Nine European Islands the Locals Want to Keep a Secret

Nine European Islands the Locals Want to Keep a Secret


Losinj

Croatia

At the mouth of the gulf of Kvaerner in the northern Adriatic
lies
Losinj
, one of Croatia’s most enchanting islands that is often
overlooked by blinkered tourists heading straight to
Hvar
,
Split
or Dubrovnik.
Of the 1000 or so islets in the archipelago, this was the chosen
holiday destination of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz-Josef,
who fell hard and fast for its Adriatic charms – think textbook
beaches and Venetian-esque fishing villages. Aside from its
undulating landscape and baroque architecture, Losinj is an island
of vitality, teeming with herbs and aromatherapy treatments – each
of the five hotels here are renowned for relaxation and
restoration.


Kythira

Greece

Finding a little-trodden patch of
Greece
is becoming tougher than ever as ferry companies
continue to forge new, faster routes. Nevertheless, at the bottom
of the Peloponnese peninsula lies Kythira, trickier to reach than
other Ionian islands as it’s located that bit further away (it’s
best to take a boat from
Athens
or Neapoli). With a history of Venetian occupation, the
island’s capital of Chora delights with bright architecture, while
the abandoned town of Paleochora promises an eerie but picturesque
day trip. Kythira’s landscape is cut by gorges and valleys, with
relics of its milling past. With a guide, head to the isolated
beach of Kalami and explore the nearby cave of Agia Sofia and its
chapel, as well as the white sands of Diakofti. It’s also worth
taking a boat and heading over to the rock of Hyrta which lays
claim to being the birthplace of Aphrodite.


Bornholm

Denmark


Denmark
‘s Baltic gem, Bornholm lies south of Sweden and north
of Poland, and is a nifty 30-minute flight from Copenhagen.
On top of a balmy climate and the extraordinary light that has been
praised by creatives for centuries, the islet has a stellar
gastronomic scene thanks to a wealth of fresh produce, supplemented
by bags of fresh air and plenty of “hygge” – needless to say, life
is good here. Traditionally famed for its smoked fish, Bornholm is
now considered one of Scandinavia’s culinary hotspots, attracting a
young, hip crowd as well as the attention of top Danish chefs such
as Nicolai Norregaard who returned to his home island in 2007 to
open two restaurants including Kadeau (sibling to Michelin-starred
Copenhagen restaurant with the same name). The harvests are long
and plentiful, with wild berries and herbs bearing a pleasantly
salty tang from the sea. Bornholm is a summer mecca for most Danes,
offering a nostalgic throwback to time spent on family holidays and
school trips here. Hire bikes and explore the island’s unique,
time-warp culture with its Hammershus (iconic 21st-century
churches), red-roofed fishing villages and dense beech forests with
reassuringly poor phone signal.


Senja

Norway

With only a few million inhabitants and vast swathes of
untouched land, the Norwegians are accustomed to peace and quiet.
So when the summer crowds swarm in (particularly to Lofoten), the
locals head to the relatively unknown island of Senja. The
landscape here is breathtakingly beautiful and teeming with
wildlife, from spot moose to eagles, seals and reindeer, while it’s
not uncommon to see the Northern Lights on an evening stroll. In
winter, the Norwegians decamp to Senja for ski touring, fishing and
tobogganing, rounding off a frosty day with drams of aquavit in a
toasty cabin.


Île de Ré

France

France’s favourite holiday island, this UNESCO World Heritage
Site is beginning to show up on the travel radar – much to the
Parisians’ chagrin. Found just off La Rochelle (they’re linked by a
bridge crossing the Atlantic), Île de Ré
is a 30km-long strip of land with its own balmy microclimate,
jam-packed with fishing villages, off-duty Parisians, pine forests
and pristine beaches. It’s their version of
The Hamptons
, if you will. The best way to explore is by bike –
all villages are connected by cycle lanes – so do as the French do
and flit between picturesque boutiques, boulangeries and cafés. La
Flotte is the largest town, with markets, antiques and seafood
(oysters are a speciality on the islet) galore. Alternatively,
scale the fortified Saint-Martin-de Re for Atlantic views. The time
to visit is early September
when the crowds head back to Paris
but the green shutters stay open, and restaurant reservations are a
little less daunting.


Isola La Maddalena

Italy

A closely guarded Italian jewel, the archipelago of La Maddalena
– scattered between Sardinia and Corsica
in the Bonifacio Strait – comprises seven large islands and 15 tiny
islets with some of the most exquisite beaches in Italy.
This pretty little secret was only recently “discovered” as a
holiday spot; the main island of La Maddalena was previously the
location for a NATO naval base which has since closed. While
Italian on paper, Maddaleni residents think of themselves as
separate to both the Italians and Sardinians. Their history is one
of smuggling, naval invasions, Giuseppe Garibaldi and mostly being
“forgotten”. The main town of La Maddalena is a sophisticated,
cobbled wander with a string of cavernous restaurants and boutique
shops to delve into, while the archipelago’s greatest performers
are old news to the yacht set – all except Maddalena and Capprera
require a boat to reach their prized beaches. Head to Testa Di
Polpo for huge rocks amid white sand and cerulean waters or Cala
Coticcio, a small beach off the coast of Caprera nicknamed
Tahiti
for its tropical-esque lagoons and lentisk-covered rocks.


The Cies Islands

Spain

The Spanish are accustomed to sharing their coastline with
tourists who have (in many cases) changed the face of beaches,
towns and cities, often for the worse. Their hidden treasure? The
Cies Islands off
Spain
‘s northwest coast near
Galicia
. The locals nickname these islets the “Galician
Seychelles” while the Romans are said to have called them the
“islands of the gods” – and it’s not hard to see why, considering
the aquamarine waters that caress near-empty empty beaches. Take a
ferry from Vigo and explore the three islands of Monteagudo, O Faro
and San Martino, via hikes through their dramatic scenery. The
diving seabeds of the Fias Baixas here are second to none, while
Rodas Beach is a sight to behold (we haven’t seen water anything
like it). The island of San Martino is also worth a look in – only
reachable by boat, the crowds are kept at bay and this utopia
intact.


São Miguel

Portugal

Nine specks of prehistoric-looking land dotted in the Atlantic
between
Portugal
and America make up the Azores, which
have somehow stayed off many travellers’ hit lists – apart from for
the Portuguese. The islet of São Miguel is a particularly special,
thanks to sperm whales frolicking along the coast and a volcanic
crater forming the Lagoa do Fogo or “lake of fire”, creating
scenery somewhere between the Scottish Highlands and Lake Bled. São
Miguel’s location promises pine and eucalyptus forests filled with
colourful birds and wildlife, as well as a warm climate year round.
Head to the hot-spring town of Furnas from the capital of Ponta
Delgada to soak in natural thermal baths following a bracing
kayaking excursion.


Aland

Finland

Thousands of islands dot the Baltic and Aland (pronounced
“awe-land”) is an archipelago that sits in the middle. While this
geopolitical anomaly is closer to Sweden than
Finland
and the inhabitants speak Swedish, they are Finnish
passport holders. Either way, it’s the chosen playground for Finns
and Swedes alike, and their distinctive red summer houses line the
shore like roadside wildflowers, illuminated by a soft light
reminiscent of old film clips. For Scandinavians, summer is
sacrosanct and to be inhaled, digested and stored in a bottle to
get you through long, bleak winters. Head to the isolated island of
Kökar from Lumperland to explore the ruins of a medieval Franciscan
monastery, or to the island of Foglo with its pink hues and herring
breakfasts. Do it the proper Scandi way and rent a wooden cabin
enveloped in pine forest by the sea on the main island of Fasta
Aland.

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