Filicudi, Aeolian Islands, Sicily
Best European island for: an under-the-radar Italian escape
In the 1970s the isle of Filicudi & its fiercely hot climate is where Italy would send their Mafiosi to rot. Exiled to a remote Sicilian island seemed a fitting punishment, but locals felt differently and deserted the island in protest until the government relented. A best-kept secret, this wild paradise has clear waters & few visitors. Upon arrival at Filicudi Port, you can rent a boat, enjoy the island’s spaghetti specialty, and pick up a sugary sfinci doughnut. A UNESCO World Heritage Centre, there are no pools here, and the beaches more than suffice.
Gugh, Scilly Isles, Cornwall
Best for: far-flung island charm
It’s easy to imagine Cornwall having been flicked off the Scilly Isles into the Celtic Sea. The islet of St Agnes connects to its tiny ally Gugh by sandy tombolo, crossable at low tide. Explore the heathland of buttercup, yellow gorse, and lichen-coated rocks. Discover the Bronze Age menhir stone at Kittern Hill, and keep an eye out for shore seals. Sleep on St Agnes and enjoy their one excellent pub, before visiting Troytown farm to taste luxurious ice-cream made by the island’s 9 cows.
Port Cros, Iles D’Or, France
Best European island for: the Côte d’Azur minus the crowds
Those in the know flock to the island of Porquerolles, but few know of its little sister, neighboring Port-Cros. Entirely a nature reserve, no pollution masks the scent of umbrella pines & myrtle, and the hidden coves teem with sea life. Bikes and cars are banned, so pack walking boots to explore the mountainous island. The crystal waters of Plage du Sud provide a sunbathing mecca, while Plage La Palud is well-known for snorkeling. Stay at Le Manoir, and take in its old-world charm – open since the 1940s!
Terschelling, West Frisian Islands, Netherlands
Best European island for: cycling
The Wadden sea islands make for an easy add-on to a weekend in Amsterdam. The vast sandy beaches work perfectly alongside the grassy dunes. Terschelling provides 45 miles of paths through marsh alongside the sea. Bikes can be rented from the ferry port (opt for electric if windy), and pedal to Midsland to enjoy trendy cafes & boutiques. The banana bread & cranberry compote at Pura Vida is divine.
Vrångö, Gothenburg, Sweden
Best European island for: wild swimming
The chilly waters of Vrångö are countered by the post-plunge in many a warm floating sauna. Known for its wild swimming, this island is laid-back & snail-pace slow. Casually enjoy the sandy beaches, rocky inlets & scrags – by foot or kayak. With fishing a main industry, make your way to Fiskeboa to buy today’s catch, or enjoy sumptuous seafood at a sunny restaurant. Make sure to spend a night in Kajkanten before moving on.
Pantelleria, Sicily, Italy
Best European island for: dramatic volcanic landscape
With no beaches on Pantelleria, travellers sunbathe on volcanic slabs. Closer to Tunisia than Italy, this dramatic landscape is buffeted by high winds & sea spray. Revel in the steaming thermal springs & fumaroles, vineyards, and swim or dive in the sheltered coves. Punctuated with dammusi, whitewashed houses built from volcanic rock, you can even rent the one that appears in film A Bigger Splash, fabulous pool included.
Klovharun, Porvoo Archipelago, Finland
Best European island for: the Tove Jansson Summer Book experience
Klovharun is only open to visitors one week every year. Only 8 people at a time can step ashore and peek inside the writing cabin of Tove Jansson, author & illustrator of Moomins and The Summer Book. If unavailable, don’t fret, and instead enjoy the region’s numerous other islands. Take to Pellinki and enjoy a day-long boat trip from local fisherman Martin Tillman. Pop by fishing island Aggskär, and rumoured inspiration for Moominvalley, Storpellinge.
Best European island for: sea treasures
A small island north of Berlin, Hiddensee is known for its shores where Bernstein (“burned stone”, amber) wash up after thunderstorms. If you find a piece, take it to the local amber workshop and make into a piece of jewelry. The sense of timeless magic is accentuated by a lack of cars, deserted beaches, ancient lighthouses and white-chalk beaches. Popular with artists & writers in the 1920s, the bohemian atmosphere distinguishes it from larger neighboring Rügen.
Cape Clear, Ireland
Best European island for: camping
Unzip your tent to enjoy sweeping Atlantic views, and keep an eye out for dolphins leaping in the waves. The campsite is perfectly places in the sheltered South Harbour of Cape Clear. Follow the purple heather & bracken to the shimmering shore, and spot the rare birds, whales, seals & basking sharks in the surf. Known as Ireland’s Teardrop, Fastnet Rock is visible out at sea – it was the last jag of home soil emigrants would see before heading for the New World.
Best European island for: empty beaches
Arriving by sea on the tiny Hebridean island of Colonsay. The ferry brings travellers to the one eponymous hotel, along with everyday items for the 135 residents. The small population produces botanical gin, oysters, lobsters, and highly praised wildflower honey. Far removed from the rest of the world, take in the white sands of Kiloran Bay, or hike through the woodlands up to Colonsay House and take in its rhododendron gardens. The island is amongst the sunniest places in all of Scotland.