Positano is the picture of elegance, with neat white houses, luxuriant gardens and narrow steps and alleyways perched impossibly on dozens of narrow terraces hugging the sides of a small cove. The beach, of black volcanic sand, is guarded by two medieval towers and can be very crowded. For those who love swimming, here's a great idea not too many people know about. From Easter through October, a small boat leaves daily from the main dock near the Covo dei Saraceni hotel, every half hour from 10am to 1pm. For ten breathtaking minutes you ride, free of charge, along the shore, ending up at Spiaggia Laurito. Here you can rent an umbrella and beach chair and swim and sunbathe to your heart's content. Lunch at Da Adolfo is de rigeur, and you won't regret it. Homemade pasta, freshly-caught seafood, mozzarella and homegrown vegetables are served in the open, under a thatched roof. It's fun, unforgettable, and inexpensive. And don't forget to bring cash: no credit cards accepted.
Porto Cesareo is a classic southern Italian fishing village. Its narrow streets are lined with modest whitewashed houses, lush bougainvillea and trumpet flower vines, and its lively harbor offers a good array of seafood restaurants and picturesque views of the Conigli islets. There's also a long sandy beach that's great for children. From Taranto, take route 7 to Grottaglie, then 7t to Manduria and 174 to Porto Cesareo (about 45 miles).
Riviera del Conero. This exquisite stretch of coastline is in the Marches, truly one of Italy's best-kept secrets. You'll find tiny sandy coves alternating with dramatic cliffs, pine forests and charming towns. A lovely one is Portonovo, whose main attraction is the 11th-century church of Santa Maria di Portonovo. Rather isolated amongst olive trees and herb bushes, just steps from the water, it preserves the same beautiful Byzantine influences that inspired Dante when he wrote about it in his Divina Commedia. There is also a Napoleonic fortress that has been converted into a truly unique hotel.
Gaeta to Sperlonga. Small coves alternate with promontories, wide beaches, Roman ruins and medieval fishing villages, the most unique of which is Sperlonga, a whitewashed vision that will remind you more of Greece's Cyclades than Italy's central coast. Nearby is the so-called Grotta di Tiberio, a sea cave where you can see some of the original statues placed here for the Roman emperor. Above the cliffs in nearby Terracina are the ruins of a 1st-century BC temple of Jupiter. Do not expect to find last-minute lodgings in this area during the summer.