Asinara Island, Cala dei Ponzesi

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Parco Nazionale dell'Asinara

Top choice in Northwestern Sardinia

Named after its resident asini bianchi (albino donkeys), the Isola dell'Asinara encompasses 51 sq km of macchia (Mediterranean scrub), rocky coastline and remote sandy beaches. The island, Sardinia's second largest, is now a national park, but for years it was home to one of Italy's toughest maximum-security prisons. The only way to reach it is with a licensed boat operator from Stintino or Porto Torres. Once there, you can explore independently, although there's no public transport and access is restricted to certain areas.

The smallest of Sardinia's three national parks, the island is a haven for wildlife, providing a habitat for an estimated 50 to 70 donkeys alongside 80 other animal species, including mouflon (silky-haired wild sheep) and peregrine falcons.

Dotted around its stark landscape is a series of abandoned buildings that were once part of the island's notorious carcere (prison). Built in 1885, along with a quarantine station for cholera victims, the jail was a kind of Italian Alcatraz and many of Italy's most dangerous criminals did time there, including Neapolitan gangster Raffaele Cutolo and the infamous mafia boss Totò Riina. The prison finally closed in 1997.

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