From Greece to Malta, the Mediterranean is full of secret islands waiting to be explored. But with so much choice (and so much beauty) how do you choose which islands to visit? With this ultimate guide, First Class will take you off the beaten path to some of the lesser known islands scattered throughout the Mediterranean.
1. Chrissi Island
Chrissi boasts beautiful sandy beaches, pristine swimming and gentle winds, perfect for kite surfing. Found off the southern coast of Crete, Chrissi is easily accessible by boat. The former pirate island is home to a dense Lebanon cedar forest, a medieval chapel, Minoan ruins, Roman graves and a plethora of large shells, which are a unique feature of the island.
2. Serifos, Aegean Islands
Often overlooked for its better-known neighbours, Santorini and Mykonos, Serifos is an oasis away from the crowds. On Serifos, you can enjoy the charm of traditional white-washed houses, adventure in the unmarked hiking trails and some of the most beautiful umbrella lined beaches in the Mediterranean. The only water sport on Serifos is swimming, making it the perfect location for relaxing in peace.
Move over Kos… the island Nisyros might not be as well-known as its neighbour, but it’s equally as beautiful and has the added advantage of being a well-kept secret. The island is literally a volcano, but that hasn’t stopped people from making a home here. There are gorgeous churches, monasteries, and white and colourful houses scattered around the volcano island. Walk through a volcano crater, windsurf and snorkel, all on the island of Nisyros.
They say nothing worth having comes easy. This is definitely true for Ithaca. The island is hidden between Kefalonia and mainland of Greece and notoriously difficult to reach. But it’s well worth the effort to see the lush, mythical home of Homer’s Odysseus. Walk through the charming capital of Vathi, relax on Schinos beach and reside at Villa Schinos, where the cast of Mamma Mia, and even Madonna, have been known to spend time.
5. Iles Sanguinaires
Translating to the ‘Blood Islands’, the Iles Sanguinaires archipelago, off the coast of Corsica, was named for the four porphyry islets of a dark red. The islands are also famous for their brilliantly lit purple sunsets and diving locations to the many shipwrecks below the surface. Be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins, as they love to play in the island’s surrounding waters.
6. Ile Piana
Found 300 meters off the southern tip of Corsica, Ile Piana is a haven for kayak lovers and kite surfer fanatics. Depending on the tide, the island can be reached by walking or swimming from Piantarella beach on Corsica’s mainland. With some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean, Ile Piana is a must for ocean dwellers.
If you prefer two wheels instead of four, Porquerolles is the Mediterranean island for you. Porquerolles is located just 20 minutes by ferry from Hyères, off the coast of Provence. And it’s a car free island. With bicycles available to rent across the island, you can freely explore the island’s winding pathways and secluded (often empty) beaches. Porquerolles a paradise for those seeking a care-free escape and that ‘private island feel’.
8. Cavallo Island
Once sought out by the Romans for its natural stones, which were perfect for sculptures and construction, Cavallo is now one of the best kept secrets in the Mediterranean. This is due largely in part to its privately owned status. This island of rocks and turquoise waters, is located off the coast of Corsica in the Lavezzi archipelago. It can only be reached by helicopter or boat and offers exceptional snorkelling and diving opportunities.
When an island is so secret even the locals don’t know about it, you know it’s the place to be. Those who have witnessed the secret paradise atoll (only an hour from Rome) consider it to be the jewel of the Mediterranean. The island is uninhabited, wild and incredibly enticing. With soaring cliffs, colourful pebble-stone beaches, dense Mediterranean bush and crystal clear grottos, Palmarola is an adventure. Once you know this island exists, it’s hard to resist its siren call.
Alicudi is the wildest of the Aeolian Islands. The streets remain unpaved, there are no cars and no electricity. But for an island this beautiful, leaving technology behind for a few days is easy. There is plenty to explore both on and off land. On land, visit the hidden coves, volcanic caves, summit Monte Filo dell’Arpa (675m above sea level) and visit to the pale-yellow-painted church of San Bartolo. Off land, Alicudi offers excellent swimming and diving just off its rocky shores.
The volcanic atoll, Linosa, is closer to the coast of Tunisia than to the Italian island of Sicily. And it can take 24 hours to reach from Rome. As one of the most exceptional and unique Mediterranean islands to visit, a 24-hour journey will feel like nothing. The beach of La Pozzolana has sulfur-yellow and red layers causing a jet-black appearance. Adding to the island’s uniqueness, you can hike to Monte Vulcano, where the extinct volcano is covered in fluorescent green prickly pears. The island is also home to loggerhead turtles. If you’re lucky you might even witness the hatchlings make their way to the ocean. Just remember, turtles follow light. So, if you do see them hatch, keep lights off and let the moon do its thing.
12. Filicudi, Aeolian Islands
Filicudi has an interesting history with the Mafioso. Back in the 1970’s, the worst Mafioso were sent to the island as ‘punishment’, where they could roam free and enjoy island living. With king-sized beds, free meals and that fresh island breeze, their punishment sounds more like a pampered vacation. Thankfully, the Mafioso are no longer there and you can enjoy the natural spoils of Filicudi, the UNESCO Heritage Site, in peace.
13. Salina, Aeolian Islands
Another of the UNESCO Heritage listed Aeolian Islands, is Salina. Despite being the second largest island in the archipelago, Salina has managed to fly under the radar preserving that classic Italian vibe. The vineyards on the island produce some of the area’s legendary sweet Malvasia wine. In fact, why not share a bottle or two while sailing around the island a seeking hidden beaches along the way.
Known as “Isola Verde” or “Green Island”, Ischia is a haven of colourful fauna, beautiful beaches and tranquil waters. While Capri has the glitz and glam, Ischia offers a welcome break from the crowds on Capri, in an equally picturesque setting. The island is home to over 100 thermal baths with healing properties, making Ischia a popular wellness destination. And there’s something for the adventurers too. Seated atop a craggy islet you’ll find Castello Aragonese, a medieval castle waiting to be explored.
15. Medes Islands
If underwater exploration is your thing, look no further than Spain’s Medes Islands. The Medes Islands are one of the most important and well-preserved marine flora and fauna reserves in the western Mediterranean. As a result, they offer a world of colour and life for divers to explore. The islands are full of stories. Some of the best stories include swashbuckling pirates and buried treasure. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, pirates based themselves on the islands. And who knows, maybe you’ll stubble upon some hidden treasure.
If Ibiza is the party capital of the Mediterranean, Formentera is the opposite. Just a day trip from Ibiza, Formentera is all about lazy days on the beach and bicycle rides on the islands salt flats. You can even experience a natural fish pedicure for free. One of the highlights of the island is experiencing the sunset. And the best places to do so are out on the water, looking back on the island, or from the old Cap de Barbaria lighthouse.
Leave the crowds in Majorca and head to Cabrera instead. Only an hour by boat from Majorca, the islet of Cabrera is one of nineteen uninhabited islands and islets make up the only national park in the Balearic Islands. Cabrera is the largest of the archipelago and the only one you can visit. Because the area is highly protected, only between 200-300 people per day (depending on the season) can visit the surrounding protected natural area.
For the best gelato this side of Italy, head to Vis. As the furthest inhabited island from mainland Croatia, Vis has remained relatively isolated. However, don’t let that fool you. There is plenty to do on Vis. Explore the coastline by scooter, dive to the many wrecks below the surface, drink the local wine and visit the glowing Blue Grotto cave.
Often called ‘Little Dubrovnik,’ Korčula is full of medieval squares, churches, palaces and terracotta roofed houses. Although it’s up there with some of the other Croatian islands, Korčula is just a little further away and with fewer ferry services. Which means, the island is unlikely to overflow with tourists. The Old Town and Marco Polo’s House are two top picks for sightseeing on the island. And if you time it right, you can see the weekly Moreska sword dance performance.
The tiny island of Biševo has only 15 permanent residents. But despite its lack of occupancy, Biševo is a must-see for those who love exploring hidden caves. Only a day trip from Vis, Biševo’s most famous destination is Modra Špilja (Blue Cave). When the sun shines through an underwater crack in the rocks, the entire cave is set alight with every shade of vivid blue you can imagine. Truly magical.
This isolated island has less than 200 residents, no ATMs and a dialect that’s even tough for other Croatians to understand. But what it lacks in made-made development, it makes up for natural beauty. One of the best places on the quaint island to visit is Bok Beach, where the shallow waters and hot sands are said to have healing powers.
22. Cunda Adasi
Found between Greece and Turkey, this island is the definition of ‘picturesque’. With quaint stone houses, olive groves and vibrant flowers decorating the island, it makes for the perfect Mediterranean break away from the crowds. Taksiyarhis Church is a stunning piece of island history and well worth a visit.
Found in the north-eastern Aegean, Bozcaada is steeped in both Greek and Turkish Culture. Relax on the crowd-free beaches, cycle through olive groves and vineyards (be sure to sample the goods along the way) and take in the best coastal views from Bozcaada Castle.
Once a prison for 16th-century knights, Gozo is now an island paradise not to be missed. With golden sand beaches, megalithic temples at Ġgantija, mountain biking, kayaking, clifftop hiking and some of the best dive sites in the world, you’ll be spoilt for choice on Gozo. And just a 10-minute boat ride away, you can take a dip in Comino Island’s famous Blue Lagoon.
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