The Best Secret Islands in Italy
You don’t even need a sailing boat or luxury yacht to reach these lesser-known hideaways. Hop over to Sicily and take a hyper-efficient aliscafo, or fast ferry, to the Aegadian islands, a delightfully tranquil group that includes Marettimo and Favignana.
It’s just as easy to get to Filicudi, Salina, Stromboli and Panarea, all part of the Aeolian Islands—a group north of Sicily that is named after Aeolus, the mythical ruler of the winds. You can be sure of an invigorating breeze, but also plenty of sun and sea, and that all-important laid-back island vibe.
It’s just an hour-long ferry ride from Sicily to the chain of tiny Aeolian Islands, of which Lipari is the largest. The main town, also called Lipari, has a gentle, relaxed vibe, and a buzzy main drag called Corso Vittorio Emanuele, where the obligatory passeggiata takes place every night. Small boutiques, cafes and gelateria lead you towards the quaint harbor of Marina Corta, where fishermen gather to show off their catch of the day.
Don’t miss: Rent a cute, convertible Citroen Mehari to explore the island and discover perfect coastal villages like Canneto, with its gorgeous, empty beaches.
Where to stay: The best address is Villa Meligunis, with its views over Lipari town. Doubles from $80, including breakfast.
A 45-minute ferry ride from Lipari, Salina is green and fertile, with vineyards, citrus trees and caper bushes growing everywhere. This volcanic island is also the place where the iconic Italian movie Il Postino was filmed.
Don’t miss: Rent a scooter and go for a cooling granita at Da Alfredo, a cafe in the village of Lingua. Or visit the tiny coastal hamlet of Pollara, where Il Postino was filmed, to sunbathe on the rocks and dive in the dark blue waters. For lunch head to Pollara, where the terrace at Al Cappero is the place for a glass of local Malvasia wine and a menu of gloriously simple Aeolian dishes, such as a salad of home-grown potatoes, tomatoes, capers and herbs.
Where to stay: From the terrace of Hotel Signum in the village of Malfa you can take in views of the active volcano on the nearby island of Stromboli while sipping on a Negroni. Doubles from $100, including breakfast.
There is something magical about Panarea, a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride from Milazzo in northeastern Sicily. The tiny Aeolian island, with its iconic white-painted buildings, has just 400 inhabitants—yet somehow still exudes an unmistakable sense of glamor. (It’s a favorite hangout for VIPS like Beyonce, Bill Gates and Uma Thurman, who often stop by the island when exploring the Med on their mega-yachts.)
Don’t miss: Bring walking shoes for daytime, and a pair of heels for balmy evenings mingling with the jet set in popular hangouts like Il Bar del Porto. There are no cars on the island (locals drive golf carts or Apes, the Italian three-wheelers) so if you want to go somewhere, you’ll need to walk. Or rent a traditional wooden boat from charter company Sea Panarea to explore the caves around the island, and the two micro-islands of Basiluzzo and Lisca. Panarea has plenty of chic restaurants, but the simple, homey terrace of trattoria Da Paolinois the best for no-nonsense, Aeolian cuisine like hand-made pasta with eggplant.
Where to stay: Hotel Lisca Bianca, in the island’s small main port, has great ocean views. The 28 rooms are all different: some have views over the Med, and some have rooftop terraces. Doubles from $110, room only.
Only perfectly tanned Italians in Speedos or tiny bikinis seem to know about the three Egadi Islands, just off the West coast of Sicily. Of Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo, the latter—just over an hour’s ferry ride from Trapani in western Sicily— is the most alluring.
Don’t miss: In town, ristorante Il Veliero (+39 0923 923274) serves, according to those same Italians in Speedos, the best lobster soup in the world — the spaghetti rotti in Zuppa di aragosta. If you’re lucky, a sun-tanned fisherman might rush in with his catch of the day while you’re eating. In the evening, do like the locals do and don breezy white linen for sundowners on the terrace bar at Tramontana.
Where to stay: There’s only really one hotel on the island—the simple yet cozy Marettimo Residence. Splurge on a junior suite for a private terrace with full views of the sea.
A half-hour ferry ride from Trapani, near Palermo, the island of Favignana is the largest and most popular of the Egadi Islands. In July and August, the main port is filled with Italian holidaymakers eating gelati and drinking prosecco like water; go out of season and you’ll more or less have the place to yourself—perfect for some dolce far niente.
Don’t miss: Rent a scooter to see the island, then jump on a boat to explore the coast. You’ll find the clear, azure waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea dotted with sailing boats and yachts gliding silently along the rocky coast. Try and visit Cala Rossa, a famous cove where Italians come to sunbathe, swim and snorkel. Many rent small motorboats and take picnics out on the water, diving into the water between courses when the temperature gets too high.
Where to stay: The seaside Cas’almare, a 15-minute drive from town (by scooter, of course) is the island’s only chic hotel. Doubles from $180, including breakfast.
One of three active volcanoes in Italy, Stromboli is constantly rumbling and showing off its might by throwing hot rocks in the Med. Roberto Rossellini shone a spotlight on this island in the movie Stromboli, with the legendary Ingrid Bergman as protagonist. The island is two-and-a-half-hours by fast ferry from Milazzo, in northeastern Sicily.
Don’t miss: Walk to the Osservatorio, the island’s main observation deck, to feel the power of the volcano—or get even closer to the crater on a guided walk. Dolce & Gabbana have a villa on the island and like to grab a bite at Ristorante Punta Lena, where you dine pieds dans l’eau. After dinner, take a stroll around Piscita—the old part of town, where narrow streets spill down onto the blue sea.
Where to stay: Il Gabbiano Stromboli is the most luxurious option on the island. Some rooms have sea views, while others open onto a small citrus garden. Doubles from $220, including breakfast.
Most travellers venture to Vulcano (50 minutes by ferry from the Sicilian port of Milazzo) to climb its volcano or to bathe in its famous mud baths, but there’s plenty more to see. Rent a Mehari and meander around the island discovering its lush, green interior, where goats roam the unspoiled volcanic mountainside. In summer, Vulcano is a favorite stop for cruise ships and day-trippers, but come here out of season and you’ll experience the island at its serene best.
Don’t miss: If you want to climb the volcano, wear good shoes and set off in late afternoon, when there are fewer people and you’ll be met by a glorious sunset at the top. Afterwards, venture to the village of Vulcano Piano to eat in the garden of Maria Tindara, a small and simple trattoria where everything on the plate is local: fresh pasta with local ricotta, or slow-cooked lamb and goat stew.
Where to stay: The coastal Therasia Resort is located near Vulcanella, the island’s smaller, extinct volcano. Choose a suite for added privacy, and full views of the Med. Doubles from $230, including breakfast.
Few mainland Italians have heard of this tiny gem of an island, a 20-minute hydrofoil ride from the port of Rinella on Salina. Come here in low season and the island will feel pleasingly quiet, with only a handful of options for lodging and food. If you are looking to experience the blue Mediterranean all to yourself, this is the place.
Don’t miss: Linger in the small port of Pecorini for a meal at La Scogliera, a family-owned restaurant that’s perfect for a sunset aperitivo overlooking the sea. Go diving for sea urchins with Nino Terrano from I Delfini and cruise around La Canna, a spectacular, 80-meter long volcanic rock formation off the island’s northwest coast.
Where to stay: La Canna is a clean, no-frills B&B with rooms overlooking the sea. In the evening you can enjoy a homemade dinner, mostly made with ingredients grown or caught by Anastasi, the head of the family that owns the place. Doubles from $110, including breakfast.