Written by Missy Johnston
Aeolian Islands, Italy
The Western Mediterranean is full of “secret” islands. These little-known and mostly untouched slices of paradise offer a great opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of mainland Europe while still staying in complete luxury aboard your private yacht.
Few airports and ferries in the surrounding areas means that the secret islands on this list are so off the beaten path and hard to access that they escape the attention of most European tourists. On a crewed yacht charter to the area, you’ll have the opportunity to sail right up, drop anchor, and go ashore for some relaxation in peace and quiet on glistening sandy shores.
Less than fifty miles off the coast of Italy lie the Pontine Islands. Full of history, culture, and stunning scenic beauty, these islands offer a wonderful opportunity to hop off your yacht and take a stroll.
Ponza and Ventotene are the only inhabited Pontine Islands, and there are a lot of things to do and see on both.
Ventotene features an ancient Roman harbor that still functions today. You can sail to the harbor and explore the merchant caves dug into the rock face along the water’s edge. These were once used as stalls for merchants to sell wares to passersby. You may see some modern-day sellers offering their goods in the exact same caves today.
From the Roman times through the present day, Ponza has been the main island in the Pontine chain. There are several fascinating and historically significant landmarks to explore on this incredible island. At Half Moon Bay, for example, is the supposed home of Circe from Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.
Roman Caves of Ponza
On Ponza, there are a variety of Roman ruins to visit, including a tunnel connecting Half Moon Bay to the local fishing villages. The grottos on the north side include sunken fishing pools beneath the Roman villas, said to once hold fresh fish to be harvested for gala dinners..
Beyond visiting historic ruins, the clear blue water of Luna Bay offers opportunities for swimming and other water sports, while Ventotene is a great place for snorkeling.
The island of Palmarola offers breathtaking scenery; it is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Sail past the rocky limestone formations on the coastline and soak in the view of white rocks above crystalline blue waters.
A view of Stromboli Volcano from mainland Italy
Most vacationers visit Sicily and never realize that just to the northeast there is an incredible paradise waiting to be discovered. That’s because yacht charters are one of the only ways to reach the beautiful, hidden Aeolian Islands.
One opportunity these islands offer is to sail to Stromboli Island and have a late dinner or early breakfast in the dark aboard your yacht beneath an active volcano as it spits fire into the sky. The Stromboli volcano has erupted for the past 2000 years and it served as a lighthouse for ancient sailors in the area. In fact, this volcano is called the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean,” because the nearly continuous eruptions are so reliable.
The island of Panarea is an interesting place to visit because it offers a unique and exclusive experience. Only those “in the know” are aware of how visitors to this secret, chic island carry lanterns to light their way on the streets with no streetlights. Visitors can dine at the island’s fantastic sushi restaurant and then dance the night away at Raya, one of Europe’s best and most famous nightclubs, under the light of the erupting Stromboli volcano. It’s not unusual to see celebrities at Raya because Panarea is a popular vacation destination for billionaires around the world.
Lipari is a lovely fishing harbor to visit. From there, you can sail to your choice of any of the smaller, less-inhabited Aeolian Islands and enjoy a peaceful day on a scenic beach.
La Maddalena Islands, Italy
If you find yourself enjoying an evening of entertainment on Sardinia’s Phi Beach during your yacht charter in the Mediterranean, you might be interested to know that there are more “secret islands” just a short jaunt away. In fact, they’re so close by, it’s easy to plan a day trip to the Maddalena Islands from any harbor on Costa Smeralda.
You’ll largely have the place to yourself, as once again, private charters or ferries are the best way of traveling to this little island chain. But even if you run into a fellow traveler or two, these islands have so many secluded coves and dazzlingly beautiful places to anchor that you’ll have no problem finding a quiet place to swim, snorkel, and explore your slice of heaven in peace.
These waters are filled with remnants of wrecked Roman ships, some of which can be seen from above. They’re a clear indication that the Maddalena Islands were heavily traveled and well-loved in Roman times, despite their peace and seclusion today.
Isle of Elba
Though the Tuscan Island chain has several islands to visit, as of now, Montecristo, Pianosa, and Gorgona are closed to the public. The other islands, however, are open and well worth visiting.
You may already be familiar, from history lessons, with Elba, the largest and most well-known of the Tuscan Islands. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Elba for some time before he reemerged to rule France for a second time. At the port of Portoferraio, there is a lot to learn about the history of Napoleon’s rule and his imprisonment at Elba in1814.
Elba has two harbors and several anchorages to visit if you sail around the island’s perimeter. Opportunities abound on land, too. Elba is a fantastic place for bicycling and hiking. A hike to the peak of Monte Capanne reveals not only all of Elba and its surrounding islands, but also a glimpse of mainland Italy.
Giglio Island, Seascape and Beach
For water-based fun and exploration, Giglio is a good option. This island is a spectacular place for snorkeling. The waters are crystal clear blue, and they contain numerous shipwrecks and artifacts spanning centuries of history. Scuba diving is also popular for exploring the underwater caves dotting Giglio’s coast. And visitors to Giglio are often able to see dolphins playing in the surf and whales raising their calves in the waters just offshore.
Giglio has many historical sites. A visit to the island’s tallest mountain offers an opportunity to tour Giglio Castello, a medieval walled city that dates back to the 1300s. It’s the oldest city on the island, and there are many historical remnants to see. The city’s residents live there largely undisturbed because Giglio Castella isn’t visited by many tourists in comparison to medieval cities in other parts of Italy. It’s the perfect place to spend some time shopping, strolling down the narrow tangle of streets, while sampling some delicious and authentic Italian food and wine.