Four lesser-known island escapes in Europe

Alix M Campbell

Senior Contributor

If there’s one thing that catapults travel destinations to the top of the list at the moment, it’s the promise of not being overcrowded. A place you can escape to, indulge in, and fully enjoy without having to worry about queues at every corner. Somewhere to quench your thirst for adventure stress-free that’s not been on every travel blogger's to-do list yet. Before booking your trip, please take a look at adjusted opening times and updated timetables due to Covid-19.

Mljet, Croatia: One of the southernmost islands of the country

Known for its untouched beauty and mouthwatering local produce, this Croatian island in the Dalmatia region boasts the perfect ingredients for a relaxing getaway. The island offers scenic hiking trails in Mljet National Park that lead around two saltwater lakes. Ancient Greeks called this sweet island Melita, which translates to honey.

If you prefer to do your sightseeing from the water, there’s the possibility to hire a sailing boat, which you can use to explore the Island and its Benedictine monastery from the 12th century. Blace Bay will have you enjoy some of the clearest water of the Atlantic after trudging around shaded walking trails. The local specialty here are raw mussels with lemon juice, perfect for a hot summer’s day.

There is only one hotel (three star) on the island and it sits right at the coast. Allegedly, the nymph Calypso held Odyssey captive on this island for seven years, but by the sounds of this place, it couldn’t have been that bad.

Getting there: Take a 90-minute ferry from Dubrovnik to the bay of Sobra

Belle-Île en Mer in Brittany, France, that inspired Monet

Many artists and writers have been inspired by the largest of Brittany’s islands, Belle-Île en Mer, and Monet was one of them. Except for a rather busy month of August, this island of lush interior bordered by a dramatic coastline is very much crowd-free all year, thus perfect for a little island escape.

If you do visit in August, you might be in for a pleasant musical surprise, as the island hosts the annual classical music festival Lyrique en Mer. Other than that, you can take your time exploring and lounging around the island’s numerous beaches, with its largest being les Grands Sables (the great sands).

Thanks to the oceanic climate on the island, winters are milder with less rain compared to the mainland. Nature is certainly the biggest attraction on the island, which really lives up to its name, but if you’d like to do some light sightseeing you can visit the lighthouse at Bangor. There are numerous quaint hotels and bed & breakfasts at Belle-Île en Mer as well as campsites if you prefer to arrive with your own accommodation.

Getting there: Take a ferry from Quiberon peninsula, which is 14 km away

Hiiumaa, Estonia, for a Baltic-style hermit experience

If you’re after a pretty little hideaway in nature, the second largest island in Estonia is the place to be. White sandy beaches are stretching before you wherever you look. Hiiumaa has been blessed with a microclimate, thus it’s warmer than on the mainland, which is 22 km away.

Indulge in long coastal walks, explore centuries-old lighthouses that adorn the Baltic coast and explore a bunker from the Soviet-era, if you’re interested. Maybe you just feel like sweating it up in the sauna, followed by a leisurely meal of smoked cooked plaice, a traditional summer dish. And if you’re in the mood to cosy up inside reading a book, you found the ideal place to do so.

Kärdla, Käina and Körgessaare are small villages on the island to discover, also by bicycle if you’re looking for an activity, as a bike path connects Kärdla with Körgessaare.

Getting there: Take one of the regular 35-minute flights from Tallinn to Kärdla Airport or cross by ferry from Rohuküla, which takes about 90 minutes

Cíes Islands in Galicia, Spain, for that untouched paradise feeling

The three islands called Monteagudo (‘sharp mount’, the North Island), San Martiño (‘Saint Martin’, the South Island) and do Faro (‘lighthouse’, the Middle Island) are located opposite the town of Vigo in Galicia in the river mouth of the Ria de Vigo. Part of the Islas Atlánticas national park, Cíes Islands limit their tourist influx to 2,200 visitors per day to protect their colonies of marine birds and other wildlife in and around the water.

If you’re after a picture-perfect island experience, this gem, also called the Maldives or Seychelles of Spain, won’t disappoint you. Nine stunning white sandy beaches bordered by turquoise waters await you to sink back and relax, favourite book in hand. British newspaper The Guardian actually named Rodas beach on Monteagudo the best beach in the world in 2007.

Despite this top of the line reputation, Cíes Islands remain an off-the-beaten-track destination with the islands’ only accommodation being a campsite on do Faro with 800 spots available. Let your sorrows dissolve while you swim, dive and frolic in the crystalline waters off the Galician coast.

Getting there: The harbours of Vigo, Baiona and Cangas offer a ferry service from around Easter to the end of September

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