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Why visit the Tremiti Islands? Well, let me share a story that answers that question...
I was on the Isle of Capri, standing shoulder to shoulder with an army of tourists. I tried to escape down a lane and bumped into an elderly man.
I apologized for knocking into him, I explained that I was simply trying to escape the crowds.
He looked at me glumly and said he didn't blame me for wanting to escape, he too gets desperate at times.
His name, I learned, was Antonio and he had grown up on the island, but the island of today was no longer the island of his youth. The pristine landscapes, the sense of peace he so loved were gone forever. "Even in September and October, the tourists keep coming, landing in endless waves," he said.
It made me feel so sad.
"Don't worry," he said, "would you like to see what this island once was?".
"Of course," I answered.
He then told me of his journey to visit a friend on an island in the Adriatic, an island that reminded him of the Capri of his youth: "The forests are still pristine, the beaches are beautiful, and outside of July and August, the island has very few tourists. Find your peace, eat fresh seafood, and sip wine with friends and family until late into the night, under a sky filled with stars. It's paradise."
What is the name of this island, I asked?
"The Tremiti Islands," he replied.
So, off to the Tremiti Islands I went, and this is what I found...
To get here, my family and I took the ferry from Termoli, leaving our car on the mainland. During the summer, there are a number of ways to get to the Tremiti Islands; scroll down to the "How do you get to the Tremiti Islands?" section for details.
Can you take your car to the Tremiti Islands? The answer is no. Cars are not allowed on the island except for hotel shuttles and a small number of cars belonging to a few of the 400 residents who've obtained special permission.
Off We Sail...
As soon as we got underway, I went up on deck to watch the islands draw nearer.
Sixty minutes later, I saw the islands for the first time, and I knew this was somewhere special: the sea sparkled a brilliant blue, and the 11th century Monastery of Santa Maria a Mare climbed up and around the cliffs.
Little boats, their wakes sparkling silver, darted about like crazed insects and ancient forests painted the interior emerald.
I was in love with the island and I hadn't yet stepped off the boat.
Once I was on the island, that love simply grew to the point that I was close to tears the day I had to leave.
There are five islands that make up the Tremiti Islands: Cretaccio, Pianosa, Isola Capriaia, Isola San Nicola and Isola San Domino - the first three are uninhabited, and most of the accommodation options are on San Domino, which was the island we chose to stay on.
We booked our accommodations at the Eden Hotel, it was clean, and our room was spacious, although a little old fashioned.
Everyone working at the hotel was always kind and helpful; we felt very welcome and breakfast on the terrace offered amazing views.
The hotel beach, Cala Matana, is stunning, it's a bit of a steep walk to get down to it, but it is worth it. The beach features in a famous Italian song, Luna Matano, by Lucio Dalla and that means LOTS of Italians crowd into this small beach in July and August so avoid it then. The rest of the year it is delightful.
In September, we were often the only people on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear waters of our own little cove was a sheer joy. You can rent an umbrella and deckchair for a crazy price, but we didn't bother, we simply placed our towels on the beach and dove in.
Very early one morning, I went down to the beach on my own... not another soul anywhere. I swam out to sea, past the first rocks.
Then, almost on top of me, an evil looking prow of a rusty and menacing looking ship loomed. It had appeared overnight and anchored at the end of the cove. My overactive imagination told me to "swim away, swim fast, this is a pirate ship."
Instead, fool that I am, I swam closer. A huge head, with a mighty beard, worthy of Blackbeard himself, appeared at the rails.
I thought I was done for...
Until that beard, as dark as night, was split by a smile of pure white and "Blackbeard" bellowed friendly greetings at me. His name was Stavros and he explained they were sailing from Greece but had taken shelter from rough weather overnight.
So, apart from the pirates, is The Hotel Eden worth staying at?
Well, it was perfect for us in terms of location and budget. We travel a lot for our websites, so we have to be a little tight on accommodation. We don't accept complimentary stays to avoid feeling obligated to write positive reviews.
If you can splash out a little more than we could on this trip, then the Hotel Kyrie may be a better option.
Capatosta in particular stands out; the food was always excellent and the owner and his wife were so friendly and kind. I loved everything about the place, nothing fancy but fresh food well made with local ingredients, and their homemade after-dinner melon liqueur is now a beautiful memory.
Walking on San Domino in particular is a sheer joy. You will want to explore on foot as well as by boat. Step out of your hotel and simply follow the path that leads around the island and into the interior.
Most of the trail leads you through the dappled shade of the Aleppo Pine forest that dominates the east coast and center of the island.
In the forest, the air is a perfumed blend of pine and Mediterranean herbs, and the eye dances between shadows and sunlight while delighting at the frequent glimpses of hidden coves of brilliant blue water and the secret sea caves once used by smugglers.
On the west coast the scenery is very different.
Here, it is often windy, and the vegetation is low bush, flowers and very few trees. It feels beautifully wild and exhilarating. Fewer walkers make it to this side of the island, meaning that in May or September, you'll have the vistas all to yourself. Breathe deeply, and fill your lungs with pure sea air spiced with Mediterranean herbs.
Which is the best beach in the Tremiti Islands? These are the three I love...
This is the most spectacular beach on the Tremiti Islands and one of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Italy,
Spiaggia dei Pagliai is as beautiful as any beach I have ever seen. It is as good as those in the Caribbean and, in many ways, even better. Here, you swim in crystal waters, while gazing at the ancient monastery on the neighboring island of San Nicola. Towering rocks, like the teeth of a giant sea monster, rise from the sea all around you. Look back to the beach of snow white sand and upwards, up the silvery cliffs, to the vivid green of the pine forests above.
Spectacular does not come close to describing this beach.
Take a walk up to the viewpoint, just opposite the entrance to the Villaggio Internazionale Punta del Diamante, and the view of the beach with Isola San Nicola and the monastery in the background will instantly turn into one of your most unforgettably wonderful memories.
I wanted to stay there all day, gazing at that view and watching little boats paint white brushstrokes across a canvas of sapphire blue.
The only way to reach the beach is by boat. You can easily organize a trip from one of the many boat companies down by the port or ask your hotel to assist you.
This is the beach with the "pirate ship" we wrote about under the Where to Stay section further up this page.
The biggest beach on the island is also the one that most day-trippers visit. It is a short walk from the ferry port and is filled with all the umbrellas and deckchairs you tend to associate with Italian beaches. The best Tremiti beach for kids: plenty of soft sand, calm waters, and easy access.
Direct from-the-beach snorkeling is best from Cala Matana. Swim along the rocks on the right hand side of the beach, heading out to sea, and you will see many schools of brightly colored fish darting about and, if you're lucky, a starfish or two.
For proper scuba diving and off-shore snorkeling, I recommend visiting the Marlin Tremiti Dive Store located behind the Eden Hotel. They are really helpful and offer a range of trips depending on your experience and budget. One of the most amazing underwater sights, apart from the sea-life of course, is the statue of Padre Pio, which lies 45 feet below the surface. Many dive trips will include a dive above the statue.
The monastery was founded in the 9th century and dedicated to St James; over the course of the next two centuries that dedication changed to the Virgin Mary. Things thrived until 1334.
Dalmatian pirates arrived. Unarmed, they came ashore and pleaded with the monks to give their leader Almogavaro a Christian burial. The monks agreed, as the pirates were unarmed, they felt it was their Christian duty.
Picking up the coffin, they carried it, followed by the pirates, into the monastery.
Once inside, shockingly, the coffin started to open.
Out jumped the pirate leader, the pirates rushed forward, grabbing the weapons the coffin contained.
All the monks were slain, and the monastery was pillaged.
That story made the visit rather emotional for me. I saw the wooden cross, the mosaic floors and thought of the brutality and terror of that day. It was so long ago but, standing here, it seems not that long ago at all.
The monastery was repopulated nearly a century later but met its end during the late 18th century thanks to Ferdinand IV of Naples, who occupied the island and turned it into a penal colony. Later, King Ferdinand II of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies repopulated the island with fishing communities from Ischia.
Viewing the islands from the sea gives you a whole new perspective. Most of the boat trips visit San Domino and San Nicola and call in at the sea caves, coves and beaches dotted along the coast. To organize a trip, contact one of the many boat companies down by the dock, or ask your hotel to organize a trip for you.
Departing from any of the three Gargano town?
Spend three or four days there beforehand; the Gargano is fabulous, and there is so much to see and do. To start with, all three of the towns mentioned are quaint and picturesque towns; they remind me of the Greek towns you find on islands like Santorini and Mykonos.
Cycle or hike the great beech and oak forest of the Gargano too, the forest is one of the few traces left in southern Italy of the great forest that once covered much of the bottom of the Italian boot. Taking a tour, like this one, is a good way to experience the forest and learn more about its fascinating story.
Leaving from Termoli or Vasto?
Both of these are lovely towns with lots to see that are well worth spending a few days in beforehand. They've both got lovely old towns to explore, great beaches, and fabulous food. You must try a brodetto alla vastese at one of the Trabocchi restaurants in Vasto; it is one of the best seafood dishes I've ever eaten and take a walk down Italy's narrowest street in Termoli.
You can find the best prices and widest selection on the Direct Ferries' Italy page.
The winter months on the Tremiti Islands have their appeal: the weather is fairly mild, apart from the occasional cold spell, and, with hardly any tourists and only a few hundred year-round residents, the wild beauty of the island is all yours to savor.