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As the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily is blessed with more than 900 miles of coastline. From pebble-lined bays to white-sand coves, the best beaches in Sicily are a sun-worshiper’s dream.

Any exploration of this most extraordinary island starts with the seaside. Wander the bustling streets of port towns like Catania and Messina, then make your way to some of the best beaches in Sicily.  Here are 11 of the best to seek out.

Isola Bella, Taormina

Beautiful view of Isola Bella's lush landscape

Isola Bella, Taormina

Rising from the shallow, pebble-lined ocean bed of a tranquil bay, Isola Bella—literally “beautiful island”—has a whimsical, almost fairytale-like air to it. It’s one of the best places to visit in Sicily.

Isola Bella’s other, equally evocative nickname is The Pearl of the Ionian Sea, and a great many Sicilians have coveted this precious jewel over the centuries. In 1806, King Ferdinand I, who ruled the Two Sicilies from his seat of power in Naples, presented this prize as a gift to the town or Taormina.

From there on, the island’s story took a turn, changing hands repeatedly between private owners. In 1990, the estate of the late British gardener Florence Trevelyan, Isola Bella’s last owner, sold it back to the Region of Sicily.

Today, the Isola Bella is a protected nature preserve and all are welcome to visit its rocky shores. It’s located a little less than an hour from Messina and the drive along the coast road is an especially scenic one.

Scenic landscape of Isola Bella, Taormina

Isola Bella, Taormina

Children will especially love the sense of adventure that the short journey to the island imbues. When the tide is low, the waters of the Ionian Sea retreat and reveal a narrow, rocky landbridge to the island. Walk across, then spend the afternoon spying inside sea grottos or lounging in the shade of its scrubby vegetation.

Giardini Naxos, near Taormina

View of Giardini Naxos from the hill

Giardini Naxos, near Taormina

A spell on the beach at Giardini Naxos, a favorite seaside spot among Sicilians, can easily be combined with half a day exploring the gorgeous hilltop town of Taormina, best known for its magnificent Greco-Roman theater. The beach at Giardini Naxos is a curve of coarse sand and pebbles stretching for more than two miles.

Like much of Italy’s coastline, Giardini Naxos beach consists of a string of orderly lidos, with bright sun umbrellas, showers, changing facilities, and food and beverage service. There are sections of public beach, too, but a spot in the shade at one of these beach clubs is more comfortable.

Read: Best Beaches in the Mediterranean

Sampieri Beach, near Catania

Brown sands of Sampieri Beach, Near Catania

Sampieri Beach, near Catania

Sporting more than a mile of luxuriously soft sand kissed by shallow waters, Sampieri Beach, located about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Catania, ranks among the most beautiful beaches in Sicily. The beach itself is well-maintained, with restrooms, a foot-washing station, and other basic amenities.

Hilltop town of Scicli

Scicli

You could easily spend the entire day here, but if the urge to wander should strike, the town of Scicli, located seven miles away, is an underrated gem packed with beautifully preserved baroque architecture. Like Noto, Ragusa, and other towns in the Val di Noto, it has UNESCO World Heritage status.

Beautiful exterior of Cathedral of San Giovanni Evangelista, Scicli

Cathedral of San Giovanni Evangelista, Scicli

Amble along the winding streets past the Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco, which is covered in 18th-century stone carvings and statuary, and the Cathedral of San Giovanni Evangelista.

Before leaving town, stop for a bite to eat at Pura Follia. This low-key pizzeria is known for its inventive toppings, including dessert pies topped with Sicilian pistachio cream or Nutella with chopped hazelnuts.

Spiaggia di Marinello, near Messina

Aerial view of Spiaggia di Marinello

Spiaggia di Marinello, near Messina

Nestled along the Tyrrhenian coast, the Spiaggia di Marinello, or Marinello Beach, is a particularly lovely stretch of sugar-white sand. Steep rock walls draped with greenery frame the natural beach, adding a level of visual drama. The waters are a spectacular shade of cerulean and warm enough for swimming.

While the beach itself is quite striking, if you can bear to pry yourself away from it for a few hours, the surrounding area has much to offer.

Lakes of Spiaggia di Marinello, Near Messina

Spiaggia di Marinello, near Messina

The “laghetti”, or “small lakes” that surround the beach are all part of a nature preserve home to abundant birdlife. During summer in Italy, locals often head here to go camping and commune with nature. The whole area is less than an hour’s drive along the coastline from Messina.

Spiaggia di San Gregorio, near Messina

Head to the eastern point of the Capo d’Orlando, an hour along the coast from Messina,  and you’ll find this exceedingly pretty beach framed by the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The water here is so clear that you can see straight to the seabed, which makes this beach a popular choice with snorkelers. The sands here may not be the whitest or the softest, but with its deep, azure waters and views of the volcanic Aeolian Islands in the heat haze, Spiaggia di San Gregorio has plenty of other charms.

Read: Best Beach Destinations in Europe

Scala Dei Turchi, near Catania

Scala Dei Turchi, one of the best beaches in Sicily

Scala Dei Turchi, near Catania

Literally translated as the “Turkish Ladder” or the “Stairs of the Turks”, these breathtaking alabaster-hued cliffs are worth the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Catania. According to local legend, the unusual name is a reference to Turkish and Arabic pirates, who once anchored their ships in this sheltered bay.

There is a narrow half-moon of yellow sand at the base from which you can swim, although the cliffs themselves are very much the main attraction. Rising dramatically in tiered layers from the turquoise waters below, the white marl cliffs make for truly awe-inspiring photographs.

The geological formation has been up for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for several years now.

White cliffs of Scala Dei Turchi, near Catania

Scala Dei Turchi, near Catania

Note that the Italian government has been cracking down in recent years on tourists walking off with pieces of the white marl. Following a vandalism incident, in which an unknown perpetrator defaced the cliffs with red powder, there’s been extra security surrounding the place.

If you visit the Scala dei Turchi, be sure to do so respectfully both in order to avoid fines and to allow other travelers to experience this natural wonder for themselves.

Piscina di Venere, near Messina

Rocky landscape of Piscina di Venere, Near Messina

Piscina di Venere, near Messina

Situated on the northern end of the Cape of Milazzo, the Piscina di Venere, or Pool of Venus, is a sight to behold. This is very much one of those instances where the journey is an integral part of the experience. A roughly 45-minute drive from Messina will whisk you to the base of the Cape.

From there, it’s a narrow, winding road with sublime ocean views on either side to reach this natural rock pool. The water in the Piscina di Venere is shallow and warm enough for wading. On sunny days, it catches the light like a cut aquamarine jewel.

Rocky landscape of Piscina di Venere, Near Messina

Piscina di Venere, near Messina

Although facilities are somewhat limited out by the small lagoon, there are a couple of modest trattorias out at the edge of the cape. After a dip in the Piscina di Venere itself, plan to leave a little time to hike along the nature trail, then sit back with an afternoon aperitivo.

Spiaggia di Santa Teresa di Riva, near Messina

Aerial view of Spiaggia di Santa Teresa di Riva, near Messina

Spiaggia di Santa Teresa di Riva, near Messina

In between Taormina and Messina lies Santa Teresa di Riva, a picturesque Sicilian town along the Ionian Riviera with a two-mile sandy beach open to all.

Thanks to the volcanic rock and debris from nearby Mount Etna, the sand here has a black tinge to it. Despite its proximity to some of Sicily’s most popular beaches, this public promenade seldom feels overcrowded.

The village itself still has much of its original 18th-century architecture, including a number of historic churches. If you head into town, swing by Ferrara for seafood pastas and some of the best gelato in the area.

La Playa, near Catania

Aerial view of La Playa, near Catania

La Playa, near Catania

When locals in Catania talk about going to the beach, they almost inevitably turn to this 11-mile strip of fine, honey-colored sand a short drive from the city center.

While no one would call this beach under-the-radar, it’s hard to beat for sheer size and convenience. On clear days, La Playa also boasts an impressive view of Mount Etna, one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

Farmers market in Piazza Carlo Alberto

Piazza Carlo Alberto

Do as the Sicilians do and spend your morning sipping potent, thimble-sized espressos and nibbling on flaky cornetti at Pasticceria Mantegna Lungomare, then take in the sights and sounds of the farmers’ market on the Piazza Carlo Alberto.

Much like Rome’s Campo dei Fiori, the Italian markets here offer a glimpse into the rhythms of daily life in Catania. After you’ve spent some time exploring the city itself, retire to a sunlounger on La Playa.

Vendicari Nature Reserve, near Catania

Vendicari Nature Reserve, one of the best beaches in Sicily

Vendicari Nature Reserve, near Catania

With its gently rolling hills crowned with juniper bushes, fragrant thyme, and wildflowers, Vendicari Nature Reserve more than merits the hour-and-15-minute drive along Sicily’s southeastern coastline from Catania.

Note that this is a far cry from the ubiquitous beach umbrella-studded lidos found on many Italian beaches. The allure here is of a much more rugged landscape.

Charming town of Noto

Noto

There’s plenty to see along the way if you have time for a quick stop, including the exceedingly charming town of Noto, which is famous for its almond trees. If you’re lucky enough to stop by in springtime, you’ll witness the sight of almond orchards festooned with white blossoms.

The rest of the year, travelers can still enjoy a sweet, aromatic glass of homemade almond milk—one sip is enough to make you forget every commercial rendition of the stuff—along with an anise-scented biscotti.

Lagoon in Vendicari Nature Reserve with flamingos

Vendicari Nature Reserve, near Catania

Once you reach the nature reserve itself, expect to see saltwater lagoons framed by sand dunes and dense clusters of vegetation. Since the reserve has been strictly protected from development since 1984, local wildlife has flourished here.

Flocks of pink flamingos and white storks migrate through here, along with an impressive abundance of other avian life.

Spiaggia Calamosche, near Catania

Spiaggia Calamosche, one of the best beaches in Sicily

Spiaggia Calamosche, near Catania

It takes some extra effort to reach this serene cove not far from Vendicari Nature Reserve, but those who make the trip will be glad that they did. Locals often refer to this spot as Funni Musca and it remains decidedly off the beaten path.

The main reason this beach, with its shallow, sandy bed, has remained unspoiled is the fact that it requires a little legwork. After walking for less than a mile along a winding path through scraggly brush, pop out your snorkeling gear and spend a few hours swimming through the gin-clear waters.

Colorful waterfront of Messina

Messina

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