Given that Italy is a boot-shaped peninsula almost completely surrounded by water, it comes as no surprise that the country has many beautiful seaside villages. The five fishing villages below – in order from north to south – are a mix of famous and lesser-known towns. All of them offer beautiful scenery, a lovely atmosphere, and of course, excellent seafood. And we include all of them in Italy Beyond the Obvious itineraries on a regular basis.
The town of Portofino, on the Italian Riviera, is itself part of a small peninsula with several quaint fishing villages. Portofino is known for its colorful houses, picturesque landscape, and good people-watching. The town has been a destination for VIP travelers – and their yachts – for decades. In addition to seafood, travelers should taste the local farinata flatbread made with chickpea flour, and pesto, which originates in this area.
We also recommend exploring some of the many hiking trails on the Portofino Peninsula and visiting other nearby towns such as Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, and Camogli (a town named for the houses of the fishermen’s wives – in Italian, case dei mogli). Travelers visiting in early May should not miss the Sagra del Pesce fish festival in Camogli.
Just an hour down the coast from Portofino, the town of Manarola is one of the five towns of the famous Cinque Terre. The towns (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) are connected by an old mule trail, which today is busy with hikers virtually year-round.
We recommend checking the Cinque Terre National Park website which lists all the hiking trails in the area, including trail closures. The website is also a great source of information on many other paths that are equally beautiful but much less congested compared to the iconic mule trail. But, hiking is certainly not the only way to explore these fishing villages: non-hikers can get from town to town by train, boat, or bus.
Atrani, Amalfi Coast
A couple of hours south of Rome, the lovely town of Atrani is part of Italy’s iconic Amalfi Coast. This town has a much more local feel compared to many of the busier towns on the Amalfi Coast such as Positano, Ravello, or Sorrento. After a few days in Atrani, you may get to know your local baker or gelataio.
We recommend walking from Atrani to the neighboring town of Amalfi via the pedestrian path that goes through the town’s parking garage. Amalfi is another beautiful town with an iconic cathedral and great restaurants, and is a transportation hub for buses and boats. We also recommend heading south to another fishing village, Cetara, famous for its anchovies (which are completely different to those you may be used to, as found on American pizza!).
The fishing village of Cefalù, on the northern coast of the island of Sicily, is a perfect seaside escape. It’s known for its 12th century Norman Cathedral, which has twin towers and amazing byzantine mosaics. The town has excellent restaurants, a picturesque trail to the lighthouse, and pretty beaches. Most of all, do not miss tasting local Sicilian sweets in the town’s pastry shops.
We often recommend that Italy Beyond the Obvious travelers use Cefalù as a base if they want to visit, but not stay in, the chaotic city of Palermo which is just 30 minutes away by train or car.
Polignano a Mare, Apulia
If the Italian peninsula is in the shape of a boot, then the southern region of Apulia is the heel of the boot. Pretty fishing villages are sprinkled all along Apulia’s Adriatic Coast. These include Polignano a Mare (pictured), Trani, Otranto, and many others that can be explored on a fun road trip. Unlike the mostly rocky beaches of Liguria and the Amalfi Coast, in Apulia the traveler can find long expanses of pristine white sand. Visitors will notice whitewashed houses in this area of Italy, reminiscent of those in Greece – which is just across the sea to the south.
We also recommend heading inland a couple of hours to visit the amazing city of Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a complex of houses, churches, monasteries, and hermitages built into the natural caves of the area.
Madeline Jhawar is Owner of Italy Beyond the Obvious.