If you visit Italy in the hottest months of the year and you head for the Country’s major cities, such as Rome, Venice or Milan, you will be met with a completely different scenario than you would at any other time. Two things are likely to strike you immediately: the first will be the heat. Most Italian metropolitan areas over the summer reach temperatures that make it unwise to be outdoors at any time between approximately 9 am and 8 pm. The second fact that you are bound to notice, particularly if you were hoping for chances to practice your Italian, is that locals are harder than usual to come by. This should not surprise you. Italy boasts nearly 7500 km of coastline (almost 4700 miles), which means that, wherever you are, you will never find yourself too far away from the sea. Because of this, on a normal summer weekend, most cities witness a full scale exodus, with thousands of people flocking to the seaside to find respite from the stifling heat. If you do visit over the summer, therefore, take a leaf out of the locals’ book and head straight for the beach. Beware though: choosing the wrong beach for your taste can make or brake your holiday. Are you after the lively, 24-hour-dj-set, bucket-sized-mojito experience or are you looking for a quiet place, where natural beauty reigns supreme and human encounters are kept to a minimum? For the first option, just open any standard local guide and you will be directed to the most popular establishments in your area. If the latter option sounds more like you, feel free to keep reading.
1. Punta Crena, Liguria: far from the madding crowd
Liguria is the most popular maritime destination in the north of Italy, with several beautiful coastal towns and beaches. If you are heading off after a productive week’s work in Milan and you are desperate for some peace and quiet, you might want to avoid the glamour of Portofino and venture along the narrow path that leads to Punta Crena, a tiny secluded bay near Varigotti. The inlet can’t be seen from the road, sheltered as it is between high and steep rocky wall, and this has kept it relatively tourist-free. The actual beach is small, but you are likely to find it less crowded than any of the large and popular beaches of the riviera.
2. Cala Violina, Tuscany: secret beaches and natural parks
This beautiful little bay is part of the natural reserve known as Bandite di Scarlino, in that part of southern Tuscany known as Maremma. Unlike some of the other beaches included in this list, Cala Violina can be reached by walking a relatively easy path, however its status as a protected area has prevented touristic development in the form of bars and hotels, making it less attractive for the average party animal and an absolute must for nature lovers. Enclosed between two promontories and less famous than the nearby Punta Ala, Cala Violina is an ideal destination for scuba divers, because of the fascinating sea vegetation that can be found in this part of the Tyrrhenian sea.
3. Conca dei Marini, Campania: glamour and authenticity
This minuscule town and its rocky marina are part of a listed Unesco site (the famous Costiera). The tiny bay of Conca dei Marini has been a favourite of glamorous international celebrities in the 60s (Jackie Kennedy and Princess Margaret among others), but it has somehow managed to preserve its local charm, not in a quaint and picture-like way, but in an authentic and lively way such as can only be seen in Campania. You won’t find a Hollywood actor’s yacht docked in Conca’s bay, but you are sure to meet the local fishermen going out at sea or coming back on their boats. The town is a dream of low, square houses, whitewashed and bright, looking over the crystal-blue water. Coming from the sea, you will have the impression of a chiseled artwork, as if the town had been hewn from the very rock that surrounds it.
4. Torre Colimena, Apulia: flamingos on the beach
Just two words: pink flamingos. Seriously. Of course, the beach is stunning, but to be fair, no more so than any of the myriad of little bays and coves, inlets and beaches, natural parks and tiny gulf that dot the Ionian coast of Apulia in the region known as Salento. Only this one has flamingos. Sandy dunes weave around the local salt pan (known as Salina Vecchia), one of the oldest of its kind. Originally the sea water only spilled into this natural basin after a storm, but, as early as during the Roman domination of this area, the salt pan was being artificially flooded in order to extract salt. It is believed that this led the Romans to name this area Salento, designating it as a place where salt could be collected. For a few years now, a colony of pink flamingos has decided to make Torre Colimena their home and, if you walk past the salt pan early in the morning, you will find them placidly lounging about or sweeping in impressive pink flocks over your head.
5. Marinello di Olivieri, Sicily: shape-shifting lakes
The unique shape of this beach makes it is quite unlike any other you will see in Italy: a sandy peninsula, formed by detritus being washed ashore for millennia, dotted by several sea-water lakes (Laghetti di Marinello) whose shapes shift and change constantly, as the sea infiltrates the sand and retreats. The water in this area is particularly warm and calm, making it a favourite of the locals, albeit not as popular with tourists as the main coastal towns of the region. West of the beach, you will see the majestic Tindari valley. A local legend attributes the peculiar shape of the beach to a miracle of the Black Virgin of Tindari. As a mother was crossing the valley with her baby girl in her arms, she refused to pray to the Black Virgin, in whom she had no faith. She tripped and the baby fell off the shore and seemed destined to drown, but the Virgin made the waters retreat and be replaced by soft sand, to cushion the baby’s fall.
6. Cala Goloritzé, Sardinia
Sardinian summers are legendary: the Emerald Coast caters to the richest of the rich offering exclusive beach resorts, restaurants and night clubs where international celebrities spend outrageous amounts on individual bottles of champagne. If none of this sounds remotely appealing, turn your rented car in the direction of Ogliastra and set out to discover Cala Goloritzé. This too is not an easy spot to reach (that’s what you get when you ask for secret beaches). The result of a landfall in 1962, Cala Goloritzé has been declared a national and regional landmark. Motorboats are forbidden from coming near the coast here and the only company you are likely to have will be made up of free climbing enthusiasts willing to climb the massive stone pinnacle for which the bay is famous. If you are the lying down type, rather than the swarming-up-a-gigantic-rock type, you will be able to relax on a stunning little gem of a beach and swim in the shallow, turquoise water.