Capri. Elba. Ischia. Sardinia. Sicily. You fell in love with Italy’s islands a long time ago. You now return every summer to explore a different one. You also eat freshly made pasta and freshly caught fish. You drink wine whose vines you can see in the distance. Plus you soak up the warm sunshine during the long daylight hours. It’s always in the Mediterranean Sea, though.
This year, you’re going to the Adriatic Sea. Most people envision Croatia, maybe Montenegro, when they think of the islands in between the Italian and Balkan Peninsulas. But Italy has a few islands there, too. The Tremiti Islands lie 13 miles north of the Gargano Peninsula (picture the spur on the boot-shaped country). They were named for the area’s frequent earthquakes (tremors). They were historically used to confine people (Augustus’ exiled granddaughter, Libyans who resisted colonial rule, and political prisoners and homosexuals during Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime). They’re now part of Gargano National Park, a marine reserve, and one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
The Isole Tremiti Natural Marine Reserve was created to protect the archipelago’s three islands, two rocks, and the rich marine life that surrounds them. San Domino, the most developed island, is full of pine forests, hidden coves, and the islands’ only sandy beaches. San Nicola, where most of the permanent residents live, is also the home of the Abbey of Santa Maria a Mare. The monastery was founded in the 9th century by Benedictine monks. Capraia may be the second-largest island, but it’s rocky and uninhabited. Cretaccio and Pianosa are the two actual rocks. While sunken ships, long encrusted with coral, litter the extremely clear waters around them.
Your first stop isn’t a dive shop to set up a scuba or snorkeling tour, though. You’re more anxious to see a panoramic view of the islands. A ferry from Termoli delivers you to the port on San Domino. It’s a 10-minute uphill walk—there are few cars on this small island—to the main village from there. You’ll return for a seafood feast later. But right now, you continue following the footpath, lined with fragrant juniper and rosemary, through the pine forest. Blue water sparkles through breaks in the trees.
Eventually, you climb above the tree line. The other islands, bright white rocks, and bobbing boats spread out below you. The Tremiti Islands are simply breathtaking. And, since no one else is in sight, it feels like you have them all to yourself. That’s because everyone else is hanging out in the Mediterranean. The Adriatic is all yours.