accessible by train from Rome, and the beach is much cleaner and more beautiful than those of Lazio’s more popular seaside towns, such as Ostia and Fregenae.
Where: Lazio – Portofino became famous for la dolce vita in the pictures island of Ponza is another popular destination for Romans fleeing the city in the sum- mer. Legend has it the island was named after Pontius Pilate, whose family owned a grotto there. The Etruscans first colonized Ponza, which may be the last remnants of the lost island of Tyrrhenia, and archeologists have found the ruins of sunken Roman temples nearby. It is also rumored to be the home of Circe, the sorceress who seduced Odysseus and turned his men into pigs. More recently, Wes Anderson filmed some scenes from The Life Aquatic here. Insider Tip: Circe’s cave—Grotta della Maga Circe— can be found on the western side of the island, between Capo Bianco and Chaia di Luna beach.
Where: Sicily – Sicily is known for its alluring beaches, but Acireale is special. Formed on volcanic rock from Mount Etna, Acireale’s beaches are made of stone, not sand. While this isn’t ideal for sunbathing, it makes for a truly unique place, where ladders descend from the rocks allowing people to climb down into the sea as if it were a swimming pool. Of course, most people just dive in and swim out to the next outcropping. Acireale is known for its ornate Baroque churches and beautiful public parks and nature reserves. It’s also famous for its Carnival festivities, considered the best in Sicily. Insider Tip: There is an excellent open-air market in the historic center, but for a traditional Sicilian treat, try the granita, a semifrozen dessert similar to gelato. Sicilians mix it with their espresso and dunk brioche in it for breakfast.