Petriolo Thermal Baths (Terme di Petriolo)
Less widely known than the nearby Saturnia Hot Springs, the completely free-to-access Petriolo Thermal Baths are public; set between two nature reserves; and sit next to a small river, making them ideal for hot and cold plunges. Find the baths off the main road between Siena and Grosseto: watch for signage, look out for a stone bridge, and park near the ruins of an ancient wall. Monticiano is the nearest town, but travelers can easily soak sore muscles here after hiking or cycling wine-tasting trips from Siena. Better yet, visit Petriolo in the morning and then head to Saturnia for a sunset picnic.
Aosta Valley, Piedmont
With deep pools, cascading waterfalls, and emerald waters, the Torrente Fer (torrente means “torrent” or “cascade” in Italian) is popular among canyoners but also has swimming holes rivaling northern Italy’s best. The cascade is next to the Dora Bàltea River in the Aosta Valley, a small region in northwest Italy known for wine-tasting and mountain sports including skiing and rafting. While some pools get crowded during summer, it’s just a short hike to the more secluded upper pools.
Emerald Pools (Pozze Smeraldine)
Friulian Dolomites Nature Park, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
These natural swimming pools formed by the Meduna River are inside the Friulian Dolomites Nature Park (Parco Naturale Dolomiti Friulane), roughly 2.5 hours north of Venice by car. Surrounded by forests and boulders tailor-made for sunbathing, they’re considered one of Italy’s wildest swimming spots. The nearest village is Tramonti di Sopra, but the pools are in the heart of an unusually remote region, surrounded by the mighty Dolomite Mountains and multiple national parks, the nearest being Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park (Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi).
Zingaro Nature Reserve (Riserva Naturale Orientato dello Zingaro)
Seven swimmable coves lie along the shoreline of the Zingaro Nature Reserve, a protected area laced with marvelous paths to the sea. Sicily’s first nature reserve, it’s located one hour west of Palermo by car—the southern entrance can be found just past the Tonnara di Scoppelo, a medieval tuna fishery-turned-museum and public beach. Reach the coves from the water on a boat tour of the reserve and neighboring San Vito lo Capo; spend a day biking and snorkeling the area; or admire it from the medieval town of Erice, atop the mountain of the same name.
Beach of the Two Sisters (Spiaggia delle Due Sorelle)
This beach within the Monte Conero Regional Park (Parco Regionale Naturale del Conero) keeps the tourist crush at arm’s length, as it’s accessible only by sea. One of Italy’s most remote beaches, it was also recently christened the most beautiful, winning out for water quality, cleanliness, and surrounding beauty. Reach the “two sisters” on kayaks rented from San Michele Beach (Spiaggia di San Michele) or by the ferry service from Numana. Otherwise, paddle out at sunset with a tour group, sail the neighboring coastline on old-fashioned sailboats, or hike to Mount Conero for a scenic breakfast overlooking the beach.
Pool of Venus (Piscina di Venere)
At the tip of Sicily’s Cape Milazzo, a secluded path leads past olive groves, ruined watchtowers, and lighthouses to the Pool of Venus, a seawater pool protected on three sides by a rocky inlet. Though relatively small, the pool is isolated and especially beautiful during sunset—after nightfall bathers sometimes watch eruptions from the Island of Stromboli’s volcano, visible across the water. Locals take travelers on full-day and nighttime fishing trips in the surrounding waters, while visitors can stop for a dip before cruising out to the Aeolian Islands from the town of Milazzo.
In northeast Sardinia, on Mount Nieddu above San Teodoro, the Rio Petrisconi feeds a series of large granite pools that seem purpose-built for canyoning. The largest of these, called the “infinity” pool, takes swimmers to a cliff edge overlooking a 70-foot (22-meter) waterfall. There isn’t a wilder swimming spot in all of Sardinia, a region already known for outdoor adventures and out-of-this-world beaches. Nearby, explore the hinterland surrounding Orosei and Onifai on all-terrain vehicles or head north to Olbia for carefree beach days and island kayaking and snorkeling trips.
Gaiola Island (Isola di Gaiola)
Though not “wild” even by Italian standards, Gaiola Island makes our list for offering travelers the chance to swim among submerged Roman ruins. Just ahead of Naples' Virgiliano Park (Parco Virgiliano) in the Posillipo neighborhood, the Discesa Gaiola descends toward Gaiola Beach—from there it’s a short swim through the Gaiola Underwater Park (Area Marina Protetta Parco Sommerso di Gaiola) to the island. While locals swim and snorkel here nearly year-round, travelers can choose to kayak along the coast; explore the nearby Pausilypon Archeological Park; or head farther afield on the Gulf of Naples, as far as the Castel dell’Ovo.
Find more things to do in Italy