Islands of inspiration

Date Posted: 03/08/2011

Jeannine Williamson picks ten of her favourite island destinations, both near and far. Are you and your group up for a taste of island living?

Sicily

Flight time: 3hrs 15mins

It’s been described as ‘the football kicked by Italy’s boot’, and although only two miles separates the Mediterranean’s largest island from the south-western tip of the mainland they are a world apart. Greek temples are just part of Sicily’s distinctive cultural heritage and Spanish, Arabic and French influences have also left their mark on the island’s history, architecture and food.

Must see:

Mount Etna: Whilst you can’t really miss it in the background, walking and jeep tours will take interested groups closer to Europe’s largest and most active volcano.

Villa del Casale: Famous for its Roman mosaics of girls in ‘bikinis’, the Piazza Armerina recently re-opened following restoration.

Valley of Temples: The Temple of Concord, perched on a ridge, dominates this impressive archaeological park outside Agrigento.

Try:

Pasta with sardines, a national dish served throughout the island that reflects Sicily’s abundance of fresh seafood.

Kefalonia

Flight time: 3hrs 15mins

The largest of the Greek Ionian islands, and arguably the most scenic, Kefalonia was put on the map when it was immortalised in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.  Natural attractions are the main draw, typified by fir forests and beautiful beaches, and at Melassani cave your group members can visit a subterranean lake on a rowing boat.

Must see:

Fiskado: Most of the island’s traditional buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1953 with the exception of this pretty fishing village on the northern tip.

Myrtos beach: The island’s most photographed beach had a starring role in the Captain Corelli film.

Argostoli: The island’s capital is an attractive harbour town with open-air fruit and vegetable markets and interesting shops.

Try:

Sharing mezze, a selection of small dishes, at one of the island’s many family-run tavernas which offer a real taste of the island.

Madeira

Flight time: 3hrs 40mins

Discovered by the Portuguese in 1418 and often described as a ‘floating garden’ due to the beautiful blooms that flourish in its warm climate, Madeira has an enduring old-fashioned charm. Funchal, the pretty red-roofed city on the south coast is the obvious place for your group to stay, and from here you can take sightseeing boat trips.

Must see:

Monte: Take the cable car from Funchal to the charming mountain village and then descend in the traditional (and fast) way in a wicker toboggan!

Blandy Wine Lodge: Your group can discover the history of the famous fortified wine on a guided tour of the Madeira Wine Company.

Levadas: This network of rural pathways, originally used to transport water, provides breathtaking views of the countryside.

Try:

Real Madeira cake, made with molasses, fruit and nuts and totally different from the pale sponge eaten in the UK.

Ibiza

Flight time: 2hrs 35mins

The Balearic island has a reputation as Spain’s party capital, but beyond the bright lights lies a completely different Ibiza with UNESCO World Heritage sites, well preserved 16th century forts, green countryside and beautiful villages with ancient churches. The mild climate makes it a year-round destination and ideal for groups that enjoy outdoor activities such as walking and cycling.

Must see:

Sant Joan: Overlooked by an 18th century whitewashed church this delightful north eastern village reflects the time that Ibiza was a sleepy Spanish backwater.

Puig des Molins: The ancient burial ground dating from Phoenician times is thelargest preserved necropolis in the Mediterranean.

Las Salinas: The salt flats on the southernmost tip of Ibiza have been in use for over 2,000 years and are a beautiful spot for sunset photographs.

Try:

Flao, a tasty and refreshing cheesecake flavoured with mint and aniseed.  

Cyprus

Flight time: 4hrs 30mins

The legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love who rose from the waves, Cyprus combines amazing cultural attractions with an easy-going lifestyle.  Cyprus enjoys historic ties with the UK - which extends to driving on the left - and British groups are assured of a warm welcome. More flights have recently been introduced, making the island very accessible.

Must see:

Kourion: A Greco-Roman theatre, with far reaching sea views, and a neighbouring villa with beautiful fifth century mosaics are the highlights of this ancient settlement.

Tombs of the Kings: These huge tombs carved into solid rock resemble grand houses with their imposing entrance columns, rooms and passageways.

Omodos: Time stands still in this old wine growing village at the foot of the Troodos mountains, a popular half-day excursion from the main resorts.

Try:

A glass of sweet Commandaria, the world’s oldest named wine still in production.

Florida Keys

Flight time: 8hrs 30mins

A 125-mile sub-tropical island chain starting south of Miami, the Overseas Highway and 43 bridges connects the five keys. Stretching over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the road ends at vibrant Key West with its distinctive decorated homes and great entertainment scene.

Must see:

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: A glass-bottom boat trip is a relaxing way to see the protected reef at America’s first underwater state park.

Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum: The author’s tranquil Key West retreat is now home to nearly 60 cats, many of them six-toed and related to his first puss Snowball.

Theater of the Sea: Dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles and colourful parrots are among the many residents at this educational and entertaining park.

Try:

Every cafe, roadside diner and restaurant claims their key lime pie is the best. Have a delicious time deciding.

Corsica (pictured)

Flight time: 2hrs

Situated in the Mediterranean more than 100 miles from mainland France, the ancient Greeks called Corsica Kalliste, meaning ‘the most beautiful’.  Part France since 1769, the year Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island, it has a number of individual characteristics that set it apart from the mainland including a distinctive rustic cuisine, local wines and a language, Corsu, spoken by some of the islanders.

Must see:

Ajaccio: Napoleon’s birthplace is one of the largest towns and his family home is now a museum.

Corte: A dramatic citadel perched on top of a craggy rock is among the sights in the cobbled town and former Corsican capital.

Calvi: This seaside resort on the northern coast, with its palm-lined promenade, was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

Try:

Brocciu, a white Corsican cheese made from sheep or goats’ milk that’s used in all kinds of savoury and sweet dishes.

Guernsey

Flight time: 1hr

Smaller than its sister Jersey, which is often the first port of call for groups visiting the Channel Islands, Guernsey is an equally appealing destination where life moves at a gentle pace. Despite the island’s strong links to Britain and France it is wholly self-governing and has an absorbing cultural heritage and extraordinary natural diversity.

Must see:

St Peter Port: The island’s capital is a bustling harbour town, a tapestry of architectural styles that tell the story of the region’s changing fortunes.

German Occupation Museum: Experience life in Guernsey during wartime occupation with an authentic street scene and maritime history.

Sausmarez Manor: Dating back to the 13th century groups can explore the house, a fine example of Queen Anne Colonial architecture, before strolling around the sub-tropical gardens and sculpture park.

Try:

Creamy yellow Guernsey butter spread on gache, the island’s famous fruit loaf.

Lanzarote

Flight time: 4hrs 10mins

With its fascinating moonlike landscape, the fourth largest Canary Island is a unique destination shaped by volcanoes. Bustling Puerto del Carmen is an ideal base and as Lanzarote is just 36 by 12 miles it’s easy to explore the whole island during your stay.

Must see:

Timanfaya National Park: Feel the volcanic heat on the Mountains of Fire and enjoy the ultimate restaurant barbecue where chefs cook using the 400C heat thrown up by Mother Nature.

Teguise market: This colourful Sunday institution is held in Lanzarote’s pretty former capital and as there’s no VAT on the island there are plenty of bargains.

Cueva de los Verdes: A 45-minute tour will take groups into the heart of a volcanic cave system - with a wow factor secret along the way.

Try:

Papas arrugadas, a Canarian speciality of salt coated potatoes with a cooling green or spicy red sauce.

Isle of Man

Flight time: 1hr.

Located in the Irish Sea and with its own parliament, laws and traditions, the Isle of Man is a fascinating destination that’s relatively close to home. Plenty is packed into its 221 square miles and the attractive capital is Douglas, with its Victorian promenade and horse-drawn trams.

Must see:

Castle Rushen: Situated in Castletown, the island’s ancient capital, Castle Rushen is one of Europe's most finely preserved medieval castles.

Snaefell Mountain Railway :Catch the only electric mountain railway in the British Isles to the top of Snaefell. On a clear day you can see England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Great Laxey: The world’s largest working waterwheel was built to pump water from old lead and zinc mines and group members with a head for heights can climb to the top.

Try:

Succulent naturally Manx kippers and queenies, a type of scallop that is a Manx delicacy.

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