Holiday hideaways: Five European islands you’ve probably never heard of

Colonsay, Scotland. Picture: Alamy/Pa

Dodge the crowds on the most popular continental archipelagos by opting for these lesser-known island destinations, says Sarah Marshall


Nothing sums up the joy of holiday disconnection better than a break spent idling on a secret hideaway island. While we’re all familiar with the stars of the Balearics, Canaries and Ionian archipelagos, there are hundreds of specks in the sea that we foolishly overlook.

From a wildlife sanctuary off the coast of Mallorca, to a spectacular wildlife idyll close to Scotland, these islands are beyond extraordinary. So, for a stress-free holiday without the crowds, give these lesser-known escapes a try.


Marettimo, Italy

Sicily is a fabulous destination, but you can do one better. A 30-minute hydrofoil ride from Trapani, three islands in the middle of Europe’s biggest marine reserve make up the idyllic Egadi archipelago.

The best and most remote is traffic-free Marettimo, believed to be Ithaca, the homeland of Greek hero Odysseus.

There are only a handful of places to stay – including self-catering apartments at the Marettimo Residence, while fresh lobster and fish are served at local trattorias. As you’d expect, the opportunities for diving and snorkelling are superb – with more than 400 sea caves to explore. On land, hiking trails lead to the ruins of a Byzantine church and a lighthouse. Wake early to see mouflon sheep and peregrine falcons on trails.


Colonsay, Scotland

Claiming to have the highest number of sunshine hours in the UK, this remote island off the west coast of Scotland is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with plenty of opportunities to disappear into crowd-free golden dunes.

The corncrake, one of Britain’s rarest birds, is a famous resident, while seabirds such as kittiwakes and fulmars can also be seen. Go fly fishing in the lochs, surf from powdery beaches or play a round of golf.

This is also the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery and distillery – Colonsay Brewery and Wild Thyme Spirits. Stay in a hotel, self-catering accommodation or take advantage of Scottish law to wild camp.


Inisheer, Ireland

Not to be confused with the fictional setting for The Banshees of Inisherin, this tiny fleck off the west coast of Galway Bay is still a wonderful advert for Ireland’s scenery. A combination of all three Aran islands inspired the setting for the hit film starring Colin Farrell, with some scenes even filmed here.

In clear view of the Cliffs of Moher, Inisheer is the smallest island, where fishermen parade along white sand beaches with their daily catch. Measuring just 3km by 3km, it’s easy to cover by foot or by bike. But for a novel experience, travel by pony and trap or a bus tugged along by a tractor.

B&Bs and hotels provide overnight accommodation. To arrive at the island, take a ferry from Rossaveal or Doolin.


Cabrera, Spain

Mallorca may be a popular summer holiday choice. But where do the locals seek refuge when hordes of tourists arrive? So wild and untouched it’s been designated a national park, Cabrera – a migratory stop-over for 130 bird species – is only an hour’s boat ride away.

Used as a food store by the Romans, its only inhabitants were historically goats, but it’s still open to day-trippers and a handful of guests lucky enough to stay in a beachside refuge from €50 per night. Book accommodation through the park ( and transfers through Excursions Cabrera ( Best visited in the afternoon when the sun’s rays stream through the entrance, the Blue Cave is one of the island’s top natural wonders.


Kaunissaari, Finland

Thousands of islands cluster together to form Finland – meaning it’s not hard to holiday close to water. Featuring forests, beaches and enticing clapperboard cabins, all are appealing. But Kaunissaari, called “the beautiful island”, is definitely a stand-out choice. A 90-minute ferry ride from Kotka, 130km east of Helsinki, the coastal island sits in the Gulf of Finland.

Visit handicraft stalls, wander around an art gallery, take a sauna or laze on long sandy stretches. Stay in campsites, rent a log cabin from Kaunissaari Holiday Centre or stay in an old school building built in the 1900s.

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