Top 7 hidden gems in Italy

Italian holidays off the beaten path!

Do you want to enjoy a peaceful vacation in Italy this summer? It’s true that the most popular Italian destinations can be a bit overwhelming, especially in high season. So, why not explore the lesser-known side of Italy?

On Ferryhopper, we love discovering less crowded destinations with a more authentic vibe. And Italy has several of them! Take a trip to 7 top-secret places to visit in Italy with us and book ferry tickets with no hidden fees.

  1. Pianosa, Tuscany
  2. Linosa, Pelagie Islands
  3. Ustica, Sicily
  4. Ventotene, Pontine Islands
  5. Chia, Sardinia
  6. Scilla, Calabria
  7. Gargano, Puglia

The Forte Teglia building complex overlooking the harbor of Pianosa island, Italy

Emerald waters and the impressive Forte Teglia building complex in Pianosa

1. Pianosa, Tuscany

Close to Elba, Pianosa is a truly special destination in the Tuscan archipelago, as it is a former prison island. Nowadays, Pianosa resembles a tropical paradise with a ghost-town vibe. It stands out for its wonderful nature and is a top choice for beach lovers, who don’t care about amenities and luxury.

Snorkeling excursions, hiking in the island’s paths as well as touring neo-Gothic buildings and ancient ruins are just some of the few things you can do in Pianosa! 

In fact, there is a limited number of around 250 visitors allowed per day and only certain areas on Pianosa are accessible. This restriction definitely keeps the tourist flows in control and contributes to the preservation of its pristine landscape and quiet atmosphere.

You can get to Pianosa by ferry from Piombino and the ports of Marina di Campo and Rio Marina in the island of Elba. Ferries from Piombino to Pianosa as well as from Elba to Pianosa are active all year round with weekly crossings.

2. Linosa, Pelagie Islands

Located between Sicily and Tunisia, Linosa is one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations in Italy. The volcanic island, with impressive geological formations, is a paradise for those looking for unique nature landscapes and outdoor activities. Linosa’s untouched nature is perfect for trekking, hiking and snorkeling, and hosts the Caretta caretta sea turtle nesting in the summer.

With just about 400 inhabitants, Linosa is a place of peace and tranquility. A slow-paced vacation includes strolls around the town’s alleys and colorful houses, swimming in wild rocky coves, and trying local fish delicacies. And if you start missing a livelier atmosphere, you can take a day trip to Lampedusa, the largest of the 3 islands with dreamy beaches.

Linosa is accessible only by sea from Lampedusa and the town of Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Lampedusa - Linosa ferries and ferries from Empedocle to Linosa are active all year round with daily or weekly crossings, depending on the season.

The Piscine lava beach in Linosa, Sicily, Italy

The otherworldly “Piscine” natural pool in Linosa

3. Ustica, Sicily

Off the coast of Palermo in Sicily, the island of Ustica is another lesser-known Italian treasure waiting for you to discover. The “black pearl of the Mediterranean”, as it’s often called, is a wild island perfect for tranquil moments.

If you are up for adventures in nature, Ustica is full of opportunities. Explore the island via its idyllic hiking trails, discover its rocky coast full of caves and pebbly beaches on foot or by boat, and meet amazing marine creatures in its “submarine museum”.

Sustainability is also a big thing in Ustica. For example, one of the most vibrant spots on the island is Ailanto Park, an eco-friendly space for events and shows!

Moreover, Ustica’s vegetables and fruit are of unique quality thanks to its volcanic soil. So prepare to taste mouth-watering local dishes, including seafood recipes!

You can only reach Ustica by ferry from the port of Palermo. There are year-round daily ferry crossings from Palermo to Ustica, with a duration of 1.5-3.5 hours.

4. Ventotene, Pontine Islands

Only 3 km long, Ventotene at first sight looks like a large rock that sprung out of the water. However, the island actually has a rich history and many hidden beauties, waiting to be explored away from the hustle and bustle.

A tour around the island reveals the traces of its glorious Roman past; the highlights are the skillfully constructed Roman port, the center of Ventotene, the rock-cut water cisterns and the ruins of Villa Giulia – a palace once hosting high-status exiled prisoners, such as emperor Augustus’s daughter Julia. And let’s not forget the archeological museum and the Bourbon prison of Santo Stefano.

With wrecks, rock stacks and platforms, and a spectacular seabed, the island’s beaches are perfect for diving and swimming. Relax, explore and enjoy the easy living in Ventotene!

To get to the windy island from mainland Italy, you can hop on a ferry from Naples to Ventotene or from Formia to Ventotene. There are several weekly departures and you can be there in 1-2 hours.

5. Chia, Sardinia

When it comes to a beach vacation, there is no place in Italy like Sardinia. And as for its southern coast, you won’t believe how beautiful it is until you see it yourself, with long shores, white sand dunes and winds that create the perfect surfing spots.

And if tranquility is what you are seeking, Chia is the place for you! Enjoy the sea and the sun in peace and silence underneath the shade of a juniper tree and take a relaxed swim in crystal-clear shallow waters, perfect for families with children and fans of fishing and diving.

Tip: traveling with kids? Discover the top family-friendly beach vacation spots in Italy on Ferryhopper!

Some of the top beaches in Chia are:

  • The popular Porto Campana, with amber sand, transparent waters and several amenities
  • The long Su Giudeu, with dunes, myrtles and flamingos at a pond nearby
  • The wild Su Cardinolu, with 2 small coves separated by a thin strip of sand and a little island to explore
  • The exquisite Su Portu, small, pristine and half-moon shaped, great for snorkeling and a starting point for walks to other beaches

The best way to reach Chia is to catch a ferry to the port of Cagliari, which is around 1 hour away. Find out about Naples - Cagliari, Palermo - Cagliari and Civitavecchia (Rome) - Cagliari ferry routes.

Su Portu beach (Spiaggia di Su Portu) in Chia, Sardinia, Italy

The breathtaking, pristine Su Portu beach in Chia

6. Scilla, Calabria

Calabria is probably one of the most underrated regions of Italy, as the tip of the Italian boot has extremely diverse landscapes, unspoilt beaches and rustic charms generally undiscovered by tourists. And the coastal village of Scilla is one of its hidden jewels.

According to the myth, Scilla was also the home of the homonymous sea monster that guarded the Strait of Messina and tormented Odysseus and his crew. Nowadays, the “Venice of the south” boasts coloured houses with balconies overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, quaint streets and a lovely waterfront with charming places for dinner and aperitivo where you can chat with the locals. The ancient Castello Ruffo, Scilla’s wide beach and local swordfish dishes are among the village’s highlights.

Scilla is a great starting point to explore the wonders of the Costa Viola (Violet Coast), but also to reach Reggio Calabria (25 minutes by car), the region’s capital and important port. From there, you can catch a ferry and continue your journey to Sicily (ports of Messina and Milazzo), as well as the stunning Aeolian islands (Lipari, Salina and Vulcano).

Tip: discover more top-secret villages in Italy and find original ideas for your next Italian getaway. 

7. Gargano, Puglia

Gargano is one of the most enchanting but overlooked parts of the Puglia region in southern Italy. The peninsula is covered with thick pine forests and olive trees creating a diverse landscape along its coastline’s dramatic cliffs, caves and wide sandy beaches. In fact, a large part of the area is within the protected Gargano National Park and so remains unspoilt.

One of the best places to visit in Gargano is Vieste. The scenic small town nests on a white cliffed peninsula piercing the sea, with an atmospheric old town, the Swabian castle and 2 long beaches on each side. Between Vieste and the fishing village of Peschici there are countless sandy beaches to explore by car or bike.

A boat tour from Vieste to Mattinata is one of the best ways to explore all treasures of the Gargano coast, from secluded beaches and natural rock towers, to sea caves and their natural pools.

Other Gargano highlights include visiting the picturesque mountain town of Monte Sant’Angelo and the undiscovered hill town of Vico del Gargano, as well as hiking in Foresta Umbra.

We highly recommend taking the opportunity to visit the Tremiti Islands, an archipelago of 5 islets off the Gargano Peninsula. There are seasonal ferries departing daily from the ports of Vieste, Rodi Garganico, Peschici, and Manfredonia in Puglia to San Domino and San Nicola from late May to September. Vieste - TremitiPeschici - Tremiti, Rodi Garganico - Tremiti, and Manfredonia - Tremiti ferries take around 1.5-3 hours to reach the islands.

The colorful town of Vieste in Gargano, Italy

The sheer beauty of Vieste on the spur of Italy

Peace, inviting nature, adventures, and authentic experiences await in Italy if you go off the beaten path. By now, we hope that you have unearthed the Italian treasure that you are going to explore next. Use our Map of ferries to locate all destinations that interest you, book your ferry tickets with no hidden fees and say arrivederci to the hustle and bustle!