Mediterranean Sea, best islands to visit: Top 10 prettiest small islands

1 SANTORINI, GREECE

Designer chic in cubist white collides with natural beauty to spectacular effect on this island created by an ancient volcanic explosion that left behind colour-banded rock, towering cliffs and a sunken caldera in which the sea glitters. If you have a head for heights, walk the 10 kilometres between Fira and Oia for superb outlooks over white buildings and blue-domed churches atop the cliff. Santorini's sunsets are fabled. See santorini.gr

2 CAPRI, ITALY

View from mount Solaro of Capri island at summer day, Italy SunNov18Ten - Traveller 10 Mediterranean’s prettiest islands - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

View from mount Solaro of Capri island, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

This stunning island, rising straight from the sea in the Bay of Naples, is a light-hearted destination perfect for idle sightseeing. For the best views, head to the terraces of Giardini di Augusto public gardens or the ruins of Villa Jovis, where the loggia has scenery fit for the Roman emperors who once holidayed here. Capri's most famous sight is the Blue Grotto, with its startling neon-blue water. See cittadicapri.it

3 RAB ISLAND, CROATIA

From the mainland, Rab appears barren and rocky, but its Lopar Peninsula erupts in green fields and pine trees, with a gentle coast scalloped into sandy bays. On the waterfront, gnarly fishermen mend nets as white yachts float past on a sparkling sea. The island's Venetian old town is a huddle of campaniles and church spires that turn pink at sunset, best viewed from Rab town's medieval battlements. See rab-visit.com

4 BOZCAADA ISLAND, TURKEY

Bozcaada Island, Turkey, street view. Bozcaada is populer tourist attraction in Aegean Sea.
SunNov18Ten - Traveller 10 Mediterranean’s prettiest islands - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

Bozcaada Island, Turkey. Photo: Shutterstock

The Greek islands of the Aegean grab all the headlines, but this Turkish outpost at the entrance to the Dardanelles also has its fair share of whitewashed houses, windmills and historical ruins. Small beaches are cupped in rocky coves, while the interior is striped with vineyards and punctuated by Ottoman-era mosques. The sea is a glorious blue, and in Mermer Burnu snorkelling gets you among schools of fish. See gobozcaada.com

5 GOZO, MALTA

underwater cave in the form of heart and divers at Azure Window in Gozo, Malta
 SunNov18Ten - Traveller 10 Mediterranean’s prettiest islands - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

Underwater cave in the form of heart and divers at Azure Window in Gozo, Malta. Photo: Shutterstock

The ramparts of Gozo's hilltop villages provide sweeping views of sapphire sea and the island's patchwork of watermelon fields and fig orchards. Fine walks lead along the cliffs of Dwerja and San Lawrenz, especially pretty during the spring wildflower season or at sunset. There's also great snorkelling and diving, especially around the recently collapsed natural stone arch Azure Window. Salt pans add chequerboard interest to the coastline at Xwejni. See visitgozo.com

6 LA MADDALENA, ITALY

The whole 45-kilometre road that circumnavigates this island off Sardinia is utterly lovely. White beaches and turquoise seas meet pinkish granite outcrops and rolling hills covered in sweet-smelling scrub. Cala Corsara might be the prettiest spot, but Bassa Trinita bay and its 18th-century church is gorgeous too. The island is only one of an archipelago that's among the Mediterranean's most unspoiled destinations, set in a shimmering peacock sea. See sardegnaturismo.it

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7 MENORCA, SPAIN

View of beautiful bay of Cala Macarelleta, Menorca island, Spain
 SunNov18Ten - Traveller 10 Mediterranean’s prettiest islands - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

View of beautiful bay of Cala Macarelleta, Menorca island, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

All the Balearic Islands are beautiful, but Menorca has the most splendid scenery. Its coastline is scalloped with glorious beaches interrupted by deep, almost fjord-like bays. The most beautiful might be Cala de Santa Galdana. Take the road to the hillier north for the best scenery, which culminates at the pilgrimage chapel atop Monte Toro. The coastal Cami de Cavalls walking path that encircles the entire island is also wonderful. See menorca.es

8 TINOS, GREECE

Tinos is the most northerly and one of the least known Cycladic islands but an important Greek Orthodox pilgrimage destination. Fertile valleys of lemon and olive plantations are crisscrossed with drystone walls and squeezed between rocky hills. Dovecotes and tiny family chapels housing icons and flickering candles dot the landscape. Hike up through whitewashed villages to the ruined fortress of Exobourgo to be rewarded with tremendous outlooks. See visitgreece.gr

9 HVAR, CROATIA

Mediterranean summer scenery in old town Hvar, famous luxury travel destination in Croatia, Europe.
 SunNov18Ten - Traveller 10 Mediterranean’s prettiest islands - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

Mediterranean summer scenery in old town Hvar, Croatia. Photo: Shutterstock

The bays are cobalt blue, the island's interior draped in vineyards and lavender fields, and the pretty harbour fronting Hvar town is lined with palm trees and cluttered with sleek yachts. The Renaissance old town features a stunning piazza, streets paved with marble and a clutter of monasteries, chapels and battlements. Views from the fortress are worth the hike. Later, it's time for a Campari at a quayside bar before dining at a rooftop restaurant for sweeping panoramas of twinkling harbour lights. See croatia.hr

10 ELBA, ITALY

The Tuscan island most famously associated with Napoleon's exile features a fringe of chestnut and olive groves surrounding squeezed-up mini-mountains where every hairpin bend provides another plunging vista to a sparkling sea. You can see the whole lot from the summit of Monte Capanne, reached in a metal basket suspended on cables. The main town Portoferraio has Renaissance harbour fortifications and hilly old streets offering more delightful sea views. See visitelba.com

The writer has travelled as a guest of numerous tourism offices and cruise lines, and at his own expense.

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