Fifteen islands to cover all tastes, from cultural breaks to castaway fantasies
Best for Atmosphere
Few volcanic eruptions have adjusted geography for the better quite like the blast that shook Santorini more than three millennia ago, an explosion that turned a single island into a curious chunk of land shaped like a broken Polo mint. What stands today is a place quite unlike any other: windmills, churches and whitewashed houses cascading down cliffs that were once the rim of a mighty volcano, blue sea having long since replaced bubbling magma below. Holidays in Santorini follow an established routine: idling on beaches of red volcanic sand, rambling down alleyways of hilltop villages or visiting the crumbling ruins of Akrotiri – an outpost of the Minoan civilisation until it was destroyed by said eruption around 1620 BC. All, however, are but a prelude to the daily drama of watching the setting sun shimmering in the waters of the Southern Aegean from a whitewashed balcony high in the cliffs.
Best for Walking
The notion of an Indian Ocean island suggests turquoise lagoons, infinity pools and all-inclusive resorts. Well, Réunion is nothing like that. A piece of French soil detached from the mainland and 400 miles adrift off the coast of Madagascar, Réunion looks more like a wild island out of comic-book fantasy, with smouldering volcanoes, thundering waterfalls and a jungle-clad, mountainous interior criss-crossed by hiking trails. The king of all these trails is the five-hour slog up the Piton de la Fournaise – an active volcano that periodically sends smoke spiralling to the heavens and lava streaming towards the sea. In the intervals between eruptions, walkers can hike to the rim for views overlooking plains of volcanic ash and green foothills, with the Indian Ocean beyond.
Best for Culture
Chiloé, it’s often said, is an island whose character was inherited from the surrounding seas rather than from the Chilean mainland: from the fishermen who set out on foggy mornings to bring home a catch to make curanto (seafood and meat steam-cooked over hot rocks) or the Magellanic and Humboldt penguins that squint out to sea from the western coast. A blustery, green land that looks not unlike Wales, Chiloé’s architecture looks like nothing else in South America, with its villages of palafitos (stilt houses, above) and World Heritage-listed churches, built wholly from timber, which creaks sonorously in the Pacific wind. Among them are the extroverted church of San Francisco de Castro, painted in a curious colour scheme of mustard yellow and purple, and the rather more sober 18th-century Santa Maria de Loreto, held together by wooden pegs.