Go here, not there: overlooked European Islands you need to visit

May 22, 2022

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While not exactly the Caribbean, Europe has hundreds of islands stretching all the way from Ibiza to Capri to Santorini that are perfect for a sunny getaway. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of visiting the most popular or well-known places: most people think of Greece, for instance, and immediately book a trip to Santorini or Mykonos, or head straight for Mallorca or Ibiza when planning a Spanish island escape.

Our take on ‘go here, not there’ isn’t written to discourage you from visiting the most touristy islands, but rather to flag more affordable, lesser-known or underrated alternatives (in addition to) the more popular spots.

A black sand beach on the island of La Gomera. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

So, in lieu of those package holiday magnets, here are some of the most underrated islands you should consider visiting for your next escape.

Instead of Ibiza, consider Formentera in Spain

Formentera’s white sands. (Photo by Salvideo/Getty Images)

If you want to experience the Spanish sunshine in a luxurious, hip way, don’t forget about Formentera, Ibiza’s more blissed-out little sister. You’ll still find cool bars, beautiful beaches and delicious restaurants — all without the frantic party vibe of Ibiza. Instead, Formentera has a decidedly boho-chic ambience for those (mostly) done with the raging party scene, but who still want to experience sexy Spanish coastlines, cocktail in hand.

Daytime activities include exploring the island — which is relatively flat — on bike (the island boasts more than 100 kilometres of bike trails). You can also pay a visit to some of the most gorgeous beaches in Europe — including the famous crystal waters of Ses Illetes and the hidden beach cove Caló des Mort. Evenings are for admiring the sunset and bar-hopping in the village of Es Pujols.

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The good news about visiting Formentera is that you don’t have to skip Ibiza entirely — spend a  bit of time in Ibiza, then take a 30-40 minute ferry over to paradise (Formentera).

Instead of Santorini, consider Paros in Greece

A charming harbour in Paros, Greece. (Photo by Sven Hansche/EyeEm/Getty Images

While Santorini‘s whitewashed, blue-domed buildings and magnificent sunsets are a call to the island, it can be crowded and often expensive, especially during high season (summer). Paros, which is also home to whitewashed villages and stunning shorelines — case in point: Kolympithres, where you’ll find golden sands intermixed with large granite rocks that make for a one-of-a-kind landscape.

Much like Santorini, Paros attracts foodies and wine lovers in equal measure as the island is home to thousands of acres of vineyards. Be sure to sample local wines, which are mainly white Monemvasias and red Mantilarias, as well as indulge your tastebuds with fresh Mizithra cheese, honey, roasted locally-caught mackerel and even a special Greek-style pumpkin pie.

You won’t have to skip Santorini entirely if you want to visit Paros — the ferry between the islands takes a few hours. Paros does have an airport (PAS), and you can fly to the island from Athens in about 45 minutes.

Instead of Capri, consider Ischia in Italy

The Italian island of Ischia. (Photo by GIUSEPPE GRECO/Getty Images)

Capri is the quintessential Italian island: weep-worthy scenery, delicious food and stylish visitors. But Capri, like many popular Italian locations, is often overflowing with tourists in warmer months and is overly expensive compared to other Italian coastal destinations. For a real Italian experience, head to Ischia, another island in the Gulf of Naples popular among Italian visitors.

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If you’re travelling with a family, kids will love the medieval Aragonese Castle, which juts off of Ischia onto its very own little island. Ischia is also known for its special thermal waters. The whole family can enjoy the mineral properties of the volcanic waters at Posiden, a collection of baths overlooking the sea. Couples may prefer the Negombo thermal baths, which are built into natural rock and have more of a private feel.

Getting to Ischia takes around an hour on the hydrofoil from Naples. For a real local Italian adventure combine a trip to Ischia with a few days in the city of Naples, exploring its castles, eating pizza and wandering the hilly Spanish Quarter. Just watch out for zooming motorbikes.

Instead of the Madeira, consider the Berlengas Islands in Portugal

Berlenga Grande, Portugal. (Photo by Nuno Pinto/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Madeira is popular with European tourists, especially U.K. visitors searching for winter sun. But the Berlengas Islands, located off the coast of Peniche, one of Europe’s famed surfer hubs, are a lesser-known set of islands that are wild and mostly uninhabited. The islands are considered a natural reserve and are a protected space home to a number of bird species and marine life.

The most popular of the islands is Berlenga Grande, which is about 10 kilometres off the coast and takes a 45-minute boat ride to reach. The scenery from the boat is simply breathtaking — take in the island’s rocky cliffs and tranquil coves. The island’s remote feel and wild nature really make it seem like a secret paradise.

Day trips allow visitors to spend the day swimming, snorkelling and exploring caves. But don’t visit if there’s even a glimpse of bad weather on the horizon. Large storms tend to plague these parts, and this is one of the reasons divers can see a number of shipwrecks near Berlenga Grande. Those with motion sickness beware: the boat ride over can be rocky even in optimal weather conditions.

Instead of Tenerife, consider La Gomera In the Canary Islands, Spain

The Canary Island of La Gomera. (Photo by Heike Laibach/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Tenerife is one of the largest and most popular Canary Islands – its volcanic beaches and lively dining and nightlife scene are a call to travellers seeking warm temps and year-round vitamin D.  But La Gomera, a short ferry ride away from Tenerife, is a natural paradise offering incredible hikes and gorgeous scenery that’s less touristy and perhaps even more beautiful than some of the more populated Canaries.

With over 150 hiking trails, many of which are located within the island’s unique Laurisilva forest Garajonay National Park, the island is ideal for anyone looking to trade the busy city for lush greenery. La Gomera also features black sand volcanic beaches and is home to the famous Organos rock monument named for its dripping rocks that resemble an organ. With restaurants featuring farm-fresh cuisine and local volcanic wines, visitors can not only explore nature but also the best of local Canarian gastronomy, too.

A visit to La Gomera is best combined with time spent visting other Canary Islands. The ferry from Tenerife to La Gomera takes just under an hour, and it is possible to bring a car along, too. Or, fly to the main airport, La Gomera (GMZ) from Tenerife or Gran Canaria.

Instead of Hvar, consider Rab in Croatia

The Croatian island of Rab. (Photo by Attila Barabas/Getty Images)

Hvar’s famed party scene and gorgeous beaches make it one of Croatia’s best hotspots to visit, especially if you’re seeking sun and sea after a visit to the walled, medieval city of Dubrovnik. But Rab is on a whole other level when it comes to island beauty, complete with the classic Croatian red-roofed buildings, over 30 beaches and a number of bike trails for those wanting to get some exercise on their next sunny escape.

Rab is a hotspot for active travellers, with plenty of activities such as sailing, trekking, cycling, diving, snorkelling, climbing and fishing. From sandy beach coves to wooded forests to rocky canyons, the geological contrasts this island features are especially beautiful – the north is rocky and dry while the west side of the island is lush and green.

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While it only takes a 15-minute ferry to reach Rab by boat from the mainland, its location off the more northern coast of Croatia makes it slightly more time-consuming to reach, and yet all the more reason to embark on a Croatian road trip from a hub such as Zagreb.

Instead of Porquerolles, consider Houat and Hoëdic in France

The French island of Houat. (Photo by Yannick Bodin/Getty Images)

Part of the Îles d’Hyères archipelago, Porquerolles is a popular summer vacation spot for visitors heading to the Côte d’Azur, especially since it’s only a 10-minute boat ride from the French mainland. But for a more local and really off-the-beaten-path French island adventure, consider Houat and Hoëdic, small islands located off the westerly Quiberon Peninsula.

Beyond their main Breton villages, these islands are delightfully exotic and uninhabited (think breezy beaches, wooded paths and the ruins of old forts). Explore the larger of the two islands, Houat, on foot or bike and you’ll discover a destination perfect for basking in peacefulness and nature. For an even more tranquil escape, meanwhile, Hoëdic, a tiny island with over eight kilometres of hiking and walking trails, is a truly great place for a wander.

Arrive by boat from the mainland in just under an hour from the Quiberon Peninsula. The closest airport is Nantes (NTE). A visit to these islands could easily be combined with exploring castles and sipping wine in the Loire Valley. Win-win.

(Featured image of Formentera by Ana Lui/Getty Images)

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