Ten inspiring island refuges

Find yourself a piece of idyllic isolation

Ten inspiring island refuges View from the westpoint on Curaçao - © iStockphoto.com/Els van der Gun
Chris Bourn

Infused with the culture and landscapes of their mainland neighbours, these islands boast everything from glaciers, to abseilling for the adrenalin junkie and white sandy beaches for those who seek the sun.

Cape Breton

Where is it? 60 degrees 45’ west in the North Atlantic off Canada.

With its rugged coastline, rolling farmlands and eerie glacial valleys, this speck of deep green rock at the tip of Nova Scotia frequently makes the top five of the world’s most beautiful islands. Thousands of Scots arrived here driven from their homeland by the scourge of the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the Gaelic influence can be seen in the fiddle music and low-stepping dances that still exist in the many pubs. Cape Breton is also home to one of the world’s most beautiful drives: the Cabot Trail.

Island home One of the four waterside retreats run by Cape Breton Resorts (www.capebretonresorts.com).

Chiloé Island

Where is it? 73 degrees 50’ west, on Chile’s Pacific Coast.

Shrouded in myth and mist, Chiloé is a lush little island just south of the Chilean lake district. Slower moving than the mainland, it has preserved many wood-tiled houses and churches, and the little taverns of the two main towns, Castro and Ancud, have a pre-modern ambience. For dinner, shellfish is the local speciality, and the iconic dish is curanto – shellfish wrapped in leaves and then cooked on a bonfire.

Island home Espejo de Luna (+ 56 7431 3090, www.espejodeluna.cl).

Christmas Island

Where is it? 105 degrees 40’ east in the Indian Ocean, the territory of Australia.

Discovered by East India Company navigator Captain William Mynors on 25 December 1643, Christmas Island looks like the best place on the planet to live, but nonetheless was never seriously settled. Only 1,400-odd people call it home and 65 per cent of the island territory remains untouched as a national park (www.environment.gov.au/parks/christmas). It’s sometimes hailed by Australians as the ‘Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’ for its bird and marine life. From the end of October through to early December between 50-100 million red crabs march from their inland burrows to the shore and back in order to satisfy their mating and reproduction ritual – the migration is one of the planet’s greatest natural wonders.

Island home The Sunset (+61 8 9164 7500, www.thesunset.cx).


Where is it? 69 degrees 00’ west in the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean, off the north coast of Venezuela.

The name, derived from the Portuguese for heart, may be familiar for being home to the blue liquor found in many stag weekend cocktails. The largest of the six Dutch Antilles, Curaçao is a long scrawny strip of arid land that tilts towards Venezuela, and is populated by a mix of Afro-Caribbeans, East Asians and Portuguese Jews. If that doesn’t sound particularly idyllic, wait until you see the emerald-hued waters, which attract plenty of honeymooners. The prevailing trade winds make the coasts here ideal for windsurfing, and the island is also a diving mecca.

Island home Aqualife Bungalow (+59 99 736 2030, www.curacao-villas.com).

Easter Island (Isla de Pascua)

Where is it? 109 degrees 23’ west in the middle of the South Pacific.

The island that Polynesians call Te Pito O Te Henua (‘The Navel of the World’) and Rapa Nui (‘The Great Rapa’, after a mythical sailor) was christened with its present name by Dutch sailors who made landfall here in 1722. Gloriously isolated from the rest of the world, it’s been a source of inspiration to poets and mystics for centuries. Though politically part of Chile, Easter Island is like nowhere else on earth thanks to its massive moai – 300 colossal statues carved from rock and dating from the 13th to 16th centuries – which stand sentinel all around the island. Grassland has replaced almost all of the island’s original broadleaf forest, and while ecologists have expressed outrage at the centuries of devastation, the rather bald, barren look gives Easter Island a certain appeal.

Island home
Most accommodation is guesthouses; book with Explora (+56 2 206 6060, www.explora.com).

The Faroes

Where are they? 6 degrees 47’ west in the Norwegian Sea/North Atlantic, between the Shetlands and Iceland.

Norwegian kings ruled over 18 Faroe Islands until 1380 when Denmark gained control. Removed from the movements, fads and fashions of mainland Europe, the islands are more rustic and somehow more Norse than the mainland: the Faroese maintain their own identity, language, music and cuisine. Fish, whale meat and even puffins have been known to grace their dinner tables and many of the houses have grass roofs. Note that hotels get booked up quickly on the island; see www.faroeislandshotels.com for further information.

Island home Gjáargardur guesthouse (+298 42 31 71, www.gjaargardur.fo).


Where is it? 12 degrees 36’ east; one of the Pelagie islands in the Mediterranean and Italy’s southernmost outpost.

Desert-like thanks to its bleached white, stony soil, this tiny island hardly supports any agriculture, but white-sand beaches and guaranteed hot weather make it an ideal vacation spot. Each September, loggerhead turtles – endangered throughout the Mediterranean – bury their eggs in the dunes at Rabbit beach before heading back to sea. The babies hatch 60 days later, emerging from their eggs after dark.

Island home Hotel Cupola Bianca (+39 0922 970126, www.hotelcupolabianca.it).

Puerto Rico

Where is it? 66 degrees 30’ west in the Greater Antilles, Caribbean.

Puerto Rico has historically had an on/off relationship with the USA; but despite that, there are now more Puerto Ricans in New York than on the island itself. Yes, there are baseball caps and burger bars, but there’s more Latin attitude on this distinctive little island than in J-Lo’s cola. Puerto Rico is the birthplace of salsa – well, one of them – and San Juan is arguably the world capital of reggaetón, but non-dancers and those looking for tranquillity will enjoy the rainforest, desert, beaches and caves.

Island home Hix Island House (+76 5 787 741 2302, www.hixislandhouse.com).

Santa Catarina

Where is it? 48 degrees 30’ west on the Atlantic coast, off southern Brazil.

First claimed by the Spanish in 1542 and later passed to the Portuguese along with the rest of Brazil, this island has long been popular with Argentinians and with Brazil’s gauchos – those who dwell in the not very tropical southern ranching provinces. It ticks all the Brazilian boxes – sugar-sand beaches, summerhouses and beach volleyball with bikini-clad sun worshippers – and is safer and more chic than the beaches in the tropical zone.

Island home The Costa Norte Ingleses hotel (+55 48 3261 3000, www.hoteiscostanorte.com.br).


Where is it? 168 degrees 00’ east in the South Pacific, north-east of Australia and next to New Caledonia.

Vanuatu means ‘the land that has always existed’ in the local Melanesian tongue. A Y-shaped patchwork of 83 often-volcanic (with some volcanoes still active) islands – it boasts clichéd (in a good way) South Pacific beauty, with all the balmy breezes and diving opportunities you’d ever need, but is also home to intriguing indigenous ceremonies and dances. Adventure types can go waterfall abseiling, parasailing or make night trips to uninhabited islands. Come dusk, lounge beneath giant (as in absurdly humongous) banyan trees and catch the exotic, trancy music of the local string bands.

Island home
Le Lagon Resort Vanuatu (+678 22313, www.lelagonvanuatu.vu).

Time Out guidebooks

1000 Great Holiday Ideas

Plan your perfect trip with this inspirational compendium of failsafe holiday suggestions. It's packed with fresh ideas for traditional breaks, from beach idylls to winter sun and family camping, along with great suggestions for trying something different – all around the world. Whether you're looking for a weekend break or the trip of a lifetime, Time Out's worldwide team of travel specialists can take you there.

Buy '1000 Great Holiday Ideas' from the Time Out shop.