When we dream of the perfect Italian escape all too often we think about mainland Italy and forget to consider the exceptional experiences offered on the many picturesque islands dotted around Italy’s outstretched boot. Sharon Kilby went island-hopping to seek out Italy’s most luxurious island escapes and breathtaking coastal retreats.
There are more than 80 islands within Italy’s confines, each with its own individual history, culture and traditions. From the 17 islands that make up the city of Venice to the rugged Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, Italy’s islands are as unique in landscape and climate as the nation’s mainland itself. Whether you are looking for an activity-packed adventure or are on the hunt for a romantic retreat, Envy Italy has sought out the coolest hotels, villas, resorts and boltholes for your perfect Italian island escape.
Su Gologone lies in the heart of Barbagia, a part of the island rich in tradition and history. Ancient olive trees and vineyards cling to the slopes of the mountainous Supramonte area, where the air is fragrant with myrtle and rosemary.
The hotel is surrounded by Mediterranean flora, geraniums, hydrangeas, bougainvillea and prickly pears. Every detail of the hotel reflects the character of its location where furnishings and materials, juniper wood, terracotta and inlaid plaster, are all deeply authentic.
Guests at Su Gologone are welcomed by Pasqua and her daughter, Giovanna. Giovanna has transformed the hotel into a world-renowned destination, creating interiors which feature the works of major Sardinian artists and furnishings made in Su Gologone’s own Botteghe d’Arte. She also designed alfresco settings such as the Terrazzo del Sogni, Terrazzo dei Desideri and Magico Tablao bar, and plenty of hidden corners you’ll discover during your stay.
The cuisine here expresses a simple approach to life where fresh, seasonal ingredients dictate the menu. Local cheeses, spit-roasted meats, pane carasau, handmade pasta, olive oil and distinctive wines feature on the menu. Savour maccarrones de busa (handmade bucatini) and culurgiones (ravioli filled with local ricotta), porceddu allo spiedo (spit-roasted suckling piglet) and seadas al miele (honey fritters).
Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel and Suites
Just 18 kilometres from Olbia, off the Via Dei Gabbiani. Gabbiano Azzurro is a short drive from the pretty mountain-backed town of San Pantaleo, which has a clutch of artisan boutiques, 30 kilometres from Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda.
This smart and friendly family-run hotel and its collection of luxury suites are situated on the Golfo Aranci archipelago. The hotel has an air of old-school glamour and enjoys glorious sea views across to the islands of Tavolara and Molara. The stylish accommodation is comfortable to the extreme and the new contemporary pool suites have elegant, modern interiors, private terraces and lavish rooftop pools.
The Blu à la carte restaurant was recently awarded an Espresso ‘chef’s hat’ – one of only six in Sardinia. Chef Daniele Sechi makes the most of local produce, creating traditional Sardinian dishes with a modern twist, such as branzino (sea bass) baked under salt, or black fregola (Sardinian couscous) with prawns and asparagus. Two sea-view terrace bars are perfect for sundowners, aperitivi and lunch.
Villa del Golfo Lifestyle Resort
Villa del Golfo is a village resort that stretches over the hillside above the sea of Gallura, with private suites, spa facilities and two pools. It even has its own yacht, the Bon Aria, for trips to the islands of La Maddalena, Caprera and Corsica.
The hotel’s pools and terrace overlook the sea, which is easily reached, and there are daily boat trips on the hotel’s private sailing yacht to La Maddalena, Caprera, Corsica and to the North to discover more bays and beaches. Trips can also be arranged to nearby archaeological nuraghic sites, such as the Tomba dei Giganti (Giants’ Tomb).
The unique interiors feature breathtaking installations from Sardinian ceramicist Caterina Cossu. From her decorative vases and bowls to grand-scale sculptural installations, her work combines both contemporary and antique design elements.
For an authentic Galluran experience the nearby Farmhouse La Colti is a rustic-chic night out with meats cooked on the grill in the courtyard.
Hotel Terme Mareblu
With dramatic volcanic landscapes, natural thermal springs, buried necropolises, spectacular beaches and picturesque harbours, Ischia combines luxury with culture and more. Set in a picture-postcard location, the five-star Hotel Terme Mareblu sits directly on the beachfront, opposite the Aragonese Castle and just a few minutes from the bustling streets of Ischia Porto.
A five-star beachfront property with its own thermal spa, Hotel Terme Mareblu is the perfect coastal retreat.
A former aristocratic villa, the hotel has been modernised yet preserves its original opulent atmosphere and timeless charm. The island itself is known for its therapeutic thermal springs and the hotel has two private thermo-mineral swimming pools, a luxury spa and beauty centre. In the magnificent hotel gardens relax in the outdoor thermal pool or soak away any stress in the calming Turkish or Kneipp baths. At Hotel Terme Mareblu the highly skilled and creative chefs serve exceptional regional and Mediterranean cuisine at the on-site restaurant.
Mezzatorre Resort and Spa
The Mezzatorre Resort and Spa is situated on the border between Forio and Lacco Ameno, with San Montano Bay on one side and Zaro on the other. The hotel sits at the end of a long private road in a secluded wood in what is one of the island’s most famed beauty spots. This five-star hotel offers a beautiful wellness spa with a range of treatments using Ischia’s thermal water, as well as an outdoor swimming pool which is naturally heated, again by the thermal water.
Both the area around the outdoor pool and the ‘Chandelier’ restaurant offer stunning panoramic views of the Gulf of Naples, while there is a small bay for swimming and a private jetty for small yachts and boats. The restaurants serve Ischian cuisine with fresh fish dishes a speciality. During the evenings there is live entertainment in the piano bar where you can enjoy pre-dinner cocktails in a sophisticated setting.
San Montano Resort and Spa
San Montano Resort and Spa is situated in a commanding position on top of a hill with dramatic 360° panoramic views over Ischia, the sea and the islands beyond.
This characterful property boasts two swimming pools, one of which is naturally heated by the thermal water to temperatures between 32° and 37° Celsius all year round, while the other is a sea-water pool. There is also a modern wellness centre on-site with a variety of steam baths, showers and pools, a gym with qualified instructors and a range of treatments available such as massage, mud baths and hydrotherapy. Another unique feature is the natural sauna which is carved out of a cave.
The restaurant serves a mixture of Ischian and Italian delicacies including a range of Neapolitan sweets and desserts. Meals are served on the terrace with breathtaking views of the sea, Mount Vesuvius and Sorrento in the distance.
Perched on a cliff edge 300 metres above sea level on the slopes of Mount Solaro, Capri’s highest terrain, the truly glamorous Caesar Augustus offers gorgeous vistas of the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast. A 15-minute stroll from the hotel is Anacapri, a pleasant little town with artisan workshops, cafés and restaurants.
Originally the former residence of Russian Prince Emmanuel Bulhak (who placed the statue of Caesar Augustus on the terrace, to this day the symbol of the hotel), the property was acquired in 1930 by the Signorini family. Interiors are elegant and stylish with heirlooms and artworks that the family have collected over the years.
Cuisine at La Terrazza di Lucullo restaurant is prepared using fresh organic ingredients from the kitchen garden. Classic seasonal dishes are presented in a sophisticated and artful way. The casseruola di verdure, a simple regional dish made of stewed vegetables, is simply delicious.
One of the most sophisticated hotels on the island, here interiors are effortlessly chic. J.K. Place also has a stunning swimming pool terrace, relaxed wellness spa, awesome sea views and one of the island’s most celebrated restaurants – JKitchen.
Perched on the water’s edge in a quiet spot on the island, the hotel is just a short walk up the road from glamorous Marina Grande and an easy 15 minutes from the stylish designer stores of Capri town. The trademark appearance of J.K. Place was designed by Florentine architect and interior designer Michele Bönan. Elements of traditional architecture and original antique furnishings rub shoulders with crisp black and white geometric materials such as herringbone ceramic floors and houndstooth fabrics. The overall feel is that of luxury yacht meets opulent manor house.
The waterfront terrace deck is a magical corner to unwind in with a cooling Sunset Martini (made with fresh watermelon, basil leaves, jasmine syrup and vodka). JKitchen is one of Capri’s most popular high-end eateries where haute cuisine and local, seasonal recipes are seamlessly melded. Sample the Agerolese beef croquettes with Alife onions, then indulge the taste buds with the Pastificio dei Campi pasta, with culatello di Zibello (a cured meat aged for 24 months)
In the centre of Anacapri, you can find the much-praised Capri Palace, a boutique hotel offering elegant, laid-back luxury which is further enhanced by eye-catching art and sculpture. Perfectly positioned for exploring the island’s many sights such as Mount Solaro (catch the chairlift from outside the hotel), and the Blue Grotto, a coastal cave which is illuminated by an impressive natural blue light.
The interiors of Capri Palace are peppered with arches, vaults and striking stone columns that depict a typical historic Neapolitan palazzo. Modern works of art can be found throughout, along with quirky design elements such as oversized bronze helmets and colourful pop art.
Capri Palace is lauded for the cuisine served at the Michelin-starred Il Riccio beach club, set alongside the water. Select freshly caught sea urchins, lobsters or octopi at the fish counter and watch the chefs prepare your dish at the open kitchen. There’s a delightful ‘Temptation Room’ filled with traditional Neapolitan baked pies, cakes and pastries, while back at the main villa enjoy classic bistro-style dishes at the two-Michelin-starred L’Olivo.
Monaci delle Terre Nere
A true island retreat in every sense, this charming villa boasts chic modern luxurious interiors, lush gardens and a cool lava-stone pool. Not only can you expect exceptional service, but the hotel also has its own Etna organic winery on-site. Resting between Taormina and Catania, high up on the eastern slopes of Etna, where vines thrive on the dark volcanic terrain, the villa is a welcome retreat from busy city life. From here you an easily explore the crater of Etna itself or spend lazy days at the beach, both are easily reached by car.
Guido Coffa’s gorgeous boutique hotel has been created from an old Sicilian villa and lovingly restored with a respect for traditional materials and techniques. Richly hued flooring is made from either local chestnut or cocciopesto (lime mortar constellated with crushed terracotta). The atmosphere is one of hipster luxury meets rustic country cool. Owner Coffa is also a leading figure in the blossoming Etna wine scene and the estate now has its own 15-acre winery, with bespoke tastings of its own wines and other Sicilian labels. The Convivium Bar is a sleek setting for cocktails where guests can enjoy live jazz sessions thrice weekly.
Locanda Don Serafino
An enchanting boutique bolthole, Locanda Don Serafino is a magical combination of rather grand palazzi which have been masterfully infused with cave-like underground suites carved from ancient rock.
Don Serafino is the perfect location for discovering the joys of Ragusa Ibla and its ancient twisty streets which joyfully have very little traffic. When you arrive a valet service will meet you at your car and retrieve your luggage where you then take a short walk up a steep cobbled street to the hotel entrance.
The cool and restful interiors are simple and stylish and feature exposed limestone walls, vaulted ceilings and natural carved rock elements.
Paved almost throughout with gleaming chocolate-brown pietra pece (a kind of local limestone naturally pigmented with petroleum), Don Serafino offers two diverse types of luxury Sicilian experience. Choose from classic villa rooms which are opulent and luxurious or the cave stables which are carved directly into the rock and have a contemporary rustic-cool vibe. For romantic honeymoons with a wow factor go for the cave suites which are truly unforgettable.
The restaurant retains is five-star celebrity status and offers gourmet dining at its most lavish. Carnivores really must indulge in the beef fillet baked in a crisp crust of smoked potato and tobacco, a culinary marvel.
Hotel Le Calette
The perfect location for enjoying the atmosphere of the town of Cefalù with its uninterrupted views across to the harbour. The latter is frequented by both local fishermen and then in the high season a glamorous gaggle of glitterati appear at the swish bars and gourmet restaurants.
Guests can enjoy the hotel’s two beaches, one of which is a natural rocky bay while the other features a purpose-built bathing platform. Views are impressive and include the bold limestone rock of Cefalù which reaches out to the west. From the hotel, it’s just a 25-minute walk into the main town which has a bubbly and welcoming atmosphere.
The hotel’s look is simple, clean and stylish, with a striking white-themed aesthetic. Pops of colour can be found in the form of locally sourced ceramics, modern artworks, sculpture and Sicilian fabrics. Natural materials are also celebrated throughout the property including the installation of a huge block of rock salt taken from one of the still active salt mines in the centre of the island. The atmosphere is laid-back luxury where life centres around the pool, alfresco bar and restaurant where regional dishes include caponata, homemade pasta fresh seafood. In high summer a lively and very popular DJ set is held a safe distance from the hotel where guests can enjoy some seriously cool island nightlife.