Two weeks ago, during a quiet summer night in Milan, a tornado began to take hold. In the early morning, trees around the city were ripped from their roots, collapsing over railings and shopwindows. Hail the size of tennis balls rained down onto the historic Duomo, and 60-mile-per-hour winds tore a balcony off of a building.

While Northern Italians drowned in ice in Southern Italy, wildfires melted the tarmac of Sicily’s Catania airport, with temperatures soaring to above 116 degrees. Meanwhile, a standard room at the White Lotus–famous San Domenico, in Taormina, an hour’s drive away, is going for $3,000 a night. In Mykonos, prices hover in the $1,000 range, while a sea-view room at the Quisisana Hotel, in Capri, costs north of $8,000 per night.

Is this really what Federico Fellini meant when he named his 1960 film La Dolce Vita? Will the tourism frenzy on the part of wealthy travelers ever stop?

People stroll along La Croisette, in Cannes, in the early 1900s.

Funnily enough, it was the weather in the Mediterranean that first attracted foreigners to the region in the 19th century. In 1870, a Manchester-born doctor, James Henry Bennett, published Winter and Spring on the Shores of the Mediterranean, claiming that the Riviera’s mild weather would quickly cure patients of consumption. Before long, historian Paul Gonnet wrote in his book Travels Through France and Italy, Dr. Bennett had succeeded in sending “a colony of pale and listless English women and listless sons of nobility near death”—including the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, the Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, and even Queen Victoria—to the South of France.

The winter and spring visitors gave way, in the early 1900s, to summer visitors including Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque, whose work was inspired by the soft Riviera light. The Amalfi Coast—once a settlement for Roman emperors—was soon invaded by inspiration-seeking writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Truman Capote, while the 60s saw hippies popularizing the dramatic cliffs of Ibiza. Later that decade, the Rolling Stones brought the music crowd to Tangiers.

Brigitte Bardot in Cannes, for the film festival, in 1955.

The seed was sown. In the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, Slim Aarons’s snapshots of the Mediterranean made a brand out of its blue skies, balmy air, and stylish crowd, from Brigitte Bardot to Gianni Agnelli to Sophia Loren.

Just as rapidly, the tables turned. St. Tropez was the first to go, with loud music and champagne showers becoming ubiquitous at beach clubs. (Procuring a single chaise longue at the Moorea beach club now costs more than $150.) Next was Capri, where yachts have swarmed the coastline, a five-minute taxi ride costs north of $30, and cruise ships drop off hordes of tourists each day. Soon, finding a free spot on a beach in Ibiza became virtually impossible.

Now, at the height of a record-breakingly hot summer, one has to wonder whether the very thing that attracted people to the Mediterranean in the first place—the weather—will become the straw that breaks the camel’s back, forcing visitors to go elsewhere.

Is this really what Federico Fellini meant when he named his 1960 film La Dolce Vita?

While Italy reeled from its tornado, the Greek isles of Corfu and Rhodes evacuated hundreds of people due to wildfires. The Acropolis shut down, with temperatures in Athens soaring to 118 degrees. In the Balearics, the sea’s temperature rose to 90 degrees. Jellyfish revel in the heat and swarm beaches.

But while headlines scream Armageddon, hotel prices are at an all-time high. For now, influencers seem determined to ignore the problem, shooting selfies on yachts as if their lives depended on it, and the American- and Asian-tourist hot spots of Lake Como and Cannes are as busy as ever.

Meanwhile, Europeans who can no longer afford the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, in Antibes, or the Splendido, in Portofino, are quietly looking elsewhere.

“The truth is,” a friend of mine says, “a Capri weekend costs thousands of euros, and I can’t afford to go anymore.”

“When I was younger, we went to Portofino on the weekend,” another friend says. “Now it’s expensive and hot. I prefer going to the north of Spain.”

While some are searching for the Mediterranean’s last remaining undiscovered gems—such as Sicily’s Egadi Islands or Ponza, off the coast of Lazio—others are opting to forgo the Med altogether in favor of cooler waters, in places like Spain, Portugal, and even the once lowly Channel Islands. (Ferry companies in the Channel Islands have increased their routes this year to meet demand, while airlines have added new flights to the islands of Guernsey and Jersey.)

Last year, The Times of London reported on an influx of the super-rich to the Channel island of Jersey, where tax incentives, white beaches, and quaint beach houses provide a much-needed respite from the crowded shores of Italy, France, and southern Spain. “I went to Jersey last week,” a friend says, “and it was heaven.”

Positano’s La Scogliera beach, photographed by Aarons in happier days.

“This summer, we have enjoyed sending clients to the Dolomites,” says luxury-travel agent Emily FitzRoy. “My husband adores it as there are no mosquitoes, relatively few tourists, and it’s so much cooler than the wildly overcrowded Amalfi Coast and Puglia, which are like another American state this year.”

Similarly, a summer scene is ramping up in Portugal’s Comporta, where Princess Eugenie, Carla Bruni, and Nicolas Sarkozy are regulars. Homes at a new resort, CostaTerra Golf and Ocean Club, where George Clooney and Sharon Stone own houses, start at just under $5 million. “A few years ago,” Sasha Tanghe, a Belgian regular, says, “it wasn’t interesting to people. Now it’s on the edge of exploding.”

Stylish Spaniards, meanwhile, are trading Marbella for Comillas, the long-frequented aristocratic haven in the north where the royal family has holidayed since the 19th century.

“The only time to go to the southern coast,” a Spanish friend tells me, “is in the spring or in the fall—October and November.”

More and more Europeans are opting to stay put in August, historically the busiest vacation time of the year, and take their holiday in the fall or spring instead. “I only go to the Amalfi Coast in May,” a friend says. This week, the French newspaper Le Monde ran a story about how September is the new July.

A photo taken by Italian firefighters captures the wildfires raging in Messina, Sicily, last month.

As Milan recovered from the tornado, residents remained nervous. The country’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, referred to the disaster as an “epochal challenge,” and the German health minister, Karl Lauterbach, stated that “tourism in Italy has no future.”

Not everyone agrees. “Italy’s mystique will never die,” a Milanese friend tells me. “It might just change.” Perhaps we’ll all meet again in Capri in October, when you don’t need a reservation for dinner and you can walk up and down the windy roads with no shoes on.

“It might be that it’s time for the fantasy to be undone,” says another friend, “so that we can all come back to it again.”

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor at AIR MAIL