Italian courses in Italy – learn in the sun on one of Italy’s island escapes

One of the main reasons for choosing one of these three islands as a study destination would, of course, be their undeniably beautiful golden sands and glistening turquoise waters. All have plenty more to offer than just this, though.

Although the islands are all part of Italy, they each have a very unique identity that gives them a character all of their own. So, if you’re looking for an Italian experience with a ‘twist’ look no further…



Sicily is the largest of Italy’s islands, whose most notable features include some breathtaking natural scenery and an incredibly rich sense of history and tradition. The food isn’t bad either!

An obvious and unfortunate association with the island is, of course, the Mafia, but these days the situation is far improved. In any case, you would be extremely unlikely as a tourist to experience any mafia- related activity first-hand.

Sicily became an autonomous region in 1948, and unlike other such regions in Italy, has its own parliament and legislative powers.

Culture and identity

The people of Sicily are very proud of their island, identity, and culture and are more likely to refer to themselves as Sicilian than Italian.  In the past, Sicily was considered a crucial strategic location due primarily to its importance for Mediterranean trade routes. As a result, Sicily has been invaded and ruled by a variety of civilizations over the centuries, including the Greeks, Romans, Normans and Arabs, and Sicilian culture is a unique mix of all of these influences.

Catholicism remains paramount in every day Sicilian life, and the importance placed on religion is no more evident than during Easter, with the processions and parades that take place around the island.

Much of Sicily is still fairly rural and as a result many people live in small villages that remain off the main tourist trail.

Geography and landscape

Sicily has been known since ancient times for its roughly triangular shape, which earned it the name Trinacria. It is separated to the east from the Italian region of Calabria through the Strait of Messina. The island is known for having a densely mountainous landscape, and is also famous for its volcanoes – Etna being the largest.

One of the island’s most picturesque coastal environments is Contrada Zingaro, where sheer cliffs alternate with beautiful tiny coves, but Sicily has many beautiful beaches. The crystal-clear waters of the Egadi islands, just off the coast of Trapani, are possibly the finest areas for swimming and snorkeling.


Sicily’s complex history is evident just as much in its food as its culture. The staple ingredients of many Sicilian dishes have their origins in Greek, Roman and Arab culture, and include olives, grapes, beans, lentils, aniseed, apricots, cinnamon, pistachio, rice and spinach.

Although the Sicilians are famous for their seafood cooking, they are also well-known for their sweet tooth. In fact, some of their most famous gastronomic exports include ice cream, granite, marzipan and candied fruits.

Anyone who visits Sicily is guaranteed good, locally -sourced food. Very rarely will you eat anything that has not been grown, reared or caught within a few miles of where you are sitting. As a result, the food has a richness of flavour that you just don’t find with shop-bought produce.

Highlights for tourists

Visitors to Sicily will never be short of things to do, whether it’s a stroll around the old town of Palermo, a trip to Mount Etna, or a boat ride out to the Egadi islands, but if you’re a history buff these World Heritage sites are a must:

• Archeological park Valle dei Templi of Agrigento

• Villa Romana del Casale of Piazza Armerina

• The Aeolian Islands

• Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto (South-Eastern Sicily)

• Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica

Cactus offers Italian courses in Palermo and Taormina



The sea around Sardinia is often likened to the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, which obviously makes Italy’s second largest island a huge favourite with holidaymakers. In stark contrast, much of the inland region remains rough and rugged, and fairly untapped by tourists.

Like Sicily, Sardinia has been influenced by a range of cultures stemming from different periods of rule.  Whilst Sicilian culture can generally be applied to the island as a whole though, there seems to be more cultural variation amongst regions within Sardinia. For example, around Alghero (in the north of the island) there remains a strong Catalan influence, which is evident quite overtly even from the signage around the town.

Sardinia benefits in general from a laid-back atmosphere and friendly people and, as with most Italian regions, there is some fantastic food and drink on offer too.

Culture and identity

The island of Sardinia was also invaded and colonised by several cultures over the centuries, including the Greeks, the Romans, the Spanish and the Austrians. These influences have certainly affected the identity of the island today, but it was often said of the Sardinian people that they were never really conquered – they just simply retreated to the hills to live.

A large part of Sardinia’s history relates to sheep-rearing, and up until fairly recently a large number of the island’s shepherds still spent long periods of time in-land in traditional dwellings and in relative isolation.

Geography and landscape

Located directly underneath Corsica to the west of Italy, Sardinia has some beautiful gorges and highlands, and hundreds of miles of rocky, unspoilt coastline. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, but if you’re more of an adventurer than a sunbather, there’s plenty of wild terrain to explore inland.


As is to be expected from a place that is home to so many sheep, lamb is a very popular ingredient in Sardinian cooking, and Pecorino cheese (made from sheep’s milk) is one of the islands biggest exports!

Lobster, scampi, botargo, squid, tuna, sardines and other seafood also figure prominently in Sardinian cuisine, as do pork and wild boar.

Highlights for tourists

Whether you prefer active holidays or lazy breaks on the beach, Sardinia will suit your requirements.

Sun-seekers can head to the stunning and exclusive Costa Smeralda, with its beautiful beaches and coves.  History buffs can walk the old towns of Alghero and Cagliari, or visit Guiseppe Garibaldi’s house on the pretty island of Caprera, just off the north coast of Sardinia. 

Anyone in search of the great outdoors can visit one of Sardinia’s three national parks for some great walking and wildlife-watching:

• Asinara National Park

• Archipelago of La Maddalena’s National Park

• Gennargentu National Park

Cactus offers Italian courses in Alghero and Cagliari



Located 10 km from the continent, Elba is the biggest island of the Tuscan Archipelago and actually the third-biggest of Italy’s islands. The island has a population of 35,000 divided into eight different towns, 12,000 alone residing at Portoferraio.

Elba Island is probably most well-known for its association with Napoleon Bonaparte – it was here that he was exiled to in 1814. The general consensus remains that there are certainly worse places to be banished to, though!

Beach-lovers have a choice of 70 on the coastlines of the island, some very peaceful, others more crowded. The island is also an ideal location for sports enthusiasts and those seeking an active holiday – the mountainous terrain inland offers excellent hiking and mountain-biking opportunities, and the many beaches are great for watersports.

Culture and identity

Once again, Elba is an island that has seen centuries of invasions and a string of different rules, and as such has a culture comprised of many different influences.

Geography and landscape

Despite the fact the Elba has a perimeter of only 147 km, Elba offers a multitude of diverse landscapes and scenery: romantic fishing villages, small hill-top towns, ancient castles, green valleys and shimmering bays with sandy beaches.

The island of Elba offers a very rich and varied ecosystem, which is home to a number of rare species of animals and plants.  In fact, Elba has Europe’s largest Marine Park, which was created to protect the existing ecosystems and to safeguard the migratory fluxes of various species of birds between Europe and Africa.


As with Sicily and Sardinia, Elba’s food reflects the large amount of influences that the island has seen over the years.

It is a mixture of different tastes and is characterised by many fish and vegetable dishes. Squid, cuttlefish, stockfish and rock fish are very used and are prepared in various ways.

Elba has also become known as a producer of some very fine wine. Despite a huge reduction in the number of vineyards over these last 50 years, Elban grapes manage to produce an array of wines that are classified as D.O.C. (Italian quality guarantee).

Among the most renowned are Elba Bianco (white), Elba Rosso (red), Rosato (rosè), Moscato and Aleatico, both of which are sweet dessert wines.

Highlights for tourists

Whether you’re heading to Elba for a relaxing break or an activity-filled stay there will be plenty to keep you occupied.

Anyone who likes being out in the fresh air and keeping fit can opt for mountain biking, trekking, skindiving, fishing windsurfing, sailing, hang-gliding, free-climbing, bush walking and golf, either alone or as part of a guided excursion.

People who prefer less physically-demanding activities can visit a plethora of sites and museums around the island, including:

• The Elba Aquarium

• The Napoleon Museum in Portoferraio

• The Museo Archeologico Della Linguella

Cactus offers courses in Marciana Marina

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