Three overlooked Italian islands

From an isolated spot for hiking to a cultural hotspot with a pretty harbour.

“Time in western Sicily is peculiar,” says Horatio Clare in Condé Nast Traveller. “The map of the Mediterranean was once, to many, the chart of the known world.” And right in the centre of it all was Sicily. Look at the island this way, and “the sleepy oceanfront smelling of evaporating rain on marble pavements, tobacco smoke, fish and seaweed” becomes not the obscure backwater that in some ways it has since become, but “the root of Western civilisation”. 

Greek, Norman, Arab and Bourbon rulers have all come and gone. You can observe the cultural remnants in the evening passeggiate – “an almost sacred custom, a see-and-be-seen stroll taken for its own sake” – in Mazara, western Sicily’s “ancient gateway and one of the towns I love best”.

From Sunset Terrace Mazara – “a real find, with a huge roof and open-air showers overlooking the promenade” – women can be seen “wearing their hair in thick ringlets, their dresses colourful and in gaudy styles that seem to gesture to Constantinople rather than Milan or Rome”. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Until the Arab conquerors came ashore at Mazara in 826AD, “this was Byzantium’s westernmost province”. From around £87, sunsetterracemazara.it

Quiet Capraia

Italy has more than 450 islands beyond the well-known Sicily and Sardinia, says Tim Jepson in The Daily Telegraph. The Tuscan archipelago offers some of the country’s most varied. Busy Elba is the best-known of the seven islands. For a quieter getaway, head to Capraia.

“It’s large enough to escape other visitors in the port and hill town above it (the only settlements) and the unspoiled interior is ideal for hiking – aim for the cliff scenery on the west coast or the trail to the Torre Zenobito [pictured], an old Genovese watchtower.” The birdwatching is also excellent here. Il Saracino, is a “calm three-star hotel with pool and sea views”, and makes for a good base. Doubles from £160, hotelsaracino.com

A capital of culture

The faded fishing boats bobbing in the water at Marina Grande, with “ice-cream-coloured houses in shades of pistachio, peach, raspberry and lemon” perched precariously behind them around the bay, is the first glimpse you will have of Procida, says Angelina Villa-Clarke in The Mail on Sunday. This “picture-postcard-perfect” island is located 14 miles off the coast of Naples. Despite, its “pretty, winding streets” having served as backdrops to The Talented Mr Ripley and Il Postino, many tourists overlook Procida in favour of Capri and Ischia. That makes this island, the first to be named Italy’s Capital of Culture, “quieter and far more low-key” and authentic. 

San Michele, one of Procida’s most enchanting hotels, can be found in the picturesque fishing village of Corricella. “The boutique retreat is carved out of an artfully whitewashed townhouse and has a bohemian sense of style.” There are just 12 bedrooms and the alfresco seafood restaurant, Il Pescatore, feels like the very soul of Procida. From around £176, sanmicheleprocida.com

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