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The 15 Most Beautiful Mediterranean Islands

Words don’t do justice to the majesty of these enchanting enclaves with the Mediterranean lapping at their shores.

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The small traditional village of Chora Sfakion, Sfakia, Chania, Crete, Greece.Photo: GEORGIOS TSICHLIS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Crete

To call Crete Instagram-worthy would be an understatement. Greece’s largest isle dazzles with its geographical diversity—stretches of palm-backed sand, abundant orchards, rolling hills, vertiginous peaks, and mysterious grottoes. Fans of Greek mythology should trek to Ideon Cave, the birthplace of Zeus. And history buffs should not miss touring Knossos, which as the seat of the Minoan Civilization is known as “Europe’s oldest city,” and today is a Bronze Age Archeological site. The first settlement is thought to have been built there in 7000 B.C. All that activity is bound to work up an appetite. Refuel with meat, cheese, olive oil, and seafood at one of the many tavernas that dot the island.

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The stony beach at Rhodes Charaki, golden sandPhoto: SAPNOCTE/SHUTTERSTOCK

Rhodes

Whether you’re pursuing solitude or epic adventure, Rhodes is the perfect escape. Soak up the Mediterranean sun on the golden shores, dotted with resorts, restaurants, and bars. For a hit of Grecian history, head to the Mandraki Port, Lindos Acropolis, and Ancient Kamiros. Another highlight is Petaloúdes, a 600-acre park with tree-shaded trails and colourful butterflies. Sadly, the Collosus of Rhodes, a statue of Helios, the Greek titan-god of the sun and one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, no longer stands. But you can still visit the spot at the entrance to the Mandraki Harbor where the Statue of Liberty-size statue was said to have been erected in 292 B.C.

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Faraglioni rocks visible from Giardini di Augusto in Capri, Italy. Focus on stone rocksPhoto: NATALIA MACHEDA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Capri

Capri, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in Italy, is a revered for its lyrical landscape and sophisticated scene. Spellbinding natural sites like the luminous Blue Grotto, Faraglioni Cave, and Arco Naturale are just the beginning… it also tempts luxury-oriented travellers with its upmarket lodgings (nab a suite with an ocean-view terrace at Grand Hotel Quisisana), posh shops, attractive piazzas, and mega yachts.

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View of Mitjaneta beach with beautiful turquoise sea water, Menorca island, SpainPhoto: PAWEL KAZMIERCZAK/SHUTTERSTOCK

Menorca

Want to slow down and unwind? Spain’s Menorca lures relaxation-seekers with its enchanting beauty, archaeological treasures, and laid-back vibe. This is a place to enjoy the simple pleasures. Slather on SPF and settle in for an afternoon of lounging on the white sand and swimming in the shallow, turquoise waters of Cala Turqueta. Savor locals flavours at Subaida. Opt for a guided tour of the Georgian-style estate and dairy farm and taste traditional Mahón, cured cow’s milk cheese that’s aged for six months.

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Beautiful old harbor with wooden fishing boat in Cefalu, Sicily, Italy.Photo: ALEKSANDAR TODOROVIC/SHUTTERSTOCK

Sicily

Busting cities, quaint villages, pristine beaches, and rich heritage—Sicily, Italy, the largest of Mediterranean islands, has it all. The capital, Palermo, is home to compelling architecture such as Cappella Palatina. An hour train ride southeast is the vibrant coastal community of Cefalù. On the east side of Sicily, between the cities of Messina and Catania lies Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe.

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Cala d'Hort Beach at sunset. Balearic Islands. IbizaPhoto: ALEX TIHONOVS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Ibiza

Ibiza conjures visions of clubs, DJs blasting tunes, and dancing till dawn. But there’s more to this Spanish party-centric playground than nightlife. Discover the serene side of Ibiza with its secluded coves, dusty roads, hilly hamlets, pine forests, and pastoral farmlands. For an off-the-beaten-path stay, set your sights on La Granja, a bucolic 20-acre estate devoted to biodynamic agriculture, where you stay in a converted Iberian casa and feast on sustainable fare from on-site gardens.

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Harbor and village Rio Marina, Elba islands, Tuscany, ItalyPhoto: BALATE DORIN/SHUTTERSTOCK

Elba

Part of the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba is best known as the place Napoleon was exiled, following his forced abdication in 1814. You can learn all about his time on the isle at the National Museum of Napoleonic Residences. Plus, its diverse wilderness—sandy shores, central flatlands, jagged mountains, and sprawling vineyards—makes Elba a playground for outdoor exploration.

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Oia town on Santorini island, Greece. Traditional and famous houses and churches with blue domes over the Caldera, Aegean seaPhoto: PHOTOCREO MICHAL BEDNAREK/SHUTTERSTOCK

Santorini

This Grecian island offers a mesmerizing mix of volcanic terrain, eye-catching structures (the white, cubiform houses carved into the cliffs of Fira and Oia are instantly recognizable), and romantic atmosphere, Santorini oozes Mediterranean amour. Add to that polished eateries, superb wineries, and stylish hotels such as Astra Suites and Katikies Santorini. And the sought-after sunsets are straight up #vacationgoals.

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Cala Corsara, Maddalena archipelago on Sardinia island, ItalyPhoto: D.BOND/SHUTTERSTOCK

Sardinia

Sardinia touts 124 miles of magnificent coastline with powder-soft sand and aquamarine waters, plus lush inlands, rambling oaks, and sheer cliffs. For a history fix, head to the submerged Roman ruins of Nora or the nuragic village of Tiscali with beehive-shaped dwellings dating back to the first millennium BC. Alghero is home to Catalan Gothic architecture—highlights of this Italian island include Cattedrale di Santa Maria, Palazzo Guillot, and 4th-century Chiesa di San Francesco—and the Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra.

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Turquoise waterfront of Hvar island in Dalmatia, CroatiaPhoto: XBRCHX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Hvar

Dubbed the queen of Croatia’s Dalmatian islands, Hvar is a paparazzi-free utopia where privacy-seeking celebs frolic on the beaches of Dubovica and Milna. It’s also blessed with lavender fields, rocky coves, and olive groves. Hovering above Hvar is Fortica, a hilltop fortress that offers panoramic vistas. The yacht-filled harbour, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and Franciscan Monastery are worth checking out too.

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View of Bonifacio old town built on top of cliff rocks, Corsica island, FrancePhoto: SAMUEL BORGES PHOTOGRAPHY/SHUTTERSTOCK

Corsica

Despite being annexed by France in 1769, Corsica hasn’t lost its connection to Italy—as evidenced by its divine trio of food, wine, and music. Breath in the salty breeze as you stroll through the captivating, coastal town of Bonifacio. Post up at an outdoor café and delight in gastronomic delicacies such as civet de sanglier (wild boar casserole). Afterward, experience a little pampering at A Cheda. Rugged ridges, dense forests, and challenging trails like GR20 make Corsica fabulous for hiking.

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Beautiful view of the beach in an old village of Corfu IslandPhoto: TODORAN ANDREI/SHUTTERSTOCK

Corfu

A fusion of fertile gardens, fragrant cypress trees, Greek temple ruins, and Byzantine churches, Corfu gives a new meaning to the word wondrous. Dip in the azure Ionian Sea, trek to the Waterfalls at Nymfes, and imbibe in revelry at local bars. This mythical refuge also has a well-deserved reputation for warm hospitality.

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A view of Mykonos port with boats, Cyclades islands, GreecePhoto: PAWEL KAZMIERCZAK/SHUTTERSTOCK

Mykonos

Mykonos, Greece is a holiday hotspot of epic proportion. Think: Sun-drenched beaches and massive dance clubs. More than just a good time, this Cycladic isle has a distinctly cosmopolitan air and a dizzying array of attractions. Don’t leave without visiting the well-preserved port of Hora, Aegean Maritime Museum, world-famous windmills, and 18th-century Monastery of Paleokastro. Craving a low-key evening? Linger over a roasted goat and grilled-to-order fish before settling in for some shut-eye at Grace Mykonos.

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Cala Gat at Rajada, Mallorca - beautiful beach and coastPhoto: SIMON DANNHAUER/SHUTTERSTOCK

Majorca

Majorca, Spain the largest of the Balearic Islands, makes a major impression with its sun-kissed shores, limestone bluffs, verdant valleys, and orange groves that inspired Catalan surrealist painter Joan Miró. Hikers and cyclists flock to the Serra de Tramuntana. Prefer exploring via locomotive? Take a vintage train ride from the capital, Palma (the Royal Palace of La Almudaina and Santa María Cathedral are must-sees) to the hillside town of Sóller.

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Beautiful natural rock arch near of Ayia Napa, Cavo Greco and Protaras on Cyprus island, Mediterranean Sea. Legendary bridge lovers. Amazing blue green sea and sunny day.Photo: OLEG_P/SHUTTERSTOCK

Cyprus

Among the oldest civilizations in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has a long history (the UNESCO-listed Neolithic village of Khirokitia features some of the earliest wells ever recorded) and complex culture. Its Greek roots run deep—the Mycenaean established a settlement 3,500 years ago. The Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, and British also contributed to the mosaic that is modern-day Cyprus. And, of course, you can’t talk about this idyllic isle without mentioning the rock arches, blue lagoons, imposing peaks, and wide beaches.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest