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DISCOVER ITALY

OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

Choosing which coast to visit in Italy can be a tough call, particularly if you’re planning to spend most of the time sunbathing and swimming. Reporter Silvia Marchetti shares her insights on the pros and cons of both.

OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?
Which Italian coast should you choose when booking your holiday? Here are the pros and cons of both. Photo by Azat Satlykov on Unsplash

The Tyrrhenian west coast and the Adriatic east one are very different, and each come with their pros and cons.

In my view the Tyrrhenian side of the boot wins, because even though it tends to be more crowded due to the many art cities located along it, its beaches have fewer facilities for families and the shores are more ragged, with rocks and cliffs ideal for solo and adventurous young people. 

The Amalfi coast’s picturesque fishermen villages, or Liguria’s Cinque Terre, feature tiny pebble stone bays cut between high cliffs with little space for sun umbrellas and beds.

The Adriatic, on the other hand, is a mass destination for foreign sunbathers, very popular especially among German and Russian tourists. The east coast has Italy’s widest and flattest sandy beaches, which make it an ideal spot for families – but also very crowded. 

READ ALSO: Private lidos take up more than 40 percent of Italian beaches: report

The Adriatic shore is one long line of adjacent beach facilities that run for kilometres from the northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region down south to Puglia. 

Beaches in the seaside towns of Rimini and Riccione, located along the chaotic Riviera Romagnola renowned also for its wild nightlife, feature up to 50 rows of sun beds and umbrellas in summer.

More sunbeds than sand… Some parts of Italy are heavily built-up with an abundance of services. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Beach facilities there resemble open-air condominiums where there are children’s playgrounds, restaurants, sleeping areas, dance floors and changing rooms for clients.

One good thing, though, is the constant presence of bay watchers and lifeguards at each facility, who are present throughout all eastern coastal regions and very helpful if you don’t constantly want to look after the kids. Beach resorts often come with big seaside multi-floor hotel buildings that look like city offices. 

To escape the crowds on the Adriatic coast you need to pick niche, rocky spots with very few beaches such as the Conero Hill in the Marche region and the Gargano promontory in Puglia.

While the Adriatic coast’s wide and easily accessible beaches are great for children and older people, the sea is not always clear and there are just a few top scuba diving and snorkelling spots, such as the beautiful Tremiti islands.

The Tyrrhenian sea, which is deeper than the Adriatic, is packed with diving sites: Ustica island in Sicily and Ventotene isle in Latium are Italy’s top diving meccas brimming with barracudas and giant groupers.

Tyrrhenian waters are cleaner too: in 2021, its shores won more bandiera blu (Blue flag) awards for high water quality standards than Adriatic beaches.

READ ALSO: Where to find even more of Italy’s best beaches

There are also more protected marine reserves along the west coast, which guarantees a pristine environment, and more free beaches without facilities and lifeguards. While this ‘wild’ aspect may be attractive to many, it could make some beaches not suitable for families with small kids. 

Family friendly beaches tend to draw in more crowds. (Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP)

On the other hand, given its relatively shallow waters, the Adriatic is blessed with reasonable stocks of fish, so if you long for fishing expeditions it’s the perfect destination. 

However the real plus point of the east coast is its strategic location facing other Mediterranean countries and allowing tourists, particularly from the US, to expand their holidays and exploit Italy as the door to the ‘Old Continent’. From the ports of Bari and Ancona, ferry boats depart to Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania.

The winning asset of the Tyrrhenian, other than its translucent waters and baby powder beaches, is the huge artistic heritage it offers visitors. The west coast boasts the top must-see Italian cities usually picked by global tourists (Rome, Naples, Florence) which all lie, or are close to the sea – except for Venice (the gem of the Adriatic).

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The cultural appeal of the west side makes the central national highway, the A1 – otherwise known as Autostrada del Sole – a very trafficky infrastructure. 

There are also mesmerising fishermen villages with a mythological vibe along the Tyrrhenian coast, such as Gaeta and Sperlonga, where it is said Odysseus, the legendary Greek king, landed during his wanderings.

Plus, most of Italy’s UNESCO heritage-listed sites are located along or near the west shore. For instance, the archaeological excavations of Pompeii are among the top tourist hotspots in Italy.

READ ALSO: Life in Italy in 2022: 10 things to add to your bucket list

Generally speaking, the appeal of popular places along the west coast inevitably translates into more expensive hotels and travelling costs but it depends on the specific location. 

A photo shows a general view of the archaeological site of Pompeii, near Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The major west coast lure for sea dogs, sailing amateurs and fans of the tan is that nearly all Italian islands are located in the Tyrrhenian sea and reachable from the mainland.

The two island regions of Sardinia and Sicily are accessible by ferry boat from Naples and Civitavecchia, while the Tuscan archipelago, the Pontine islands and Sicily’s dozens of ‘satellites’ such as the Aeolian, Egadi and Pelagie isles are tropical paradises just a stone’s throw from the cultural highlights.

READ ALSO: Ten percent of the world’s best beaches are in Italy

Even though both coasts are stunning and are worth exploring, personally, I’d chose the Tyrrhenian over the Adriatic any day, and not just because I’m a Roman who lives in Rome. 

It has a diversified offer of artistic sites and beaches, inlets and cliffs that allow you to savour the most of Italy in just a few days. 

The last time I rented my beach home south of Rome to a French couple, I thought they’d laze all day under the sultry sun. Instead they drove across half of Italy in 14 day trips, visiting Florence, Naples, Sorrento and Calabria. 

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Six of the coolest places to go in Italy to avoid a heatwave

If you're not a fan of the heat, here are six places in Italy you can go to stay cool this summer.

Six of the coolest places to go in Italy to avoid a heatwave

Italy is admired all over the world for the uncontaminated beauty of its beaches and the crystal-clear water of its seas. Unsurprising, its many seaside resorts attract millions of foreign visitors every summer. 

But while the country is surely heaven on earth for hot weather lovers, is there a place for those who are less keen on basking in the scorching sun of the Italian estate? Well, take it from an Italian born and bred: there’s a place for just about anybody in Italy.

The unparalleled diversity of the country’s landscape means that those preferring temperatures in the low 20s over the 30s (and sometimes 40s) of the summer heat have a plethora of cool-weather havens to choose from.

Here are just six of the destinations that you should consider when planning your escape from the heat.

Vigo di Fassa, Trentino Alto-Adige

Summer in the Dolomites is generally fairly cool but there’s a place in Trentino Alto-Adige where temperatures are particularly brisker than elsewhere. Located around 40km east of Bolzano and sat at an elevation of 1,382m, Vigo di Fassa enjoys temperatures which are significantly lower than in the surrounding comuni (municipalities). Suffice to say that in August, the hottest month of the year, daily averages are usually below 20C.

But, Vigo di Fassa is not just your average mountain location offering reprieve from the summer heat. It is also one of the most picturesque villages in the entire country and it happens to be just a stone’s throw away from popular attractions such as Lake Carezza, the Ciampedìe plateau and Sass Pordoi, a rock summit commonly known as ‘terrazza delle Dolomiti’ (Dolomites’ terrace).

In short, this is the perfect place for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts.

Sappada, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Sappada is an enchanting mountain resort on the Carnic Alps, just south of the border with Austria. Located at the foot of the imposing Mount Peralba, the village offers visitors some truly breathtaking views of the surrounding Dolomite massifs as well as a magnificent natural landscape comprising extensive green pastures, thick coniferous forests and an array of alpine lakes.

Besides being a natural paradise for outdoors enthusiasts, the town is also brimming with folklore and local traditions, with a number of events and festivities occurring over the course of the summer.

Yet again, as in the case of the afore-mentioned locations, the town’s elevation (1,250m above sea level) keeps the temperatures relatively cool over the course of the summer, with the local thermometer rising above 22C only on very few occasions.

Castelluccio di Norcia, Umbria

From the heights of the Dolomites we move down across the country and stop on the Umbrian Apennines, which are home to Castelluccio di Norcia. Reaching an elevation of 1,452m above sea level, Castelluccio (literally, ‘little castle’ in Italian), is one of the coolest towns in Umbria, with temperatures hovering around 21C throughout the summer.

Besides being an unparalleled oasis of peace and tranquillity, the Umbrian town offers a variety of hiking trails to several renowned attractions, including Grotta della Sibilla (Sibyl’s Cave) and Lake Pilate.

Finally, it is advisable to visit Castelluccio between the end of May and mid-July, when the fields surrounding the town are coloured by red lentil flowers.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Vallombrosa, Tuscany

The Vallombrosa forest has long been one of the best-kept secrets of Florence residents. When the heat becomes unbearable in the city – and it often does over the summer – the locals retreat to a 1,270-hectare reserve about 30km southeast of the region’s capital.

Why? Vallombrosa is a cool and shady natural haven where the beauty of uncontaminated forest land merges with majestic man-made creations such as the Benedictine Abbey of Vallombrosa and the Castle of Sammezzano. 

The forest is also filled with trails that are granted to give hikers the time of their lives. One of them, the Setteponti trail, will even take you as far south as Arezzo!

Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

Nestled at the heart of Abruzzo’s National Park on the Marsicani Mountains, Pescasseroli is one of the most scenic small towns in Italy. With its array of traditional houses, churches and artisan shops, the burg’s centro storico is a sight for sore eyes. 

In line with the above-mentioned locations, Pescasseroli also enjoys relatively cool summers as its elevation (1,167m above sea level) rarely allows temperatures to exceed 26C, even in August. So, regardless of when you choose to visit, it’s always a good time to saddle up and discover the natural wonders the surrounding national park has to offer. 

Oh, by the way, scattered across Pescasseroli are also a number of taverns, where you’ll be able to treat yourself to the scrumptious local cuisine.

READ ALSO: How to choose a camping holiday in Italy: A guide for the uninitiated

Ulassai, Sardinia

Yes, it is indeed true. Even Sardinia, which is globally known for the beauty of its beaches and seaside resorts, has something to offer to cool weather lovers. Sat at 775m above sea level, Ulassai (province of Nuoro) is one of the ‘fresher’ spots in the island, offering an alluring way out of the summer heat domineering pretty much elsewhere. 

The village is perched atop a huge limestone massif known as Bruncu Matzeu and allows visitors to enjoy stunning views of Sardinia’s eastern coast and the Tyrrhenian Sea extending beyond it. Ulassai also offers a number of natural attractions, including the imposing Lequarci Falls and the Su Marmuri Cave. In short, this is the perfect spot for those who love nature and local history.

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