02 July 2021
There’s nothing like a Mediterranean or an Atlantic getaway for that classic beach holiday vibe, but the following islands – all expected to be open to Irish tourists over the coming months – have much more to offer than sea, sand and sunshine. Each abounds in rich culture and history and fantastic food, too, making all ideal for everything from a couple’s break to a family holiday.
Situated 320km off the coast of Africa, the largest of the Canary Islands is a perennial favourite for its year-round sunshine, balmy climate and fabulous beaches. But these are just some of its attractions. There are also cable-car rides up to the volcanic, moon-like summit of Mount Teide, Spain's highest peak, set in Teide National Park and a prime spot for star-gazing – ideally from the observatory. Other unforgettable activities are dolphin- and whale-watching trips out in the waters of the Atlantic, family days out including to Siam Park (one of the world’s very best water parks), and exploring charming historic towns like Orotava and La Laguna.
Tiny fishing harbours where brightly painted boats bob on crystal waters and a heavenly interior swathed in wildflowers, olive groves, and fig and cypress trees mean that this Greek island still has surprises in store despite its decades-long popularity. The beaches with their shallow waters and water sports draw families, but there’s also history in abundance – not least in the old quarter of Corfu Town with its Venetian fortress and archaeology museum. You might also hike Mount Pantokrator, hire a motorboat to explore the hidden coves of the north-east, and even catch an authentic local karagiozi – a puppet show depicting episodes from Greek folklore.
Another of Greece’s most popular islands, Rhodes has also retained its appeal in the form of miles of sandy beaches (some beautifully calm, others gaining in popularity with surfers and kite-boarders) and the major archaeological site of Lindos with its acropolis and cobbled streets lined by 16th-18th-century captains' houses and old churches. No less missable is the capital Rhodes Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site with a wonderfully well-preserved Old Town with medieval fortifications and mosques. Add to these a water park, a nature reserve famous for its butterflies and day trips to the unspoilt island of Symi or even to southern Turkey, and Rhodes is hard to beat.
Though we don't have a direct flight from Ireland to the Azores it's still possible to travel there with a stop- over, and what an adventure it would be. A protectorate of Portugal but one with a compelling mix of Spanish, Flemish and North African influences too, thanks to periods of colonisation, this small string of lush islands lures visitors with its compelling wildlife and volcanic landscapes. Whale- and dolphin-watching is huge, and some of the old whaling stations have been converted into fascinating museums. There are also visits to sulphuric pools and grottoes, plus the sporty likes of kayaking, SUP paddle-boarding, canyoning, coasteering, hiking and biking, making the Azores an outdoor playground to be reckoned with. The largest and greenest island is endearing São Miguel, but the real winner is lovely Graciosa, where you can climb down into the crater of its extinct volcano before enjoying the Termas do Carapacho thermal waters.
With Europe’s sunniest city, Valletta, and more than 300 days of sunshine a year, this delightful island has all the makings of a fly-and-flop beach destination. But that’s only part of the story. Three UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Megalithic Temples, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum and Valletta with its 300-plus historic monuments – make it a cultural powerhouse with more than 7,000 years of history to discover, while its wild natural landscapes are an ideal setting for thrilling outdoor activities including mountain-biking, trail-running, quad-biking, rock-climbing, snorkelling, paddle-boarding, kayaking, kite-surfing, world-class diving in search of shipwrecks, caves and reefs, boat trips and Jeep safaris.
Call your Travel Counsellor now for inspiration on your next European island holiday.