Where are the finest places in Italy to dabble your toes, whisk along in a convertible, or trek through timeless landscapes?
The Costiera Amalfitana is 50km of edgy brilliance, a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the world’s finest confections of natural and constructed beauty. Here medieval towns tumble down the hillside to the sea. Sugar-pale Baroque villas sprawl over thrusts of land. Terraced lemon groves and vineyards overlook sea so blue it makes you blink.
But there are lesser-known coasts that can tug on your heartstrings without being so hard on your wallet. The short but sweet, notably chic coastline of Maratea in Basilicata is only 20km long, but has the looks of a mini-Amalfi, without the attitude, and it’s all overseen by mountaintop, Rio-style statue of Cristo.
Go farther south and Puglia has several contenders for coastal crowns. There’s the thickly wooded, deep-green, deeply mysterious Gargano peninsular, which is all rocky harbours, magnetically blue sea, and pale sea cliffs. Puglia’s other most inspirational stretch lies between Otranto and Santa Maria de Leuca, interspersing dramatic rocks washed by translucent waters and soft-sand beaches backed by shady forests, where the cri-cri of the cicale (crickets) almost deafens in summer.
The island of Sicily has some sensational coastlines of its own, but slip across to the seven Aeolian islands a short boat ride away, and you are into otherworldly territory, part of a jagged volcanic ridge. These islands appear in Homer’s Odyssey, and their epic landscape seems fitted to mythology, with fine-sand beaches, towering volcanoes, and a fierce-blue skirt of sea.
But Italy’s best coastlines are not confined to the Mezzogiorno. Tuscany is more famous for its inland hits, but the Costa degli Etruschi (Etruscan coast), is where this most beautiful region meets the Mediterranean, and is speckled by ancient ruins. It even has a wine route: the Strada del Vino Costa degli Etruschi, which runs south from Livorno to Piombino and across to the island of Elba, edged by searing-blue water and with views to sigh over. Napoleon was exiled here; it’s hard to imagine a more beguiling prison.
In northern Italy, try the Cinque Terre. Five protected villages cling limpet-like to the Ligurian coast, joined together by footpaths and overlooking a marine reserve that sparkles like diamonds. Only Monterosso is accessible by car. Between the settlements lie twining pathways and almost surreally terraced cliffs, a painstakingly chiselled landscape of gardens, vineyards and fields.
Thus Europe’s sublime boot, kicking out into the Mediterranean, is fringed and spurred by coastlines to make the heart soar and soothe the soul – these are arguably the finest, but there are more. Explore these, and discover your own.