The best places to feel happily cut off from the rest of the world…
Malta’s equally picturesque, and perhaps more rugged, little sister, Gozo is a 25-minute ferry journey from the northern tip of the island and has some jaw-dropping natural scenery, much of which can be discovered on a day trip. To the west is Dwerja, home to the Azure Window, a huge, striking natural arch carved into the cliffs, which has served as a location in Game of Thrones. On the east side of the island, near the seaside town of Malsalforn, are Gozo’s picturesque salt pans, a carved chequerboard of shallow natural containers, which are still used every day.
If you want beaches, head for nearby Xwieni Bay, a slightly craggy stretch of shore which offers good diving, or Ramla Bay, a pretty and popular beach known for its red sand. Gozo’s main town is Victoria (also known as Rabat), situated right in the centre of the island, on top of which sits the citadel of Il-Kastell, home to an impressive cathedral, and a couple of museums, including the Old Prison, into which hot tempered Knights of St John – the famous religious military order which helped defend Malta and Gozo from Ottoman attackers – were routinely slung until they’d calmed down. And don’t miss the impressive Church of Ta’Pinu, a beautiful basilica perched by the edge of a cliff.
HOW: Seven nights in Malta staying at The George Urban Boutique hotel in St Julian’s on a B&B basis costs from £470 per person, including return flights from the UK. For more info, visit www.thomson.co.uk, or call 0871 230 2555. For more info, visit www.visitmalta.com and www.visitgozo.com
Already a favourite with the celebrity set, over the past couple of years it’s played host to the likes of Kate Moss and Frank Lampard, perhaps keen to take some time out of the frenetic partying that goes on over the water, while legend has it that musician Bob Dylan once lived here for a few months in the 60s, to get away from it all. And it’s not hard to see why; Ibiza’s quieter and possibly more beautiful little sister has Caribbean-standard white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.
It’s tiny – just 12 miles long – and is a 30-minute ferry ride from Ibiza Town (for times and prices, visit www.directferries.co.uk). Like Ibiza, it too is full of charming little towns (particularly the capital, the charming Sant Fransesc, with its narrow maze of streets lined with cafes and boutiques, and the more bustling main tourist draw, Es Pujols), stunning beaches (such as the beautiful Platja de Migjorn – come in April or May and it will still be largely deserted) and heartstopping views (such as from Es Mirador, one of the highest points of the island – sitting outside on the terrace of the restaurant here with the same name, you can see the shape of the island’s isthmus, meaning you can see both coastlines at the same time). And best of all? There’s not a single nightclub billboard in sight!
HOW: Flights to Ibiza from the UK cost from approx. £130 with ryanair.com; an apartment sleeping four people at the Insotel Club Maryland near Migjorn costs from £83 for a week. For more info and to book, visit www.insotelhotelgroup.com/en.
Scattered across the Atlantic Ocean almost 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, and just three and a half hours’ flight from the UK, the nine volcanic islands of the Azores (an autonomous region within the Portuguese Republic) are a remote haven boasting amazing wildlife and lush, unspoilt landscapes fringed by dramatic black sand beaches. The whale watching here is among the best in the world: March and April are the peak months for spotting these incredible mammals from the islands of Sao Miguel, Pico and Faial. At 30 metres long and weighing an impressive 170 tonnes, you will be amazed by their grace as they cut through the ocean making their way from the warm waters of the south, where breeding occurs, to the colder waters of the north to feed.
If you like keeping fit, you’ll enjoy discovering some of the islands’ many, many running and hiking trails, where you can go at your own pace through protected landscapes, volcanic craters, or beautiful coastline. Food lovers should visit between 18 and 27 June, when Sao Miguel island hosts one of Portugal’s largest food festivals, and if you like sailing, Faial Island celebrates its Festival of the Sea from 2 to 9 August, with boat races and processions.
HOW: Sunvil Discovery (020 8758 4722, www.sunvil.co.uk), offers a seven-night stay at Hotel Talisman on a Bed & Breakfast basis in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island starting from £640 per person (based on two sharing). The price includes direct scheduled flights from London Gatwick and airport transfers.
Sicily’s Aeolian islands are home to some of the most beautiful, stark and impressive scenery in Italy, not least because one of them, Stromboli, is an active volcano. There are seven of them in total, and one way to explore some of them in more detail is on a self-guided walking holiday with Headwater. Starting on Sicily’s stunning eastern coast, you’ll take in some of the island’s most precious jewels, from the spectacular Greek Theatre of Taormina to the immense and impressive Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe.
Then you’ll stay three nights on Lipari, the largest island of the Aeolian Archipelago, and two nights on the island of Stromboli, known also as the ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ for its constant volcanic eruptions. Highlights include climbing Vulcano’s Gran Cratere della Fossa crater to see the fumaroles, a steady stream of gases and vapours that eerily seep out of the ground and in Stromboli, there’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a nocturnal ascent, with a volcanologist, towards the summit to witness the flow of lava and intermittent explosions that paint the night in a glorious red light. A full day is spent on Mount Etna itself, where you ascend through an impressive volcanic landscape towards the summit, enjoying infinite views down to Catania and the crystal-clear waters of the Ionian Sea.
HOW: Prices start from £1489 including flights from London Gatwick and accommodation; visit headwater.com for more info and to book.
El Hierro is the smallest, and furthest south and west, of the Canary Islands, and remains largely untouched by tourism; in fact, during low season, it has an average of just 33 tourists visiting the island per day! It was once thought to be the end of the earth, and its unspoilt scenery and laid back atmosphere helps you understand why.
Providing an ideal destination for those seeking warmth away from the crowds, visitors can cover most of the island on foot in just a week. Expect panoramic sea views, volcanic deserts, natural sea pools and challenging walks through ancient laurisilva forest, vineyards, pineapple plantations and on young lava fields.
Beginning in the quiet village of Mocanal, enjoy a rewarding introduction to the island’s north-east following a trail to the capital Valverde and onwards along the flower-filled Camino de la Virgen pilgrims’ route to reach the sacred Garoé Tree. Ascend the peak of Malpaso, follow a leisurely route along the coast of El Golfo, visit the giant lizard breeding programme at Guinea and stay in four welcoming hotels, including a spa hotel built around natural springs.
HOW: Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk; 01653 617000) offers this walking holiday from £798pp sharing, inc. 7 nights’ B&B, 5 dinners, 3 picnics, luggage transfers and return flights from Tenerife North to El Hierro.
Norway’s Lofoten Islands lie within the Arctic Circle, although you shouldn’t expect then to be shrouded in snow and ice; despite their high latitude, their climate is actually quite mild.These relatively unknown islands are breathtakingly beautiful, an Arctic landscape of soaring mountains, deep blue fjords and long, surf-swept beaches. They have a reputation for their excellent fishing and nature attractions, small villages off the beaten track and whale safaris.
Lofoten is the main island, and there are six smaller ones in the archipelago. In winter, you can see the Northern Lights, and in summer, the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon, so you spend more of the days exploring. Activities include hiking, cycling, snorkelling, kayaking, and going on sea safaris, where you’ll spot sea eagles, seals, whales and other sea birds. At the Lofotr Viking Museum, you’ll even get the chance to go out on the water on a copy of a genuine Viking longboat!
HOW: Wexas Travel (0207 838 5892, wexas.com) is offering a seven-night Lofoten Islands package from £1,595 per person based on two sharing with some meals included. This includes one night in Bodø, two nights in Nusfjord, one night in Henningsvær and two nights in Svolvær. Also includes flights to Leknes and back from Svolvær via Bodo and car hire from Leknes to Bodo. Valid for travel from 1 May – 30 September 2015. Book by 30 September 2015. For more info, visit lofoten.info.
‘Able was I ere I saw Elba’, goes the famous palindrome attributed to French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, on the small Italian island to which he was banished by allied forces in 1814. He may have thought it a hardship, but this charming, little island is anything but.
Situated six miles off the Tuscan Coast, Elba Island is little known in the UK as a holiday destination. However, in recent years Elba has really begun to thrive and become more and more popular with tourists. The island is roughly half the size of the Isle of Wight and boasts year-round greenery, more than 150 beaches, and an authentic Italian ambience due to the high volume of Italian holidaymakers. The island has an interesting history and the locals are very vocal about its tie with Napoleon. Tributes to him can be spotted throughout the island; from imperial buildings to souvenir mugs, but history-lovers will enjoy a trip to his two homes on the island – Villa dei Mulini and Villa Napoleonica di San Martino, the latter of which has been restored and opened as a museum.
HOW: Citalia (01293 731 753, www.citalia.com) is offering a seven night holiday to Elba Island staying at the four star Hotel Desiree on half board basis from £1275 per person – saving up to £369 per couple. The offer includes one free night, seven nights car hire, return ferry transfer and return international flights from London Gatwick with British Airways. Based on departures 2 September 2015.
There are literally hundreds of Greek islands to choose from, and many of us have experienced some of the better known already, from Kefalonia to Santorini. But there are dozens of other smaller, quiet islands out there, so why not give some of them a try?
This year, a handful of central Aegean islands will benefit from the increase in direct flights to Santorini and Mykonos, both of which get really busy in summer: for a welcome breath of fresh air, try tiny, rugged Folegandros which offers whitewashed villages, pristine beaches and dramatic cliffs that turn a fiery red at sunset; chic Sifnos, with its impressive cuisine and restaurant scene; and unspoilt Milos, a firm favourite of Athenians.
HOW: Sunvil Holidays (020 8758 4758, www.sunvil.co.uk) offers a 10-night island hopping itinerary to Sifnos, Milos and Folegandros from £1,075 pp (two sharing) including B&B accommodation (includes one night in Athens), flights (Gatwick), ferry crossings and transfers.
And if you find yourself visiting any other areas of Greece this summer, why not take a day trip to one of their nearest islands? If you’re heading to Corfu, stop off at Paxi and Antipaxi, only 50 minutes away by boat. Both little islands are lined with emerald green waters, have spectacular cliff views and seascapes, and tiny restaurants and cafes just waiting to be explored. While if you’re summering in Kos, in the Dodecanese, the volcanic island of Nisyros is just one hour away. You can visit the volcano’s craters, and sample the island’s beaches and thermal spas.
For more info, visit discovergreece.com.
Just off the coast of BC’s biggest city, Vancouver, is Vancouver Island, an outdoors paradise of forests, trails, and watersports, along with vineyards, independent boutiques and chic places to stay. From Vancouver, depending on where you head to in this 290 mile-long island, the ferry takes around 2 hours. But once you get there, you’re in amongst nature, and lots of it. This is where you’ll spot grizzly bears, killer whales, sea otters, sea lions and more. Adventure types will enjoy sea kayaking, canoeing, hiking, surfing or scuba diving. But city lovers will also enjoy exploring the island’s capital, Victoria, home to half the total population of 700,000, which offers great shopping and eating and sights like the beautiful Butchart public gardens, its own Chinatown, and some great museums and galleries.
HOW: Try the trip of a lifetime with Triptoes’ 9-day Wilderness & Great Bear Adventure combines Vancouver Island’s Clayoquot Wilderness Resort with Great Bear Rainforest’s Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. Two beautiful locations guaranteed to soothe the soul and two stunning luxury wilderness lodges in British Columbia. Neither lodge can be accessed by road – only by sea or air. Transfers between the resorts are arranged by floatplane. Both lodges are intimate, unique and activities available include kayaking, nature tours, hiking, whale & bear watching, horse riding and zip lining. To book contact Triptoes Canada (triptoes.com, 01225 471893). The price per adult is from £10,495 based on two sharing, excluding transatlantic flights. For a family of 4, the price is from £8,955 per adult and £7,085 per child under 12.
This island in the Mediterranean belongs to France, though due to its proximity to Italy, blends a bit of both countries within its 3,350 square miles. It?s the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, and boasts medieval hilltop towns (such as Bonifacio, which seems to teeter on the edge of the cliff it’s perched on), impressive scenery (such as the Aiguilles de Bavela, a range of peaks which reach over 1600m, or 5250ft), dozens of museums and galleries (such as Palais Fesch Musee des Beaux Arts, which was originally established by Napoleon?s uncle), and limitless little restaurants and cafes where you can stop off for a leisurely meal of good Corsican cheese (you must try the brocciu, made from ewe’s milk, practically the national dish) and charcuterie.
Base yourself in the hilltop village of Muro, at the stunning hotel Casa Theodora, a boutique, 16th century palazzo with an indoor pool. Muro is in the Balagne, a stunning region loved for its beautiful walking country; there are mountain streams to bathe in and many protected natural sites nearby, such as the Scandola Reserve and the Corsican Natural Park (PNRC). If you love poring over local arts and crafts, plot your course along The Artisans’ Route (known locally as La Strada di L’Artigiani). You can drive the trail, which leads you through picturesque medieval villages, such as Pigna, and their network of craftsmen and women. Experience centuries-old traditions first hand in the open workshops, courtesy of the potters, jewellery makers, weavers, glass blowers, master bakers and producers of honey and olive you’ll meet en route.
HOW: Simpson Travel (0845 322 8767, simpsontravel.com) offers seven nights at Casa Theodora from £926 per person. Prices are based on two sharing on a room and breakfast basis as well as a complimentary afternoon tea and include return flights and car hire.