Italy is a country made for slow touring: whether you’re cruising through vineyards and silver-green olive groves that dip to the sea in sun-baked Puglia, negotiating hairpin bends on a cliff-hugging road skirting the dramatic island of Sardinia, or making an epic drive along the coast of Sicily. Wind down the window, breathe in the scent of wild herbs on the breeze, crank up the radio and get ready for five of our all-time favorite coastal road trips.

Amalfi Coast: Sorrento to Salerno (35 miles)

Sunset over Positano on the Amalfi Coast
Sunset over Positano on the Amalfi Coast

Recommended Duration: 1-2 days

For a shot of glamor, it doesn’t get much hotter than the Amalfi Coast in Italy’s Campania region. Rugged mountains, vertiginous viewpoints and cliffs sheering down to a sea of bluest blue await along the SS163 coastal road that twists from Sorrento to Salerno, offering 35 miles of gasp-worthy, brake-crunching views. Yes, it’s doable in a day, but trust us, you’ll want to linger longer. Try to avoid visiting in August when the roads are at their busiest.

Begin in romantic cliff-top Sorrento, where palatial hotels stagger down to the sea, and Mt Vesuvius looms in the distance. Sip a glass of zesty limoncello made with local lemons on the pretty café-rimmed piazza. From here, swing east to super-chic Positano, where houses in bright ice-cream colors cling improbably to a cliff face. Next up is namesake Amalfi, a town dwarfed by lushly wooded mountains and a Byzantine-style cathedral with a striped marble façade.

Detour inland now briefly to hilltop Ravello for a wander in exquisitely landscaped cliffside gardens, with ringside views of the sea. Such views inspired the creativity of composer Wagner and writer DH Lawrence. Back behind the wheel, the drive heads on to Vietri sul Mare, where you can stop to shop for local pottery, and the city of Salerno, with a historic center to explore, trattorias to sample and a seafront promenade for a passeggiata (evening stroll) and gelato.

For more inspiration, check out our 15-day Amalfi Coast, Naples & Rome itinerary.

SS125, Sardinia: Orosei to Santa Maria Navarrese (50 miles)

Cala Goloritzé in the Gulf of Orosei 

Recommended Duration: 2-3 Days

If you only have time for just one coastal drive in Sardinia, make it the stretch of the SS125 that takes in the island’s wild east. One of the most memorable coastal road trips in Italy, this 50-mile drive from Orosei to Santa Maria Navarrese takes in the full sweep of the Gulf of Orosei, where the limestone mountains of the Supramonte ripple to the sea and end abruptly in cliffs that fall to a sea that ranges from aquamarine to deepest sapphire blue.

The road itself can be hair raising, with tight, corkscrewing bends to negotiate and flocks of sheep to watch out for. Allow at least two days to do the drive justice (longer if you want to tack on some walking), stopping perhaps overnight in a coastal town like Cala Gonone.

Start in the little coastal town of Orosei, with bays backed by pine and juniper groves and a charmingly low-key historic center. Driving on south from here, stop to see the Grotta di Ispingoli, impressive limestone caves home to one of the largest stalagmites in the world. Detour off the main road to reach the remote and gorgeous white-sand beach of Cala Cartoe, where the glass-clear water is perfect for snorkeling, before cruising on south to Cala Gonone, a fine seaside base for hikes along the clifftop coastal path to sea grottoes and hidden bays (to half-moon Cala Luna, for instance).

The drive picks up pace, with exhilarating views all the way to the 1017m Genna e’ Silana pass, where you might want to stop to hike down to the spectacular canyon of Gola Su Gorropu. South of here is mountainous Urzulei, where high crags thrill climbers. From here, the road threads back towards the coast and Baunei, the jump-off point for walks to the Golgo plateau, with its ancient olive trees and Bronze Age Nuraghic remains, and the insanely beautiful bay of Cala Goloritzè. Wind up the trip in the laid-back beach resort of Santa Maria Navarrese

Want more? Check out our 12-day drive and hike itinerary

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Italian Riviera: San Remo to Cinque Terre (156 miles)

The cliff-hugging village of Manarola in Cinque Terre

Recommended Duration: 4 Days

The huge arc of the Italian Riviera on the Ligurian coast is one of Italy’s most memorable coastal road trips. In the far northwest of the country, close to the border with France, the Maritime Alps sweep down to the dazzling blue Mediterranean and give way to lemon and olive groves, terraced vineyards, cliff-hugging, candy-colored villages, imposing seaports and swanky yacht-filled harbors. Spring and early autumn are ideal times to visit, when temperatures are mild but not too hot, and the resorts are less crowded than in summer. See more about when to visit here

Kick off your road trip in San Remo, a seaside resort with a casino, lavish villas and flower-filled gardens. Driving east of here you reach Savona, a buzzy port city with an appealing medieval old town and a 16th-century fortress to explore. There are some attractive beaches (Varazze, for instance) en route to Genoa, a gritty port city well worth a visit for its rich maritime heritage, Gothic-Romanesque cathedral, and the mazy, palazzo-filled streets of its Unesco-listed medieval center. Head on, then, to ritzy Portofino and its yacht harbor, before stopping for a swim at Rapallo’s palm-flanked beach.

Edging further south brings you to Cinque Terre, a cluster of five preposterously cliff-perched, brightly pastel-painted villages that are one of Italy’s most iconic sights. If there’s time, squeeze in a three-hour coastal walk along the Sentiero degli Dei (God’s Pathway). For more on the area, see our active eight-day itinerary.

Go for lunch or dinner in one of the authentic trattoria’s in La Spezia’s historic center, then round out your drive in Porto Venere, a truly lovely castle-topped fishing village surrounded by a coastline indented with caves.  It’s a great base for discovering the forest-cloaked hills and hidden coves of the Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of the Poets).

Puglia: Gargano National Park to Taranto (352 miles)

The spectacular coastal town of Polignano a Mare, Puglia

Recommended Duration: 5-7 Days

The slender heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is one of Italy’s great unsung beauties. In the deep, sun-bleached, olive grove-brushed southeast of the country, this region is ripe for off-the-beaten-track road trips, with whitewashed towns, sandy beaches, and cliff-backed bays, and plenty of culture thrown in for good measure.

Food lovers will also be in their element here, too, with the delights of cucina povera (literally ‘food of the poor’), including specialties like orecchiette pasta, with broccoli, spicy sausage and garlic, and deliciously simple riso, patate e cozze (baked rice, potatoes, and mussels).

Your road trip begins in Gargano National Park, where lush coastal forests give way to dramatic cliff-flanked bays lapped by the azure Adriatic and honeycombed with sea grottoes. Whitewashed, clifftop Vieste makes a pretty base.  Pause for a wander along the marina in seafaring Trani before driving south to the quaint fishing harbor of Molfetta, with a herringbone-shaped medieval old town.

The gritty port of Bari has been given a makeover recently and merits a stop for its lively piazzas, bars, and down-to-earth trattorias. Slightly south is Polignano a Mare, a charming town straddling cliffs that are pockmarked with caves. From here, make a brief detour inland to Alberobello to glimpse the trulli (beehive-like dry-stone huts) emblematic of this region, and the stunning, chalk-white town of Locorotondo in the heart of wine country.

Bypass Brindisi as you make your way south to Lecce, a chilled university town with compelling baroque architecture, and Otranto, hiding a magnificent medieval mosaic in its cathedral. Get an uplifting sea view from the very tip of the heel at Punta Ristola, before making for Gallipolli’s pristine baroque center and unspoiled coves looking out across the Ionian Sea. Last stop is Taranto, founded as a Greek colony and now home to a must-see archaeological museum.

To see the Puglia region at an even more laid-back pace, take a look at our 15-day itinerary.

Sicily Circuit: Catania, Syracuse, Cefalú, and More (650 miles)

The profile of Mt Etna rising above the sea in Sicily

Recommended Duration: 1-2 Weeks

We’ve saved one of the best for last: The dreamy coastline of Sicily makes for one of Italy’s most enthralling road trips. En route you’ll take in vibrant port cities, ancient sites, white-sand beaches, wineries, medieval hill towns, markets selling spicy street food and, naturally, Italy’s highest and most active volcano. Sounds good, right? You’ll want a good two weeks to do this one justice.

Begin in the upbeat port city of Catania, where the mighty Duomo chimes in the baroque historic center. Go in the morning to catch the action at one of Italy’s biggest fish markets. Drive south, then, to Syracuse for history overload at its archaeological park and Greek theater, before a swimming stop at the lovely white-sand bay of Fontane Bianche.

Pass through the vineyards of Avola, which produce full-bodied Nero d’Avola reds, en route to the pretty baroque town of Noto. A short hop south is Vendicari Natural Reserve, necklaced with beaches like tranquil Calamosche. Eat freshly caught tuna in the nearby fishing village of Marzamemi, then detour inland to Unesco-listed, spectacularly baroque Modica.

On the south coast, drive west to Agrigento, gateway to the Valley of the Temples, Sicily’s standout archaeological site. Further west lies Torre Salsa Nature Reserve, with sublime, little-visited beaches frequented by sea turtles. Tick off the historic fishing port of Sciacca en route to vine-striped Marsala.

In the northwest, pass through windmill-dotted salt flats before reaching Trapani, where a short detour inland leads to the alluring walled medieval town of Erice. Back on the coast, meander east to the fabulous beaches of San Vito Lo Capo for a swim and a granita (semi-frozen dessert). Limestone cliffs plunge to half-moon coves, caves and crystal-clear waters at Zingaro Nature Reserve. From here, make the drive east to multicultural Palermo for street food in souk-like markets.

Topped by a mighty crag and a ruined Norman castle, Cefalú is visually striking. Drive on from here to Greek-rooted Taormina, which spills down a mountainside. To the south spreads Etna National Park, dominated by the smoldering crater of Europe’s largest active volcano, 3350m Mt Etna. Reach the summit on foot or by cable car, before the drive back to Catania.

For the inside scoop on this self-drive tour around Sicily, check out this 14-day itinerary