Ever wish you could beat the summer crowds and find your own island paradise? A getaway only the locals know about, with not a tourist in sight?
If you can’t afford to trek halfway across the world to a deserted desert island, you’re in luck – believe it or not, Europe is home to loads of offbeat islands, tucked away from the tourist trail. Most of these undiscovered gems have remained hidden, as the rest of us clog up the shores of holiday hot-spots like Mykonos, Ibiza and Sardinia.
1. Faial, The Azores, Portugal
Why go? This string of nine volcanic islands belongs to Portugal, but lies almost deserted in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Historically, this has acted as the stopover or halfway point for sailors journeying across the Atlantic, back when the journey involved galleons and took months.
So remote, they have so far been left unscarred by tourism, the Azores are perfect for budding castaways, characterized by a dramatic landscape of deep craters, glittering lakes, and rugged bays and inlets. It’s most striking feature is the volcano, Mount Pico, that dominates the skyline.
With excellent dolphin and whale-watching off the coast, inland you’ll find sloping hills of olive trees and traditional whitewashed villages. Stay in Faial, one of the largest islands, and explore the colourful main port Horta, where the sea wall is covered with hundreds of paintings and messages left by the sailors.
Stay: The Horta in Faial provides cheap private singles and doubles, along with a beautiful lounge area, stunning balcony views and Wi-Fi and is close to the city centre.
Rooms from €18.00 | Book here
2. El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain
Why go? The smallest of the Canary Islands, El Hierro is a windswept island off the African Coast, far flung from the cheap and cheerful package resorts on Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Once considered the ‘end of the known world’, this island is a remote wilderness, with the coast and lush forests inland protected by UNESCO.
The island is a boon for nature lovers, with acres of rugged wilderness ripe for exploration, whether hiking, cycling or paragliding. With its crystal clear blue water, it’s also one of the best scuba-diving spots in Spain – the small main village La Restinga is home to nine Dive Centers. Also, don’t dare miss the natural pools at the village of La Maceta, or you will regret it.
3. Alibey, Turkey
Why go? Also known as Cunda Island, Alibey is one of 20 islands that straddles the sea between Turkey and Greece. This location figured into the population exchange of 1923, when all the island’s Greek residents left and were ‘replaced’ with Cretan Turks.
The Island’s main draw is its peaceful, almost deserted ambience – since the exchange, the former Greek buildings and churches, including a Greek Orthodox Cathdral, have been left in ruins, and the main town is a tangle of fish restaurants tucked along cobbled streets and peeling boats bobbing in the bay.
The rest of the island is covered in fragrant pine forests and hides a couple of glorious sandy beaches.
Stay: You can access Alibey by a causeway from the mainland town of Ayvalik – the Taksiyarhis Pension is in a converted old Greek house that dates back to the 1800s, with bike renting facilities to cycle over and explore.
Rooms from €10.72pppn | Book here
4. Milos, Greece
Why go? Greece has the lion’s share of beautiful islands in Europe, but most have been swallowed up by tourism in recent years. Part of the Cyclades group of islands, Milos is hardly a secret – the Venus de Milo was found here and currently resides in the Louvre in Paris, but it seems to have been forgotten in favour of its flashier neighbours Mykonos and Santorini.
It’s a good thing too, as Milos is a virtually unspoilt volcanic island, home to surreal rock formations, hot springs, and over 75 spotless beaches with all the beauty, but none of the crowds of the more famous Greek beaches.
Stay: The Semiramis Hotel is surrounded by pretty gardens in Adamandas, a natural port and harbour of whitewashed houses overlooking the sea.
Rooms from €26pppn | Book here
5. Lopud, Croatia
Why go? Croatia has over 1000 islands and islets, and as only 66 are inhabited, it’s easy to find a ‘secet’ getaway here. If you’re after nudist beaches, action-packed watersports and wild parties, stick to the larger islands like Bol and Hvar.
The cluster of Elafiti islands are some of the quietest in Croatia, and most are uninhabited. With beaches of fine white sand backed by lush green hills, plenty of boat trips make the journey to Lopud, but few bother to stay, meaning the island remains quiet and undeveloped away from the main harbour.
Rural, tranquil and traffic free, Lopud was once an important seafaring port, and you’ll find Greek, Roman and old Slavic buildings and ruins amidst the flowering hills today. Life here moves at a slow pace – explore the network of paths that cover the island, and head for Šunj, the island’s best beach.
Stay: Stay: The Hotel Glavovic is right on the beach on the island itself, offerings beautiful views over the ocean. It has its own bar and restaurant, serving first class meat, sea food and vegetarian platters, along with Wi-Fi.
Rooms from €50pppn | Book here
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Thanks to Christophe Finot, Guillaume Baviere, Luca Nebuloni, barraquito, The Official Canaries Tourism Website, Jeremy Jones, Giåm, ezioman, pastitio and hanspoldoja for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.