Italy, a European country with a long Mediterranean coastline, has left a powerful mark on Western culture and cuisine. Its capital, Rome, is home to the Vatican as well as landmark art and ancient ruins. Other major cities include Florence, with Renaissance masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s "David" and Brunelleschi's Duomo; Venice, the city of canals; and Milan, Italy’s fashion capital.
For more general advice on booking a break in Italy, see our Italy summer holidays guide. Our complete guide features expert recommendations for city, beach, villa, culture, food and drink and activity holidays.
Some of the best beaches in mainland Italy are in Puglia – particularly in a string of pristine sandy strands south of the historic towns of Avetrana and Manduria, the latter famous for its Primitivo wine. For white sand, translucent water and informal beach-shack lunches, head for the seaside villages of Punta Prosciutto (“Ham Point”) or Torre Colimena. The scene is molto informale, with families from Lecce, Taranto or Bari coming down for the day and either draping their beach mats on the sand or renting a sunlounger under an ombrellone. The nearby town of Porto Cesareo has the best selection of hotels, but it’s also worth looking at agriturismi or country hotels just inland – like the very chic Masseria Potenti.
SAN FRUTTUOSO, LIGURIA
If you’ve seen the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon divertissement The Trip to Italy, you may remember that one of their competitive Michael Caine-impression sessions was set on the terrace of a restaurant-pensione overlooking an idyllic cove, with a beachside medieval abbey as a backdrop. This magical place is called San Fruttuoso, and it’s in Liguria, around halfway by boat between chi-chi Portofino and the family resort of Camogli. To get there, you either trek across the Portofino promontory, or get a ferry (timetables at golfoparadiso.it). Portofino has its fair share of hotels including Belmond Hotel Splendido, perhaps the most famous in the region, as well as Eight Hotel Portofino and Hotel Piccolo Portofino. Further towards Santa Margherita Ligure, Hotel Argentina offers a more affordable base for exploring the area. As for Da Giovanni – the only place to stay in the cove – don’t expect luxury. The food is good, unrefined trattoria fare – with an obvious seafood slant – and the seven bedrooms are on the spartan side.
Calabria doesn’t feature anywhere like as prominently as Sicily or Puglia in Italian summer-sun brochures. The barely regulated sprawl that clutters up much of the coast is one reason. But there are honourable exceptions – like Tropea, a classy enclave that is the region’s answer to Positano or Taormina. The old town, full of good trattorias and shops, garlands a rocky outcrop above a gently shelving sandy beach, which is popular with families. Tropea’s evening passeggiata is one of Italy’s busiest and most snail-paced – perhaps because of the sweet distraction of the historic ice-cream emporium Gelati Tonino (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 52) halfway along. The crazier flavours here include onion and cuttlefish; we recommend the lemon granita. Stay at the Hotel Rocca della Sena for access to Tropea beach via a private stairway and a gorgeous terraced garden with whirlpool tubs overlooking the Aeolian Islands.
SAN VITO LO CAPO, SICILY
A summer magnet for families and couples from Palermo and Trapani, this dramatically located resort town not far from Trapani airport is a familiar name for Mediterranean yachties, but otherwise little known in the UK. And long may it stay that way: there are no Taormina-style tourist souks here, just a lively, low-rise garden town panning out along a two-mile sweep of sand dominated, at its northern end, by the vertiginous peak of Monte Monaco. Centuries of Arab influence have left their mark on the local cuisine: couscous, not pasta, is the default carb – there’s even a Cous Cous Fest in September. Regular boat tours head around the promontory to the Zingaro nature reserve and the cute village of Scopello, whose ancient port and tonnara (tuna fishery) have featured in several films – among them Ocean’s Twelve. Timbuktu Hostel in central San Vito lo Capo is just 12 minutes' walk from the beach and boasts a private terrace with views towards the mountains and the sea.
MONTE ARGENTARIO, TUSCANY
Viareggio is the Italian seaside holiday at its most classic: ordered rows of beach umbrellas, carefully groomed sand, Belle Epoque villas and dapper grand hotels that dream wistfully of their glory days. It’s the kind of place frequented by families.
CAPO TESTA, SARDINIA