The oceans are punctuated by gorgeous islands: tiny ones that glimmer like emeralds; sandy ones that kiss turquoise waters and slip into clear lagoons. Where there’s beauty there’s money, which is why many of the world’s greatest islands are destined to be owned by a privileged few.
Can’t afford your own private island? Not to worry; there are plenty of stunners that are open to everyone. Full of quirks and natural beauty, the one thing they’re lacking is a preponderance of humanity. Visit at the right time of year, and it could almost be your own dominion. We can all dream, right?
Where it’s at: Malta.
Reasons to visit: Ġgantija megalithic temples, the world’s oldest free-standing structures, can be found here. Gozo also boasts an epic mythical backstory: it’s reputed to be Calypso’s Isle in Homer’s Odyssey – that’s right, the place where our protagonist was held captive for years and forced to procreate with a siren-singing nymph.
Visit Gozo today and you might not get so lucky, but there’s still a lot to fall in love with, from the beautiful churches (Xewkija, the pick of the bunch, has the world’s third-largest dome, just behind St Paul’s), to hills so vividly green they appear to have been coloured in with a permanent marker.
Fun fact: Azure Window, a natural limestone arch, was used as a location for Game of Thrones. It also happens to look pretty awesome in its own right.
Where it’s at: Whidbey Island is located in Washington’s Island County, so named because, well, it’s full of islands.
Reasons to visit: Whidbey’s history reads like a snapshot of US history: Native American tribes were living here happily until they got turfed off the island and replaced by European settlers.
Today, visitors flock to Whidbey for its fresh mussels, which are landed in Penn Cove, and for its artists’ colony. Painters, sculptors and metal workers can be found at Puget Sound doing what they do best: discussing the creative process and occasionally entering into it.
Fun fact: In 1857, the island’s first white settler, Colonel Ebey, was beheaded by the indigenous Haida people. Since that unfortunate episode, white settlers have fared much better.
Where it’s at: the middle of nowhere, ‘nowhere’ being the western Pacific Ocean.
Reasons to visit: An island that describes itself as ‘a tropical paradise’? Surely not! Seriously though, Palau is about as tropical and paradisiacal as it gets, its reefs and sub-sea caves crammed with marine life. Hundreds of tiny islands are dotted across the archipelago, their waters idyllic for diving, swimming or admiring from the sanctuary of the beach.
Fun fact: Palau is an independent sovereign state, but its currency is the US dollar and politically it sides with America. Its population may only number 21,000, but launch an invasion and you’ll feel the full wrath of the US military machine.
Where it’s at: The Adriatic Sea, off Croatia’s Dalmatian coast.
Reasons to visit: Weather, nightlife, architecture, culture, history – all are present and accounted for. Specifically, Hvar is redolent of lavender fields, while gnarled olive trees and dense vineyards cling to its slopes. Over the centuries, everyone from the ancient Greeks to the Venetian Empire has laid claim to this important trading post. Pay the sun-ripened island a visit and claim a slice of Hvar for yourself. There’s enough to go around.
Fun fact: Hvar might just be the most pirate-sounding island in the world. Go on, say it: Hvarrrrr!
Where it’s at: Off the east coast of Australia – 1,750km off the coast to be precise.
Reasons to visit: Vanuatu’s coral reefs are a haven for marine life, from turtles to scuba divers. If you don’t dip beneath the surface during your trip to the remote archipelago, you’re only experiencing half its beauty. All that sub-sea swimming triggers hearty appetites: dry off and fill up on boiled fish served with plantain, sweet potatoes and coconut milk. Food’s never tasted fresher.
Fun fact: Pigs are a symbol of wealth on Vanuatu. Though a gold Rolex probably has a similar effect.
Where it’s at: Honduras. The largest of the Bay Islands, Roatan is a skinny freak – just five miles at its widest point. What the Caribbean island lacks in width however it more than makes up for in length – oh, and in stunning coral reefs.
Reasons to visit: Blackened mah-mahi, served on the beachfront at Mavis & Dixie’s, is about as blissful as dining gets. The only way seafood could taste any better is if you caught it yourself – which is easily done on Roatan. Charter a fishing boat and indulge in a spot of deep-sea fishing for grouper and snapper.
Fun fact: In 1998, Hurricane Mitch snapped two of the island’s most popular diving wrecks into pieces.
Where it’s at: Off the coast of Venezuela, Bonaire – along with Aruba and Curacao – forms what’s known as the ABC islands.
Reasons to visit: Above water, the windsurfing is epic, while below the waves, a brilliant world of reef life awaits in all its vibrant glory: fish dart, anemones lurk and scuba divers gawp in astonishment.
Fun fact: 55% of visitors to Bonaire are repeat visitors. Why? Go figure.
Where it’s at: Not all desirable islands have to be tropical paradises. Billed as the World’s Most Unspoiled Island, Mykines is part of the Faroes, making it the most northerly entry on this list.
Reasons to visit: It’s tranquil. It’s isolated. It’s striking. Islands, by their nature, require effort to reach – in this case a boat or helicopter from neighbouring Vagar will be required – but you’ll be amply rewarded for your efforts. The island’s most famous residents are a puffin colony who live in holes and burrows in the cliff face.
Fun fact: The population of Mykines hovers around 10. That’s right – ten.
Island: Mount Desert Island
Where it’s at: Off the coast of Maine, a state best known for Stephen King and not much else.
Reasons to visit: At 108 square miles, Mount Desert is the second-largest east coast island after Long Island. During the 19th century, MDI was popularised by ‘rusticators’ – painters who were inspired by the sea air and exquisite scenery. Their arty little scene may have passed, but the pretty that inspired them to whip out their easels is still very much in abundance: the freshwater lakes and soaring mountains – the highest on the east coast – are as spectacular as the New England towns and villages, the pick of which is the picturesque Bar Harbor. Over on the quieter side of the island, Southwest Harbor is where some of America’s greatest boat builders can be found, their craftsmanship responsible for keeping Mount Desert’s lobster fleet afloat.
Fun fact: Beavers were hunted to extinction on Mount Desert Island, but in 1920 two pairs were reintroduced. They promptly began beavering away at it and have succeeded in repopulating the island.
Where it’s at: These crescent-shaped Greek islands can be found at the southernmost point of the Cyclades.
Reasons to visit: Visiting the site of an active volcano may seem a risky move – even one whose crater lies at the bottom of the sea. But Santorini has been peaceful for millennia; today its calm waters and exquisite sunsets have made it a favourite with newly-weds. It’s not all saccharine selfies and candlelit dinners however; the Caldera cliff is a spectacle that everyone can appreciate, offering a commanding view of the ocean as volcanic gas belches from the earth below.
Fun fact: Santorini’s volcano may be lurking under the waves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pay it a visit – submarine tours take intrepid explorers to the depths of the ocean floor.
Anywhere we’ve missed off this list? Bring ‘em on.