1. Santorini, Greece
Pay per view … Santorini’s extraordinary landscapes come at a price, but it’s still possible to get great value. Photograph: Getty Images Santorini, Greece
Even the epic photos don’t quite prepare you for Santorini, with its encircling black cliffs. The island was formed by an enormous volcanic eruption in 1600 BC, and the subsequently collapsing caldera formed these sheer faces. Its extraordinary landscapes justly attract hordes of visitors and, unsurprisingly, Santorini, or Thira in Greek, is one of the pricier Greek isles.
Stay The island’s volcanic soil produces renowned wine, and at Caveland caves dug from the volcanic pumice to be used as wine cellars now provide fun and stylish accommodation. Dorm beds cost from €23, doubles (book ahead: they sell out quickly) from €70.
Hang out Atlantis in the north-western town of Oia may just be the best bookshop on the planet; it certainly has one of the best settings, overlooking the sea in this whitewashed old town. Born through passion, and a bit of whimsy, it now runs food, film and literary festivals through the year.
Eat Naoussa calls itself a traditional taverna, although its prices are a little high. The food is good, though, and factor in the location (its terrace is a good place to watch the sun set over the caldera) and it’s a bargain (main courses from €10.50).
Day trip Boat trips run to Thirasia, another sliver of the island before its eruption, on the other side of the caldera. If you can, bring a moped, stay the night and explore what Santorini must have been like 30 years ago (there are a few old-style rooms to let from €40 for a double).
Way to go There is an airport (served by easyJet and Norwegian from Gatwick), but though it’s a longish ferry trip from Athens (6-9 hours, greeceferries.com, from €40), nothing beats entering the caldera by sea. It does leave you with the problem of making your way up the cliffs on the switchback road. A donkey ride is traditional, if not exactly comfortable.
2. Mykonos, Greece
Pepper in Mykonos town
Most people, if asked to imagine a Greek island, will probably picture Mykonos – all whitewashed houses and sparkling turquoise seas (although the island’s vibrant nightlife is renowned, too). Its fame, and the famous people who visit, mean prices can be eye-popping. But it is possible to enjoy Mykonos on a budget, especially outside of August.
Stay A basic double room in Hora, the main town, can cost €150-200, even in June. There are lower prices out of town and under canvas. On the south coast 6km away, Paraga Beach, says it welcomes “young people of all ages” and has comfortable “prefab” tents in a gorgeous spot right by the sea for €40 a night in June (€30 all summer for those with their own tent).
Hang out Mykonos nightlife can be hectic; a more peaceful option is Cine Manto , an outdoor cinema in a lovely oasis of a garden with a cafe/restaurant and screenings (adult €9) at 9pm and 11pm in summer.
Eat Finding cheap, but good, food is always possible in Greece. A gyros pitta (traditionally pork, chicken, or lamb) for a few euros may be reminiscent of a kebab back home, but done well they’re sublime. Try one with a glass of wine in nice surroundings at Pepper in Mykonos town.
Day trip It’s a 30-minute ferry ride to the Sanctuary of Apollo on the sacred isle of Delos (€20 return plus €12 entry). Pack a picnic and drink in the atmosphere.
Way to go The cheapest and best way to approach a Greek island is as Odysseus did – by sea. A ferry from either Athens port takes around four hours and costs €29. AB
3. Hvar, Croatia
Soline near Vrboska
Croatia’s sunniest island has also developed a reputation as party central: the authorities are trying to clamp down on badly behaved tourists and prices in the cocktail bars of Hvar Town have shot through the roof. But there’s more to this lavender-scented island than its busiest town: check out the relaxed and reasonably priced town of Stari Grad, which dates back to ancient Greek days, or even smaller Jelsa and Vrboska, also along the north coast.
Stay Hidden House in Stari Grad (doubles from £89 B&B) is an elegant little B&B with four exquisite bedrooms.
Hang out Walk east about a kilometre from Vrboska through pine forest to reach Soline, a pebbly beach in a shaded cove (not to be confused with a naturist beach on the other side of the narrow peninsula). Set back in the woods is the simple Restaurant Soline, where you can fill up on pizzas and grilled dishes.
Eat Fun and affordable Cafe Antika is in a 16th-century Stari Grad house with an interior that resembles your grandmother’s sitting room, and outside tables spilling into courtyards and out on to the street. A dinner of gilled sea bass is about £10.
Day trip Get sublime views of Hvar Town from the top of the Venetian fortress, Fortica Španjola. It’s worth the £3.50 admission.
Way to go Split is the nearest airport, and ferries and catamarans run to Stari Grad and Hvar Town.
Koiza waterfront. Photograph: Getty Images
Off limits to tourists until 1989, when it stopped being a military base, the sleepy island of Vis may be about to go stratospheric thanks to its location in the upcoming Mamma Mia! film sequel. For now, the atmosphere is still wonderfully laid-back: there still isn’t a single nightclub on the island, although restaurant prices have crept upwards.
Stay Townhouse Vis (from €95–€150 a night, sleeps six, four-night minimum) is just a few metres from the waterfront in Vis Town and has three bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen.
Hang out Tucked into a deep cove in north-eastern Vis is beautiful Stončica beach, surrounded by lush vegetation, which is a good spot for snorkelling. Waterside Konoba Stončica serves simple grilled seafood and meat, and a lovely octopus salad for about €10.
Eat Gostiona Vis, which is sometimes known by its previous name, Buffet Vis, is right on the waterfront in Vis Town and serves grilled fish and seafood from about £11.
Day trip It’s probably the priciest thing you’ll do, but catching a boat to the island of Biševo to explore the extraordinary Blue Grotto is irresistible. Between 11am and 1pm, the light turns the water an impossible shade of electric blue. In high summer it can be bedlam, so come at 10am for slightly less vivid hues; it’s calmer in June or September. Alternatura has trips from €18pp.
Way to go Fly to Split, from various UK airports: from here it’s a two-hour ferry trip, or 90 minutes by catamaran. MN
Lozari beach. Photograph: Getty Images
Holidays in Corsica tend to cost more than in mainland France but the beaches are some of the best in Europe, the food sensational and the local festivals spectacular. Around eight million visitors come to enjoy its wild landscapes and stunning coastline each year, most of them French.
Stay Hotel La Palma (doubles from €75 room-only in June), a half-hour drive from Bastia airport, has 18 rooms and is close to vineyards and the beaches near Saint Florent. Patrimonio’s annual open-air guitar festival takes place in late July.
Hang out For turquoise water, and white sand without crowds, head to Lozari beach, just east of L’Ile Rousse. Laze on the sand, swim, walk to the ruins of the hilltop Genoese watchtower and have lunch at Vava’u Chez Taté (grilled fish, octopus and seafood salads from around €10).
Eat For plates of baked mussels and langoustines, and maybe the best pizzas on the island, try A Tana (+33 4 9538 7118), above the port in Bastia, with a vaulted dining room and a few outside tables. It has seafood pastas and pizzas (€8-€10), Corsican beer, local wines and the warm-heartedness of a restaurant that is always full.
Day trip Half an hour’s drive from Porto-Pollo on Corsica’s west coast is Filitosa (adult €7), a stunning 8,000-year-old megalithic settlement of carved granite menhirs.
Way to go EasyJet flies to Ajaccio from Gatwick, and to Bastia from Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted. Ferries run to Corsica from Nice, Marseille and Toulon.
6. Île de Ré, France
Île de Re is famous for oysters Photograph: Getty Images
With cobbled streets, white houses, bobbing sailing boats and donkeys in trousers (originally to protect them from mosquitoes), 30km-long Île de Ré has long been a favourite with Parisians. Safe and civilised, it’s a great family destination, with good seafood and cycle rides to the beach. Use markets and bakeries and a trip needn’t break the bank.
Stay The island is a camper’s dream. Camping Le Cormoran (€19.50 for a two-person pitch, €69 for a four-person pre-erected tent) has a kids’ club and aquapark. Hotel P’tit Dej (doubles from €79 B&B in June) has rooms and family apartments, and a pool.
Hang out Trousse-Chemise beach at the western end of the island is backed by pine forest and has a great bar, La Cabane de la Patache, for seafood and galettes. The beach is popular with kitesurfers when the wind picks up and at low tide a huge sandbar appears.
Eat Les Copains Bâbord (seafood platters for €12) near La Flotte is an oyster hut with seaview deck, owned by the Le Corre family, who have farmed oysters here for 50 years.
Day trip Cycle from the Loix salt plans to the lighthouse, Le Phare des Baleines (€3.50) at the island’s western tip. Bikes from Yootoo cost €11 a day, €19 three days.
Way to go Saint-Malo ferry port is a five-hour drive from the island. EasyJet and Ryanair fly from eight UK airports to nearby La Rochelle, or the train there from Paris takes three hours (a toll bridge connects the city to Île de Ré). JB
The small coastal village of Deià. Photograph: Getty Images
With its Instagrammable coves and bike and hike-friendly interior, Mallorca is perennially popular. The 2016 TV series The Night Manager highlighted its luxe appeal – but away from the honeypots there are bargains and more space. In the centre of the island, a 40-minute drive from Palma, the quiet town of Llubí is Mallorca at its most traditional.
Stay With rooms from €82 B&B in June, Hostal Miramar on the edge of charming Deiá has art on the walls by various painters who have stayed. Refugio de S’Arenalet in north-east Mallorca has doubles from €40 in June and September.
Hang out The graveyard of Parroquia San Juan Bautista in Deiá, where poet Robert Graves is buried, is a peaceful place. The Spanish love a barbie and often choose rural beauty spots such asEs Pixarells in the north-west.
Eat There’s a boho vibe and plant-based fare at shabby chic Va De Bo pianobiobar in Palma. In the inland town of Vilafranca de Bonany, dine for under €15 a head at Restaurante Es Cruce . Its frit mallorquí is a classic offal and potato combo.
Day trip Mondragó natural park in the south, near Santanyí, is a protected area of coast and wetland with a great variety of birdlife and beautiful Cala Mondragó bay. Or head to the island’s southern tip and hike the 3½ miles from Far del Cap Salines lighthouse to remote Cala Marmols.
Way to go EasyJet, Norwegian, and Ryanair fly to Palma.
El Bigotes restaurant. Photograph: Alamy
Few places have such a shape-shifting reputation as this sleepy isle/jet-set retreat/stag party capital. But in the rural north, life has continued in a bucolic way. This Ibiza is better defined by local gastronomy and culture, and the quiet pleasures of Balearic life.
Stay Ibiza is doable on a budget if you camp. Camping Cala Nova in Santa Eulalia has tent pitches for two for €23 in June, tipis from €35, and bungalows from €70 (both sleeping two adults and two kids). Camping La Playa, a mile or so south, adds gaily painted vintage caravans, yoga classes, live music and a here-for-the-season hippy vibe: caravans from €386 a week in June, cabins more than double that; tent pitches also available.
Hang out Take a picnic to a beach that involves a little scrambling, such as Sant Josep, Es Portitxo or Cala Llentrisca.
Eat At ramshackle El Bigotes (book ahead) in Cala Mastella, there are two sittings: for fish at 12pm and bullit de peix (fish stew with potatoes) at 2pm (€20 a head). Or cycle inland to Bar Costa in Santa Gertrudis for bocadillos with jamón for a few euros.
Day trip Nothing beats hiring a bike to explore inland and the less visited calas of the north and north-east coast. Kandani in Santa Eulalia hires bikes from €15 a day and electric bikes from €35.
Way to go In summer there are direct flights from most UK airports.
The medieval hilltop village of Erice. Photograph: Alamy
Western Sicily is less well-known than the east, but similarly endowed with wonderful beaches and charming towns. Foreign tourists rarely go west from Palermo, but it is worth venturing off the beaten track. The prices are lower, too.
Stay In Palermo, A Casa di Amici is a boutique hostel in the centre (€20-€60pp for private rooms, less for dorms). If staying near the sea is a must, try the south-west coast. Le 4 Stagioni is on the beach a 15-minute drive from the sleepy town of Menfi, and has doubles from €75 B&B in June. Its restaurant is particularly good.
Hang out Scala dei Turchi, further west on the way to Agrigento, is a white rocky cliff dropping down to a sandy beach – those happy to tackle the slightly challenging path can hang out at Lounge Beach Scala dei Turchi a cool glass cube of a place right on the sand. North of Marsala, on the west coast, Mamma Caura is the perfect place for generous aperitivo overlooking the salt pans of the Stagnone lagoon.
Eat Trattoria delle Cozze in the rather gritty town of Mazara del Vallo is a favourite with locals for its fresh fish and affordable prices (€20-25 a head).
Day trip Ancient Greek temples in Selinunte, near Menfi, are less busy than Agrigento’s, and no less impressive. Further north, the medieval hilltop village of Erice deserves a visit.
Way to go Ryanair flies to Palermo from Manchester and Stansted, and easyJet from Liverpool, Luton and Gatwick.
Stay B&B I Ginepri (from €23 to €33pp B&B) is in Portoscuso, opposite San Pietro island, in an area with many archeological sites. This coast is dotted with agriturismi: La Fillirea (doubles from €60 in summer) is on the coast near Capo Frasca.
Hang out In the town of Calasetta, on Sant’Antioco island, connected by a causeway, Sottotorre beach is a great place to chill, with plenty of bars. Try WHIM Cafe Sardinia, a few blocks from the beach, which does an aperitivo buffet and cocktails.
Eat Dolly close to the causeway in Sant’Antioco town, serves generous portions of Sardinian cuisine (two courses €30) and great pizza.
Day trip South-west of Cagliari, the beach of Santa Margherita di Pula is almost 3km long with pinkish sand and shallow water. For adventure, head north of Domusnovas to the San Giovanni cave, with stalactites and an underground river.
Way to go EasyJet flies to Cagliari from Stansted, and Ryanair from Stansted and Manchester. AD