The Most Beautiful Island Escapes Near Rome (Updated for 2019)

The island of Procida, one of the best islands near Rome

By the time June rolls around, I’m dreaming of escaping to an Italian island near Rome. Luckily, the capital’s proximity to the sea means you don’t need to set aside a whole week to enjoy some idyllic island time. Even a weekend will do.

When I’m craving beautiful scenery, super-fresh fish, laid-back hamlets and those sparkling Mediterranean shores, but only have 48 hours to spend (or less!), these are the islands I go to.

Ponza, one of the best islands near Rome
I’d wile away my whole day on this dock in Ponza, too, if I could…

It’s a big claim when it comes to the Mediterranean, which is (let’s be honest) embarrassingly #blessedwith stunning little spots, but I’m going to put it out there: these are some of the best islands not only near Rome, but some of the best Italian islands around, period.

The best island near Rome for… going where the locals go: Ponza

Ponza, one of the best islands near Romea
It’s hard to dream of a prettier place than the harbor of Ponza at twilight…

I can’t believe I’ve gotten into year five of this blog without having published a word about Ponza. For shame! When it comes to Mediterranean islands, and especially islands near Rome, it’s easily one of Italy’s best-kept secrets… from international tourists, that is.

Romans, on the other hand, know Ponza well. In fact, the well-heeled have been visiting the island for more than 2,000 years, drawn by its lush, volcanic greenery, striking cliffs and, of course, bright-blue sea. (Fun fact: Ponza gets its name from a local legend which holds that Pontius Pilate’s own family had a villa here).

Today, Ponza (also shown at top) is scattered with a handful of small, pastel villages. The main port town crowds with Italians fresh off the ferries in July and August. (It’s much quieter even in June, and when I went once in October, there was hardly anyone there at all — even though the temperature remained balmy enough for a swim).

Circe's cave at the island of Ponza, Ponza, one of the best islands near Rome
Circe’s cave at the island of Ponza (Also: Look. At. That. Water)

Although its villages are lovely, Ponza’s main attraction is, of course, the natural scenery. Don’t miss  the Chaia di Luna (above), a crescent of cliffs plunging into the sea where Circe, the sorceress, was said to have seduced Odysseus. In-the-know-Italians also flock to Spiaggia di Frontone, which you take a ferry to from Porto, and stay until the evening, hanging out at the laid-back bars and beach clubs.

Taking a boat around Ponza, one of the best Italian islands near Rome
You can never go wrong with renting a boat to see Ponza… or any of the other islands on this list

Renting a car or scooter is, as with all three of these islands, suggested — but for Ponza, especially, it’s also worth renting a small outboard boat, which you can do right at the harbor, to toodle around. It’s the best way to get to those out-of-the-way coves and beaches that make the island so special.

Getting there: Take the train from Rome to Formia-Gaeta (one hour, €16.50 or 1.5 hours, €8.20), or to Anzio (one hour and €3.60). From Formia, Laziomar runs ferries to Ponza (80 minutes, €25.50 or 2.5 hours, €16.70); from Anzio, Vetor offers ferries to Ponza (70 minutes, €25 to €48).

The best island near Rome for… sightseeing (including a castle): Ischia

Ischia, one of the most beautiful and best islands near Rome
The view of beautiful Ischia from its equally beautiful castle

Capri isn’t the only island off Naples and the Amalfi coast. Ischia, its neighbor, is actually the largest island in the bay — plus is cheaper, less touristic and every bit as beautiful.

I’ve written about Ischia at length before, both in this post and in this story last year for the Globe and Mail, so I won’t repeat it all here. But let’s put it this way: Ischia has a ridiculously picturesque castle (that just happens to date back to the time of the ancient Greeks), tons of little villages and coves to explore, and some of the best sfogliatelle around. And it makes not only a fantastic quick trip from Rome, but a great day trip from the Amalfi coast or Naples, too.

Yes, you could definitely come to Ischia and just flop down on the beach. But with so much to see, you’d kind of be missing the point.

Castello Aragonese in Ischia, one of the best islands near Rome
A medieval castle gives an Italian island serious bonus points, amiright?

Getting there: Take the train from Rome to Naples (the fastest is 70 minutes, €43; cheapest is 2 hours, €19). From there, grab a bus or taxi to the port (10 minutes; a taxi costs €11) and one of a number of ferries, run by lines including Medmar, Caremar, Alilauro and Snav, on to Ischia. The fastest from the main port takes 45 minutes and costs about €28 each way.

The best island near Rome for… an idyllic day trip: Procida

Procida, one of the best islands near Rome
How insane are these colors?

This picturesque little island is another of Capri’s lesser-known neighbors. It also measures just 1.5 square miles — leaving so little room for tourism buildup, both hotels and tourist crowds are pretty nonexistent.

That, of course, is part of Procida’s charm. Old men gather in the piazzas to gossip and smoke, fishermen repair their nets on the docks and centuries-old traditions endure — like the Good Friday procession of the Misteri, which parades life-sized, handmade floats through the town.

Procida, one of the best islands near Rome
The perfect place to just relax

Aside from the seaside life and spectacular scenery (this is where Il Postino was filmed), the island has a sense of magic to it I haven’t experienced anywhere else, a kind of Neapolitan mysteriousness that’s been transferred (and preserved) offshore. One local legend has it that, when Procida was besieged (hardly for the first time) by pirates on 8 May 1535, locals called on St Michael the archangel for help. He showed up, sword in hand, and the pirates fled, another anniversary that’s celebrated with a procession each year.

For more about Procida, and more shots of this stunning off-the-beaten-path island, check out my slideshow for the BBC. Procida, an island escape from Rome

Procida’s size makes it more walkable than the other islands, so you don’t have to rent a scooter or car. But getting to some of the farther-flung beaches on the island can still be a bit of a hike (it’s a 2-mile walk from the town to the lovely, if crowded on summer weekends, Lido di Procida beach, for example); we found ourselves occasionally taking cabs, which were relatively cheap (but you will have to have some way to call them).

As an aside, the island’s manageable size and proximity to Naples makes it not only a great weekend escape, but a doable day or half-day trip from Naples or the Amalfi coast.

Beautiful Procida, a great island near Rome
One of the parts of Procida where Il Postino was filmed

Getting there: For the most part, the ferries that run to Ischia stop, first, at Procida. So it’s the same procedure as above: Take the train from Rome to Naples (the fastest is 70 minutes, €43; cheapest is 2 hours, €19). From there, grab a bus or taxi to the port (10 minutes; a taxi costs €11) and one of a number of ferries, run by lines including Medmar, Caremar, Alilauro and Snav, on to Procida. The hydrofoil takes just 40 minutes and costs about €15 each way.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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The Best Beaches Near Rome (Updated for 2019)

Rome in summer

Looking for the best beaches near Rome? I don’t blame you: Although you always can cool off at a swimming pool in Rome, there’s nothing like dipping your toes into the Mediterranean on a sweltering summer day.

Here’s a roundup of 5 of my favorite Rome beaches, located as little as 45 minutes away.

One tip: When heading to the beach near Rome, remember that most Italian beaches aren’t public. In other words, most swaths of beach are serviced by private establishments, so you’ll have to rent a cabana to claim your spot on the sand. This generally costs about €10 to €15 per day. The good news? You’ll definitely appreciate the shade — and the ability to order food and drinks from the servers who pass through.

The most picturesque beach, and beach town, near Rome: Sperlonga

Sperlonga, one of the best beaches near Rome
The town of Sperlonga, overlooking one of the best beaches near Rome

Sperlonga is my top choice for a beach near Rome. That’s partly because of its white-washed resort town, lovely stretch of sand, and clean water (it’s been given Blue Flag designation for its environmental initiatives and cleanliness). And the views from the town make it one of the most picturesque seaside spots near Rome.

And, okay. I might also love Sperlonga because of the nearby archaeological museum, on the site of Emperor Tiberius’ ancient grotto, which boasts stunning ancient sculptures by the same guys who did the Laocoön. (Yes, I’m a history nerd). But even if you don’t make it to the museum (although you should!), the beach and town alone make the trip worth it.

By public transport, Sperlonga takes about 1.5 hours to get to from Rome. Find out more about Sperlonga, and getting there, in my previous post on the beach town of Sperlonga.

The beach near Rome with the best nightlife: Fregene

Want to do as the Romans do? Then follow up a day in the sun with aperitivo, drinking, and dancing. Fregene, located 23 miles northwest of Rome, is such a popular nightlife spot, I have friends who have gone there just for the evenings — skipping the whole daytime-sunbathing thing altogether.

Of course, Fregene is also nice during the day. And Maccarese, next door, tends to be a much less crowded option than other beaches near Rome, like Ostia.

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Rome in Summer: Your Ultimate Guide

Rome in summer

Even though it’s already feeling like summer in Rome, the season officially kicks off this week. Which makes it high time for a guide to enjoying Rome… in the summertime!

Turns out, I’ve got a lot to say about Rome in summer. (Big surprise, right?). So I’ll publish this guide as a series, with posts on Rome’s best beaches, swimming pools, events, and more.

Rome in summer

Posts in the guide to Rome in summer include…

The most idyllic island escapes near Rome

The best beaches near Rome

The best gelato in Rome

…and six other top spots for the best gelato in Rome

Restaurants in Rome open in August (the summer holiday, when most places are closed)

The best swimming pools in Rome

How to survive the crowds (and skip the lines)

Rome’s best summer events

How to beat the heat in Rome

Happy summer, everyone!

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Five Reasons to Love Spring in Rome

There’s nothing quite like spring in Rome. And coming from someone in love with this city no matter the season, that should mean something.

In Rome, spring brings that sliver of time (seriously, just a handful of weeks) when it’s no longer cold and rainy… but not yet boiling hot. You have to duck tour groups around the Colosseum and Vatican, but it’s not quite the human bumper-car game it becomes by June. And as people take to terraces and piazzas—whether kids kicking a soccer ball or friends meeting for a glass of wine—the atmosphere gets cheerier (and the people-watching better!).

Rome in spring
In the springtime, you don’t even have to go to a park to find flowers in Rome!

Here are 5 reasons I love the spring in Rome, in pictures.

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The Best Lakes Near Rome

Lago di Bracciano, one of the loveliest lakes near Rome

Lago Bracciano, one of the loveliest lakes near Rome

When it comes to day trips from Rome, the area's lakes provide some of the best places for peace, quiet, and gorgeous scenery. 

Yes, most visitors to Rome head to the seaside when they're craving some water. But especially this time of year, when the beaches are getting downright chilly, the lakes can be a better option. That's particularly true as the trees start to change color. As any autumn-lover knows, the only thing more beautiful than a brightly-colored forest is a brightly-colored forest… that's reflected in a lake's still water.

In the summer, too, the lakes make a great escape from the city—and one that's less crowded, as most Italians tend to head to the seaside instead. (That said? If you're going on a summer weekend, consider taking the train instead of driving. Parking at the lakes' most popular stops is limited, and the traffic going into, and out of, Rome can add an hour or more to your commute).

Year-round, here are my three favorite lakes near Rome!

Lake Bracciano

Lago di bracciano

Lake Bracciano in autumn

The second-largest lake in Lazio, Bracciano's also one of the area's cleanest: It's a water reservoir for Rome, so no motorboats are allowed, while runoff from the lake's towns is strictly controlled. That means that you can both swim in, and eat seafood from, the lake without having to worry about nasty bacteria or chemicals. (Sadly, this isn't the norm for many of Italy's lakes; Lake Lugano, Como, and Garda are all polluted to the degree that swimming isn't recommended).

Partly thanks to the motorboat ban, watersports like windsurfing and sailing are especially popular. And several of the lake's towns are well worth exploring; Bracciano, the (unsurprisingly) most famous, is especially adorable, with medieval, cobblestoned streets and a gorgeous view of the lake.

Oh, and a castle.

Lake Bracciano

Odescalchi Castle, at Lake Bracciano

If the castle sounds, or looks, familiar, by the way, it might just be because this is where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were first linked, legally if not eternally, as TomKat. Although, honestly, I really hope that's not why you recognize it.

Getting there: By car, Bracciano is about a 45-minute drive (without traffice) north of Rome. By train, you can leave from the Roma-Ostiense station (a 5-minute walk from the Piramide stop on metro line B); the train takes about an hour to Bracciano and costs about 3 euros.

Lake Martignano

Lake Martignano, near Bracciano

Lago di Martignano

Nestled next to Lake Bracciano, Martignano looks like a runt on the map. But what comes with the tiny size is complete tranquility. Partly because it's tougher to get to: Even though it's right next to Lake Bracciano, there's no train station here, so you need a car.

If you can make the trip, though, it's worth it. Just make sure you head to Agriturismo il Castoro, where, for a small fee, you can enjoy use of the grass beach and (here's the real seller) the hammocks. On especially nice days, get there before noon so you can stake one out!

The "green beach" at Lake Martignano

The "green beach" at Lake Martignano

Another plus: The agriturismo has a cheap-and-simple restaurant (think grilled meats, vegetables, and beer), and you can eat overlooking the lake. Don't want to leave? You can camp overnight.

Getting there: Your only option is by car; it's about a 45-minute drive from Rome (depending on traffic). Agriturismo il Castoro is located at Via di Polline, 343, Anguillara Sabazia.

Lake Albano 

Lake Albano

Water sports abound on Lake Albano

In the opposite direction of Rome from Bracciano and Martignano, Lake Albano is located in the Castelli Romani. Motorboats aren't allowed here, either, making the lake especially amenable to windsurfing and sailing—and to renting a pedalo, one of those funny little boats that you can pedal around the lake in yourself.

Be warned that there's not much beach to speak of; there's a little slice of grass next to the lake, but getting into the water itself involves a balancing act of avoiding falling into the mud. Renting a pedalo, taking it out to the middle of the lake, and jumping in from there is always a better option.

When you get your fill of the lake, walk the 15 or so minutes uphill to Castel Gandolfo. The Pope's residence in the summer, this medieval village, while tiny, has some perks, like gorgeous views of the lake and a couple of good restaurants. A friend of mine spent every weekend this summer at the lake taking windsurfing lessons introduced me to Arte e Vino, a cute, cozy cantina with the best lunch deal in town: plate after plate of antipasti for (if my memory serves me correctly… both times I've been there, I walked out in a serious food daze) 12 euros. 

Arte e Vino at Castel Gandolfo at Lake Albano

Just one of the many plates of antipasti at Arte e Vino…

Getting there: Without traffic, it's about a 35-minute drive south of Rome. By train from Rome's Termini station, it takes 45 minutes and costs just €2.10.

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From Rome to Puglia: Monopoli

Monopoli, Puglia, Italy
Monopoli—my third and final destination on my quick trip from Rome to Puglia—just might have been my favorite.

Just a half an hour and €2.90 on the train from Bari, or 5 minutes and €1 from Polignano a Mare, where we were staying, Monopoli was a gem. Much bigger than Polignano, with 50,000 inhabitants, it had more of the feel of an "authentic" city. But still managed to be incredibly beautiful and relaxing. Especially if you did it like we did.

You easily can spend a couple of hours wandering through Monopoli's tangled centro storico. There's not a ton that you "have" to see here, although there is a 16th-century castle and an imposing Baroque cathedral. (We skipped the castle and ducked into the cathedral. Baroque is an understatement. Our favorite part, though, was seeing the priest walk a young couple—the girl dressed in a super-tight T-shirt, the guy in shorts—through what appeared to be a wedding ceremony. We thought we were witnessing an elopement until we realized that it was a practice run).

Just wandering the streets, though, is a pleasure. Make sure to take five minutes and stop at one of Monopoli's many cafes and bakeries for a little taste of Pugliese flavor; I was very, very happy with my choice of a fluffy, buttery pastry filled with cheese and meat. Puglia's answer to the Cornish pasty.

Pastry in Monopoli, Puglia
Pastry in Monopoli

One of the real draws of Monopoli, though, is wandering outside of its fortified walls, past groups of families and old men and various and sundry other beach-goers, sunning themselves on rocks or the odd bit of sand.

The favorite place, of course, was the city beach. And the water looked extremely clear and clean—much more so than anything you'd see around Rome. Given the crowd, though, we opted to push on and see what else we found.

Town beach of Monopoli, Puglia
About 10 minutes into our wander, walking south down the coast, my father and I hit on a relatively quiet beach. We were all set to plop down our towels when we saw a restaurant perched above, its open-air terrace with a to-die-for view of the Adriatic. And then I recognized the name: Lido Bianco.

Without meaning to, we'd stumbled right upon the restaurant that food blogger Katie Parla had recommended to me. Now that's what I call serendipity… especially since it was getting close to lunchtime. Although the food would have been worth the effort. And the view.

View from Lido Bianco, Monopoli, Puglia

Food at Lido Bianco restaurant in Monopoli Puglia

Wandering around the historic center, relaxing on the beach, and eating a meal that was beautiful in every sense of the word: you can't get a better day in Puglia than that.

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From Rome to Puglia: Beach Town of Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare and beach, puglia Italy
From Bari, it's just a 20-minute train ride to Polignano a Mare (and a whopping €2.30). And so if Bari, despite its charms, sounds like it's just too much of a city for you, there's no reason not to switch trains and head on to Polignano right then.

With about 20,000 inhabitants, Polignano a Mare feels like a small resort town. Its lovely, whitewashed centro storico perches on cliffs, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic. The town beach (above) is beautiful, the water super-clear, the people friendly.

Of course, you won't be the first person to "discover" Polignano. Crowds of tourists arrive in the summer, particularly August. But it's still rare to hear much English spoken, prices remain relatively low, locals gather on the central piazza at night, and souvenir shops are vastly outnumbered by butcher's and grocer's stores. In other words: While a resort town, Polignano a Mare is a far, far cry from Sorrento, Capri, or Vernazza.

Did I mention it's lovely? 

Street in Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy

Sunset in Polignano a Mare, Puglia

Thankfully, since we were staying in Polignano a Mare for two nights, my father and I made one of our best accommodation choices, ever: the Casa Dorsi. In the heart of the centro storico, a stone's throw from the water, this was an entire building… to ourselves. There were two floors, including a kitchen, two bathrooms, and three bedrooms. For €80 total. Breakfast included.

Oh, and there was a private rooftop terrace.

Rooftop terrace at Casa Dorsi in Polignano a Mare
The one downside was the lack of Wi-Fi inside the thick-walled palazzo (the owner said that it works for some people, doesn't for others). But we couldn't complain too much.

We spent a full day exploring Polignano. Since the historic center is pretty small, and museums and other "must-see" cultural sites seemed nil, that meant a lot of time just relaxing. Including on the beach, a short walk down from the town itself.

Beach of Polignano a Mare
In late June, the beach was definitely lively, but not jam-packed. In August, I'm betting it's beach-blanket-to-beach-blanket.

Local kids, meanwhile, were jumping off the tower built on top of the cliff.

Cliff-jumpers in Polignano a Mare, Puglia
A relaxing resort town, without the ridiculous prices: Polignano a Mare's one I'm adding to my list of places to go back to.

Also: should you visit Naples?, the most beautiful beach near Rome and what to know about Polignano a Mare's neighbor Monopoli.

Heading to Rome? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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Rome’s Most Convenient Beach (And It’s Pretty)

Beach near Rome of Santa Marinella

Romans often say that the beaches near Rome just aren’t that nice. Maybe it’s the New Englander in me, but after visiting Santa Marinella, I beg to differ.

The beach at Santa Marinella, a seaside comune just outside the city, has a couple of things going for it. First off, it’s free. Although that might sound odd if you haven’t sunbathed in Italy before, most other beaches cost you. Stretches of sand are covered in cabanas and chairs, the use of which costs some €10 to €15 for the day — and no, you can’t just park yourself on a towel nearby the chairs and hope nobody will notice. (Che brutta figura!).

Secondly, Santa Marinella’s beach is convenient. Really convenient. You don’t need a car to get there, or to take a train and then a bus, like you do to get to the (admittedly prettier) beach of Sperlonga. Instead, you just hop on the train in Rome from Termini, Ostiense, Trastevere, or San Pietro; 45 minutes and €3.60 land you in Santa Marinella. From there, you can follow the crowds on the 5-minute walk to the beach.

Beach of Santa Marinella, Rome Italy

All that could mean that Santa Marinella, like other city beaches, would be grungy. And it may have been, once. But now, the beach is all soft sand and clear Mediterranean water. And, aside from the odd water bottle left behind after the hordes had departed last Sunday evening, it seemed pretty clean to me.

Just keep in mind that, since the beach is so convenient to Rome, lots of locals go here. So if secluded sunbathing is what you’re after, forget about it, at least on the weekend. And bring your cutest suit — if you live in Rome, it’s all but inevitable that you’ll run into someone you know.

L'Acqua Marina, a seafood restaurant in Santa Marinella, Italy If you’re making a day of it, don’t miss lunch at one of Santa Marinella’s best seafood restaurants: L’Acqua Marina (above). A 10-minute walk from the beach at Piazza Trieste 8, the restaurant is elegant and lovely, the kind of place you could see Ingrid Bergman, who bought a house in town, going for lunch. It’s got plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Sit on the patio for the view over the blue, blue Mediterranean.

While one of the seemingly-pricier eateries in town, costing about 50 euros for lunch for two (including a half-bottle of wine, the shared seafood antipasto, two primi of pasta, and water), it was worth it. And definitely cheaper than a seafood place of the same quality would be back in Rome.

Also, it was just darn good.

Seafood at L'Acqua Marina, a restaurant in Santa Marinella, Italy

Pasta with seafood at L'Acqua Marina restaurant near Rome

Santa Marinella: Weekend crowds, yes… but also seafood, sun, and sand. What more could you want within 45 minutes of Rome?

Want more local secrets on Rome’s best food, sights, and more? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, now available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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Going to the Amalfi Coast? Please, Don’t Buy the Coral

Coral jewelry sold in Sorrento, Amalfi coast, Italy
After visiting the Amalfi coast this week, I was struck by the amount of coral jewelry being sold — and the number of tourists buying it. It didn't seem as if anyone else saw signs like that above, proudly proclaiming "Genuine Coral," as a problem. But it is.

Why shouldn't you buy (genuine, unfarmed) coral, whether from the Amalfi coast or elsewhere? Let's count the ways.

1. It's not even from the Mediterranean. Most visitors seem to think that the coral making up those pretty blue, red, and pink necklaces comes from the Bay of Naples. But at least two-thirds of coral jewelry sold  on the Amalfi comes, instead, from the Pacific. Why? Because the Mediterranean is already largely depleted of its reefs… thanks to overfishing. And while the Pacific currently has more coral, its resources are quickly running out, as well. 

2. Coral is not a rock, or a plant. It's an animal. Coral is alive — at least, before it's fished. It belongs to the same animal group as jellyfish and sea anemones. Each single animal is called a polyp; together, these polyps make up a colony. They excrete calcium carbonate for protection, which makes up their exoskeletons. So what you are wearing around your neck is, literally, the skeleton of these creatures. (Yuck).

3. It's an animal that supports a full 25 percent of other ocean animals. More than 4,000 species of fish alone depend on coral, living in and among its handy nooks and crannies and feeding on the other creatures that live there. Coral reefs make up the world's richest and most diverse type of marine habitat. And they provide the backbone of a whole ecosystem that, without them, can't exist.

Think of coral reefs like a rainforest: If you wouldn't buy the harvested wood of an endangered tree that supported 25 percent of all rainforest animals, don't buy coral.

A thriving coral reef
4. Coral reefs are pretty important to people, too. They naturally protect coastlines from storms, erosion, and tsunamis; they provide millions of people worldwide with the fish that they rely on for meals. An estimated 500 million people worldwide require coral reefs for their livelihoods.

5. To get the coral, many Mediterranean harvesters still use dredging. That's illegal. Dredging, which means dragging nets along the seabed, takes absolutely everything in its path. Once dredged, coral reefs simply don't recover. They're deader than dead. The practice has been banned in the Mediterranean since 1994, but it's still done.

6. All of that important coral is disappearing. Fast. In the Mediterranean, red coral harvests have plummeted by 66 percent from 1985 to 2001. That's not because jewelers have turned to more sustainable practices; it's because hardly any coral is left. Worldwide, one-quarter of reefs are irreparably damaged, while another two-thirds is at serious risk of being lost.

I've scuba-dived in damaged reefs before, and there's no overemphasizing just how big the difference is between a dead reef — white, abandoned, without a single living thing — and a live reef, teeming with colorful fish and plant life. It's heartbreaking to think that 25 percent of reefs that were healthy just several decades ago have now slipped into the former category.

7. Once it's gone, coral ain't coming back, at least anytime soon. It takes a coral reef an entire year to grow from 1 to 3 centimeters horizontally and 1 to 25 centimeters vertically. And, of course, that growth can only happen in an area that's being undisturbed by practices like trawling. That means the coral reefs in existence are pretty old; the Great Barrier Reef, for example, started growing 20,000 years ago.

The reasons to think twice before splurging for coral go on and on.

Yes, it's worth keeping in mind, too, that the coral fishers and jewelers in the Amalfi depend on coral for their livelihoods. And it is a practice they've been following for hundreds of years. But before millions of tourists visited the Amalfi coast every year, the demand simply wasn't there for coral on the same level it is now. So the trawling wasn't at the same level, either. Many reefs still thrived. Not today.

So while my heart goes out to those who say they have to harvest coral to put food on the table, it's those workers, too, who might want to invest in more sustainable practices. Because at this rate, they'll all be out of a job in twenty years.

So please: Don't buy the coral. If you're looking for a souvenir from Sorrento or Positano, go for that limoncello instead.  

Positano, Amalfi coastYou can find a better souvenir of your time in Positano. How about a pretty picture instead?

For more information and to see what else you can do to help, check out:

Reef Relief, a nonprofit devoted to saving the world's coral reefs

Miss Scuba's article on the different types of coral and how coral harvesting is harmful

The Earthwatch Institute's section on coral reefs

The resources and information at the Coral Reef Alliance

 *Photo of coral reef in center of article taken from Wikimedia Commons.

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