Mini guide to Sicily's beaches

Archaeological sites and Arab-influenced culture will please a traveller's intellectual side, but when it is time to kick back, golden sand and azure waters await.

With its Arab-influenced culture and cuisine, archaeological sites and varied landscapes, Sicily and its nearby Aeolian Islands keeps you busy. But when it’s time to kick back, there’s a plethora of beaches to relax on and azure waters to dip your toe into.

Forgia Vecchia, Stromboli
Although Stromboli is best known for having the only permanently active volcano in Europe, its black sand beaches, the most beautiful in the Aeolian archipelago, have put it on the map. Particularly lovely is Forgia Vecchia, close to the port. It’s a pretty stretch of black pebbles curving around a tranquil bay and is backed by the volcano’s green slopes.

Campobianco, Lipari
Lipari is the largest and liveliest of the seven Aeolian Islands. At Campobianco on the east coast, huge gashes of white rock streak down the hillside as a result of quarrying. This unlikely place is a great spot to swim, as you can slide down the pumice chutes into the sea. You’ll need to rent a boat or sign up for a tour to access the chutes. Popolo Giallo runs a tour of Lipari and Salina that includes swimming at Campobianco.

Gelso, Vulcano
Most people come to Vulcano to climb its volcano, Fossa di Vulcano, and for the geothermal mud and hot springs. Once you’ve had your fill of sulphurous gases, escape the crowds to Gelso on the island’s southern coast. The village has a couple of black-sand beaches that rarely get crowded. A steep dirt track leads to Spiaggia dell’Asina (Donkey Beach) and to Spiaggia Cannitello, which is surrounded by almost tropical greenery. Both beaches have a cafe where you can hire loungers.

Eraclea Minoa
Now a small resort, Eraclea Minoa was once an important Greek settlement. Get your fill of history at the archaeological park (entry fee £2) before heading to the beach, backed by eucalyptus and cypress trees. There’s a mud rock at the western end of the beach: scrape the mud off the rock, rub it on your skin and then let it dry before rinsing it off in the sea. You’ll emerge looking 10 years younger.

Scala dei Turchi
One of the most mesmerising – and least publicised – sights in the Agrigento area is the Scala dei Turchi. This is a blindingly white rock shaped like a giant staircase that juts out into the sea near the small town of Realmonte. Named after the Arab and Turkish pirates who used to hide out from stormy weather here, it’s a popular spot with local sunseekers who sunbathe on the milky-smooth rock and swim in the indigo sea. Take a picnic and make a day of it.

Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa
Closer to Tunisia than Italy, the island of Lampedusa’s main draw is its beaches. One of the most beautiful is Spiaggia dei Conigli (aka Rabbit Beach), a secluded bay lapped by shallow, turquoise waters. The beach is part of a nature reserve, the only place in Italy where loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs. Siremar runs ferries to Lampedusa from Sicily’s Porto Empedocle (9 hours; from £30 per person).

Oasi Faunistica di Vendicari
Butting onto the Greek ruins of Eloro, this reserve is a wonderful stretch of coastline, encompassing three marshes and many sandy beaches. From the main entrance (signposted off the Noto-Pachino road), it’s a 10-minute walk to the beach, where you can pick up the coastal path. Spy on black-winged stilts, storks, geese and flamingos at the reserve’s observation posts.

Isola Bella
Not far from the popular resort of Taormina lies Isola Bella, a tiny island set in a cove. Access it by taking the funicular to Mazzarò beach, then walk south past the Sant’Andrea hotel – there’s a path that connects the island to the mainland. There’s wonderful swimming and snorkelling in the bay’s crystalline waters or head out further with Nike Diving Centre (Discover Scuba Dive; £45).

The Sayonara is an unpretentious alternative to the more expensive Taormina resort, nearby. A parade of hotels, bars, pizzerias and shops is strung along the seafront, overlooking a sand and pebble beach which curves around a crescent-shaped bay. There’s a small public beach but much is given over to lidos – where you pay around £2 for entry and extra for umbrellas and loungers.

Sicily’s two main airports serve the biggest cities: Palermo and Catania. Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Palermo, while EasyJet flies from London Gatwick (from £120). British Airways, Thomson Flights (May through November) and EasyJet fly from Gatwick to Catania, while Thomson Flights also departs from Manchester (May through November). It’s preferable to hire a car or motorbike in Sicily as getting around the island on public transport is difficult and time-consuming. To get to the islands there’s an extensive system of hydrofoils and ferries – see Navigazione Generale Italiana Spa, Siremar and Ustica Lines.

Where to stay
In a narrow alleyway just off Lipari’s main strip, Diana Brown has delightful rooms with tiled floors and bright colours. Some rooms have kitchenettes, plus there’s a rooftop terrace and solarium (Vico Himera 3, Lipari; from £40).

Hotel La Corte del Sole is a typical Sicilian farmstead of sandstone buildings set around a courtyard. It has 34 rooms, a restaurant, bike hire, cookery courses and a shuttle bus to the sea (Contrada Bucachemi, Lido di Noto; £80).

With the Temple of Concordia lit up in the distance, the views from the 18th-century, five-star Hotel Villa Athena are stunning. Rooms are elegant and the hotel has a large pool (Via Passeggiata Archeologica 33, Agrigento; from £160).

The article 'Mini guide to Sicily's beaches' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.