Islands. They offer so much. Wrapped in a tantalising self-contained unique identity, some of the best islands to visit are beautifully formed microcosms. A feast for all the senses enclosed by divine beach perfection. Here is my personally compiled archipelago of 10-ish island destinations that win the hearts and minds of Exceptional Villa’s valued clients year-on-year.
Top 10 Islands to Visit
- St Lucia
- St Barths
- The Bahamas
- Turks and Caicos
- Mediterranean – Greece, Spain, Italy.
- Wild Card
Without fail, the US State of Hawaii, made up of over a hundred islands, 8 of which are inhabited, gets a solid mention in any of the best islands of the world lists. Unfailingly, the consistent climate, the wide-open spaces of undeveloped and untamed landscape, lure repeat visitors each year. Oahu, Kauai, and Maui are the top destinations, but the Big Island of Hawaii is stepping into its own as the preferred playground for intrepid travellers who want to dip into an almost off-grid wildlife experience from the comfort of their luxury villa homes.
The steady all-year-round temperatures that stay in the mid-80s create the perfect backdrop for family adventure, off-road exploration, hugely entertaining nightlife – think luau and live music, romantic honeymoons and a diverse culture that translates into an Asian Fusion dining experience like no other. Tropical rainforests, colourful birdlife, volcanoes and the clearest night skies are just some of the ingredients that make a Hawaiian Island adventure so memorable. If you are from the U.S., Hawaii is one of the best places to travel without a passport.
Barbados is one of the best islands in the world for visitors. It hits all the right notes for top island vacations. All year round, this is the playground for the discerning traveller who loves warm Caribbean seas, pearl white sandy beaches and delectable dining experiences. Add in a lure of top-class golf and off-shore fishing and you have a fully-rounded island destination.
Barbados is an island nation with over 70 miles of delectable beaches that fringe the balmiest turquoise sea. Lazy days by your own pool or splashing in the shallows of of Paynes Bay, Gibbs Beach, Mullins Beach or the famed Sandy Lane offer the perfect counterpoint to dress-up dining in some of the stylish restaurants around the island. Throw in a dash of heavenly spa sessions, a bit of duty free shopping and some historic tours too, just to keep it fresh.
However, you choose to vacation, relaxation is king in Barbados. View our essential Barbados travel guide before you pack your bags!
St Lucia is one of the preferred destinations for those romantic couples who crave an idyllic getaway. The island has been named as one of the best honeymoon destinations in the Caribbean. Before you touch down in this Caribbean haven, the dramatic Pitons – those two unique volcanic mountains – give you a thrilling vista from your plane.
Over 70% of St Lucia is covered in rainforest that can be explored in some exhilarating canopy tours or on foot. You can climb the Pitons if you fancy a challenge but best of all you can simply lounge, with a cocktail, on the divine beaches taking in all of the grandeur of the surrounding terrain. The beaches are open to all visitors, there are numerous spa experiences to take your personal relaxation experience to a whole new level and not forgetting the locally grown cocoa beans that create the divine island chocolate – it just has to be sampled.
St Lucia is one sweet destination and one of the top 10 islands to visit!
Looking to the Indian Ocean for other island vacation spots that are the last word in honeymoon bliss, the jewel like archipelago of the Maldives, gets you about as close to nature as is humanly possible. Life under the water, around these pretty islands, offers a world of adventure. The coral reef structure that acts as a protective barrier to the Maldives is home to some extraordinary sea life.
Whether you snorkel, dive or just kayak through this mesmerising world, you will enjoy the play of sparkling sunlight on the clearest of waters. The Maldives is idyllic and blissfully laid back. Sometimes, footwear seems overdressing!
The Indian Ocean is home to the beautiful island nation, Seychelles. The beaches alone hit the top 5 in many categories for their pristine perfection but it’s more than just a seaside vacation when you touch down here. The wildlife of Seychelles includes some of the oldest giant tortoises in the world.
If you’re smart, you’ll take a leaf from their books and just slow right down. There’s a very gentle pace to life on these islands that’s at the foundation of any worthwhile vacation. It’s one of those sublime honeymoon destinations but it’s much more than that. It wins over families and groups too for the outdoorsy activities and adventures that await.
And let’s not forget the food. The French influence, coupled with African and Asian flavours brings a fresh Creole mix to the table. It certainly helps that so much of what reaches your plate is harvested on or around these islands. It’s just so fresh and fabulous … and let me say it again, sooo relaxing.
St Barths is one of the best islands to visit. This is a very obvious island choice for coolly sophisticated and glamour seeking travellers. It’s a petite island that still manages to offer its lucky visitors 22 beaches and coves and some picturesque pockets of blissful quiet.
Luxury villa rentals deliver privacy and relaxation while the array of gorgeous restaurants, hip bars and designer shopping lure guests out into Gustavia or St Jean to see and be seen. It’s a sailing paradise too so you can charter and explore or just admire the yachts dotting the harbour.
Understated exclusivity are the bywords for life in St Barths. Where better to ride out a dark and dank North American Christmas then on the beaches of this sublime island? Check out the best things to do in St Barths.
Islands within Islands
This section I like to call Islands within Islands. Essentially, it’s my recommendation for anyone who likes to do some inter-island exploration during a vacation. My two best picks – and both within easy access of continental USA – are The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.
The Bahamas, a British Overseas Territory, is a vast archipelago of 700 islands spread tantalisingly across the Caribbean. There is a wide variety of things to do in the Bahamas. With many island centres to choose from, if you are staying in one of the luxury villas on or near the Exumas you can go visit the famous swimming pigs.
Another attractive aspect of being in The Bahamas are the number of uninhabited atolls or Cays that you can visit for a private picnic and recreate your own stylish castaway experience. Islands within islands – with limitless beach choices is at the heart of The Bahamas experience.
One of the very best island vacations for terrific weather and some of the top beaches in the world has to be Turks and Caicos. This is another British Overseas Territory. From the award-winning Grace Bay beach that runs for miles along Providenciales (Provo) the largest island of this territory to the exclusivity of some of the smaller islands and beaches, there’s a great deal to explore.
My island within island recommendation in T&C is the hugely popular Little Water Cay or Iguana Island. Kids especially love the quirky and curious inhabitants that allow humans to pay a call to their turf. Tie it all in with the famous Thursday evening fish fry in Provo and you’ll have the ingredients for a stimulating and delicious day of adventure.
Whether it’s the diverse sprinkling of Greek islands, the pretty grouping of the Balearics, or the grandeur of Italy’s Sardinia or Sicily, if you’re looking from some of the best island vacations in the Mediterranean there’s a lot to choose from. This vast playground welcomes the majority of its visitors during the Northern Hemisphere summer.
From around Easter – one of the most culturally rich times to experience these ancient islands – reaching peak temperatures and footfall around August and with the tide of travellers easing off again and closing out end October, the Mediterranean is a destination for all demographics.
Greece – Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu
These are some of the exceptionally beautifully island destinations in Greece. These islands are particularly beloved of the young and young at heart.
The sunsets of Santorini are world famous and you’ll find couples and families enjoying cocktails or dinners on west facing terraces that capture this floorshow. Santorini is compact but the rugged terrain, make it an island that takes a lot of time to explore all topped off with stunning beaches of glittering volcanic sand. Mykonos likewise has a wealth of dramatic terrain and views offering everything you expect from Greece – the white houses dotted across hillsides that flow downwards to blissful beaches. It’s all here. Your days can be filled with history, water activities and hiking. Your evenings with cool beach clubs, leisurely dining or dancing. The welcome is warm. It’s Greece!
As a nice alternative, Corfu delivers a more sedate island experience with a rich history. The Old Town is a dream to explore on foot while drives through the island interior offer amazing views across the island. From museums, ancient sites and so many beaches added to a unique Greek cuisine that incorporates Italian influences from a century before, there’s always something surprising for all travellers. That’s the essence of Corfu.
Spain – Ibiza and Mallorca
Spain condensed is how I like to describe the Balearic Islands but with an added unique twist. Ibiza is probably the most famous of these islands for its high-intensity summer party scene balanced beautifully with an established wellness vibe. The island is pretty, family friendly with many gorgeous beaches and scenic coastal villages.
On a somewhat grander scale is the neighbouring island of Mallorca. From the magnificence of its capital city Palma to the wild untrammelled hinterland, it’s a lush island that’s rich in history, dramatic hikes and stretches of incredible coastline. The beaches are sandy and gorgeous too. I promise you’ll fall in love with one or other of these islands.
Italy – Sicily and Sardinia
Why I especially love Italy’s Sicily and Sardinia so much is that they really feel like mini-countries in their own right. Historically, these large islands were self-governed and a lot of the rich influences from the Phoenicians to the Moors has left indelible fingerprints across the culture and cuisine of these destinations.
Sicily is rugged. It’s this creamy golden island of hilltop towns and cities. It is one of the best islands to visit. The light coloured stone of the dramatic architecture simply glows in the dazzling sunlight against the bluest of skies and sea.
The welcoming warmth of the locals is legendary and you’ll find yourself embraced by the exuberance of the Sicilian temperament. The beaches are splendid and if you go inland you’ll find a very ancient way of life, unchanged for decades, still flourishing across the green hills. The food is divine. Arab influences are clear in some of the rich spicy dishes. Vegetarian dining, like in so many parts of Italy, is a joy as the diverse agriculture of the island produces ingredients that are transformed by the lightest of Italian touches.
This island is authentic. It’s an Italy that’s fast disappearing elsewhere but still here for the lucky visitor to experience.
By contrast, Sardinia, although boasting a wild and rural interior and some stunning ancient towns, offers visitors a more worldly face. It is one of the best islands in the world to visit.
Exceptional coastlines and beaches remain unspoiled but cater for travellers who like a more polished finish to their vacation experience with high end resorts and a more sophisticated nightlife. It’s one of those stop off points for yachts who like to cruise Italy’s western coastline. Sardinia has all of the best of Italian credentials – food, wine, style but with it’s own perfect island flair on top.
As a slight deviation, let me recommend some of the top island destinations that you can add to a memorable mainland luxury vacation.
Italy’s Amalfi coast villas are the perfect jumping off point if you want to visit the uber chic isle of Capri. Shopping, dining, posing – all in ready supply.
If you get to South Africa, you will have to visit the historic Robben Island. This museum is a monument to the struggle of Nelson Mandela and his fight to end apartheid.
Off Ireland’s Southwest coast, Skellig Michael, is one of those extraordinary destinations that almost defies description. A crag of rock that was once a monastic site and is now a UNESCO heritage site. In a word, Wow.
Spoiled for choice, you may struggle to narrow down your preferred island destination. It can be difficult to choose the best islands to visit. Why not call our amazing Sales Team at Exceptional Villas who will be able to translate your vacation dreams into your bespoke island reality.
Our Concierge Team can then get to work unlocking the hidden treasures of each of these island destinations for you. Adventure, romance, glamour, fun, sport, it’s all waiting for you. Go enjoy!
About Mairead Moriarty
Born and raised in Co Kerry, lived in London, New York, San Francisco, Dublin. Owner of one very battered suitcase, a well-worn passport and a million memories.
It seems very fitting for a travel writer that my surname translates as ‘Skilled Navigator’. Apart from an occasion when, aged 3, I got lost in a Supermarket in Tralee, I have managed to live up to my name!
Curiosity is probably the driver that has sent me on magical mystery tours around the world. I want to ‘feel’ a place. I want all my senses to be engaged: from the history and geography that has influenced a country or city, the arts and achievements of its natives, anything and everything really.
Regardless of whether I am on a local train travelling through Morocco, or poking around in Marconi’s study in Bologna or on a canal boat weaving through the heart of the English countryside, the same rules apply - ask questions, talk to locals, eat what they eat, sit quietly with nature and simply be.
Assimilate as much as is possible so as to understand the soul of a place. That is my passion. That is the compass by which I navigate.