t’s that time of year again when our speech is slurred with an abnormally high concentration of S’s. From sapore di sabbia e sale to summertime sex and seduction, the bikini months are when libidos go into overdrive. Italy’s 8,000 kilometers of coastline offers an infinite number of sandy expanses, inlets and coves for oil-smeared sun-seekers. Rather than present you with Italy’s top-ten best or cleanest beaches, here is our list (in alphabetical order) of the peninsula’s sexiest beaches.
Straddling a rocky perch and a sun-drenched Norman cathedral on the coast east of Palermo, Cefalù’s beach takes on a unique golden hue in the late daylight hours. Wait for the crowds to go to dinner, stake out your own private spot and watch an unforgettable sunset.
The Gargano Peninsula, Puglia
This is the “spur” of the boot of Italy with limestone cliffs, tight bays and honeycomb marine caves. The Gargano doesn’t look like Italy for good reason: Millions of years ago a tiny chunk of Croatia broke off and attached itself here. The place is so dazzlingly different; it regularly became the dowry of the Norman kings of Sicily. The Pizzomunno beach is dominated by a huge white rock, which is said to be the petrified body of a local fisherman who refused the love of a vengeful mermaid.
What boggles the mind here is the dizzying presence of two converging perspectives. First is the perfectly horizontal line of the lake’s surface, and second is the sudden vertical rise of the mountains that flank it like corridor walls. The lake is hauntingly romantic and it’s no surprise Alessandro Manzoni staged his epic “I Promessi Sposi” here.
Mother Nature clearly outdid herself when she whipped up the scenic masterpiece that is the Amalfi Coast. That makes it hard to believe she would bestow many of the same magic ingredients in an area just a few hours south. Although the sun shines just as bright, this anti-Amalfi warms in a different way. Instead of mandolin serenades and cheeky Latin Lovers, here the sex appeal is sober and secretive with a heavy dose of seductive superstition.
The Pontine Islands
This is a favorite vacation spot among Romans, ancient and modern. Beaches include Frontone with remains of ancient Roman swimming pools and the moonlit Chiaia di Luna, a crescent-shaped bay. The nearby Ventotene island is where Augustus’ daughter Julia staged her clandestine rendezvous with her army of lovers. Once the secret was out, she was punished and sent to exile here and today you can visit the remains of her pleasure-palace-turned-prison. Ferries run from Anzio to Ponza.
Rapallo is tucked within the dramatic folds of the Gulf of Tigullio. About ten kilometers south is the city of Lavagna where each August 14th the world’s largest wedding cake is reportedly baked. The Torta dei Fieschi cake calls for 4,000 eggs, 150 kilos of sugar, 50 kilos of almond paste and 120 liters of rum. The oversized torta is paraded through town and secret Santa-type lottery tickets are distributed in a Liguria version of the Dating Game. Men get blue cards and women get pink ones and every pair has a matching code word. Only when the destined twosome is united can they claim a piece of the cake.
Granite Beaches, Sardinia
Sardinia owes a lot to the bikini. Before the French fashion house Chanel turned sun tanning into the latest rage by showcasing darker models on its Paris runway, the island had little more than rocks and grazing goats. But as bathing suits grew smaller, crowds grew bigger. The Spiaggia dei Graniti was where ancient Romans carved columns and shipped them to remote parts of the empire. Sloppy miners tossed their defective work into the sea and today Roman columns lie on the beach or can be seen underwater with goggles. In some places, crushed coral has washed over the beaches coloring the sand in luscious pink.
Many consider the La Pelosa Beach on the island’s northwest corner to be Italy’s best beach; others claim the brilliant white sand gives sunbathers a unique tan that lasts longer and is deeper brown in color. Like the long hum of a piano recital’s last chord, the shallow sand descends ever so slightly under the waterline.
Volcanic Stromboli has sex appeal in spades. The Aeolian Archipelago consists of seven stunningly beautiful islands sculpted by the forces of wind, water and fire. The happy male in the group is Stromboli, whose self-satisfaction is expressed with burps and belches, and his harem includes wives: Panarea, Lipari, Salina, Vulcano, Filicudi and Alicudi.
Nature and humans conspired to create the perfect honeymoon destination and came up with Taormina. Grafted to a rocky peak, the town is sandwiched between blue seas and sky and enjoys epic views that extend over a good chunk of Sicily. Here D.H. Lawrence found the storyline for what was, at the time, the most erotic novel published in English: “Lady Chatterly’s Lover.” On sea level are a succession of coves and beaches with azure water. The most photogenic is the one in front of Isola Bella. “Beautiful Island” is not really an island.