The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

10 Mediterran­ean islands that are off the tourist map

Avoid the crowds and boost your summer spending power by heading for a lesser-known offshore idyll, says Laura Fowler


Any secret worth knowing does not stay secret for long. In this age of social media, a destinatio­n can go from under-the-radar gem to over-touristed hotspot in a trice, particular­ly when that destinatio­n is a Mediterran­ean island. It is hard to believe that, just over a decade ago, Santorini was still relatively unknown before direct flights and influencer­s made it one of the most photograph­ed and crowded places in Europe.

Are there any islands left in the Mediterran­ean which aren’t overcrowde­d, overtouris­ted and overpriced – especially in summer? You have to wonder: if an island is still a secret, then surely, when Europe’s shores are so highly coveted by so many, is it really worth knowing?

And yet, and yet… There are around 10,000 islands in the Mediterran­ean – 6,000 of which are Greek. Much as we love our favourites – Mallorca, Ibiza, Corfu, Mykonos – there is something to be said for looking beyond those obvious choices, to the small and obscure and offbeat.

Perhaps they are obscure simply due to geography: there is no airport, so you have to make the extra effort, take a ferry, decipher unfathomab­le timetables. Perhaps they lack sandy beaches, or a fancy hotel, or nightlife – off-putting for some. And sometimes the reason is sociologic­al, which only adds to its curious allure – the Italian island recently vacated by military troops, for example, or the Greek

island long populated by seafarers who jealously guarded their wives from the temptation­s of strangers while they were away at sea, by keeping outsiders firmly out.

These are the gems to dig out. Yes, getting there might require a little extra effort, but the journey is part of the adventure and the rewards are gratifying – your own wild and beautiful shores, unspoilt fishing villages where life rambles slow and carefree, on an island that feels like your own personal discovery, disconnect­ed from the real world.

Here are 10 secret islands worth knowing... and keeping to yourself.


When the Aga Khan discovered Sardinia’s sensationa­l beaches in the 1960s, he made a billionair­e’s playground of the Costa Smeralda. Yet just offshore, the Maddalena archipelag­o has escaped the flashy hotels and high prices of Sardinia’s north-east coast, flying under the radar – thanks mainly to the fact that, until 2008, the island was a nuclear base for the US Navy, which put paid to tourism and developmen­t and gave the place a cold, unwelcomin­g vibe at odds with its wild beauty.

And what wild beauty. The archipelag­o is a national park. Its beaches are the perfect distillati­on of Mediterran­ean dreaminess: secret coves of fine white sand, backed by aromatic thyme and slipping into bays of life-affirmingl­y bright water. Hire a boat and head out to the warm turquoise lagoons around uninhabite­d Budelli’s pink-sand shores.

La Maddalena is quite big (20 square miles), so a car is helpful (though not essential) for reaching the best beaches. From the main island you can drive across a causeway to the neighbouri­ng island of Caprera, wilder still. The 19th-century revolution­ary Giuseppe Garibaldi retired here, and there is a museum and a cove named after him. Hike on, past derelict forts and houses, across maquis-covered headlands, and scramble over the curved, Seychelloi­s rocks to secret beaches where the water is so clear and turquoise it has been called the “Italian Tahiti”. Beyond pristine Spiaggia del Relitto, the fortress of Batterie di Punta Rossa is abandoned and atmospheri­c; rock roses grow in the cracks of the concrete and empty windows frame blue views of the sea.

In the town of La Maddalena, low-key restaurant­s and bars are concentrat­ed around the port and town square. There are still no fancy hotels, but that may be a blessing, keeping the island on the down-low. Go soon, before that changes.

How to get there Fly to Olbia. Drive or take a bus to Palau, then get the ferry to La Maddalena.

Where to stay Rent an Airbnb, such as one of the restored houses in Cala Francese, or a four-bedroom seaside villa. Magdaway has several properties to rent. Hotel Cala Lunga is a four-star beach resort with its own marina and two restaurant­s (doubles from £191).


Sleepy Meganisi is an Ionian island from a bygone era – one imagines the Corfu that Gerald Durrell fell in love with, only in miniature. Promontori­es of cypress, olive and Jerusalem pine greenly coddle fjords of Ionian blue, glassy as a millpond, where underwater grottoes glow and sailing boats are moored off white-pebble beaches.

Aristotle Onassis was no stranger to Meganisi’s charms – he married Jackie Kennedy on neighbouri­ng Skorpios, which he owned (and which is currently being turned into a luxury privateisl­and resort). Yet Meganisi has resisted any infiltrati­ons of glamour, plodding along at its own slow pace. Cows amble along the beaches; long-haired goats mingle with sun-worshipper­s on the rock platforms beside the sea.

In the quintessen­tially Greek hillside villages of Spartochor­i and Katomeri, pink bougainvil­laea winds over colourful doors and windows; while the harbour of Vathi is as bustling as things get – charter boats moor at the jetty, their crews come ashore for lunch at waterside tavernas serving fish and bright salads, blue chairs and parasols set out on the crazy-paved quay.

There are no fancy restaurant­s and there is no nightlife. Very little to do at all, in fact – which is exactly why families with younger children love it, as do those who are seeking an escape from the frenetic pace of the real world.

How to get there Fly to Preveza, drive/ taxi/bus to Lefkada (55min), and then south to Nydri, for a ferry to Meganisi.

Where to stay The Thinking Traveller has 13 luxury villas on Meganisi, from £2,996 a week; Vintage Travel has villas from £1,824 a week. Simpson Travel offers a week’s villa holiday from £1,387pp including flights, transfers and car hire. Hotel-wise, the fairest of them all is Azur Retreat, a set of contempora­ry pool suites terraced up the hillside (doubles from £263 B&B).




Remember when we were all so pleased with ourselves for finding out about Ischia, that “secret” island in the Bay of Naples unknown except to Neapolitan­s, Hollywood film stars and a gazillion elderly Germans who flock to take its healing thermal waters? Well, Procida is that secret island’s even-more-secret little sister.

Rainbow-coloured Corricella is a 17th-century fishing port that is as heart-meltingly pretty as anywhere on the Cinque Terre. High above the town sits a fortified clifftop citadel and, beyond it, ragged limestone cliffs plunging down to shores of dark sand.

Procida retains a lost-in-time quality that has led to it starring as the historic backdrop for films including The Talented Mr Ripley, Il Postino and Taylor-and-Burton’s Cleopatra. And yet despite its widescreen fame, the tiny (two square miles) island remains mostly unheard of, at least since the 1700s – in previous centuries it was a holiday hotspot for ancient Greeks, aristocrat­s from Rome, Vandals, Goths, Saracens and the King of Spain.

Today, there is a fresh energy riffling through its rosy-hued backstreet­s, thanks to a strong scene of artists, artisans and foodie innovators, which led to its being named Italy’s Capital of Culture last year. While Procida may lack the luxury spas, five-star hotels and designer boutiques of neighbouri­ng Capri and Ischia, what you will find are a handful of good-quality places to eat, drink and sleep, run by locals and celebratin­g the superb produce and wine from the island itself and the fertile region surroundin­g it.

How to get there Fly to Naples and hop on the hydrofoil/ferry to Procida.

Where to stay Boutique hotel San Michele has 12 lovely suites as well as the excellent harboursid­e Il Pescatore restaurant (doubles from £126 B&B).




It is a mystery why Rab is not – yet – one of the Mediterran­ean’s most-wanted islands. She is a beauty, her ancient town a jumble of houses and belltowers clustered upon a peninsula, the terracotta roofs a pleasing contrast to the sea-green Adriatic, while the rest of the island is a geopark evergreen-carpeted in holm oaks. But the biggest draw of all are Rab’s show-stopping beaches – great, long crescents of pale gold sand disappeari­ng into scoops of emerald water. Walk or cycle the trails crisscross­ing its interior to popular Rajska (Paradise) and the mile-long Sahara, or find your own favourite among dozens of coves. Pack your swimmers or just a towel – clothing is optional, thanks to

King Edward VIII, who in 1936 went skinny-dipping with Wallis Simpson off their yacht at Kandarola beach, sparking the trend for naturism in Croatia.

How to get there Fly to Rijeka and take the ferry from Stinica on the mainland or Valbiska on Krk.

Where to stay The King and Mrs Simpson stayed at the 1920s-built Imperial Grand Hotel, now part of the Valamar Collection (doubles from £135, B&B).



When Odysseus stepped on Ponza’s shores, he was seduced by Circe the sorceress – and the island has been seducing travellers ever since. Lost in the Tyrrhenian Sea between Naples and Sardinia, Ponza is where in-the-know Italians shift down a gear during summer. Rugged limestone cliffs soar above

fingernail bays of dazzling sand and pebble – secret beaches reached only by boat or an intrepid scramble down the rock. The sea is so clear you can see the rocks below when you swim, its colour shifting from pale green to inky blue.

There are easier-to-reach, family friendly beaches, too: Cala Feola with its beach bar and jetty, the cove forming a harbour full of boats; wide Frontone has sun loungers in high summer – and while they may fill up in August, the island never feels over-run, thanks to the absence of an airport.

The colourful port is a gentle haven, painted the shades of an artist’s palette: ochre, lemon and Cadmium red. Though laid-back, there is no shortage of smart boutiques and restaurant­s (waterside Acqua Pazza has a Michelin star) catering to the well-heeled Romans and Neapolitan­s who would rather keep Ponza their secret.

How to get there Fly to Rome. Train to Anzio Colonia, then hydrofoil or car ferry to Ponza.

Where to stay Hotel Chiaia di Luna is Ponza’s best hotel, its terraces of pastel casas, swimming pool and excellent restaurant set high above the bay where Odysseus landed (doubles from £100 B&B). Atmospheri­c Hotel Torre dei Borboni is a gem of a three-star (doubles from £70 B&B).



The Greek shipowners who built their mansions on Andros in the early 20th century blessed this Cyclades gem with an affluence that enabled it, for a long time, to cock a snook to outsiders. It still feels like early days for tourism. Unlike Santorini and Mykonos, which bring ever-growing crowds to their ever-glitzier hotels, Andros’s charms are quieter, and remain largely the preserve of shipping magnates and the cognoscent­i of Athens, two hours away by boat.

No wonder they want to keep it a secret. Unique to this archipelag­o, Andros has a lush mountainou­s interior where rivers spring from the ground bringing verdant life – lush forests, orchards, citrus groves – as they cascade through the hillsides into pools deep enough to swim in. The Andros Route trail runs through it, 60 miles; you can walk the island top to toe in 10 days. Otherwise, hire a 4x4 to explore; the roads peter out into rough tracks before they reach the beaches, which are stunning: isolated, uncultivat­ed, sun lounger-free shores of fine, pale sand (another rarity in the Cyclades) and the most unbelievab­ly blue sea.

Its main town of Chora is unexpected­ly grand with its neoclassic­al city hall and houses with doric-columned porticos, and its cultural spaces include a progressiv­e Museum of Contempora­ry Art and an open-air amphitheat­re with arts performanc­es in August.

How to get there Fly to Athens; transfer (bus/taxi, 20 mins) to Rafina; take a ferry to Andros (2hr); or fly to Mykonos then ferry/Sea Jet from Tourlos port to Andros (1hr+).

Where to stay Mèlisses is a gorgeous retreat with an emphasis on the produce of Andros; owner Allegra Pomilio (who trained with Alain Ducasse) leads cooking classes and tours (from £299 a night). Onar is a collection of minimal (but chic) stone cottages, plus restaurant and pool, behind dazzling Ahla beach built by shipbroker and magnanimou­s host Mateo Pantzopoul­os (cottages from £210, B&B). Alternativ­ely, find good-value rentals at


Before the 2015 Tilda Swinton film A Bigger Splash, nobody had heard of this Italian island. Even now, few could point to it on a map – far-flung down in the southernmo­st reaches of Europe, closer to Tunisia than to Sicily.

It is known as the “Black Pearl of the Mediterran­ean” for its dark volcanic rock, and its sun-baked, windswept landscapes made a fine backdrop for the sexual tensions of the film – and, in real life, provide an offbeat refuge for A-listers (among them Sting, Truman Capote and Giorgio Armani) who choose Pantelleri­a precisely because it lacks beaches and thus hordes of holidaymak­ers. Pantelleri­a requires more work. Instead, locals and visitors swim off the rocks or in thermal pools, and indulge in the island’s spa therapies: slathering themselves in skin-softening sulphurous mud in the Mirror of Venus lake, and detoxing in the natural sauna at Benikula Grotto.

How to get there Fly to Pantelleri­a from the UK via Sicily.

Where to stay Rent a dammuso (domed stone dwelling) on the Tenuta Borgia estate – Swinton’s home in A Bigger Splash (from £655 a week). Or check into Sikelia, a chic, 20-suite hillside hideaway (suites from £314 B&B).



An easy hop from the Greek capital, Hydra is the poster girl for the Saronic Islands, a superstar hangout since the 1960s when its tumble of pale houses captivated Leonard Cohen and his artsy cohort. En route to Hydra from Athens, meanwhile, is its fellow Saronic island of Agistri, which remains little visited by celebritie­s or British holidaymak­ers, despite being less than an hour from Piraeus. Instead of a photogenic harbour and boutique hotels, it lures with beaches and its easygoing way of life. In the village of Skala, waterside tavernas are strung with fishing nets and octopus drying in the sunshine, and a blue-domed church presides behind a curve of sand shelving into iridescent shallows.

How to get there Fly to Athens, ferry from Piraeus port (from 45m; directferr­

Where to stay Adults-only Saronis is charming, its sunny taverna the first on the island (doubles from £64). Families might try Rosy’s Little Village; its simple rooms sleep up to five (doubles from £57 room only). Olympic Holidays offers a week’s holiday on Agistri from £748pp B&B at the three-star Oasis Beach Hotel & Spa, including flights.




An hour’s sail transports you from Dubrovnik’s thronged walled city and urban beaches to laid-back Lopud in the Elaphite archipelag­o. The boat drops you at its harbour – just a smattering of honey-coloured stone buildings drowsing in the sun – and once the ferry has chuntered away the carfree island falls peaceful again.

A walk up and over its forested hinterland brings you to Sunj beach, a half moon of sand and dazzling green water, one of the best in all Croatia, with a couple of bamboo-thatched beach bars for sundowners and salads. Otherwise, the action is all back in Lopud harbour – that is, a handful of unpretenti­ous bistros beside the water, serving the freshest lobster and langoustin­e for a fraction of the price of other Mediterran­ean rivieras.

How to get there

Fly to Dubrovnik and take the ferry from the port.

Where to stay There is one large resort on Lopud’s otherwise unspoilt coastline, Lafodia Hotel (doubles from £127 B&B). Otherwise, you may prefer to rent an apartment or villa (try vrbo. com or; or for something super-special, the five-bedroom Lopud 1483 is an exquisitel­y restored monastery filled with the owner’s amazing art collection (price on request, through



Leave Taormina to the American heiresses and honeymoone­rs, and go in search of Sicily’s wilder spirit, found 10 miles off its western shores in the Egadi archipelag­o. Its three inhabited islands are Levanzo, Marettimo and, the biggest of them, Favignana.

Life centres on the harbour in Favignana village, all blue and white – the painted fishing boats bobbing on the water, the side streets lined with blue-shuttered houses. Fishermen at the port can take you around the island by boat; otherwise rent a bicycle or scooter to explore the scrubby landscape of thyme and purple-flowering borage, punctuated with olive trees and the green spikes of aloe. Rising up at the island’s centre is the abandoned fort of Santa Catarina, eagles riding the thermals above.

Easy cycling tracks run from cove to cove, the island fringed with sandy limestone the colour of caramel gelato. The locals know where to find slivers of sand (try Cala Azzurra), or else dive off the rocks into bright waters.

The few visitors, who are almost exclusivel­y Italian, hop over by hydrofoil from Trapani to snorkel, dive or relax. Until recently the archipelag­o had always depended on tuna, not tourism, for its wealth – Favignana was once the tuna capital of the world. Now the Egadi islands form part of the largest protected marine reserve in the Mediterran­ean, whose corals and sea grasses harbour varied underwater life; besides tuna swim sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, devil rays, and the rare monk seal in the extraordin­arily clear waters that surround the islands.

How to get there Fly to Trapani (Ryanair flies direct) and take the hydrofoil/ferry to Favignana.

Where to stay B&B La Casa dell’Arancio has vaulted rooms of Moorish tiling – a nod to the North African coast not 100 miles away (two nights from £157). Dimora Cala del Pozzo and Dimora dell’Olivastro are a pair of stone farmhouse hotels: eightbedro­om Cala del Pozzo, 300 steps from the sea; and six-bedroom, sienna-painted Olivastro in the hills (doubles from £157).

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 ?? ?? i Survey the harboursid­e views in Corricella, a 17th-century fishing village on Procida
i Survey the harboursid­e views in Corricella, a 17th-century fishing village on Procida
 ?? ?? i Azur Retreat on Meganisi offers pool suites on a hillside overlookin­g a sheltered bay
i Azur Retreat on Meganisi offers pool suites on a hillside overlookin­g a sheltered bay
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 ?? ?? g Cala Napoletana, a bay on the island of Caprera – part of the Maddalena Archipelag­o
National Park in Sardinia
j ‘It lures with its beaches and easygoing way of life’: charming Agistri island
g Cala Napoletana, a bay on the island of Caprera – part of the Maddalena Archipelag­o National Park in Sardinia j ‘It lures with its beaches and easygoing way of life’: charming Agistri island
 ?? ?? i Recharge your batteries at the Mèlisses retreat on the island of Andros
i Recharge your batteries at the Mèlisses retreat on the island of Andros
 ?? ?? j A kitchen in that oh-so-Greek blue, on Pantelleri­a
j A kitchen in that oh-so-Greek blue, on Pantelleri­a

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