Italy is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and has nearly 7500 km of coastline that offers everything from quaint fishing villages to fashionable resorts on the Italian Riviera. The sea takes different names around the coast: to the west of Italy is the Ligurian Sea, and south of that is the Tyrrhenian Sea. Around the sole of Italy's boot lies the Ionian Sea and the east coast runs along the Adriatic Sea. Many visitors find the most popular resorts located in Liguria on the Italian Riviera, or around the Adriatic and Amalfi coasts.
Italy also has two islands, two real paradises for lovers of the sea: the coast of Sicily has mostly mountainous and rugged tracts in north and east, whereas the southern coast is lower. Sardinia coasts are depressed in the north, high and almost straight in the east, rocky in the west and plain in the south. Sardinia is a very popular holiday destination but has so many beaches that, especially in early or late summer, you can still find space and tranquility.
What comes as a surprise to many visitors is that Italian beaches are mostly 'private'. In places it can be very hard to gain simple access to the sea in summer months without paying an admission fee. If you don't want to hire sunbeds and a place on the sand, you will need to look for a free beach.
A free beach - spiaggia libera - is usually signposted. It generally consists of a narrow stretch of beach close to the nearest road access, and is identifiable by the absence of beach infrastructure, (regimented sunbeds etc.) and by the presence of clusters of sunbathers lying on towels. There may be a bar nearby or a stall selling cold drinks. Some free beaches are provided with showers and public toilets.
If you are visiting a free beach, bear in mind that these beaches, especially near cities (such as Ostia Lido near Rome) can be dirty, extremely crowded and not particularly pleasant. Take care of your possessions and beware of illegal peddlers. Some more distant stretches or remoter beaches may be much more pleasant - ask your hotel or a local for advice.
Seaside hotels often have a private beach, sometimes across a road from the hotel. Others may have arrangements with local private beaches. Note that even as a hotel guest you might still be expected to pay extra for the beach facilities: check in advance if it's not clear. Some beach huts and sunbeds are hired by the week or by the season; some beach establishments are members' clubs where locals come to sun themselves for a couple of hours a day.
For beaches in the wild, the isle of Capri, along with Sicily or Sardinia can be paradises during the heat of the summer offering intimate bays and coves and unforgettable natural beauty.