Take a look at these small but beautiful islands.
This butterfly-shaped island in the Dodecanese is the true arthropod of the Mediterranean. Three minutes away from Livadi beach is Kalderimi “hotel” – actually a group of traditionally built houses (doubles from £50 a night B&B) with a clear view of 13th-century Guerini Castle’s Venetian splendour. While staying on this isolated island, we felt truly at peace with the world. Among the island’s attractions are its caves, with fantastic formations of stalactities and stalagmites. Caves have always been a part of Greek mythology and Astypalaia has some glorious examples.
On the trail of Leonard Cohen, Hydra, Greece
See if you can capture the spirit of Leonard Cohen on Hydra – with some ingenuity and just a little local help we managed to find the house he bought back in the 1960s. Later that day the mature lady sitting at the table next to ours at a taverna told us that she had known Cohen – but in what capacity we never quite found out! Hydra, which is just off the Peloponnese, is a one-hour trip from Piraeus by Hellenic Seaways Flying Dolphin (from about €50 return). It has no motorised vehicles and a harbourside to die for. Boat trips will take you to idyllic beaches.
This island in the north-eastern Aegean is an intriguing meld of Greek and Turkish culture. The town centre boasts a mosque and Ottoman architecture as well as a church and whitewashed cottages. Beaches are crowd-free; eating out is amazing value and locals are welcoming. Cycle through a landscape of olive groves and vineyards, stopping to sample the excellent local wines. Or head for Bozcaada Castle with its wonderful view of the coast. In the evening, make your way to the Polente Feneri (lighthouse) with a picnic from the market: bread, thyme-scented honey, rose-petal and tomato jam, and drink in the sublime sunset.
Lipari is probably the most popular of the Aeolian islands, but Salina is the one for me – it seems to be the closest to how the islands were before commercialisation took hold. If going for the day and sailing from, say, Milazzo, alight from the ferry at Rinella and take the small bus across the island to Santa Marina Salina. The journey takes a while, with a long(ish) stop on the outskirts of Malfa, but it really gives you a flavour of the island – it’s the setting for many scenes in the 1994 film Il Postino.
Solitude and prehistoric art, Levanzo, Italy
The Egadi islands, off north-west Sicily, are less known than the Aeolian and are still home to the old fisherman lifestyle of the region. Levanzo, 10 minutes by hydrofoil from the larger Favignana, is ideal for those seeking peace and quiet and the opportunity to lose themselves amid wild and fragrant nature. It has only one village, the attractive Cala Dogana, and a scattering of stony beaches with crystal clear water. One of the island’s draws is La Grotta del Genovese, a cave – only discovered in 1949 – with graffiti and rock paintings up to 12,000 years old, which is accessible on foot, by boat and 4WD (2-hour tours, booking only).
A great island for cyclists and walkers is Porquerolles, off the coast of Provence. No cars are allowed on this, the largest and liveliest of the Iles d’Hyères, but it can be explored by a series of paths across its steep southern reaches, passing plenty of secluded bathing places. Ferries to the island run from Hyères (€19 return, 15 mins) and Toulon.
A day out on Formentera, Spain
Take the morning ferry from Ibiza over to the small, flat island of Formentera. It takes up to an hour and there are several companies operating lots of ferries (try Aquabus from about €19 return). Upon arrival, hire bicycles from the port, or take your driving licence to get mopeds. Whiz around the island between the salt flats, before stopping for lunch at Tiburon (Playa Cavall d’en Borás), which is right on the beach. Take a dip in the clear waters and get a natural fish-pedicure for free … have a snooze on the beach before cycling the mile or so back to get the evening ferry, admiring the sunset as you speed back over to Ibiza. A perfect day out.
The furthest inhabited island from the Croatian mainland is easy to reach (ferry from Split), but feels a world away. The fishing town of Komiža seems to exist in a time warp. Fishermen still fish, and it’s got a nice, slightly-rough-around-the-edges feel. There are cute little houses, a string of sheltered pebbly beaches, fresh seafood and the best gelato this side of Italy. The best accommodation options are the fishermen’s houses right on the harbour, which are very reasonably priced (but be prepared for some retro furnishings). The best spot in the Med by a mile.
This island, served by ferries from several mainland towns, and the islands of Hvar and Mljet, is held by many to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. A museum in Korčula Town celebrates the adventurer’s travels in China by admitting Chinese visitors free of charge. A steep ascent to the top of what is said to be his family home’s tower repaid us with a bird’s eye view over the narrow streets and alleyways of the town. Taking a short bus journey to Lumbarda, a little village east of the town, we swam and sunbathed on the nearby quiet sandy beaches. The Greeks planted the first vineyards in this area over 2,000 years ago, so we ended the day with a glass or two of grk, the excellent local white wine.