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Italian coast or Greek islands?

I'm looking for help deciding between a family trip to some spots along the Mediterranean in Italy, or hopping through a couple of Cycladic islands in Greece. I'm posting in the Italy forum because, while I've been to Rome, Venice, Florence, and Siena, I haven't spent anytime on Italy's beaches/coastal towns. We've been to Athens and a couple of Greek islands. Here's the debate...

We love playing in the Mediterranean, and exploring historic sights and museums. So, we LOVED Greece when we went. However, it's cumbersome and somewhat expensive to get from the West Coast of the US to the Cyclades. Island hopping takes up time and adds to the cost. We also are not fans of most Greek food but this is a minor point. We also are not keen on spending time in Athens again, so it's less ideal for a transition city.

If we went to Italy, we could fly into Rome and spend a few days there before heading to some coastal spots. But I don't know where to go, how the costs might compare with Greek islands, or if it would be cumbersome to visit 2-3 coastal towns.

Any suggestions? We are generally low-maintenance travelers, prefer to avoid crowds (I know, impossible in Rome), comfortable in most situations, and love history, the outdoors, and swimming. Thanks!

Posted by
3622 posts

There are some nice beach towns on the Tuscan coast, close enough to some interesting sites for day trips. I loved our trips to Greece, but I have to admit Italian food is my favorite in the whole world.
Are you planning for this summer? You may find crowds everywhere. Change that “ may” to surely will. While, the beaches may be packed, some of the sights are less well-known.

Posted by
15678 posts

The best beaches I've seen in Italy are in Sicily. I've been told the ones in Sardinia are as nice. Tourists tend to flock to Sicily, Italians to Sardinia. There are tons of things to see and do on Sicily. The hard part of planning a two-week visit is what to eliminate. Rent a car and choose an area.

The only beaches I've seen up close are on the Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast - small, mostly pebbly. And in summer, both areas are super-crowded.

Posted by
1057 posts

There's the Adriatic coast. Not as spectacular as Sicily I suspect (haven't been to Sicily), but lots of sand beaches from Marche, through Abruzzo & Molise, to Puglia. There are interesting towns both on the coast and inland, but comparatively fewer big sights and museums than Sicily or Tuscany. Enough for variety between your beach days, plenty of castles to scramble around and smaller archeological or ethnographic museums to drop in on. There is a coastal rail line that runs both high-speed and regional trains up and down the length of the coast, so transportation would be easy. Heading inland is a bit trickier and a car would be best for that. You could rent a car for just a day or two to look around in the mountains just 45 minutes from the coast. The food is consistently excellent. Costs and crowds are both more reasonable, although Italian arrive for their beach vacations in July and especially August.

The Italian beach club culture is strong on the Adriatic. Much of any strand will be covered in private umbrellas and beach chairs, with each club down the row having a different color of umbrellas. They always have food and changing rooms, and often playgrounds. You can buy day passes at many of them and it's a comfortable way to spend a day. But if you really hate that sort of thing, there are always patches of open beach where you can set up for yourself.

Posted by
840 posts

What are your desires on beaches? Do you want sandy beaches and warm water for swimming? Of are you OK with rocky beaches. Or no beach at all, just a view standing on a cliff. What time of year are you going? That could be a major factor. It seems that there will be swarms of people in the hot months with most beaches packed with people paying up to 50€ a day to use an umbrella or lounge chair. Side by side. Unless you have a car your ability to search out the more remote beaches will be nil.

Posted by
1588 posts

When are you traveling? What about Croatia? Do you want one base or to island hop?

Posted by
15484 posts

The best beaches are in Sardinia and also the smaller islands around Sardinia. Sardinia is hard to match when it comes to beaches.

Puglia (Salento, Gargano, Tremiti islands), Sicily, Calabria have great beaches too. All small islands are great too (Tuscan Archipelago, Aeolian, Egadi, Pelagie, Ponziane), although many are small sandy coves.

There are a few nice ones also in Maremma (Southern Tuscany), Mt. Conero (Marche), Cilento (Campania).

Liguria is mostly rocky, except to the Western Riviera, and so is the Amalfi Coast.

Posted by
7906 posts

Don't plan a beach holiday in the Med and focus mainly on the beaches, you do better in North America or the Caribbean.
However, if you plan on experiencing the Greek Islands or some key place on the sea in Italy, you can't go wrong.

Greece, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes and other islands are great. Some like to do a cruise of the islands that includes Athens, other like to see mainly one island. Crete would be great for that, or do Mykonos and Santorini.

Italy, the beaches in the north are not so hot. However, the Amalfi Coast (not because of the beach) is great as is Cinque Terre.
Also, take in place nearby like Pisa, Lucca, and Sorrento, Capri.

Posted by
16 posts

We're going end of August, beginning of September for about 14-18 days. I'd prefer not to bounce around too much because of the time-suck of moving locations. We have considered Croatia, but I'm also pondering that for a multi-generational family trip next spring since the grandparents don't like the heat as much as we do (though bro and sis-in-law are advocating for southern France for that one). I'd love to hear recommendations for beach-spots in Croatia. As for beaches, we slightly prefer sandy beach to pebbles, clear swim spots, like to snorkel and have rocks to climb around on. All of it is fun!

Posted by
4668 posts

I always urge people to consider mainland Greece--it has just as much gorgeous coastline, without the hassle of adding flights and ferries to a trip. BUT, how many of you are there? If you will need multiple vehicles, then it is maybe not as convenient. But, Athens to Nafplio is a short drive, and then a ten-day to two-week circuit through the Peloponnese is a perfect trip.
Back to Italy, my favorite bits of coast are southern Tuscany (Maremma), Puglia, Cilento (Campania south of Salerno), and a rocky bit of Marche's coast (Monte Conero). That last one and the southern part of the Cilento coast remind me a lot of Croatia's coast--clear seas, pebble beaches, lots of greenery.
Close to Rome, the Maremma coast has sand and rocky beaches. A nice bonus is the many Etruscan sites that are nearby, so you really have the best of both worlds. But it will be pretty hot and buggy--something to consider.
If you are talking about this August, you will need to act fast.
RE Croatia's islands are generally closer and easier to get to than Greece's islands, and of course you have the mainland coast there as well. Sand beaches are a rarity, but smooth pebble beaches are pleasant. The hard rock "shingle' beaches are the most plentiful. Croatia is less developed and has a small population, so it is easier to get away from it all.