Riserva Vendicari, Sicily
Right near the beautiful and underrated city of Siracusa (the closest airport is Catania, where you’ll want to stop by the legendary fish market), this miles-long, wildly gorgeous national park is home to tumble-down towers, little coves, and few bathers. After an excursion to its beaches, don’t miss the tiny but picture-perfect Marzamemi nearby, with its views over the sea, and pretty piazza-side restaurants.
Parco Naturale di Maremma, Tuscany
Once the stomping grounds for Tuscan nobility, this national park now hosts hikers, beachcombers, and more than a few cinghiale, or wild boar. With an emphasis on conservation, and only a limited number of visitors allowed in each day, this remains one of the coast’s true oases, with sculptural tree trunks on the sand perfect for creating a towel lean-to, and swaths of beach all to yourself.
La Pelosa, Sardinia
Sardinia is famous for its incredible beaches, with plenty of options for white powdery sand, ridiculously blue sea, and secluded nooks protected by pine forest. La Pelosa is beloved by those in the know for its ramshackle offshore castle, and for the way you can wade out for seemingly forever just up to your knees—like a huge saltwater swimming pool.
Capo Vaticano, Calabria
This region of Italy is still way under the radar for most foreign tourists, but natives know that the area has some of the very best beaches in the country. Here at Capo Vaticano, long stone steps lead down to an exquisite white sand arc that lies between high cliffs, an ideal spot for a picnic or a secluded dip (except in high season). On your way in or out, be sure to stop in Tropea, Calabria’s staggeringly gorgeous city nearby.
Punta Aderci, Abruzzo
Abruzzo is one of the country’s most unvisited (and unspoiled) regions, backed by mountains and with pristine beaches to its east. At the nature reserve of Punta Aderci, fishermen still use old wood contraptions to trap their catch of the day, and the only other visitors are the occasional hiker or local in search of a solitary swim. After your visit, stop into the town of Vasto for a bowl of fish soup.
Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa
The “Beach of the Rabbits” on the island of Lampedusa’s south side is one of the most dazzling spots not just in Italy, but in all of Europe, with aquamarine water perfect for snorkeling, and blindingly white sand for sun worshipers.
Baia delle Zagare, Puglia
In Puglia’s Gargano region (between Vieste and Mattinata) lies this powder-sand beach named after the indigenous local flower that blooms here in spring. Surrounded by protected parkland and with two white-rock formations set between varying shades of turquoise sea, the spot can be almost exclusively yours outside the high season of July and August.
La Secca di Maratea, Basilicata
With a coastline that looks much like its Amalfi neighbor but without the foreign tourists and high prices, this beach club near the underrated gem of Maratea has great seafood at its restaurant and swimming pool-like conditions out front. One of the best ways to enjoy this area is to rent a boat and buzz around the coastline’s multiple coves.
Cala Violina a Scarlino, Tuscany
This beautiful Caribbean-like beach can only be accessed by an almost-mile-long trek through a pine forest set within a national park near Castiglione della Pescaia. Despite the hike, you’ll see families laden with coolers and all types of beach paraphernalia, ready to enjoy a full day of festivities. Ask a local what their favorite coastal spot is in the region, and this one will come with a deep sigh of appreciation.
San Fruttoso, Liguria
This rocky beach not far from Portofino is—like many of its best Italian counterparts—only reachable on foot or by boat. But the trip is more than worth it for three reasons: the location of one of Italy’s most beautiful abbeys, right off the beach overlooking the Med; the equally divine beach restaurants like Da Laura (order the delicate lasagnette al pesto); and swims in the clear, dark blue sea out front, where snorkelers can catch a glimpse of the submerged Christ of the Abyss statue raising its arms to the sun.