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There is something inherently thrilling about island travel — the dark silhouette of an isolated land on the horizon invokes a sense of curiosity for even the most experienced traveler.
In certain cases — such as with Greece’s Santorini or Italy’s Sardinia — that curiosity has led to a well-beaten path and overtourism on many popular island destinations. However, if clients are looking to island hop on less-frequented spots, there are some great alternatives in Europe.
Bornholm, DenmarkWhen you look at a map, it may be hard to discern that Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, actually straddles two islands: Zealand and Amager. And just some 100 miles east in the Baltic Sea sits another Danish island rich in history and culture, but with slightly more room to breathe.
Sandy beaches, quaint villages and artisan shops are the biggest draws to Bornholm. At its northern tip, the ruins of 14th-century Hammershus castle adorn its striking coastal cliffs, showcasing the remnants of Northern Europe’s largest medieval fortification.
Bornholm’s location also led to the formation of structures that served both wartime and religious purposes; historic whitewashed, round churches provided a haven both during worship and battle. Not a history buff? Old-fashioned smokehouses and the Michelin-starred Kadeau will appeal to foodies.
Faroe Islands, DenmarkSeclusion and rugged natural beauty have always been Iceland’s calling cards, but viral Instagram posts and surprisingly cheap flights leave little elbow room in Reykjavik’s geothermal swimming pools.
Intrepid adventurers should instead set their sights on the Faroe Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the North Atlantic.
Although the Faroe Islands’ stunning landscape is also well documented — Sorvagsvatn, a cliffside lake perched above the ocean, and Mulafossur Waterfall are instantly recognizable — fewer travelers have seen them with their own eyes.
Thanks to subsea tunnels and bridges, navigating the islands by car is relatively easy, and hiking trails provide incredible vantage points. The capital, Torshavn, is home to just over 10,000 residents and features colorful, grassy-roofed buildings. Mykines, which is known for its native puffin colony, has introduced new regulations — including a fee of about $15 to travel beyond a small village area.
Isle of Rum, ScotlandThe Isle of Skye, the largest island of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, captivates many with its historic sites and mountainous terrain, but it sits close enough to mainland Scotland to be connected by bridge, making it easily accessible and at the top of every tour operator’s itinerary.
The Isle of Rum, however, can only be reached by ferries from the port of Mallaig or Arisaig, but it packs all the majestic scenery and deep-rooted history into a smaller, off-the-beaten-path package. In only a few hours, visitors can explore Kinloch Castle, a Victorian-era mansion constructed of imported red sandstone. For extended stays, Ivy Cottage Guest House or the Rum Bunkhouse provides a base to explore 17 ancient monument sites, including Bullough Mausoleum at Harris Bay.
Lesbos, GreeceLesbos (also referred to as Lesvos) presents a substitute to party-hard Mykonos, offering revelry without being overrun by it. Its two main products, anise-flavored ouzo and olive oil, certainly enhance the flavor of the dining and nightlife in its port city, Mytilene. There, University of the Aegean upholds the tradition of renowned poets and artists, while museums preserve the island’s archaeological wonders. On Lesbos’ western flank, the petrified forest is a 15- to 20-million-year-old natural monument made of dramatic stony figures standing like sentinels of a distant, violent age.
Lipari, Italy Seven atolls make up the Aeolian Islands, which float off the northern coast of Sicily and are surrounded by the vivid blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
Lipari, the largest of this group, has a circuitous road with remarkable vistas that can be seen easily by taxi. And at Terme di San Calogero, echoes of a volcanic past can be felt at the ancient (yet modernized) baths fed by thermal springs. In Lipari Town, an ancient citadel looks down from a bluff and the harbor opens up, setting the scene to enjoy classic Italian fare and Malvasia wine.
Menora, SpainDon’t be fooled by its name — Spain’s Menorca may be smaller in size than its neighbor, Mallorca, but it is no less beautiful.
This particular Balearic island is the most laid-back of the three; Menorca saw 7 million fewer visitors than Mallorca and 1.4 million fewer visitors than Ibiza in 2015.
Graced with miles of supreme golden-white shoreline and azure stony coves called “calas,” Menorca holds its own as a Mediterranean paradise. In its two main cities, Ciutadella and Mahon, travelers can dine on fresh seafood by the water or dabble in the area’s nightlife. Various megalithic sites can be found across the island, where giant taulas (stone monuments) and navetas (burial chambers) offer a glimpse as far back as 2,000 BC. Several museums exhibit Menorca’s more recent history, and S’Albufera des Grau Natural Park’s wetlands attract nature lovers.