Our favourite secret island escapes
The feeling of leaving everything behind as you cross the water to an island is one of irresistible freedom and drama. From the wild coast of Scotland to Europe’s warm southern seas, we’ve been out finding incredible places to stay where the journey is part of the adventure.
You can browse our full collection of island holidays here or see a few of our favourites below, from a romantic hideaway in Devon to an eyrie in Corsica.
Isle of Rona, Skye, Scotland
If you think Skye is remote, wait till you arrive on the Isle of Rona. After being picked up from Portree you’ll be ferried over to the island where you’ll be greeted by Bill, one half of Rona’s permanent population, and probably a few of the resident seals in the harbour. Wildlife watching day trips will come and get you, but you might see whales, dolphins, otters and more seals just by wandering the shore and staying alert. There are only three cottages on the whole five-mile long outcrop, so you might well have the whole place to yourself. Escape is a late Victorian stone cottage with fenced garden nestled into the curve of the bay. Two smaller cottages, Skyescape and Seascape, are set some way apart; larger families and groups can rent all three together.
Stay at: Isle of Rona, three stone cottages overlooking the sea in Skye.
Burgh Island, Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon
Burgh Island Hotel sits off the coast of Devon at high tide like an anchored ocean liner. It’s a beautifully evocative piece of pre-war style, unchanged in feel since the days when Noel Coward and Agatha Christie were regular guests. The views from the terraces and dining room are superb and there are floating jetties to swim from as well as a natural pool where steep outcrops of rock frame the sea. Across the bay, Bigbury-on-Sea beach is dotted with rock pools for exploration by budding marine biologists and the South Devon AONB stretches along the coast for miles in both directions. You don’t need to worry about being stranded on the mainland by the tides either, as the hotel’s unique sea tractor is on hand to churn back across the submerged spit of sand and have you home in time for cocktail hour.
Stay at: Burgh Island Hotel, a favourite haunt of famous literary heroes. Today, it’s been redecorated in a gorgeous art deco style.
Hell Bay, Bryher, Isles of Scilly, Cornwall
Scilly’s five inhabited islands are among a clutch of other spurs of rock and sandbars that shift shape with the tides. Despite the remote location, the islands are reasonably easy to access by ferry from Penzance. Bryher is the most westerly and one of the sparsest populated, with only around 80 people calling it home. Together the islands form a close community and you can spend a happy few days chugging between them in a rented boat. Explore the bizarrely tropical Tresco Abbey Gardens, head over to lively St Mary’s or have the Hell Bay folk make you up a picnic to eat on the beach of completely deserted Samson. There’s an honesty shop that sells local fudge, as well as a pub, cafe and art gallery, so you can socialise with anyone (and possibly everyone) who’s around. In season the hotel runs a pop-up crab shack, with catch brought straight from the sea. It’s understandably popular, so book early!
Stay at: Hell Bay, a peaceful hotel with beautiful coastal walks on the doorstep and easy access to other nearby islands.
Casa Pavarini, Vulcano, Sicily, Italy
A short ferry trip from Sicily’s Milazzo takes you to the cluster of seven islands known as the Sicilian Eolie archipelago. Obviously, the main draw of Vulcano is the striking crater for which the island is named, still faintly active, giving off steam and a sulphurous tang that you’ll catch the scent of wherever you are. A climb up its pale slopes ends with a dramatic view of the smouldering crater and the chain of the archipelago reaching into the sea in front of you. There are boats to rent so you can explore the other islands, great diving and the famous mud baths and hot springs that have brought convalescents for centuries. Casa Pavarini itself is the classic Mediterranean retreat, white and square with bright blue shutters in typical Eolian style – deliciously simple and peaceful. It clings to the hillside, surrounded by a tropical garden, with views of the sea and Sicily from the chairs, loungers and hammocks on the terraces.
Stay at: Casa Pavarini, a Sicilian island retreat on a hillside with endless sea views and a beautiful covered terrace.
Chambres d’Hôtes à Vallecalle, Corsica, France
Two thirds of Corsica is covered by a mountain chain and the rest is golden beach. The combination makes for incredible views and stunning hikes, most notably in The Desert of the Agriates, a 40km stretch of rocky land along the west coast. The whole coastal path, from Ostriconi to Saint Florent, takes two or three days and is quite exposed, but the scenery is simply magnificent. Chambres d’Hotes a Vallecalle, on the edge of a hilltop village, is a crumbling farmhouse that looks down the valley to the distant sea. The pace of life is delightfully slow and the terraced gardens have orange trees, olive groves, hammocks and corners for shade and sun. You can scramble down to bathe in the river if the coast is too far in the afternoon heat, or spend the whole day exploring Corsica’s beautiful beaches before retreating to the hills for a quiet dinner in the fragrant garden.
Stay at: Chambres d’Hôtes à Vallecalle, a B&B on a village edge with incredible valley views and the warmest of welcomes.