Enjoy a fabulous island holiday while avoiding the crowds, where life is at a relaxed pace and far removed from daily routines and urgency. A holiday that is just a stone's throw away and bathed in the summer sun as well as in the eternity of endless horizons. Here is our selection of these beautiful spots in Spain where time stands still: in the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and even just a short hop from the coast of Galicia.
The Balearic Islands
Formentera - hippy chic
Ibiza's little sister (30 minutes by ferry) doesn't want to be compared to her neighbour, or worse, to be considered her smaller counterpart. In the Balearic Islands, every island has its own style, and each one has its own way of cultivating the joys of the Mediterranean! In Formentera, local councillors refused to build an airport, so it is out of reach of celebrity jets and trendy weekenders. Instead, Formentera remains the guardian of the good old-fashioned way of life, that of beaches lazily stretched along the salt marshes or sheltered by hedges of fig trees with beautifully twisted trunks, villages of impeccable white, open-air terraces, the perfect place to make friends between tapas and a glass of wine. The hippy legend of the sixties endowed the whole island with candour and multi-coloured smoke. Hum Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and King Crimson, but now let's turn the page to this century.
The shops in San Francesc Xavier (the island's small and charming capital), full of floral dresses, plaited wicker baskets and handmade 'ethnic' jewellery, are more like those in Brooklyn than a country market. This applies to the prices too. However, one thing is certain: Formentera is a lovely place to visit. Its 10,000 inhabitants, four times more in summer, spread over 32 square miles, look after this area. With a lovely atmosphere from morning to night, the beaches are filled with relaxed people who share a carefree attitude towards life. Paradise? Certainly not in summer, when the beaches, especially those bordering Ses Salines Natural Park or Migjorn Beach, are full. Parking, deckchairs and parasols - all for a fee - are lined up like in Nice or Saint-Tropez, as well as hordes of bikes and scooters at reasonable prices. Nevertheless, nothing can replace Formentera, the beauty of its beaches (Ses Illetes) and the waters that border them, the magnificent church of Sant Francesc Xavier, the charm of Sant Ferran as well as of Platja es Calo or the dozens of deserted coves that can be discovered at random along a dusty path. The good news is that there is plenty of all types of accommodation and a stay outside the peak summer season (in June and September) is particularly lovely.
The miracle dates back to 1993. Anxious not to make the same tourism mistakes as Mallorca - its neighbour from the Balearic Islands, which lies about 62 miles further west - Minorca submitted its application to UNESCO and it was approved. The island has become a Biosphere Reserve. The result: 124 miles of coastline and 70 beaches protected from being built upon. The benefits of this are spread over about 25 miles, between Mahon, the island's capital port, and Ciutadella, another Minorcan town, proud of its beautifully-preserved historic centre. In between the two are the beaches on the south coast, a vast plain pierced by divine creeks; a barren land in the centre, beaten by a tenacious wind, where more than 400 farms maintain traditional activities (such as keeping livestock, making cheese or growing olive trees); as for the north coast, it can be rather harsh when the sea becomes wild and unruly.
Add in the charm of the local villages in the centre of the island, where time seems to have stood still, and the beauty of the deserted coves and their translucent waters, and this is a perfect spot for those who want to combine the Mediterranean sunshine with a simple life, without fuss. Even if, after a lot of talk among insiders, the secret begins to get out, causing the prices of fincas (traditional farms) and the olive groves around them to soar, the local hotel industry, from stylish properties to smaller BnBs, remains in moderation. The fact that Menorca has become a hideaway for discerning holidaymakers is rather good news. They will in turn cultivate the age-old values: calm, simplicity, authenticity... But shh, it's still a secret.
The Canary Islands
Most people who visit this round, green island of 230 square miles lost in the middle of the Atlantic and just a 30-minute flight from Tenerife, are here to enjoy the pleasures of hiking. It's a real gem of a place. More than 400 miles of marked trails cover this volcanic land whose highest point, Alto de Garajonay and the national park that surrounds it, reach an altitude of nearly 5,000ft. A pattern of paths worthy of an ordnance survey map wind across valley after valley through fields of crops, all the way to the summit. Savour each step through this land of palm trees, laurel forest (one of the rarest forests in the world) and tree ferns.
It's a fantastic experience, and all the more so because UNESCO has made La Gomera a Biosphere Reserve. This protected area is reserved for those who come to discover it, prepped with their walking shoes and backpacks. Although the island is not just for active adventurers, as evidenced by its few black sand beaches, as well as the option for boat trips to see whales and dolphins that swim nearby. Our highlights include the Mirador de Abrante, a transparent plexiglass walkway stretched over a void 22 feet in the sky and a staggering 1,300 feet below the village of Agulo. If you suffer from vertigo, we'd advise against this! Another is the whistled language of the island's shepherds. It is called 'el Silbo', a way of communicating with the help of the wind, much like birds do. It creates a certain poetic sound, which step by step can fall into a rhythm with your hiking. Find all our travel tips for the Canary Islands.
It is affectionately known as 'La Isla Bonita', the beautiful island. This is nothing to do with Madonna's hit of the same name, although this volcanic island does have a fiery temperament. Three craters run along the island's backbone which peaks at nearly 8,000ft above the Atlantic at the Roque de los Muchachos. This is an island of fire, water and wind from the open sea. Battered by the elements, it floats between Tenerife and La Gomera, covers nearly 300 square miles and is home to 85,000 residents who would never leave their pearl of green and black for anything in the world. Its few beaches of dark sand save it from crowds of traditional holidaymakers. Here, there is plenty of room for nature lovers, those who like to wander through the shelter of the forest, huge banana groves, fern carpets and canary island pines, following more than 621 miles of marked paths. Their holy grail, the impressive GR 131 route, sits at more than 26,000 feet high. It connects volcanoes, a haven for walkers, revealing the joy of climbing to a height of over 6,000 feet to the highest peak.
Experienced walkers could complete the 48 miles in a day, but it could also be done more leisurely over the course of a week or so. Enjoy the stunning nature shows and the feeling of being worlds away from daily life. The more gentle paths from Santa Cruz - the pocket-sized capital that retains its ancient houses with stunning enclosed wooden balconies, to protect themselves from the wind as well as the curiosity of neighbours - as well as the beautiful beaches of Los Concejos or Puerto Neos, will delight summer visitors in search of complete tranquillity. This tranquillity is all but guaranteed in the smallest villages on this island, which fervently preserve these traditional ways of life. And then, surprisingly: alongside these strong traditions, La Palma has become a popular star-gazing destination. Its remarkably pure sky has been chosen by astronomers who have installed several giant telescopes on its heights, including one at an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet. As a result, everyone in La Palma, whether in a rural hostel, an official public station or a chic hotel, can look up to the stars and admire the map of the sky.
The weather is blissful here all year round, with temperatures that vary between 15°C and 23°C. Rarely less, almost never more. A blessing for this beautiful volcanic, located over 600 miles from Spain but only 25 miles from the Moroccan coast. Such a blessed climate could have condemned it to suffer from development and overtourism. Fortunately, as early as 1993, UNESCO declared Lanzarote a Biosphere Reserve, while an inspired artist, painter, sculptor and architect, César Manrique (1919-1992) convinced the local government to demand that any new construction comply with the standards of traditional Canary Islands architecture. So the island now offers a harmony of white and blue, with no big hotel bars or resorts, but instead harmonious holiday spots.
They are bordered by sumptuous beaches, such as La Francesa, Puerto del Carmen, Playa Blanca, and Papagayo, perfect for blissful relaxation between excursions. Of which there are many to choose from. The interior of the island is known for resembling the moon. It is like a lava desert, with sharp rocks like glass, porous stones or sand as far as the eye can see. You can explore this lunar landscape on camels. There is also a high-altitude vineyard cultivated here on nearly 7,500 acres of black sand. Each vine is protected from the wind by a circular dry-stone wall. This is a beautiful spot to take photos before tasting the excellent Malvoisie wine - red, white or sweet - with small delicate sips. Then it's time to discover Arrecife, the charming capital of Lanzarote, the Timanfaya National Park, an exceptional volcanic chaos, or laze on the shaded terraces of Teguise or San Bartolomé, or make friends with the locals.
Glory day for Graciosa was on the 26th June 2018. The Canary Islands authorities decided to grant this miniature island, with its 18 square miles and 750 inhabitants, the status of being the eighth island in the archipelago. This was a revolution for a collection of islands that used to raise its status by comparing itself to the seven days of the week (one wonder a day, rather than being compared to the seven deadly sins...), leaving this tiny island of Graciosa away from the official table. But now it's part of the club. Except nothing's changed. It remains empty, only covered by the remnants of four volcanoes. There are no paved roads, making it heaven for mountain bikers.
Just under a mile from Lanzarote (the only place to get a boat shuttle from), this is the ideal refuge for those who want to put a little distance between the world and themselves. It's a win because in the evening, after the last day trippers depart, you get the sensation of being in complete seclusion. You can enjoy the the peaceful silence of the night. There is some simple accommodation and a handful of lovely terraces where you can savour the mild evening weather. Diving is a must from any beach or from the island's only two villages, Caleta del Sebo and Caleta Pedro Barba. Graciosa is in the heart of a marine reserve. There are thousands of fish and endless species of birds for nature lovers. Seeing them free and in their natural habitat is a sight to behold.
El Hierro - The Eco Island
El Hierro will be the first place on Planet Earth to be 100% autonomous and totally clean. The pact was signed several years ago by means of a hydro power plant, the installation of numerous terminals to encourage electric cars, organic farming for everyone, a ban on fishing except traditional angling, and major campaigns to encourage recycling. And, as a reward, there is free Wi-Fi almost everywhere on this volcano island, the westernmost of the Canaries, 42 miles west of La Palma.
This volcanic island peaks at nearly 5,000ft above sea level and still rumbles. It lasted erupted in 2011 and 2012, which means that the 6,000 inhabitants of El Hierro keep a close eye on the summit, which is often lined with dense mists or low clouds. This grey cotton sky contributes to the island's plant beauty, with its 'fountain trees', the garoé, a sort of large laurel celebrated for the ease with which its leaves capture the slightest trace of moisture to transform it into droplets. A blessing for this arid land of black volcanic stone from which no clear source of water flows. This inspires serious confidence in nature. UNESCO has validated the principle by declaring El Hierro a Biosphere Reserve, meaning it is a protected territory. As far as mass tourism is concerned, there are hardly any beaches on the island, which means that visitors have to settle for beautiful swimming pools naturally carved in the basalt. This island is perfect for hiking, with about twenty signposted routes of more than 155 miles as well as diving in the magnificent volcanic setting. Spend time exploring Villaverde, the island's timeless capital, with a quaint church, cobblestone alleyways and quiet terraces.
A last detail that fans of unlikely stories will enjoy: El Hierro was once part of global stories, as before Columbus, the known world stopped here, on this last bastion of the Atlantic before the great unknown. Noting the discovery of the Americas, geographers rubbed their chins to draw a line that would fix positions, distances and time, valid for old as well as new worlds. In 1634, Louis XIII and his scholars decided that the 'zero' line of the globe would pass through El Hierro. The value remained until Greenwich Meridian imposed its law in 1884. Whereby El Hierro fell back into anonymity. The island looks forward to regaining its rank by being known for its green electricity and collective responsibility. It remains Europe's last rock facing the Atlantic and intends to set an example.
Galicia - the Cíes Islands - the insider secret
The waters around here may stay chilly, even on sunny days, but what a setting! It's no coincidence that the Romans gave these three islands the label of the 'Islands of the Gods'. The journey to the islands is made from Vigo (8.6 miles away, which is 20 minutes by boat) in beautiful Galicia, the north-west province of Spain. The islands of Monteagudo and Do Faro are connected by a half-mile long beach (Playa de Rodas), a marvel of white sand lining a perfect arc, and then there is San Martina, which you cannot disembark onto.
These three deserted islets cover 2.8 square miles and have no inhabitants apart from three people who look after these tiny islands. There are no cars or hotels either, just a small camp site. As a precaution, attendance is deliberately limited to 2,200 people per day, so as to cause as little disturbance as possible to the 22,000 pairs of gulls that are regular visitors to the Cíes Islands, joined by cormorants, guillemots and, over the seasons, all the migratory birds in the Atlantic. This tiny island is lined with pine and eucalyptus trees and is adorned with nine lovely beaches backed by a wild moor, which remains untouched. Some say it's the original paradise, and it's tempting to believe them.
Cover photo : Malo / Fotolia.com