taormina giardininaxos messina isolabella sicilia sicily italia italy landscape wallpaper castielli travel creative commons zero cc0 cc facebook bebo news today oggi panoramio flickr googleearth maps geotagged wiki wikipedia
CNN  — 

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to explain why beaches and islands up and down Italy are worth visiting. We wouldn’t need to describe the fluorescent waters and talcum-powder sand, or highlight the delicious seafood or lively nightlife.

Fortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, so we get to show off these 12 beautiful spots and you get to read about them and start planning your next trip:

1. Cretaccio Island

Diving, seafood, dancing: perfect vacation trinity. Plus the sea of the Tremiti islands is gorgeous.

The smallest island of the Tremiti archipelago, dubbed the “pearl of the Adriatic,” Cretaccio Island is deserted and wild. People come here to cover their bodies with clay mixed with seawater, which makes skin smooth and serves as a soothing balm.

The place is great for snorkeling and diving, too: the shallows are one of the best attractions. You get here from San Domino island, which has lively nightlife.

Hotel restaurant Il Gabbiano on the main square offers fantastic fresh fish. Wine Bar Era Ora has great cocktails and A Furmicula is worth a visit if you’re up for dancing.

The ferry to San Domino leaves from Termoli town.

2. Isola Bella Beach

All the colors of a great island destination.

At the foot of the elegant town of Taormina, Isola Bella Beach is one of Sicily’s most beautiful and popular. Archeology, shopping and sunbathing combine here.

The little isle in front and the protected bay with its emerald, still waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The village’s white, shining houses and majestic ancient Greek theater are beautiful – you can’t leave without tasting the almond-paste cakes and candied orange peels at Chemi pastry shop.

The Fusion Bar at La Plage Resort offers good evening beach cocktails, while restaurant Baia delle Sirene is the place to try traditional local dishes.

Nearest airport: Catania. From mainland drive to Messina for the ferry.

Molise – Italy’s best-kept secret

3. Asinara Island

One prison you might not wish to escape.

An uncontaminated isle just-off the northern coast of Sardinia, Asinara Island is quiet and surrounded by nature and shimmering sea.

Once a penal colony, today it’s a protected park where the only inhabitants are local albino wild donkeys, freely grazing the land, and more than 650 other animal species. No clubs, no hotels, no restaurants. You get here by motorboat from Stintino, a chic fishing village.

Park Hotel Asinara has bedrooms with great views of the island. One of the best restaurants here is L’Ancora Stintino, serving traditional Sardinian cuisine.

I Ginepri beach bar at La Pelosa beach does the best appetizers and aperitifs.

Get to Stintino from Olbia port/airport or Alghero airport.

4. Chiaia di Luna Beach (Ponza Island)

World's biggest wind protector?

Many Romans’ favorite holiday spot, the lunar atmosphere at Chiaia di Luna is striking. It’s great for sea adventurers with precipices, inlets, the caves of Ponzio Pilato and the nearby isle of Zannone. At the harbor, visitors can rent a motorboat or go for a guided tour.

The scenic town’s crazy nightlife is something to behold. The best aperitifs can be had at the glamorous Bar Tripoli on the main square, where VIPs mingle with football players. For great seafood there’s the family-run hotel restaurant Bellavista, overhanging a white-pebble beach.

Drive or take the train from Rome to Anzio or Formia, where ferries leave.

5. Palmarola Island

Palmarola and Ponza seen from Circeo.

Come here and you’ll understand why it’s considered by many to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The water color and almost prehistoric scenery of colorful pebble-stone beaches, granite cliffs, sea stacks and grottos will make you feel like Indiana Jones exploring a new world.

The island is uninhabited. There’s a small restaurant open only during the summer. If you feel like trekking, there are dozens of organized tours.

To get here, rent a boat or opt for a guided trip from nearby Ponza island.

6. Lampedusa Island

Lampedusa Island -- blinding white cliffs, fluorescent blue waters, African-like temperatures and dry desert.

The heart-shaped Rabbits’ Islet beach, one of the world’s best beaches, is what makes this island special. Lampedusa is Italy’s southernmost island (it’s near Tunisia), with blinding white cliffs, fluorescent blue waters, African-like temperatures and dry desert.

Protected turtles lay eggs here; dolphin-watching is one of the main attractions. But in recent years the island has become better known as a major entry point for migrants attempting to get into Europe.

The village-resort of Borgo Calacreta offers accommodation in typical white huts called “dammusi” and has an elegant cocktail lounge.

At the harbor, visitors can rent a boat for a tour around the island and nearby volcanic isle of Linosa, featuring a spectacular black and red Mars-like beach. The local cream pastries and fish couscous at Trattoria del Porto are great.

Get here by plane from Rome, Milan or Bologna.

7. Ventotene Island

Once a Roman prison-island, the protected marine park here makes it one of Italy’s top diving sites.

Calanave Beach, the sunset from Parata Grande cliff, Giulia’s Roman Villa and the ancient fishery are all highlights. If you’re looking for something typical and snug, family-run hotel restaurant Isolabella serves house-made pasta and artistic fish dishes on a sun-kissed terrace.

From Rome, take the train or drive to Formia for the ferry.

8. Mondello Beach

Windsurf by day, gorge on seafood by night.

Two kilometers of breathtaking shore provide the perfect break while visiting the baroque jewels of Palermo, Sicily’s capital. Loud and vibrant, “noble and popular,” as locals define it, it’s a top windsurfing site and an elegant holiday location.

The restaurants along the sea promenade lure tourists with their stands of fresh fish. Bye Bye Blues restaurant has excellent sea urchins and amberjacks roasted in almonds.

Get here by car or bus from Palermo, just 11 kilometers away.

9. Numana Beach

Mountain trails make this one beach destination you won't want to laze about on.

Inside the Mount Conero Park on the Adriatic coast, Numana Beach lies at the base of a high, rugged cliff. It’s silent, peaceful and breezy and surrounded by lush vegetation: no wonder hermits used to come here in the Middle Ages to meditate.

After walking around the ancient Greek harbor with colorful houses above, visitors can stop and cool off at 30Nodi Beach Bar or reat traditional fish dishes at La Torre restaurant.

Hotel Monte Conero on the mount’s top offers a spectacular, 360-degree view. It’s a former ashram suspended in mid-air. There are also bird-watching or horseback riding activities along many mountain trails.

To get here, take highway A14, exit at Ancona – the area is also connected by plane from Rome and Milan.

10. Lipari Island

Black and blue -- one of Italy's most beautiful "bruises."

The largest of Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, the black volcanic rocks at Lipari contrast with the whitewashed roofs of the houses.

Standing on the Belvedere Quattrocchi, a rocky platform suspended above the stacks, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the archipelago. The castle, Norman cloister and Aeolian archaeological museum are all worth a visit.

Along the village’s central street you’ll find Da Bartolo, a restaurant serving delicious local fish specialties. The Cafe La Precchia, the heart of the island’s nightlife, is renowned for its slushies, appetizers and fruit cocktails.

If you plan to spend the night, Hotel Poseidon is a restyled typical villa in a marvelous garden.

Get here by ferryboat from Naples, Palermo or Messina.

Italy’s forbidden ‘orgy island’

11. La Maddalena Island

Pastel perfection.

One of Sardinia’s top spots, this is the biggest island in the Mediterranean’s Maddalena archipelago.

The coral beaches of Budelli and Spargi atolls can be reached by boat. The pinkish granite rock (some of which was used to build the Statue of Liberty) makes the picturesque fishermen’s village – dubbed “Little Paris” – glitter at sunset. The panoramic road that circles the isle takes in several old military forts.

If you feel like fresh fish, pasta and bread, La Scogliera, a wooden terrace beach restaurant with a great view, is a good choice. The island is famous for its nightlife: Bar Milano offers food at all hours and DJ music.

How to get here: fly into Olbia airport or port (from the mainland), then ferry from Palau.

12. San Vito lo Capo beach

Where life imitates postcards.

White sand, palms, shallow turquoise waters – welcome to Italy’s Maldives.

San Vito lo Capo is a tiny holiday spot famous for its picturesque bay. It lies at the foot of the spectacular Cofano Mount and the 1,659-hectare Zingaro natural reserve. The medieval village of Scopello is a seven-kilometer walk away, but worth it. Here you can try delicious vegetarian menus at Pensione Tranchina.

On the beach, Hotel Capo San Vito is an ideal place to stay, and the Cous Cous Cafe and Jacaranda restaurant with outdoor tables will make your day.

Closest airport: Palermo, then a two-hour drive by car or bus.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.