Nothing in Europe is undiscovered. Nothing in Europe is secret.
The Age of Discovery came about several hundred years ago surely because several well-financed would-be explorers surveyed Europe and with a collective shrug said, “Yeah, seen it, what else in the world is there to see/exploit?”.
When you think Europe, you think busy streets and beaches where finding a spot to lay your towel is like a sand-crusted game of Tetris. However, even in densely-populated Europe, there are crowd-free beaches to be found off the tourist trail. Places where you can wallow in the shallows in solitude – and even islands where you’ll be very close to the international airport you flew into.
Here are lesser-known isles where you can go from a suffocating airline cabin to a friendly beach shack in a couple of hours.
* Five stunning European islands you haven’t heard of
* The 10 prettiest, small islands in the Mediterranean
* Tips and things to do at Amalfi Coast, Italy: The three-minute guide
* World’s 10 best archipelagos: Islands that make outstanding travel destinations
Arrive/Depart: Athens International Airport
A European holiday including Greece is an exercise in restraint. No, not the gyros or ouzo – restraint in your itinerary. The Mediterranean state is home to so many islands large and small, that you need to be very picky when planning your trip. I’ll make it easy for you. Head to the stunning sands of Kythnos, just over two hours by boat from Athens’ Piraeus port with BlueStar Ferries. Never heard of Kythnos? Yes, that’s the point. No Santorini cruise ship crowds, no Mykonos posers or Anzac youths in Ios. Instead, you have an accessible island with five-star beaches like Kolona – a strip of golden sand with bays each side – seafood tavernas and boats bobbing in the bay.
Arrive/Depart: Rome International Airport
Three hours from the Italian capital, is the secluded paradise of Ponza. That would be the largest of the Pontine island chain, which rises up from the Tyrrhenian sea, south of Rome. So once you’re done with the Vatican, Colosseum, endless tour groups and your fifth gelato of the day, grab a Trenitalia ticket south to the town of Monte San Biagio, then it’s a short taxi hop to the ferry terminal at Terracina, for the at-least-once daily ferry with Laziomar to the island. You could land at the European hub airport at lunchtime and be sitting pretty in Ponza by the time aperitivo rolls around. There, from the pastel-framed harbour, you can rent small boats to reach nearby beaches, whose cliffs limit the number of bathers.
Arrive/Depart: Toulon Hyères airport or Marseille Provence Airport
You’ve ticked off Nice, done Provence and can’t afford St Tropez or Cannes for more than a croissant. Where to next in the Cote d’Azur? A 30-minute taxi-ferry combo from Toulon Airport will have you on the idyllic isle of Porquerolles. Although you’ll be saving time on transfers, it’ll feel like a timewarp, since much of the island harks back to the 19th Century and there are strict limits on new building. Instead, soak up the sun and views of pastel coloured villages, limestone cliffs and pine-covered interior, best explored on two wheels (cars are banned). After a dip in the Med, a glass of local Rosè and a game of petanque, you’ll forget you were at an airport only hours ago.
Arrive/Depart: Stockholm Arlanda Airport
Yeah, this is maybe more Scandi noir and log cabins by the bay, than palms and pina coladas, but the island of Sandon makes the list for its convenience and very long sunny days. Visit around the June solstice period of Midsomer and you’ll get daylight for around 18 hours a day – allowing plenty of time for nature walks, fishing, a drink in the cutesy village of Sandhamn and maybe a dip in these usually chilly bays. Catch the ferry from downtown Stockholm near Berzilii Park and, just under two hours later, you’ll be on one of the far-flung small islands of the outer archipelago.