Secret Mediterranean islands where you can escape the crowds

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There are more than 200 islands in the Med, yet 90 per cent of tourists stay on just 10 per cent of them. We’ve rounded up six lesser-known isles worth seeking out if you’re looking for a little peace and quiet.

Pantelleria, Italy

Boat at sunset by Luca Volpi. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Closer to Tunisia than Italy, this tiny volcanic island is said to produce the world’s best capers as well as a unique sweet wine called Passito. A favourite celebrity escape – Giorgio Armani has his own dammuso (typical Pantescan domed stone villa) here – pretty Pantelleria remains a quiet, fashionable retreat delightfully void of mass tourism.

Related article: Exploring the best of Croatia's islands
  • Get there: There are daily flight connections from several Italian airports and a daily hydrofoil (2.5hrs) and overnight ferry (around 7hrs) from Trapani, Sicily.
  • Where to stay: There are several cheap, clean hotels in the main town (try Mursia - mursiahotel.it) but it’s highly recommended to splash out on your own dammuso (solopantelleria.it).
  • What to do: Join locals wallowing in the acquacalda (hot spring) at the Gadir harbour, eat your weight in eggplant caponata (stew) and test your fitness by exploring the island by mountain bike.

Bozcaada, Turkey

Known as Tenedos before Turkish independence, this little-known Aegean outpost is a favourite retreat among Istanbul’s chic set – famed architect Resit Soley runs a state-of-the-art winery here. Tranquil and hassle-free, bougainvillea-shaded Bozcaada is the perfect place to sip a Turkish coffee on a cobbled street and lose all sense of time.

  • Get there: There are several daily ferries from mainland Geyikli to Bozcaada (35mins).
  • Where to stay: There’s a terrific selection of cute boutique hotels, designer pansiyons and vineyard accommodations scattered across the island. For more information try en.bozcaadarehberi.com.
  • What to do: Bask on pebble beaches and explore the amazingly preserved Bozcaada Castle by day then linger over mezze platters and trapeze between local wine bars by night. Bring more books than you think you’ll need.

Vis, Croatia

Isla Vis by Mario Fajt. CC BY 2.0.

The furthest inhabited island from mainland Croatia, Vis was a military preserve until 1989, which has helped the island to retain its old world charm. Vis Town’s small marina does get a bit of yacht traffic at the height of summer, but it’s still relatively peaceful here, especially in the Old Town, reached by a scenic seaside promenade from the main centre. For more seclusion, head across the island to Komiza, one of the prettiest towns in the Adriatic.

  • Get there: Several daily car ferries (around 2hrs) and hydrofoils (75mins) connect to Vis Town from mainland Split. A bus meets the ferry to transport passengers to Komiza. There’s also a catamaran connection between Vis and Hvar.
  • Where to stay: There are a couple of hotels in Vis Town (try Hotel Taramis - hotelvis.com) but it’s nicer to opt for your own apartment (croatianvillas.com).
  • What to do: Rent a scooter to explore some of the stunning beach coves that punctuate the coastline, and consider taking a boat trip to the Blue Grotto, a cave on nearby Bisevo Island which glows aquamarine in certain light. There are also more than a dozen wreck dives in the area, and the local wine – both red and white – is very drinkable.

Ithaca, Greece

Tucked between Kefalonia and mainland Greece, the mountainous, mythical home of Homer’s Odysseus isn’t the easiest place to get to, and therein lies the appeal of this sleepy, unspoiled paradise rimmed by brilliant ultramarine water.

  • Get there: Fly in to Kefalonia or take a ferry here from Patra on mainland Greece. Onward ferries to Ithaca (45mins) leave from the town of Sami.
  • Where to stay: Splash out on a room at the lovely Perantzada Hotel in the main harbour town Vathi, or opt for more privacy in a rented apartment in Vathi or the smaller seaside village of Kioni (ithacagreece.com).
  • What to do: It’s worth renting a dinghy to explore some of the beaches that can only be accessed by sea. Apart from satisfying seafood cravings in local fish taverns, there are some great walks around the lush green islands – don't miss the spectacular views from an abandoned monastery above the crumbling village of Exogi.

Formentera, Spain

Formentera by Sonja Pieper. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Despite neighbouring party-ready Ibiza, Formentera moves to a much slower Balaeric beat. Abandoned by the Spanish for centuries due to pirate raids, this desert island became a key stop on the hippie trail in the 1960s – Pink Floyd made an album here – renowned for being surrounded by the clearest waters in the Mediterranean. When the day-trippers leave, you’ll likely have it all to yourself.

  • Get there: Hydrofoils make the 30min trip from Ibiza every hour or so.
  • Where to stay: Check out boho celeb retreat Las Banderas (hotelresidenceformentera.com) at Platja Migjorn, or go bush to Es Ram Eco Resort (esramresort.com).
  • What to do: Strip off and laze about on famed nude beach Platja de ses Illetes, wander the island’s ‘capital village’ Sant Francesc and seek out the natural mud bath in the middle of the island.

Gozo, Malta

In the mid-16th century, murderous knights were incarcerated on Malta’s second largest island to cool off. These days, the Maltese flee to its ruggedly beautiful shores on weekends to escape the main island bustle, whiling away their hours on golden sand beaches and feasting on fresh seafood.

  • Get there: After flying into Malta, it’s roughly 45mins drive to the ferry terminal, and a 30min voyage to Gozo.
  • Where to stay: Splash out on a waterfront room at Saint Patricks Hotel in Xlendi Bay (stpatrickshotel.com), a popular lunch stop for day-trippers, or consider renting a farmhouse (gozofarmhouses.com) in a quiet corner of the island.
  • What to do: Rent a car or jump on a hop-on hop-off bus and make stops at the capital Victoria’s citadel Il-Kastel, Dwerja’s breathtaking Azure Window and Xaghra’s Ggantija Temples, which date from 3600-3000BC. There’s some good diving, and it’s well worth a dip in Comino Island’s famed Blue Lagoon, just a 10-minute speedboat ride away.