8 Under-the-Radar European Islands

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Europe presents many reasons to hop off the storied continent. Here are eight little-known havens to soak up seascapes, fishing villages, and local lore.

> Pico (Azores/Portugal)

The Azores are quietly luring adventurers for hiking, climbing, and biking. Those in the know beeline to Pico, the chain’s second largest island, to scale Mount Pico and check out Gruta das Torres, a lava cave that was first explored by scientists in 1990. Above ground, stone walls embrace vineyards.

> Isle of Mull (Inner Hebrides, Scotland) 

Don’t let the tidy town of Tobermory fool you. Beyond this picturesque facade of brightly colored buildings is a wild expanse of bens, moors, and lochs, waiting to be scaled, hiked, and kayaked. The jewel of the island is Castle Duart, the 800-year-old ancestral home of Clan McLean still owned by the family.

> Muhu (Estonia)

Only 100 miles from techie Tallinn (accessed by an ice road in winter), the Baltic Sea isle Muhu is a throwback to the Middle Ages, with charming thatched-roof cottages, a working windmill, and trapezoidal tombstones carved with pagan symbols. Elders still traditionally run fishing villages.

> Pantelleria (Italy)

Forget lolling on sandy beaches. There are none on Pantelleria, the sun-baked idyll halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. Instead, regular visitors (Giorgio Armani is one) snorkel in secluded coves, soak in hot springs, dine on pasta tossed with tomatoes and herbs, and load up on jars of the island’s briny capers.

> Streymoy (Faroe Islands, Kingdom of Denmark)

The largest and most populous of the 18 islands that make up the Faroe archipelago, Streymoy can seem otherworldly with its treeless landscape sculpted by glaciers. Adventurous eaters head to Koks, the restaurant in the Hotel Føroyar, lauded for its New Nordic cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients.

> Kastellorizo (Greece)

As the farthest-flung landmass in the Dodecanese, arid and rocky Kastellorizo doesn’t see the influx of travelers that many of its sisters in the archipelago do. Among its charms: the cathedral-like Blue Grotto—a sea cavern accessible only by lying flat on a boat—and ancient castle ruins.

> Lopud Island (Croatia)

The carless island Lopud in the Elaphiti chain was once the summertime retreat of aristocrats from the mainland. Today it attracts day-trippers heading to its horseshoe-shaped Sunj beach and exploring medieval ruins. Don’t miss the art-filled 15th-century Franciscan monastery in the village of Lopud.

> Vega Island (Norway)

Bird-watchers have known about the 6,500-island archipelago (and UNESCO World Heritage site) just south of the Arctic Circle, Vega, particularly its eider ducks. But buzz is building for hiking and cycling opportunities around fishing villages and fjords of the eponymous main island.

This piece, adapted from a story that originally appeared in the UK edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine, appeared in the magazine’s August/September 2015 issue. 

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