Secret Italian Islands

by Bianca Gignac

Italian Islands

Italian islands — the ones that are usually forgotten — are the ones you want to be on.

People tend to skip the small ones in favour of the famous Italian islands and cities,  which offers the smart cookie like you an interesting loophole for travel in Italy.

If you wanna trade concrete for sand and museums for gravel roads then head to my secret list of Italian islands (marked on the map in pink) where escapism is the preferred pastime.

1. Isola Palmaria  |  2. Isola Budelli  |  3. Isola di Stromboli

Secret Italian Island #1: Isola Palmaria

Where is it?

Palmaria is in the Ligurian sea in the northwest part of Italy, a short day trip from the Cinque Terre. It is directly in front of Portovenere — one of the prettiest towns in the region and a favourite of Italian tourists.

Why You Wanna Go:

Palmaria has major status, together with Portovenere and the Cinque Terre, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The views from Palmaria are ridiculously sweet. On one side you have an incredible panorama of the Bay of Poets (made famous by Byron), the colourful village of Portovenere, the bluffs that lead to the the Cinque Terre and the port of La Spezia. On the other side all you see is blue water and sky.

There are two sides of the island. One side is perfect for families and for those who prefer sandy shore and shallow-water. Head to the public beach called Il Gabbiano (the seagull) in Punta Secco. A few steps from there is a great restaurant and guesthouse called Locanda Lorena. The view of Portovenere rocks from there.

The other side of the island is called Pozzale and is known for a wild beach lined with pine trees.  The locals hang their hammocks in the trees and when hunger hits they head to Ristorante Il Pozzale. Make sure to try spaghetti ai muscoli‖ (spaghetti with mussels) cause the mussels are raised on the farms that surround the island.

The hike around Palmaria takes about 2 hours. If you find yourself in peak season in the Cinque Terre and the trails are packed out — head to Portovenere for a great day trip and take the boat to Palmaria to find your perfect secret hideout.

Getting There:

Departures happen from La Spezia or from Portovenere. You can arrive to La Spezia from anywhere in Italy via train. To arrive in Portovenere you need to get a bus from La Spezia or catch the ferry from one of the villages of the Cinque Terre. If you love to hike take the walking trail from Riomaggiore to Portovenere. It’s long (5-6 hours) but beautiful and highly recommended.

Secret Italian Island #2: Isola Budelli

Where is it?

Budelli is located just north of the large Italian island of Sardinia.

You’ll find this uninhabited island in La Maddalena National Park — just south of the Razzoli and Santa Maria islands.

Why You Wanna Go:

The  island is known for it’s crystal water, rocky coves, steep cliffs rising from the sea and unspoiled natural scenery. The most famous beach in the zone is called Spiagga Rosa (Pink Beach) and people like to say it’s the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. It’s name comes from the fragment of shells and coral that tint the sand pink. Another beach close to Spiaggia Rosa is called Manto della Madonna (Virgin Mary’s Mantle) — which is a pretty large promise for a beach I’d say.

Getting There:

To get to Budelli, first you must travel to the northern Sardinian town of Olbia (meaning happiness in Greek!). The 2 choices to arrive are either by plane or by ferry (see my extensive list below). The fact that Olbia has an international airport means that you can make life super simple and fly from other parts of Europe or Italy — you’ll just be another jet-setter heading to the sexy costa Smeralda.

Then from Olbia you need to reach the port of Palau where you can catch a ferry or boat to Budelli. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Olbia. Reach the port by bus service.

  • By ferry: From Palau to Maddalena Islands pick from Saremar or Enerma
  • By boat: From Palau and La Maddalena via motorboat or sailboat is another option. Try Gite in Barca.

But first, ya gotta get to Olbia.

  •  To Olbia from Italian cities by air. From Pisa or Milan with Airone. From Rome, Milano (Linate), Milano (Malpensa), Bologna, Firenze, Torino, Verona to Olbia with Meridiana. From Parma to Olbia withAir Vallee. From Milano (Malpensa) to Olbia with Easy Jet.  From Milano (Orio al Serio) with Trawel Fly. From Palermo, Venezia with Volotea.
  • To Olbia from European cities by air. From the U.K to Olbia with Easy Jet (London Gatwick, Bristol). From France  with Easy Jet (Paris, Lyon). From Spain with Easy Jet (Madrid). From Germany and Austria with Intersky (Friedrichshafen) with Tui Fly (Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig, Munich, Munster, Nuremberg, Rostock, Salzburg, Stuttgart, Vienna, Westerland) with Air Berlin (Nuremberg, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg) with Easy Jet (Berlin). From Switzerland with Easy Jet (Geneva, Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg) with Darwin Air (Lugano, Geneva). Whoooo!!

 Secret Italian Island #3: Isola di Stromboli

Where is it?

Stromboli is located off the north coast of Sicily. It is one of the 8 volcanic Aeolian Islands.

Why you wanna go:

Black sand beaches, cobalt water and a smoking hot volcano in the middle of the sea.

Did you know that this Italian island is home to an active volcano? The last major eruption happened in 2009 but small eruptions constantly lend it the name “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. In the daytime you can see puffs of smoke and at night lava glows as it makes its way down Sciara del Fuoco (Slope of Fire). You need a guide to take you up to view the molten lava, which they do at night so you can see the coolest natural glow-in-the-dark show.

On Stromboli the rhythms are slow. Car traffic isn’t allowed in summertime so the locals travel by foot or bike.

What is fascinating is that this place is very low key: no fancy resorts and splashy excess like you’ll see on Sardinia. The most wild thing happening is people sipping granitas in the crowded Ingrid Bar or the watching of movies on the library’s public lawn in the town of Stromboli.

On the opposite side of the island you’ll find the tiny village of Ginostra which is reachable only by the sea from its tiny port (Pertuso in the local dialect), one of the smallest of the world. Apart from a few summer homes, there are just a handful of residents. A point of interest is Eolo‘s grotto (La grotta di Eolo). In classical mythology the God of wind lived in the Aeolian Island and kept the winds closed in this grotto.

As far as the beaches, Scari and Ficogrande are the most famous for their fine black sand. When the wind blows in the right direction you can hear the huffing of the volcano.

Obviously, before you go you gotta see Roberto Rossellini’s flick “Stromboli” with Ingrid Bergman.

Getting There:

The Aeolian Islands are in province of Messina and can be reached by the sea. By air you can travel to Reggio Calabria then make your way to Stromboli. I’ve listed all possibilities imaginable below.

  • By Boat: Either from the mainland or from Sicily. Mainland: by ferries and hydrofoils: From Napoli (Mergellina) to Stromboli: Alilauro | Snav. From Napoli (Calata porto di Massa) to Ginostra (Stromboli) or the town of Stromboli: Siremar. Sicily: From Messina to Stromboli: Ustica Lines:  From Milazzo (Sicily) to Ginostra (Stromboli): N.G.I | Ustica Lines. From Milazzo to Stromboli: Siremar
  • By air from Italian cities: The nearest airport is in Reggio Calabria. To get to Reggio Calabria here is the deal: From Torino, Milano (Linate), Bologna, Venezia, Roma (Fiumicino) with Alitalia. From Roma (Fiumicino), Milano (Linate)  with Blu-express. From Venezia with Volotea.
  • From the Reggio Calabria airport: there are bus connections to Messina (Sicily) with Autolinee Federico and from Messina to Milazzo with Giunta bus. It is possible to reach Reggio Calabria also by train with the Italian railways and by car followed by ferries from Reggio Calabria to Messina.

Have you ever been to Palmaria, Budelli or Stromboli? Have any tips to share?

Which island makes you wanna pack your bags and be there by morning?

I’d love to hear your comments below.

Photo credits: Valentina Cossu, map by Laura Bird for Italian Fix, Palmaria, Budelli, Stromboli

Pin it 5

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


gorgeous! stromboli looks like a greek island in that shot! i REALLY want to be in one of those 2013 trips, cant wait to find out the dates! :)


Bianca Gignac

Ciao Marissa,

I totally know what you mean and was surprised how much the photos resemble a Greek town — the lime white wash makes it feel that way. So stunning.

I’m amped that you are excited to hear about the trips. Can’t wait to meet you on one of them!

Hugs, Bianca



I’m also hoping I can go in 2013. It will be many years since I was last in Italy.


Bianca Gignac

Hi Wendy,

Yeah, the years seem to pass too quickly don’t they.

I’d love to have you join us. Group trips are such a fun way to enjoy Italy without the “work” of planning.

Love, Bianca



Just days back from my third WONDERFUL trip to Italy! Didn’t quite make it to Isola Palmaria this time – distracted by a medieval festival in Portovenere – yes complete with flag throwing!
Home again (reluctantly..) and … Wondering how I finance my next trip.


Bianca Gignac

Ciao Barbara,

You are super lucky to be have caught that festival in Portovenere. Isn’t it a sweet place!

Do you know that one day each year they stop boats from going between Portovenere and Palmaria and hundreds of people go out swimming. So pretty!

As far as how you can spend more time there…maybe you’ll just have to relocate to an apartment there and sell lemons and olive oil to tourists. Ha!

xx Bianca


Gillian Butler

Hey Bianca,
I started out on your Facebook page wanting to tell you what a great day Flora and I had, then I remembered your last blog and wanted to reread and comment so I came here and then I saw ….STROMBOLI!!!! Many years ago I sailed with my sister and Capt Rob from the Amalfi coast (so amazing) to Stromboli and we hiked to the top of that damn volcano, an experience that is one of THE coolest in my life. So amazing. I am definitely going to Italy with you some day.


Bianca Gignac


1) Glad you had a great day with little Flora. It was your great idea and she loved it (and the cake). Thank you!

2) You have lived 5 lives my friend — I can’t believe you hiked that volcano. It sounds amazing to conquer it at night. It’s on my “list”.


Kim Santolucido

Hi there,
We have a beautiful property on Stromboli that we are selling if interested please check out our Facebook page;


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: