Want a castaway escape close to home? These lesser-known islands can all add a bit of spice to your holiday dreams. For more suggestions explore our 1,000 Dream Trips
1. Porquerolles: the Riviera escape
Provence’s secret island where the spirit of the old Riviera lives on.
Why it’s special
From the ferry, Porquerolles appears more Caribbean than Mediterranean, ready to enfold you in a spot beyond the reach of quotidian concerns. It’s a small island – five miles by two – of creeks and rocks, forest, wild herbs, wine, untouched beaches and enchantment. Hire a bike or, better yet, an electric bike. It’s what you do on the car-free island.
Shortly you’ve left village and crowds behind to roll along tracks besides vineyards, olive groves and aromatic maquis. There are steepish climbs to the wild and ragged south side coast of creeks and cliffs. The north side is gentler and, in Plage Notre Dame, has my favourite French beach. A 20-minute pedal from the village – thus out of reach for many visitors – the 900-yard, white-sand stretch curves from outcrop to outcrop, undisturbed by commerce and backed by hills dense with eucalyptus, mastic, myrtle, rosemary and other heady items. Paradise, littorally. Nearer the village, the Plage de Courtade is base to seaborne exertions run by Attitude-Paddle (kayak, catamaran, paddleboard; hyeres-tourisme.com) while Plage d’Argent (plage-dargent.com) has the island’s only beach restaurant. Stay over a few nights, for Porquerolles is more pleasingly exclusive when the day visitors have gone, leaving you with just other hotel guests, around 350 island residents and a certain serenity.
2. Formentera: bikes and beaches
A blissed-out paradise with the best beaches in the Balearics – perfect for families, friends or first-holiday couples.
Why it’s special
The fact that you get there by boat means you are winding down even before you step on to the glittering, powdery sand. The smallest of the Balearic Islands remains largely undeveloped and protected, and the locals are keen to maintain their sustainable environment.
Often compared to the Caribbean, the island is surrounded by idyllic beaches with calm, pale turquoise water – Illetas beach is one of the loveliest in all Europe – with superb diving conditions and rich marine life just below the surface.
Walking or cycling along the 32 green routes that criss-cross the rural landscape, you come upon the island’s more secluded coves without even trying. Kayaking, paddleboarding, horseriding, yoga (formenterayoga.com), sailing and birdwatching are just a few of the activities on offer – in Formentera, all the family will want to be outdoors, all the time. Catch live music in Sant Ferran every Friday night (May to October) at the art and craft street market.
3. Pantelleria: for isolated drama
Sicily’s dark, beautiful secret – “the black pearl of the Mediterranean”.
What’s so special?
Adrift between North Africa and Sicily, Pantelleria’s offbeat beauty and isolation has made it an A-list secret; Sting, Madonna and Giorgio Armani have visited, and Luca Zingaretti (aka Inspector Montalbano) has a villa here. Recently it was thrust into the limelight as the backdrop for the sultry film A Bigger Splash, starring Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes.
More of a romantic redoubt than a beach destination – swimming is mostly off rocks – it’s a place to hire a bike or moped and scoot off to a secluded cove with a book and picnic or take easy hikes into the seismically sculpted landscape. Scrubby foliage and gusting winds contribute to the wild, untamed feel. Subterranean volcanic activity has spat up lava domes and pumice cones, hot springs and fumaroles. The island’s human history is also distinctive, with Bronze Age, Phoenician and Byzantine tombs, a Greek acropolis and a Roman forum. Breaking up the ruggedness is the Specchio di Venere, a heart-shaped lake in a volcanic crater that passes through all shades of blue and acts as a natural spa: plaster yourself in the rich mud and rinse off with a swim.