A world in miniature. A genuine escape route from the every day. Whether small, remote and empty, or big and full of bustle (and world-class sights), they’re worlds apart from the ordinary – even if they’re incredibly easy to reach. We have parcs on, or close to, some of Europe’s best, most beautiful and most enchanting off-shore lands. So take your pick: what shape does your perfect island adventure take for a day, a week, or longer?
Ile De Oleron
This stunning offshore resort, between Royan and La Rochelle in the Marennes Basin, is the second biggest French island after Corsica and is known throughout the world for its oyster farms. The region is also famous for the apéritif Pineau, and the great Cognac vineyards start forty miles away. But the island’s natural charms are the real draw. It’s wrapped in lovely sandy beaches – we counted 25 – a fabulous bird park (Le Marais aux Oiseaux) an amusement park and a picture-postcard fishing port, La Cotiniere, celebrated for its turbot, lobster, langoustines and sea bass. Just off the north east coast of the island, you can also spy the mighty Fort Boyard – the Napoleonic offshore fort isolated in the sea between Oleron and the Ile d’Aix.
Nearest parc: Domaine d’Oleron
Take a boat trip to the Iles Glénan, blissfully peaceful nature reserves – with Blue Flag beaches shimmering in the sun. The shallow sea beds make this archipelago – just off the north Breton coast – look like it’s a landfall in the Caribbean Sea, so emerald-green is the water, so white is the sand. There are nine tiny islands. Take your pick. Start at the main island of Saint Nicolas where cruises leave on a voyage around them all. The guides will reveal the islets’ flora and fauna – or your could rent a kayak and explore under your own steam! Don’t forget to pack a picnic. Ferries leave from the mainland every day from Benodet to ply the ten mile route to the Caribbean…er, we mean, the Glénans! (pic: Brittany Tourism)
Nearest parc: La Pointe St Gilles
Zeeland is the least populated bit of the Netherlands – that’ll be partly because most of it is water. And that’ll be why it’s called ‘sealand’ (that’s what Zeeland means!). But this province’s watery maze of islands is really worth exploring. Its capital is Middelburg, a tidy little place with step-gabled merchants’ houses facing onto town squares, or lining the canals. In summer, Zeeland’s wide fringe of beaches make it a popular destination for tourists, but you’ll still have plenty of space to call your own. The wide open spaces along the Zeeland coast are ranked amongst the top 10 cleanest beaches in the Netherlands. The picturesque seaside village of Veere (with its deep historical connections to Scotland) makes for a great afternoon out, and just half an hour away is the important port of Vlissingen with a salty maritime air, and a fascinating history.
Nearest parc: Roompot Beach
Cloaked in trees, and bathed in sunshine, slender Dugi otok is just one of thousands of tiny islands scattered off Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline. A little further south is the pretty island of Vis, which will soon be in the spotlight thanks to it being the principle filming location for Mamma Mia 2. But Dugi is a better choice if you’re after a little seclusion. Here, ancient Croatian villages bask in the Mediterranean sun, and life is lived much as it always has been. Where they still press olive oil by hand, harvest figs and make cheese and wine to serve alongside the excellent seafood. The island reaches its sublime peak at Saharun beach, one of Croatia’s loveliest but least-known spots. There’s a beach bar in summer, so if you want real peace, keep going over the headland and it won’t be long before you find it. (Pic: Visit Croatia)
Nearest parc: Zaton Holiday Resort
This cluster of sunbaked islands is sprinkled just off the west coast of Sicily – an island off an island! The largest, Favignana, measures a scant 9km from tip to toe. Despite its small stature, it has an air of importance out of all proportion to its size. The main town is home to the Fort of Santa Caterina, originally built by the Arabs as a watchtower, two handsome piazzas, and Palazzo Florio, a grand mansion once one of Italy’s richest and most powerful entrepreneurs. But most people come for the island’s clear, cobalt blue waters, (main pic above) its hush-hush coves and grottoes, delicious food and great beaches. The most popular form of transport here is the bicycle. That should give you some idea of its pace of life. Follow the dusty coastal tracks to discover the remoter parts of the island and reach secluded coves. In all probability you’ll have the place to yourself all day.
Nearest parc: El Bahira