10 of the best Mediterranean islands for foodies
For island vibes with a food slant look no further than these 10 top Mediterranean escapes to visit this summer. Spend your days sightseeing and beach-hopping, then graze your way around seaside tavernas, beach bars and agriturismos to feast on chargrilled octopus, rustic rabbit stew and distinctive volcanic wines
Looking for Mediterranean holiday destinations? Want a holiday in the Mediterranean islands? Read our expert guide to the top 10 Mediterranean islands for foodies...
One of Italy’s most remote outposts, volcanic Pantelleria rises from the Mediterranean closer to Tunisia than Sicily. Known in Arabic as “Daughter of the Wind” the island has its fair share of A-list followers – Giorgio Armani is one of the most well-known visitors, with his own dammuso (one of the island’s distinctive cuboid houses).
The regulars come to wallow in the waters of the Lago de Venere, with its therapeutic mud, or to swim off the the coast, with its indented rocky pools and inaccessible coves edged by dazzlingly blue water. And to eat, of course; Pantelleria’s Phoenician, Roman, Arab and Moorish history ripples throughout its modern-day food culture and must-try local favourites include ricotta-like Tumma cheese, capers, rustic fish couscous and a dessert wine called Passito di Pantelleria made from Zibibbo grapes.
Base yourself at Le Maioliche, a stylishly renovated collection of dammusi in Pantelleria town. Doubles cost from €95 per night, b&b (sawdays.co.uk/lemaioliche).
The smell of lavender and pine is never far away on Hvar, an island off Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Its pine-shaded beaches are offset by the waterside charm of Hvar town, whose photogenic tangle of ice cream-coloured townhouses are a throwback to its days as a wintering port for the Venetian navy.
Food is another draw. You won’t have to flip flop far to find a seaside restaurant serving the island’s signature fish and potato stew, gregada, which is cooked in a clay pot and made with the catch of the day. Grilled octopus and locally-made goats’ cheese drizzled with olive oil and herbs are other classic dishes to try on this part of the Dalmatian coast.
Splurge on a night at Little Green Bay, a chic, 15-room hotel with its own restaurant in a quiet, pine-fringed bay. Doubles start from €390, b&b (littlegreenbay.com). Or, for a more affordable option, rent a villa with friends; Villa Hera costs from €2,500 per week and sleeps up to six (villashvar.com).
Make like Elena, the protagonist in Elena Ferrante’s blockbuster novel My Brilliant Friend and take to the healing waters of Ischia. It’s a sort of anti-Capri, with fewer tourists and more locals than its attention-seeking Gulf of Naples neighbour. Just 90 minutes’ ferry ride from Naples, Ischia is dotted with 300 or so thermal springs; visit the waters bubbling up from the sea bed at Sorgento, have a therapeutic thermal mud treatment at one of the many spas or visit the Negomo Thermal Park, with its impressive collection of rare plants.
Eat rabbit stew at rustic agriturismos and dishes cooked in the baking hot sand at Ristaurante Emanuela on Maronti Beach, tour the island’s vineyards with their ash-rich soils or sip limoncello or local walnut liqueurs as the sun sets. For one of the island’s most memorable dining experiences, book a table at the Albergo Il Monastero, within the walls of the 15th century Castello Aragonese. The castle is one of the island’s most striking landmarks, set on its own dramatic headland at Ischia Ponte. The restaurant serves Campanian classics with a twist like grilled octopus with chickpeas and rosemary puree, as well as the castle’s own wine.
You can also stay over at the Albergo, in simple rooms (once monks’ cells) with fabulous views of the Tyrrhenian Sea; doubles cost from €100 per night, b&b. (albergoilmonastero.it)
There is a little slice of the Cote d’Azur that will forever remain a little lost in time. The three islands of the Ile d’Hyères, or Golden Isles, lie just off the southern coast of France, a few minutes by ferry from Toulon. The archipelago’s largest island, Porquerolles, is how you imagine the Riviera used to be, a virtually car-free time warp that revels in tradition. The few paved roads in the main village give way to dusty tracks through vineyards, pine forests, wild flower meadows and secluded rocky coves lined by silvery sand.
The island escaped development because, in 1911, it was bought by Francois Fournier who had made his fortune in Mexico’s gold and silver mines, as a present for his new British bride, Sylvia. The couple built a villa, Le Mas du Langoustier, on the western tip of the island, which Sylvia later opened as a hotel. Set overlooking a small cove surrounded by parasol pines, eucalyptus and olive trees, the hotel’s hot pink, bougainvillea-festooned ochre walls and eau-de-nil shutters shout quintessential Provencal hideaway.
Culinary highlights include the hotel’s one Michelin-star L’Olivier restaurant. Cooking is as Provençal as the décor, albeit with a haute-cuisine twist; expect tasting menus and dishes like grilled turbot with capers, confit lemon, young carrots and tomato ravioli. For more casual dining sister restaurant La Pinède serves accomplished renditions of French classics like bouillabaisse, beef tartare and oysters to diners on its parasol-shaded terrace.
Double rooms at Le Mas du Langoustier cost from €340, on a half board basis (langoustier.com). Or, book into the Auberge des Glycines where doubles cost from €160, b&b, and visit Le Mas for lunch (auberge-glycines.com).
Italy’s largest island has much to lure visitors, but its southeastern corner is a trove of Unesco World Heritage sites, empty beaches, vineyards and atmospheric Baroque towns like Ragusa, Noto, Modica and the unmissable Syracuse, with its lavish pale golden buildings standing high above the sea.
The food in this part of the island is worth seeking out, too; must-try local dishes include spaghetti alla Norma (a pasta dish of ricotta, aubergines and tomato) and the street food snack of deep-fried filled rice balls called arancini. Wine is another attraction; Sicily has been experiencing a new wave of wine making and Arianna Occhipinti is one of the region’s most exciting producers. Just outside Vittoria, her winery specialises in natural wines (including Nero d’Avola) and is open by appointment for tastings and tours (agricolaocchipinti.it).
Arianna’s sister, Fausta, runs the nearby Baglio Occhipinti just down the road. A stylishly renovated 18th century farmhouse-turned-agriturismo it’s surrounded by an organic farm, olive groves and vineyards. Doubles cost from €180, b&b (bagliocchipinti.com).
The small Cycladic island of Sifnos has some serious gastro cred, not least because Nicholas Tselementes, the author of the definitive guide to the country’s cuisine (Greek Cooking, first published in 1910), was born there. Around a three-hour ferry ride from Athens, Sifnos has become a haunt for foodies wanting a more sedate scene. Spend days visiting quintessential sugar-cube villages, stand-out sights such as the Chrysopigi Monastery and the spectacularly situated Church of the Seven Martyrs in Kastro, and postcard-perfect beaches like Kamares and Platos Gialos. Then graze your way around its many beach bars, modern restaurants and traditional tavernas (head to those in the seaside village of Vathi for freshly landed fish).
The clay pots synonymous with Sifniot cuisine are still produced on the island, while chickpeas feature in many of its dishes, including a classic slow-cooked soup made with onions and lemon called revithada. Mastello is another favourite – lamb or goat soaked in red wine then roasted over fragrant vine leaves.
Scattered among olive groves near Artemonas, on the east coast of the island, Kamaroti is a chic hotel within easy reach of several beaches. Doubles start at €85 per night, b&b (kamaroti.com).
If you want a real Roman holiday in high summer, head to Ponza. The smart set decamp to this tiny island, a short ferry ride off the coast of Lazio, each August. It’s the simple pleasures here that everyone comes for – exploring hidden coves by boat, visits to the luminescent sands at Chiaia di Luna beach, evenings spent portside in Ponza town and tucking into spaghetti alla vongole spiked with intensely, sweet cherry tomatoes for lunch on the beach at Cala del Porto, on the neighbouring island of Palmarola.
There is no questioning Villa Laetitzia’s impeccable pedigree. A historic guesthouse at the top of Ponza town it’s owned by Anna Venturini Fendi, a member of one of Italy’s first families of fashion. It’s low key and lovely and has doubles from €100 per night, b&b (villalaetitia.com).
The name Spetses derives from an ancient Greek word that reflects the pine trees that blanket much of the island. But the Venetians also christened the island “Spezia” as it was on a major spice route, floating in the Saronic Gulf between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese. During the Greek war of Independence from Turkey, in 1821, the island played a pivotal role. Today, however, it’s a tranquil, Hellenic version of the Hamptons, albeit slightly more low key, where some of Greece’s wealthiest dynasties come to play, attracted by its verdant charm (its interior is laced with walking trails) and by quiet coves and beaches like Ligoneri Vrellas and Agioi Anargyroi.
Food-wise, is the classics that win out here: grilled octopus with parsley pesto and lobster spaghetti at one of its classic tavernas, Patralis, or grilled fish at Sioras in the Old Port. Don't leave the island without sampling or buying a box of the orange blossom-scented, sugar-dusted chewy almond cookies called amygdalota.
In the Old Harbour, the former Port Authority building has been sensitively restored to house the Orloff Resort, where doubles cost from €140, b&b (orloffresort.com).
Ibiza, Mallorca and Formentera might draw the kaftan-wearing scensters, but word is quietly spreading that there is more to be discovered on Menorca than clean turquoise waters, pale gold beaches, secluded white-washed farmhouses and lush greenery (the island is a designated Unesco Biosphere Reserve). Unlike its neighbouring party isles, this small Balearic island has managed to stay relatively unspoiled – in everything from the landscape to the food and culture.
As on mainland Spain, tapas is big here (try some at the Mercat do Peix - fish market - in Mahon), but thanks to numerous occupations by the Moors, Brits, Catalans and French, the local cuisine is a literal melting pot. The most famous dish is caldereta, a Menorcan lobster stew that’s cooked and served in an earthenware pot; the local shellfish, in season from April to August, are sweeter than their Atlantic cousins. Sobrassada (a soft paprika sausage, similar to chorizo) is another must-try. And don’t miss the chance to go gin tasting at the last remaining distillery on the island, Xoriguer. Its Gin Xoriguer is a liquid legacy of the British presence here and is served, locally, with lemonade in a Pomada.
Double rooms at the Hotel Petit Maó, a slick 18th-century manor house minutes from the heart of Mao, start from €105, b&b (hotelpetitmao.com). Or go luxe and book into Hotel Torralbenc. Set in 70 hectares of vine-draped countryside in the south west of the island, it recently introduced wine tasting experiences at its winery, on foot or by bike. Doubles start from €198, b&b (torralbenc.com).
Spend the morning on the beach then escape to the Troodos Mountains to reframe your preconceptions of Cypriot food. The untamed landscapes here, punctuated by sleepy villages and a collection of Unesco World Heritage-listed Byzantine churches are a world away from the beach resorts that line this sun-soaked Mediterranean isle. On the mountains’ southern slopes you can thread your way through the countryside visiting local wineries (Cyprus is one of Europe’s oldest wine producing areas, with vines in cultivation for over 4,000 years).
Stop off at the village of Omodos for lunch at one of its traditional tavernas; dishes typically include the island’s national cheese, halloumi, the ricotta-like Anari and a classic, slow-cooked, lamb shoulder dish called kleftiko. Gastro tourists should also visit the Oleastro Olive Park, between Paphos and Limassol, and the Erimi Wine Museum.
Double rooms at the newly revamped Almyra hotel, close to Paphos’ Old Harbour, start from €144, including breakfast (one option being a traditional Cypriot breakfast of carob syrup, concentrated grape juice (espima) and traditional cured meats and cheeses (almyra.com)
Words by Aoife O’Riordain
Photographs by Denis BRINGARD/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images, Getty images