European Island Finder
What’s your pleasure: a deserted beach or a tanned throng? The soothing warmth of the Mediterranean or the Baltic’s bracing chill? T+L’s selective guide gives you all of the above.
Whitewashed buildings, blue-domed churches, fiery sunsets. If this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because Santorini is what Jung would have called the archetypal island, the one we all share in our collective unconscious. Santorini, however, is not the place to delve into psychological theory. Here the pleasures are of the flesh—vineyard-hopping; hiking; swimming off a black-sand beach—and of the senses. Indeed, the main activity on Santorini is gazing: at the horizon as you float in the pool at Perivolas, the minimalist-chic resort in the village of Oia; at a fiery sunset from the deck chair you had the foresight to reserve at Franco’s Bar, in Fira; at the moon’s reflection in the sea from a table at Oia’s Ambrosia Restaurant. From the moment first-time visitors step off the boat, climb off the donkey, or exit the funicular, Santorini feels familiar. That is what makes the island so romantic. Like true love, when you find it, you realize it was exactly what you were waiting for. —Eleni Gage
There are two Corsicas: the glamorous, sun-blasted island of seaside resorts and boldface names, and the misty, steep land of the mountains. Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio are part of the first Corsica—mauve Mediterranean waters filled with winking and nodding yachts, white-sand beaches, plentiful restaurants, and fish that’s bracingly fresh, like a slap in the face that returns you to consciousness (try it at a seaside table at Catina Grill, in Bonifacio). Yet no matter how white and soft the sand, how temperate the sea, and how warm and steady the sun, the reality of the mountains is never far away. In the heart of the island are innumerable waterfalls and rock pools, raging rivers that look like molten aluminum, and the interior’s most photographed natural wonder, the Col de Bavella, an expanse of otherworldly granite needles with no apparent evolutionary purpose save the triggering of fear and trembling. But Corsica is no place to be wimpy, not a place to be prim or shy. It’s a place to get drenched, it’s a place to be exhausted, it’s a place to be just a little less civilized than you normally are. —Scott Spencer
Sardinia is the ur-beach vacation spot for Italians, who are the masters of seaside lounging. The second-largest island in the Mediterranean, it’s small enough to drive across in half a day, large enough to provide some mystery, if that’s what you’re looking for. But you’ll always be close to a beach and a hotel and a tanned Italian enjoying them. Destination No. 1 for Sardinian vacationers is the Maddalena Archipelago, northeast of the main island. It consists of seven mostly uninhabited islands: an encyclopedia of blues—azure to midnight—and a dictionary of beaches. At Spargi there’s a giant rock that looks like a bulldog—you can climb up and dive from it—and Manto della Madonna has some of the clearest water in the Mediterranean. To be honest, the beaches all kind of blend together, each more perfect than the last. The 45-room Coluccia Hotel & Beach Club, in the small town of Santa Teresa di Gallura, is ideal for couples who crave undisturbed together time and can handle tough decisions, such as whether to sunbathe by the free-form pool, take a boat to Maddalena Island for a lobster lunch at La Grotta restaurant, or build sandcastles beside the sea. —Devin Friedman
Hvar is the latest of the famous international playgrounds, heir to that noble lineage running from Cannes and Capri through St. Bart’s and South Beach. It’s so relentlessly gorgeous it makes your eyes ache: the harbor edged with bougainvillea, the exquisitely aged Renaissance façades, the nonstop parade of caramelized torsos. You could spend a month in tiny Hvar Town and never tire of the daily routine. At the morning market, Claudia Cardinale look-alikes rub shoulders with black-cloaked biddies shopping for figs. As the sun climbs higher, breakfast seamlessly merges with lunch (try the buttery spaghetti with lobster at Macondo). At twilight the crowd congregates at Carpe Diem, a club whose cushioned stools are occupied by couples paying with Credit Suisse platinum cards. If you left your mega-yacht in St.-Tropez, hole up at the swank Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel, whose best rooms overlook the marina. —Peter Jon Lindberg
Gotland looks pretty and wholesome—rose-covered cottages; Gothic churches; green pastures—but this is Sweden’s island of hidden hedonism. Every July a wave of hip young Stockholmers transforms the sleepy medieval town of Visby into that rarest of things: a Unesco World Heritage site with a kicking party scene. Within its 13th-century walls, restaurants serving cutting-edge Nordic cuisine sit alongside old-fashioned bakeries selling cinnamon buns. Lazy days are spent on blond beaches surrounded by blond people; long summer twilights strolling Visby’s cobblestoned streets (stop for a glass of rosé under the evening sky at café-bar Vinäger). Dinner might be a classic fish dish in the simple white-tiled room at Bakfickan, or a riff on modern Swedish cuisine—grilled Baltic turbot with browned butter, beets, and horseradish, say—on the terrace of 50 Kvadrat. Later, take your pick of the summer-only clubs, such as Gutekällaren, which pulls in big Swedish musical acts. The best hotels are away from Visby. Fabriken Furillen, in the northeast, pairs luxury (Hästens beds; Bang & Olufsen electronics) with a starkly beautiful postindustrial setting. Or head south to the eight-room Djupvik Hotel. With its white chaise longues lined up by the pool, it looks as if it stopped in Gotland en route to some Greek isle and decided to stay. —Stephen Whitlock
It’s a mystery to me how the nine islands of the Azores, warmed by the Gulf Stream, have eluded travelers. Flung out into the mid-Atlantic, far from their parent country of Portugal, the islands retain an old-world authenticity that is hard to find elsewhere in the world. Having spent summers there as a child, I recall a landscape striped with vineyards and carpeted in wildflowers, and a people who welcome everyone—not just a local girl like me—as their own. On my trips back, I like to rent a bike and explore the lush island of São Miguel like it’s my first time. I’ll fill my flask with mineral-rich spring water that flows from aquifers belowground, then stop along the route at the Furnas, a popular natural hot spring, or at the rustic Ribeira Quente beach. In my basket are fresh sardines to grill at one of the roadside picnic areas.
But São Miguel isn’t all just bucolic countryside. Ponta Delgada has a raucous nightlife scene during summer, especially when the Senhor Santo Cristo Festa is on. To make the most of it, start your evening with an ice cream cone from a parlor on the marina, then catch the huge procession in honor of the statue of Christ discovered in the bay by fishermen in 1522. —Nelly Furtado
Until 1991, Muhu, a small island in the Baltic sea, was part of the “border zone” between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world. No one—not even Estonians—could travel to the area without a visa. Even since it became part of the European Union, the island has seen few visitors. We can thank that isolation for the loveliness of Pädaste Manor hotel, whose origins go back to the 16th century. It is one of the few manor houses in Estonia that wasn’t neglected and crowded out by corn silos and apartment blocks during the Soviet era. Staying at Pädaste, you can project yourself into a fantasy in which it is your own ancestral estate. The series of low stone cottages and a main house are arranged around a beautiful quad, and thick old trees sway high above the lawn, which is intersected by paths that lead to a gate and the shore of the Baltic. At the hotel’s Sea House restaurant, get into the carnivorous, hunter-gatherer vibe by ordering the roasted and dried ostrich or the moose carpaccio—like pork but smokier and gamier. The landscape seems like a Dutch Renaissance painting, with its iridescent green grass, pale light, and calm if slightly ominous water in the distance. The stillness of it all is especially striking during sunset, the distant shore dark with trees, the streaks of pink light playing on the water. —Thomas Beller
Formentera, the sleepy little sister of Ibiza, is caught in an endearing 1970’s time warp. Its counterculture vibe is so laid back you’ll be grateful that it has resisted development for so long. Though the 10-mile-long, bone-shaped stretch of white sand and crystalline shallows is just a quick boat ride away from Ibiza, Formentera has no clubs, no traffic, no glitz. All you need to be a part of the “action” is a swimsuit and a rented scooter to zip around the narrow lanes. Swim, snorkel, nap: that’s the mantra. Between those lazy activities, visitors gather at local landmark Restaurante Juan y Andrea, a tented sprawl of wooden tables set beside the glassy Mediterranean, where stylish Spaniards sample giant prawns a la plancha or platters of lobster paella. Sunset worship is another ritual, a mellow affair at the ramshackle-glam Blue Bar, on Playa Mitjorn, where the caipirinhas are strong and the tapas spectacular. On Sundays, Jade Jagger types trawl the flea market at La Mola in search of handmade silver and bronze jewelry by native islander Enric Majoral. For less tumbledown luxury, stay at one of 28 sand-colored rooms at newly revamped Gecko Beach Club, overlooking the turquoise shallows at Playa Mitjorn. —Lanie Goodman
Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines both fly the 45-minute hop to Santorini from Athens.
Perivolas Oia; 30-22860/71308; perivolas.gr; doubles from $579.
Ambrosia Restaurant Order the grilled octopus in fava purée. Oia; 30-22860/71413; restaurant-ambrosia.com; dinner for two $135.
Franco’s Bar Fira; 30-22860/24428; francos.gr; drinks for two $28.
T+L A-List agent Christos Stergiou can arrange private wine tastings, sailing trips, and other unique experiences. 800/817-7098; email@example.com.
Air France and Air Corsica fly from Nice—less than an hour away—to the island’s four airports.
Great Value A Pignata Family-owned hotel and restaurant in a restored farmhouse in the mountains above Porto-Vecchio. Route du Pianu, Levie; 33-4/95- 78-41-90; apignata.com; doubles from $138.
Grand Hôtel de Cala Rossa The aesthetic here is Perfectionism: the knowledge of what will be most pleasing and functional to the hotel’s deep-pocketed guests. Porto-Vecchio; 33-4/95-71-61-51; cala-rossa.com; doubles from $400, including breakfast.
Cantina Grill 3 Quai Banda del Ferro, Bonifacio; 33-4/95-70-49-86; cantinagrill.fr; lunch for two $56.
Le Calenzana (Chez Michel) Simple Corsican cuisine, including the house specialty, lamb cooked in a wood-burning oven, in a picturesque mountain village. 7 Cours St.-Blaise, Calenzana; 33-4/95-62-70-25; dinner for two $49.
Claudia Gordon, with Betty Maclean Travel, is a Corsica specialist who can arrange vineyard visits, rental homes, and yacht charters. 800/865-8111 or 239/513-0333; firstname.lastname@example.org; consulting fee from $200.
Alitalia flies the hour or so from both Milan and Venice to the Olbia–Costa Smeralda airport. Santa Teresa di Gallura is an hour away by car.
Coluccia Hotel & Beach Club Località Conca Verde, Santa Teresa di Gallura; 39-0789/758-004; lacoluccia.eu; doubles from $358; open May–September.
Hotel Cala di Volpe The most famous and most exclusive hotel on the island. Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda; 800-325-3589 or 39-0789/976-111; starwoodhotels.com; doubles from $1,102; open May–October.
Da Tonino Superb waterfront dining on Tavolara Island, a limestone massif offshore from Olbia. 39-0798/40022; lunch for two $69; open May–September.
Ristorante La Grotta Maddalena Island; 39-0789/737-228; lagrotta.it; lunch for two $167; open June–September.
Italy specialist Margot Cushing knows Sardinia well and can help tailor a trip to the island. 800/808-6237 or 212/784-0259; email@example.com; consulting fee from $300.
Fly to Split, on the mainland, then take the one-hour catamaran trip to Hvar (jadrolinija.hr).
Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel Fabrika; 385-21/750-200; suncanihvar.com; doubles from $275.
Macondo Groda; 385-21/742-850; lunch for two $80; open April–October.
Carpe Diem Riva; 385-21/742-369; carpe-diem-hvar.com; drinks for two $25; open May–September.
Let A-List agent Andrea Sertoli help plan your Dalmatian itinerary; he can charter boats, locate private beaches, and identify the handful of good hotels. 800/877-1755; firstname.lastname@example.org; consulting fee from $100.
Swedish airlines Skyways and Gotlandsflyg fly to Gotland from Stockholm; the trip takes 45 minutes.
Djupvik Hotel 233 Eksta Bopparve, Klintehamn; 46-498/244-272; djupvikhotel.com; doubles from $350, including breakfast.
Fabriken Furillen Lärbro; 46-498/223-040; furillen.nu; doubles from $270; open April–September.
Bakfickan 1 Stora Torget, Visby; 46-498/271-807; bakfickan-visby.nu; dinner for two $70; closed February.
50 Kvadrat 15 S:T Hansplan, Visby; 46-498/278-380; 50kvadrat.se; dinner for two $317; open mid April– mid September.
Gutekällaren 3 Lilla Torggränd, Visby; 46-498/210-043; gutekallaren.com; drinks for two $32; open June–August.
Vinäger 4 Hästgatan, Visby; 46-498/211-168; drinks for two $13; open May–August.
Carol Arklind, one of T+L’s A-List agents, has suggestions for day trips around Gotland by bike. 858/551-4000; email@example.com; consulting fee from $150.
The São Miguel airport is about two miles from the center of Ponta Delgada. There is daily service from Lisbon, about two hours away, on TAP Portugal and SATA; the latter also has nonstop flights from Boston and Oakland, California.
Great Value Casa do Monte A stately pink mansion on a hill overlooking the Atlantic that’s been in the same family for three centuries. Santo António Além Capelas; 351/296-298-144; virtualazores.com/monte; doubles from $63.
Great Value Quinta da Mó Roosters awaken you at dawn at this former farm with four houses set in tranquil gardens within walking distance of the Furnas. Furnas; 351/917-800-281; quintadamo.com; doubles from $187, two-night minimum.
O Gato Mia Of course you have to try the bacalhau (salt cod) at this creekside favorite, but the fresh octopus salad is also delicious. Ribeira Grande; 351/296-479-420; ogatomia.com; dinner for two $55.
Nuno Tavares, a travel agent specializing in Portugal, was born in the Azores and can set up tours, activities, and meals at off-the-radar local restaurants. 351/213-904-208; firstname.lastname@example.org; consulting fee from $150.
There are no direct flights from the United States to Tallinn, Estonia, but you can connect on Finnair, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, and others. The drive to Muhu takes 2 1/2 hours from Tallinn, followed by a 20-minute ferry crossing (laevakompanii.ee)
Pädaste Manor Muhu; 011-372/454-8800; padaste.ee; doubles from $267; dinner for two $158; open March–October.
Mariana Fisher at Exeter International, an agency specializing in Eastern Europe, is savvy about the Baltics and particularly fond of Muhu. 813/251-5355; email@example.com; consulting fee from $200.
You’ll find frequent flights to Ibiza from Barcelona, Madrid, and cities throughout Europe. From there, the ferry to Formentera takes about 30 minutes (balearia.com).
Great Value Gecko Beach Club 34/97-132-8024; geckobeachclub.com; doubles from $216.
Restaurante Juan y Andrea Playa Illetas; 34/97-118-7130; juanyandrea.com; lunch for two $139.
Blue Bar Playa Mitjorn; 34/66-675-8190; bluebarformentera.com; drinks for two $30.
10.7 Formerly called Vista y Sol, the pioneering beachside bar and restaurant is still stylish. Playa Migjorn; 34/97-132-8485; 10punto7.com; drinks for two $28.
Virginia Irurita, a Spain specialist and T+L A-List agent, arranges tours and has tips on the best beaches and restaurants. 34/61-654-1626; firstname.lastname@example.org; consulting fee from $137.