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You can climb the 500 steps to the acropolis, make a pilgrimage to one of the monasteries, or chill out on the beaches, some of which are backed by dramatic cliffs. In town, peruse chic boutiques and dine at buzzy tavernas.
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In Homer's Iliad, Bozcaada (also known as Tenedos) is where the Greek fleet wait for the signal from Odysseus to invade Troy. These days, it’s renowned for wine. Marooned at the exit of the Dardanelles Strait, it features a labyrinthine town with cobblestone streets, a 13th-century castle and delightful beaches. The strong viticultural scene is complemented by great food.
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Serene and laid-back, Formentera is everything its big sister, Ibiza, isn’t. Here, there’s untouched beauty, a casual vibe and some damn fine stretches of empty sand. If you do need a quick fiesta fix, catch one of the daily ferries to Ibiza.
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If you live on an island, where do you go for island escape? If you’re Maltese, you head to Gozo to enjoy its stunning coastline, historical sites, culinary scene and slower pace.
Ile de Porquerolles, France
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It’s just a 10-minute boat ride from the Cote D’Azur but Ile de Porquerolles may as well be a world away. No mass tourism or high-rises – just a charming harbour and a notable national park. Hike or bike the interior; enjoy sandy beaches on the northern side. Of the few places to stay, Le Mas du Langoustier is the top pick.
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Chios has two claims to fame. First, it’s where mastic (an aromatic plant resin used in medicine and cosmetics, if you were wondering) has been grown since the 7th century. Second, it’s supposedly the birthplace of Homer. But unless you’re mastic lover or an Iliad buff, neither of these facts really matter. Instead, be drawn in by the scenic seaside towns, the medieval villages, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed monastery and, of course, the beaches.
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This volcanic island in the Bay of Naples has so much going for it: verdant gardens, forests and vineyards, a community vibe, excellent local cuisine and five-star resorts. Activities include hiking, swimming and horseriding. Oh, and did we mention that it has some of the oldest, and best, thermal springs in the world?
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Regular winds in the south make Lefkada a dream for windsurfers; the mountains plunging into the ocean and golden hamlets perfect for swimming make it dreamlike for everyone else. Lefkada is also connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, meaning that it’s one of the few Greek islands accessible by car.
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Closer to Africa than Italy, this five-square-kilometre isle has a striking volcanic landscape and black-sand beaches bounded by divine blue waters.
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Lush pine forests, splendid walking trails, old villages and a calm ambiance –it’s surprising that Mljet isn’t more feted. It’s another island that claims to be the potential location of Ogygia, the mythical isle where Odysseus was held captive for seven years. Though, a few years stranded here sounds okay to us …
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Stranded 60 kilometres north of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Ustica, part of the Aeolian volcanic chain, is surrounded by a protected marine area that’s host to half of the Med’s marine species. Ustica is also a popular haunt for Italians on their summer vacay. Follow their example.
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They’re calling it the new Capri – but less crowded and less expensive. There’s even a rival Blue Grotto. Sign us up.
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With a name that means "island of the sun", Shinoussa is just as sun-drenched as it sounds. This tiny speck of an island takes up less than nine square kilometres but beautiful beaches, great hiking trails and very few people (there are less than 300 locals) make it a perfect out-of-the-way escape.
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Susak is a diminutive three-square-kilometre island, moored in the Adriatic Sea. It’s a haven of lush vegetation and inviting beaches, with no cars, no banks and no hotels. Rest assured there are charming local houses to rent and restaurants worth visiting.
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Even though the movie Il Postino was filmed here, tourism hasn’t been a big player. But Salina has woodlands and vineyards blanketing its landscape, is fringed with lovely beaches and there are charming hotels scattered around the island. This is an Aeolian island worth closer scrutiny.
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Brac, Hvar and Korcula get most of the coverage for Dalmatian islands easily accessible from Split but Solta, only nine nautical miles off the coast, is on par. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking and scuba diving all take place on this under-explored paradise.
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Like Linosa, Pantelleria is closer to Tunisia than Italy. The rugged black island, a volcanic satellite of Sicily, isn’t for sand-lovers – there’s precious little in the way of beaches – but if you’re happy jumping off rocks into crystal clear water, then you’re fine. Also, Giorgio Armani owns a villa here. And if it’s good enough for Giorgio…
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Another untrammelled beauty of Croatia, Murter, part of the north Dalmatian islands, is only six metres from the mainland, connected by a bridge. This quick journey makes it very attractive, as do the remote sandy bays, abundant olive and fig groves and picturesque towns.
La Maddalena, Italy
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La Maddalena, part of the Maddalena archipelago, lies off the north-eastern corner of Sardinia. The island attracts a modest, easygoing crowd, seduced by the archipelago’s isolated secluded beaches and clean, almost tropical, waters.
Ile de Bendor, France
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Bought by French liquor magnate Paul Ricard in 1950, Ile de Bendor was developed specifically as holiday destination. It’s just 300 metres off Bandol, in south-eastern France. There are two hotels, several apartments to rent, a smattering of restaurants, an art gallery, two museums and more. Activities include tennis, petanque, scuba diving and sailing.
Isola di Ponza, Italy
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A low-key, unassuming island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Ponza boasts beauty and simplicity. It’s stunning views and sparkling waters are favoured by the Fendi clan and have attracted the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and Jay Z. From here you can also visit Palmarola, which some Italians claim is the most beautiful island in the world (though most Aussies would say that’s a very big call).
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You hear whispers about places like this: where the rich cavort and celebs breeze in and out, unhampered by paparazzi or tourists. Cavallo is a private island stranded happily between Corsica and Sardinia. It’s French but has strong Italian links, which means that from a culinary perspective, it’s the jackpot. To stay, you’ll need to rent one of the illustrious mansions or book at the Hotel & Spa des Pêcheurs. Prepare your wallet for the onslaught.
Up next: The 10 Best Mediterranean Cruises
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