You usually fly out to the Florida keys in the winter? Or is Hawai"i your usual Christmas destination? Well, then Italy has plenty to offer!

First thing to learn is that the North-East Coast of Italy is different than the rest. It boasts flat, wide ribbons of sand on calm seas, just like you know from Miami Beach. With the flat and the wide comes a very unnerving Italian custom: the rows and rows and rows of beach umbrellas, rented for good money from a bagnino, a life-guard cum barista. Rimini is the hot-spot of the ribbon, with a nightlife that is worth a trip from Milan, four hours away, judging by the accident frequency on summer weekends.

The rest of Italy is more rugged, with beaches that are interrupted by cliffs,or even just rocks that jut into the sea for a wonderful contrast. You will find stretches of sand in the West and South and on the islands, but they will be overrun just like the Rimini coast.

Best choices here? Well, the Riviera, which is the North-Western coast, is simply marvelous. The famous Mediterranean turqouise runs into the grey and green of the Alps that meet the Appennines right here. Not as crowded or famous as the Cote d'Azur just around the corner, but just as worthy. There is the famous coast of Positano, down close to Naples. Here you' find plenty tourists and hefty prices.

If you ask me, avoid all those places and set your mind on something unknown. Visit Sicily, for instance, whose beaches are matched only by the beauty of the land. Or try Tuscany' sand - maybe not as famous abroad as the hills, the waters off the coast are clear and warm, and you won't find better service.

Few people can be interested in the many islands of Italy. Indeed, it is a hassle to get there, take the ferry or the airplane to Sardinia, or the aliscafo, the air cushion boat to Elba. But you would be rewarded with the clearest water, the least crowds, and for sure the best underwater adventures. You won't see the marvels reserved for the snorkler in Maui anywhere here, but if you are into diving, take those islands as a good tip.

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