Image: Azur Window
Kurt Henseler  /  Redux Pictures file
A view of the Azure Window in Gozo, Malta.
updated 6/16/2008 10:34:11 AM ET 2008-06-16T14:34:11

Book by: ASAP
Travel by: Various through fall 2008

The deal
Everyone loves an island getaway, especially if you don’t have to share your stretch of beach with countless vacationers in search of a little R&R. So we’ve done extensive research to find a European island escape minus the summer holiday crowds. We found four islands you’ve most likely never heard of, where you’ll be rewarded with deserted beaches, fascinating culture, historical sights, and the satisfaction of "discovering" a fabulous, off-the-beaten-path island destination. Fall rates on the islands of Gozo, Spetses, Ischia, and Menorca start at just $155/night!

Gozo in Maltese archipelago
Ancient temples, secluded coves, pristine landscapes, and stunning vistas of the Mediterranean — that’s what the island of Gozo is all about. Approximately the same size as Manhattan, this jewel of the Maltese archipelago is a perfect destination if you’re looking for an escape that’s remote, relaxing and beautiful.

If that appeals, book a stay at Hotel Ta' Cenc, a distinctive property surrounded by acres of a large estate overlooking dramatic cliffs and the islands of Malta and Comino across the way. Each of the 83 units comes with a private terrace or garden; plus there are several swimming pools and a restaurant. Fodor’s writes, “Near the windy southern cliffs of Gozo, the understated hotel has an exclusivity unique for Malta ... a quiet, memorable place to relax for a few days.” Hotels.com offers nightly rates here from just $277!

Island of Spetses, Greece
It may be overshadowed in popularity by its more illustrious neighbors but the small Greek island of Spetses has 18 miles of stunning coast, a hilly interior, and an off-the-beaten path vibe its famous siblings can only dream of. Yet it’s located a mere two-hour ferry or hydrofoil ride away from the mainland of Peloponese!

Want to explore this island charmer? We suggest a sojourn at Spetses’ top-rated property, the Nissia Traditional Residences, a luxury complex on the seafront of Spetses town. Housed in a restored historic building, it features high-caliber units –studios, suites, maisonettes and presidential residences — all with private balconies or verandahs. Rates here start at €155/night ($240) in low season.

Italy’s island of Ischia
Though well-known to European and Asian travelers, Italy’s green and mountainous island of Ischia is oft-overlooked by Americans whose sights are more often set on nearby Capri. For fewer crowds and a less-pretentious attitude, we recommend this volcanic island just off the southern promontory of the Gulf of Naples.

We suggest an early-fall visit, when you can stay at L’Albergo della Regina Isabella, a four-star resort and spa, for a fraction of the summer cost. Frommer’s writes, “This resort offers the finest accommodations and service in Lacco Ameno, plus a private beach. The refined setting successfully contrasts contemporary furnishings with rococo and less ornate antique styles.” Rates here start at €190/night ($295).

Menorca off the Spanish coast
While everyone heads to Mallorca for its exclusive ambience and to Ibiza for the non-stop partying, we recommend another gem of Spain’s Balearic Islands — the dazzling island of Menorca. Saved from the advent of mass tourism that swept its sibling islands, it remains a place of unsullied Mediterranean beauty.

We found a unique little island hotel and we suggest you get there before everyone else does! Housed in a renovated 16th-century farmhouse, Biniarroca Country House Hotel comes with a lush garden; bougainvillea-covered courtyards; 18 individually decorated rooms ranging in decor from Edwardian to rustic Italian; an outdoor swimming pool and a restaurant serving island cuisine. Rates start at €80/night ($124)

The dollars
With the Hotels.com deal at the Gozo property, you save 25% off regular rates. At the Spetses property, high-season summer rates start at €255/night ($396), with breakfast and taxes, but go in the last two weeks of September and you’ll pay only €175/night ($271). At the Ischia hotel, doubles during the summer cost a wallet-busting €556/night ($863) (with breakfast and use of spa facilities) but from September 14 through October 4, they drop to a mere €309 ($480) = a $383 price difference! Peak-season August rates at the Menorca hotel start at €160/night ($248), with breakfast, but you can save €60 ($94) if you book a stay for the last two weeks of September.

The catch
Getting to these islands will be a pricey affair, due to high costs of flying to Europe.

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