15 secret islands in Europe

"Делай что можешь с тем что имеешь там где ты есть." Теодор Рузвельт ZMEY
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Ditch the car and pack your hiking boots to explore Europe’s wind-whipped skerries, remote archipelagos and snail-pace-slow isles. These are our favourite secret islands in Europe.

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Lastovo, Croatia

    Best European Island for: Croatia’s remotest island

    Somewhere between the northern tip of Puglia and the southern end of the Dalmatian Coast sits the Lastovo archipelago, where 47 rugged islands and islets are scattered like gemstones in the crystalline Adriatic. The largest of the islands is Lastovo itself, which has a protected nature park. More than four hours by ferry from Split and boasting just one hotel, Lastovo is a far cry from Croatia’s non-stop party islands. Getting back to nature is what it’s all about here; 70 per cent of the island’s surface is covered in forest. Inhale the warm scent of Aleppo pines and spot the red fruit of the strawberry tree as you explore the tangle of walking trails that criss-cross from inland villages out to the coast. Swim at Mihajla beach and then begin the ascent towards Lastovo Village, where the warren of flower-filled alleys takes you past old stone houses and up further still to your reward – a glass of the island’s own Maraština wine at a bar at the top of the hill. There are a few good restaurants here too; dine on the local speciality, fresh lobster spaghetti.

    Getting to Lastovo: Car ferries run twice daily from Split to Lastovo and take just over four hours, or foot passengers can take the faster daily catamaran that takes three.


    Where to stay: To stay, skip Hotel Solitudo and go for the Struga Lighthouse, 30 minutes by taxi from Ubli port with spectacular views of the sea lighthouses-croatia.com

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Pico, Azores

    Best European Island for: Whale-watching and swimming with dolphins in the wild

    Way out in the North Atlantic, the Portuguese Azores feel even further from the Algarve than they actually are. Leave your espadrilles at home; on the volcanic island of Pico, you’ll need your walking boots instead for hikes across basalt-walled vineyards and up the dominating Mount Pico. The island is the second largest in the Azorean cluster, and one of the world’s top destinations for whale-watching, being the closest land mass to their migration routes. Visit from March to October for whale-watching, and from July to October for the optimum opportunity to swim in the wild with dolphins. The Princess Alice Bank, a submerged seamount 45 nautical miles from Pico, is a big draw for experienced divers who come to see diverse sea life and huge shoals of mobula and manta rays. Back on dry land, whales form the inspiration for a new cypress-wood extension at Cella Bar, the island’s designer hotspot for drinks and dinner.


    Getting to Pico: The Azores’ own SATA airline hops around the islands and also operates a four-hour flight from London Gatwick to São Miguel. Alternatively, fly to Lisbon, where you can pick up a direct flight to Pico.


    Where to stay: Rent one of the twelve adegas or cottages – made from dark volcanic stone from Adegas do Pico – situated in the small village of Prainha. adegasdopico.com

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Gozo, Malta

    Best European Island for: Sparkling coves

    Odysseus nearly didn’t make it home to his wife, Penelope. Instead, the sparkling island of Ogygia winked at him and he was lured ashore, spending seven years under the spell of its seductive sea nymph, Calypso. That Homer’s Ogygia is widely considered to be Gozo should come as no surprise. This rugged island surrounded by cerulean waters forms the perfect backdrop for myths and legends – and for films. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie spent several months here filming By The Sea, and the island’s now crumbled Azure Window featured in the first episode of Game of Thrones. Despite such claims to fame, Malta’s smaller sister island remains unspoilt and untamed. North Africa, Arabia and Sicily meet in this sizzling and spiky stone in the sea. Spend your days swimming in sparkling coves, sipping a Kinnie – the locals’ favourite orange-flavoured fizzy drink – in the sun and feasting on plates of sea urchin spaghetti. Then join the queue for ftira (Maltese pizza) at the Mekren bakery in Nadur.

    Getting to Gozo: Fly to Malta International Airport, and from there it’s one hour by road to Cirkewwa Harbour, where ferries to Gozo depart. The sea crossing takes 30 minutes.


    Where to stay: Make a base at boutique hotel ThirtySeven, where a Milanese couple have turned three farmhouses into a cool hideaway. thirtysevengozo.com

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Prangli, Estonia

    Best European Island for: Scandi meets Soviet on the island where time stood still

    Estonia has over 2,000 islands scattered off its ranging coastline, most of them dotting the brisk Baltic Sea. Closer to Tallinn, up in the Gulf of Finland, there’s Prangli, where the waters are no less icy, although thankfully the Nordic touch means there are wooden saunas and cosy cabins to warm up in post-dip. Scandi and Soviet influences collide on this tiny outpost, where nothing seems to have changed in its 600-year history. Soviet-era trucks trundle along the roads carrying goods to the one shop at Kelnase harbour, where you can also rent bikes to explore unspoilt villages and long sandy beaches backed by pine trees and juniper bushes. The whole island is doable in a day, but stay longer to experience a truly remote and wild island forgotten by Tallinn’s tourist throng.

    Getting to Prangli: Ferries take one hour from Leppneeme, on the mainland.


    Where to stay: prangli.com

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Île d’Aix, France

    Best European Island for: Oysters on the beach

    Off the coast of La Rochelle, it’s the Île de Ré that hogs the limelight. Parisians flock to the slow seaside isle for the weekend, bringing a chic vibe to its scattering of pretty villages linked by a network of cycle paths that wind past salt marshes and oyster beds. Sharing the same topography is the tiny Île d’Aix, to the south. In contrast to the nearby islands of Ré and Oléron, there’s no bridge connecting Aix to the mainland, so you’ll arrive at the fortified port by ferry. Aix has a rich military history and served as a prison during the French Revolution. It was later a naval stronghold under Napoleon, who spent his last days on French soil here after his defeat at Waterloo. Stay in the aptly named Hotel Napoleon, the island’s only hotel, with pale blue shutters and contemporary interiors. Hire a bicycle and weave through the car-free island where tall hollyhocks sway in the sea breeze. And don’t forget to slurp the Charente-Maritime’s famed oysters at Speisser Franck, a no-frills shack overlooking the beds, and swim at the Plage de l’Anse de la Croix. Stay in the aptly named Hotel Napoleon, the island’s only hotel, with pale blue shutters and contemporary interiors.

    Getting to Île d’Aix: Daily ferries leave from Pointe de la Fumée, Fouras. Summertime ferries run from La Rochelle.


    Where to stay: hotel-ile-aix.com

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Filicudi, Aeolian Islands, Sicily

    Best European island for: an under-the-radar Italian escape

    In the 1970s the isle of Filicudi, with its fiercely hot climate, sharp rocky coast and volcanic soils, was the place where Italy’s mafiosi were sent to rot. Exile to the remote Sicilian Aeolian island was seen as fitting punishment for drug lords, gangsters and criminals. The locals felt differently and were so enraged by their new neighbours that they in turn deserted the island in protest until the government relented and transferred the baddies elsewhere. Today the island is the Aeolians’ best-kept secret, a wild paradise with clear waters and few visitors. You’ll arrive at Filicudi Port, a simple place where you can rent boats and dine on the island’s spaghetti alla filicudara – with capers, olives, anchovies and rosemary – and pick up sugar-coated sfinci doughnuts at the bakery. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and there are no swimming pools on the island; stay at Casa Belquis, just three minutes by scooter from the island’s best beach, Pecorini a Mare.

    Getting to Filicudi: Fly to Palermo, from there the daily ferry to Filicudi takes 2.5 hours.


    Where to stay: sopranovillas.com

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Gugh, Scilly Isles, Cornwall

    Best for: far-flung island charm

    It’s as if the finger of Cornwall flicked off the Scilly Isles into the Celtic Sea. One of the farthest-flung of these granite islets, St Agnes is connected to its tiny ally of Gugh by a sandy tombolo. At low tide you can cross the sandbar and explore the island’s heathland of buttercups and yellow gorse studded with lichen-coated rocks. Find the Bronze Age menhir stone known as the Old Man of Gugh at the bottom of Kittern Hill and look out for seals on the shore. You’ll have to sleep on St Agnes, where there’s just one excellent pub, The Turk’s Head, as well as a post office, café and Troytown Farm – their notoriously good ice cream is made by the island’s nine cows.

    Getting to Gugh: New this summer, Island Helicopters operate a service from Land’s End Airport to St Mary’s. Alternatively, small planes fly from Land’s End (15 mins), Exeter (one hour) and Newquay (30 minutes), or you can take the ferry from Penzance (2 hours 45 minutes); from St Mary’s there’s a small boat that takes you to St Agnes.


    Where to stay: Covean Cottage sleeps six and is just a stone’s throw from the pub. coveancottage.com

    Penzance – Cornwall’s coolest seaside town

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Port Cros, Iles D’Or, France

    Best European island for: the Côte d’Azur minus the crowds

    Those in the know have long flocked to the French Riviera’s quietly glamorous island of Porquerolles. But few people have heard of its little sister, the neighbouring Port-Cros. It’s a nature reserve in its entirety – there’s no pollution to mar the hot scent of umbrella pines and sweet myrtle, and the hidden coves teem with sea life. Cars and even bikes are banned, so pack your walking boots along with your bikini and explore the mountainous island on foot. The white sand and crystal waters at Plage du Sud make for a sunbathing mecca while Plage La Palud is renowned for snorkelling.

    Getting to Port Cros: Regular ferries run from Hyères (45 minutes) and Le Lavandou (35 minutes). Private water taxis can be booked with Le Pélican.


    Where to stay: Stay at the crumbling, blue-shuttered Le Manoir hotel, which has retained a magical, old-world charm since it opened in the late 1940s. hotel-lemanoirportcros.com

    Porquerolles: the loveliest island on the French Riviera

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Terschelling, West Frisian Islands, Netherlands

    Best European island for: cycling

    The string of Wadden sea islands curves in a crescent from the northern Netherlands up to Germany, making for an easy add-on to a weekend in Amsterdam, with vast sandy beaches backed by grassy dunes rather like those you might find in west Norfolk. Terschelling is the best of these islands for cycling, with 45 miles of paths that zigzag across the slither of marsh flanked by the sea. The ferry drops you in the main town of West Terschelling, where you can rent bicycles – (if in doubt, opt for an electric one, as the coastal paths can be very windy), and pedal onto the more sophisticated village of Midsland, with its boutique shops and cafés such as hotspot Pura Vida (order the banana bread with compote made with the island’s native cranberries).

    Getting to Terschelling: Fast passenger ferries from Harlingen to Terschelling take 45 minutes. Harlingen is 1 hour 20 minutes by car from Amsterdam or 2.5 hours by train from Amsterdam Zuid.


    Where to stay: Accommodation is limited – book a thatched cottage nestled into the sand dunes. belvilla.com

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Vrångö, Gothenburg, Sweden

    Best European island for: wild swimming

    The water at Vrångö is very cold. Lucky then that you can warm up post-plunge in a floating sauna. The southernmost island in the Gothenberg archipelago known for its wild swimming is snail-pace slow and utterly laid-back – while away the hours exploring the island’s sandy beaches, rocky inlets and scrags on foot or, better still, by kayak. Fishing remains the main industry in the area – make your way past the fishermen’s shacks and lobster pots on the harbour to Fiskeboa, where you can buy the day’s fresh catch to take away or sit in the sunny restaurant and enjoy mackerel, shrimp and lobster.

    Getting to Vrångö: Fly to Gothenburg. Ferries to the archipelago depart from Saltholmen and take you to Vrångö in 20 to 40 minutes.


    Where to stay: Spend a night or two in the white clapboard apartments at Kajkanten before island hopping onwards. kajkantenvrango.se

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy

    Best European island for: dramatic volcanic landscape

    There are no beaches on Pantelleria, so visitors sunbathe on volcanic slabs. It’s closer to Tunisia than Italy, and the landscape is dramatic – buffeted by seaspray and high winds – and stunning, with steaming fumaroles and thermal springs, vineyards and sheltered coves for swimming and diving. While relatively few Italians have set foot on the wild island, famous visitors (Giorgio Armani, Madonna, Sting) have put it on the map. It also provided the sun-soaked setting for A Bigger Splash – it is punctuated with dammusi, single-storey whitewashed houses made from volcanic rock, and you can even rent the one from the film, with that famous glinting swimming pool.

    Getting to Pantelleria: Flights from Rome and Milan to Pantelleria operate in the summer months. Alternatively, the hydrofoil from Sicily leaves from Trapani (2.5 hours) or Mazara del Vallo (1 hour 45 minutes).


    Where to stay: tenutaborgia.it

    Pantelleria, Italy’s elemental island

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Klovharun, Porvoo Archipelago, Finland

    Best European island for: the Tove Jansson Summer Book experience

    The remote skerry of Klovharun is only open to visitors for one week per year. For fans of Tove Jansson, it’s worth the wait. Just eight people at a time can step ashore and peek inside the wooden writing cabin where Finland’s much-loved author and illustrator dreamt up the Moomins and penned The Summer Book. Even if you can’t make it to Klovharun itself, hop around the region’s numerous salty, mossy, magical islands that seem lifted from the pages of her books. Base yourself in Pellinki and make a beeline for local fisherman Martin Tillman’s day-long boat trips to the smaller islands – with traditional fresh salmon soup for lunch provided. Don’t miss Aggskär island for fishing and Storpellinge, said to be the inspiration for Moominvalley.

    Getting to Klovharun: Fly to Helsinki; it’s a two-hour drive to Pellinki, where boats take you to the smaller islands.

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Hiddensee, Germany

    Best European island for: sea treasures

    The salty Baltic seas are rich with amber. Keep your eyes peeled for gems amongst the jetsam as you explore the shores at Hiddensee, a small island due north of Berlin, where the precious Bernstein (‘burned stone’) is known to wash up after thunderstorms. If you’re lucky enough to find a piece, take it to the island’s amber workshop to be polished and made into jewellery. Add to this a lack of cars – horses and carts clop along instead – deserted beaches, hollyhock-lined cycle paths, ancient lighthouses and windswept, white-chalk beaches, and you’ll get a sense of the timeless magic of the island. A popular spot for artists and writers in the 1920s, the island has a bohemian atmosphere setting it apart from the larger neighbouring island of Rügen.

    Getting to Hiddensee: Fly to Berlin and take the train to Stralsund (3 hours 15 minutes), and from there the ferry to Hiddensee (90 minutes).

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Cape Clear, Ireland

    Best European island for: camping

    Unzip your tent to sweeping views over the Atlantic and spot dolphins leaping from the waves as you make breakfast at Chleire Haven. The perfectly placed campsite is nestled within the sheltered South Harbour of Cape Clear, a tiny island off the coast of Baltimore that’s just three miles long and a mile wide. Set off on foot, following windy lanes across fields of purple heather and bracken down to the shimmering shore, where rare birds, basking sharks, whales and seal colonies play in the surf. See if you can spot Fastnet Rock out at sea – known as Ireland’s Teardrop, it was the final jag of home soil seen by the thousands of emigrants who set sail for the New World. Tell stories with a pint of Guinness at one of the three pubs, and as you make your way back to your yurt plug into murder mystery West Cork, the addictive podcast set in nearby Schull.

    Getting to Cape Clear: Fly to Cork and from there drive to Baltimore or Schull where ferries run to Cape Clear (40 minutes).

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Colonsay, Scotland

    Best European island for: empty beaches

    Arrival by sea sets the tone – surreal slips of mythical scenery rise from the water as you pass the Isle of Mull pushing out to the tiny Hebridean island of Colonsay. The ferry brings in visitors bound for the island’s one, eponymous hotel, as well as the post and everyday items for the 135 inhabitants. The small population produces a rich bounty of widely praised wildflower honey, oysters, lobster and botanical gin. Pick up your supplies at the General Store – the best wee shop in the Hebrides – where you’ll happily overlook the fact that the newspapers are a few days out of date. It’s far removed from the rest of the world: run about on the empty white sands of Kiloran Bay, where crystal waters are backed by crags and dunes, and hike through sheltered woodlands to Colonsay House and its famed rhododendron gardens. Thanks to a unique microclimate, the island is also among the sunniest places in Scotland.

    Getting to Colonsay: Glasgow is the closest international airport. From there it’s three hours by train to Oban, where the CalMac ferry service departs for Colonsay, taking 2 hours 20 minutes.


    Where to stay: colonsay.org.uk

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  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Klovharun, Finland

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Filicudi, Aeolian Islands, Sicily

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Vrango, Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Vrango, Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Port Cros, Iles D’Or, France

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Terschelling, West Frisian Islands, Netherlands

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Hiddensee, Germany

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Filicudi, Aeolian Islands, Sicily

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Terschelling, West Frisian Islands, Netherlands

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Filicudi, Aeolian Islands, Sicily

  • Filicudi, Aeolian Islands, Sicily

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Kajkanten Hotel, Vrango, Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Kajkanten Hotel, Vrango, Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Vrango, Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Kajkanten Hotel, Vrango, Gothenburg, Sweden

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Colonsay, Scotland

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Gugh, Scilly Isles, Cornwall

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Klovharun, Aland Archipelago, Finland

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Le Manoir Hotel, Port Cros, Iles D’Or, France

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Le Manoir Hotel, Port Cros, Iles D’Or, France

  • 15 secret islands in Europe

    Le Manoir Hotel, Port Cros, Iles D’Or, France