IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The 6 best European-island adventures

You’ve probably heard of the slow-food movement. (As opposed to fast food, this method honors the authenticity of old cooking methods and savoring the meal.) Well, here we’d like to endorse something we shall term slow travel: Rather than whizzing through places in a motorized vehicle, we recommend taking the more leisurely route.
A Sicilian market
A Sicilian marketBike Riders / Bike Riders
/ Source: Islands Magazine

You’ve probably heard of the slow-food movement. (As opposed to fast food, this method honors the authenticity of old cooking methods and savoring the meal.) Well, here we’d like to endorse something we shall term slow travel: Rather than whizzing through places in a motorized vehicle, we recommend taking the more leisurely route. You’ll meet the people, taste the foods, feel the salty ocean waters, and you might even develop skills you didn’t know you had. When you travel slowly, you notice the small things, and the pay-off is big. What’s your rush anyway? We’re all racing to the same finish line.

Pasta, seafood, capers, olive oils. One of the main reasons a person travels to Sicily, in addition to its history and culture, is to mangia. Recognizing this, Bike Riders invites an American chef along on its culinary biking tour of the Italian island to create what may be the most memorable meal of your life. Expect to meander through olive and fig groves and to taste the spoils along the way, be invited into the kitchen of a Sicilian family and visit the Malvasian vineyards on the island of Salina in the Aeolians. The highlight of the weeklong tour is the guest chef’s meal, when he or she cooks for the riders with all the ingredients collected along their journey. Plus, it’s a nearly guilt-free trip when you burn calories by pedaling up to 35 miles a day. Rates from $4,280 per person for eight days. Sept. 16-23 and Oct. 7-14, 2007.

Ionian Islands, Greece
What better way to see the Greek islands where ancient civilization flourished than on a traditional wooden-hulled sailboat? Ply the Ionian island chain off the western coast of Greece in the Aegeotissa I or II, vessels carved from eucalyptus and iroko trees by Captain Stavros Arelis and wife Maria, who referenced old-time notebook sketches. The boats’ pirate-ship look often attracts attention in port. You will sail the Ionians at a leisurely 10 knots and have the flexibility to visit turquoise coasts when no crowds are around. Stand-out stops include Shipwreck Beach on Zákinthos (see our cover) and Myrtos on Cephalonia. Rates from $1,642 per person for seven days on the 24-passenger Aegeotissa II, departing (from May through October) on Fridays from Corfu and calling on Paxí, Lefkáda, Cephalonia, Zákinthos and Ithaca. Boats are also available for private charter; rates from $3,151 per day.

Šibenik Islands, Croatia
Have you ever been treading water near shore when you saw an island in the distance that seemed just close enough to swim to? Here’s your chance to try it with other swimmers as part of SwimTrek’s Croatia journey. Your first dip in the ocean will happen on either Prvi´c or Zlarin (depending on the trip you choose); both are part of the untrodden ibenik archipelago. Wearing a brightly-colored cap so that you are easily spotted by SwimTrek’s escort boats, you’ll stroke approximately two miles per day (you can wear fins if you like) to the next stop on the itinerary. Days are spent exploring the islands of the Kornati National Park, the Krka National Park and other natural wonders. Water temperatures are warmest in August, at about 79 degrees. If you’re the type who always hears the Jaws soundtrack when in open water, this might not be the adventure for you. This type of travel not only gives you a sense of accomplishment, but it’s a refreshing way to look at the world. Rates from $1,324 per person for six days with various departures from June through October.

Perhaps one of the most undiscovered European island chains is the Azores, a nine-island archipelago belonging to Portugal that’s just a four-hour plane ride from Boston. The countryside is spectacularly unspoiled and is best explored on foot, with many well-marked hiking trails that bring you to calderas, waterfalls and remote seaside villages. Highlights include walking to Sete Cidades on São Miguel, the main island. Sete Cidades is a village that lies within a caldera, next to one blue and one green lake that sit side by side. Another is hiking to the fajas, or coastal plains, of São Jorge. You’ll also walk Faial, known for its yachting community and the yachties’ stronghold, the famed Peter Café Sport. On Pico, you’ll walk through ancient vineyards where you can see old ox-cart wheel marks carved into the lava ground. You’ll average about six miles per day, resting up in three and four-star accommodations, such as a restored music conservatory and a farmhouse. Rates from $3,018 per person for 11 days, departing June 12, July 17, Aug. 14 and Aug. 28.

Because Iceland is the largest uninhabited area in Europe, you will experience pure air and raw landscape: black-sand deserts, birch forests and boiling mud pools. For a trip that is truly a step back in time, try exploring from the back of an Icelandic horse — they were brought to Iceland with the Vikings in the ninth century. Cross through the untouched northern country under the midnight sun on ancient horse paths. Led by guide Bjarni Páll, who specializes in geology, and his wife Elsa, both from Saltvík, you’ll ride by Lake M   vatn; Ódáahraun, the largest lava field in Iceland; and the waterfall Goafoss. You’ll also be able to witness horses running free (two to three times more horses than riders are brought — you’ll change horses many times, and the ones not mounted gallop alongside). The Diamond Circle Tour is one of the few in Iceland’s northern country where you won’t spend your nights in sleeping bags on bunk beds; instead, you’ll ride four to six hours per day and overnight in guesthouses such as Saltvík Farm. Rates from $2,575 per person for eight days, departing July 7, 14 and 28.  

Arctic Islands, Norway
Øya means island in Norwegian, and you’ll become intimately acquainted with them on a kayaking journey that takes you along Norway’s arctic coast at about 68 degrees north latitude. From Krakberget on the mainland, you will paddle to your base camp on Tindsøya, a rustic fishermen’s trading post called Skipnes. From this island you will take day trips to places such as Skogsøya, where there lives a resident group of reindeer, and to islands where pelagic birds fill up rookeries. If you feel like taking a paddle break, Tindsøya is fun to explore on foot. You’ll find no cars, and a postal ferry makes day trips to other nearby islands. Rates from $2,650 per person for six days, departing June 30.

Prices typically include the guided tour, accommodations and some meals. They do not include international airfare. Check each website for individual inclusions and exclusions.

Each issue of ISLANDS Magazine explores the most beautiful island destinations in the world, from tropical island outposts to the sophisticated gems of the Mediterranean. Our top-rate photographers and writers discover the quiet beaches, boutique hotels, and unique cultural experiences that make island travel unique.