Everyone’s perfect holiday island is different. Some want wildlife, some want wild-swimming – but almost all of us want a few classic Robinson Crusoe moments.
That’s why we’ve scoured the globe to find the world’s lesser-known islands with perfect places to stay.
THE BEST FOR ROBINSON CRUSOE MOMENTS
La Digue, Seychelles
Anse Source D’Argent beach in the Seychelles. It’s busy as it’s regularly voted one of the most beautiful on the planet
A giant tortoise on La Digue in the Seychelles. There are more than a dozen spectacular beaches on the island
Feel the warm, white sands of one of the world’s most famous beaches under your toes as you step towards the sea on this practically car-free Indian Ocean island. The beach you’ll want to visit first is the palm-fringed Anse Source D’Argent. It’s busy as it’s regularly voted one of the most beautiful on the planet. But La Digue has more than a dozen other spectacular beaches, so rent a bike, escape the crowds and find a more private patch of sandy paradise. Better still, ask at a dive shop and they’ll take you to an uninhabited island nearby for some classic Castaway moments.
Find it: Fast catamarans carve across clear blue waters from the nearby island of Praslin – or spoil yourself with a helicopter transfer from the main Seychelles airport on Mahe. British Airways has twice-weekly direct flights to the Seychelles from £546, or fly with a stop with the likes of Etihad or Emirates.
Stay: Small, family-run Le Nautique hotel where the high tide sometimes laps up over your toes as you enjoy dinner on the poolside deck. From £234 a night for two, B&B (lenautique.sc/ladigue).
See more: Search for seychelles.org.
THE BEST FOR WILD SWIMMERS
It’s easy to find your own private cove and dive in for some stunning wild swimming round the rocky coast of Pantelleria, the tiny volcanic outcrop known as ‘Italy’s black pearl’. There’s great swimming inland as well. Take a dip in the heart-shaped lake that’s fed by rainwater and heated by natural hot springs: the temperature keeps changing as you swim across it. Too strenuous? There are mineral-rich muds to laze in on the edge of the lake. Or sit in the island’s natural sauna – it’s carved into the side of a hillside grotto and you creep into it a few steps at a time through a gap in the rocks. Final tip? Keep your eye out for celebrities. Giorgio Armani is a low-key local resident, and recent guests include Madonna and Julia Roberts.
Find it: Alitalia has summertime flights to the island from Rome and Milan, or arrive by hydrofoil from Trapani in Sicily.
Stay: Join groups of happy Italian families and take in sea views from your balcony at Hotel Village Suvaki, room-only doubles from £115 a night (hotelsuvaki.it/en).
See more: Search for Pantelleria at visitsicily.info.
THE BEST FOR NATURE-LOVERS
Isla Contoy, Mexico
Natural wonders: A sail fish off Isla Contoy, Mexico. The Mexican government only allows 200 daily visitors to the island
The rich smell of sea lavender is all-enveloping as you’re guided across long, deserted beaches and thick mangrove swamps on this special island. It’s special because the Mexican government won’t allow more than 200 daily visitors. When you arrive you’re greeted by a resident biologist who knows the island’s secrets and shows you where sea turtles nest and brown pelicans feed.
You’ll feel you’re in a private paradise, even though it’s a serious place of work for the botanists and biologists who help you enjoy it. Help them in return by spending money in the island’s tiny shop, as profits assist in funding more scientific research.
Find it: It’s a two-hour boat journey from either Cancun or Isla Mujeres to Isla Contoy – ask any of the boat firms there about day trips.
Stay: The biologists are the only overnight guests allowed on the island, so stay on Isla Mujeres. The beachside Privilege Aluxes is smaller than most Mexican resorts and has stylish rooms and suites from £198 a night, B&B (privilegehotels.com).
See more: Visit islacontoy.org.
THE BEST FOR FRESH AIR
Greek charm: Windmills on Astypalea. The island is named after an ancient nymph and it’s the place to go if you want Santorini-style white walls, blue domes and clifftop views for half the price
The butterfly-shaped Greek island of Astypalea is full of myths and mysteries – but few tourists. It’s named after an ancient nymph and it’s the place to go if you want Santorini-style white walls, blue domes and clifftop views for half the price. Houses hug the hillside in the small main town of Chora. Astypalea is trying to become world’s first smoke-free island. Smoking isn’t banned just yet, but expect disapproving looks if you light up.
Find it: Take an island-hopping ferry from Piraeus near Athens that stops in places like Naxos and Rhodes on its nine-hour journey to Astypalea. Or Aegean Airlines has summertime flights from Athens.
Stay: There’s a wonderful mix of traditional Greek island charm and arty, Modernist style at the Kallichoron Art Boutique Hotel – where ‘grandma’s Greek breakfast’ is the perfect way to start every day. It’s got three-night minimum stays from £220 per room, including breakfast (kallichoron.gr/en).
See more: Visit visitastypalea.com.
THE BEST FOR MULTI-GENERATIONAL FUN
Sentosa Island, Singapore
Madness fills the air in an island called ‘the state of fun’. Getting there is part of the party – you can arrive by cable-car from mainland Singapore. Sentosa is a local favourite that’s only just got on the radar for adrenaline-hungry Brits and it’s ideal for recharging your batteries on a stop-over on the way to Australia. It won’t be quiet, so throw yourself into the spirit of the place by hitting the waterpark, the golf course, the spa or the beach. Need more? There’s indoor sky-diving, or try a 150ft sunset bungee-jump. Then grab some popcorn and relax at the water’s-edge cinema with a free film under the stars.
Find it: Buses or taxis take you over the bridge from downtown Singapore in 15 minutes – or get the cable-car from the Harbour-front metro station.
Stay: Take the fun level to maximum at the Hard Rock hotel. Rooms start at £189 a night – or splurge on the Rock Star Suite that sleeps up to four adults and four children (hardrockhotels.com).
See more: Visit sentosa.com.sg.
THE BEST FOR SHIPWRECKS
Magdalen Islands, Canada
Salt water stings your face on this string of 12 tiny islands off the coast of Nova Scotia. It’s a wild and windy place and more than 500 sunken ships lie beneath the waves. Tour guides tell the ships’ stories from rocky promontories and, for the best maritime photo, stand in front of the picture-perfect lighthouses that protect today’s busy waters. Or snap away amid the red sandstone cliffs and in front of the brightly painted wooden houses that dot the islands’ coves and bays. The French influence is strong (the islands, or Les Isles, are part of Quebec) and a slab of the award-winning local Pied-de-Vent cheese on warm, freshly baked French bread is the culinary highpoint for many guests.
Find it: Air Canada has flights from Montreal and Quebec, but most visitors arrive by ferry. It’s a long but scenic five-hour journey from Prince Edward Island.
Stay: Try the Havre-sur-Mer hotel, where clapboard buildings sit in a beachside medicinal garden. There’s a three-night minimum on stays, from £463 per room (havresurmer.com).
See more: Visit tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com.
SIX MORE CASTAWAY CRACKERS
Saba in the Dutch Caribbean
Its silhouette was used as Skull Island in the 1933 film King Kong. Today it’s got great scuba-diving (sabatourisim.com).
Three Hummock Island, Australia
It’s regularly recorded as having the world’s cleanest air. Rare black swans live on its inland lake (threehummockisland.com.au).
San Miguel Island, California
More than 18 million people live within 100 miles but only a few hundred visit here each month to see sea-lions play. Search ‘Channel Islands’ at nps.gov.
The Lofoten Islands, Norway
Pictured is Reine in Norway’s Lofoten Islands. You can see the Northern Lights on these remote Arctic outposts
You can see the Northern Lights on these remote Arctic outposts but you won’t be roughing it. There’s Scandi-chic fine-dining by the harbour in Nusfjord (nusfjordarcticresort.com).
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Lots of locals say they prefer the sands on Ilha Grande, an hour’s boat ride from Rio, to Ipanema and Copacabana. Hiking trails link dozens of beautiful beaches. Search for them at visitbrasil.com.
Tetiaroa, French Polynesia
Exclusive: The Brando is a luxury resort on French Polynesia’s beautiful private island of Tetiaroa, above
Marlon Brando bought his Polynesian paradise in the 1960s after filming Mutiny On The Bounty there.
In 2004, a hotel firm transformed its accommodation into luxury villas.
For more information visit thebrando.com.
… Or try this Croatian gem where a King skinny-dipped
Rab Island’s claim to fame is that in 1936, King Edward VIII went skinny-dipping there with his bride Mrs Wallis Simpson.
Kandarola beach where they bathed on the Croatian island has been a nudist retreat ever since and, close to the harbour, there is a plaque commemorating their visit (with her name mis-spelled).
At the time the British public knew nothing of their trip, as it was the subject of a news blackout. Most Brits still know very little about this beautiful island in the Adriatic – while thousands of Germans and Italians go there every year.
Elegance: The marina at Rab, overlooked by its famous bell towers. The island’s claim to fame is that in 1936, King Edward VIII went skinny-dipping there with his bride Mrs Wallis Simpson
There are some lovely hotels, such as the recently refurbished Valamar Imperial (valamar.com), the first on the island when it was built in 1927, where the King and his new wife stayed, and the historic Arbiana (arbianahotel.com/en) right on the waterfront.
Both have elegant gardens and outdoor pools, and are a short stroll from Rab town.
Dominated by four church towers, two dating from the 12th Century, the town has a labyrinth of enchanting streets and alleyways, palaces, arcaded squares and wooded parks.
From the harbour you can sail around the island and visit Rab’s Alcatraz – Goli Otok, a barren island where then President Tito kept political prisoners in often appalling conditions when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia.
Beaches are plentiful: there are 22 sandy ones – a rarity for Croatia – and cafes and restaurants for all tastes and budgets. Our favourites were the award-winning restaurant at Hotel Villa Barbat (hotel-barbat.com), where we dined on lamb cooked in honey in a secluded garden, and the Astoria, (astoria-rab.com/en) with its first-floor terrace overlooking the harbour.
Here we were served some of the best fish dishes we have ever eaten, from scallops gratin and white scampi risotto to black calamari and sepia risotto. Our meals for two with a bottle of house wine cost us no more than £30 to £35.
And at Kuca Rabske Torte (a museum that celebrates Rab cake) we sampled this traditional island speciality. It was created by nuns 900 years ago as a thank you to Pope Alexander III, who consecrated the cathedral.
We travelled to Rab via Rijeka, a once-bustling port now reimagined as a cultural and tourism hub.
John Stapleton was a guest of Prestige Holidays (prestigeholidays.co.uk). Seven nights at the Arbiana Heritage Hotel Rab costs from £836 per person B&B, including flights from Luton to Zadar, 20kg luggage and private transfers. For more information about the region, visit kvarner.hr.
It has a stunning opera house, Austro-Hungarian palaces, a baroque cathedral, dazzling waterfront and mouth- watering market providing delicious fish for the next-door Fiume restaurant.
In 2020, along with Galway, it will be a European City of Culture. A major feature of celebrations will be a yacht, Galeb, once commandeered by Tito to entertain dignitaries.
Now a rusting hulk, it is being restored with the help of several million euros and will house a museum and restaurant.
Rijeka’s other attraction is that it offers easy access to many of the Kvarner region’s tourist hot spots – such as the island of Krk and the Opatija Riviera.