With ever-present sunshine, balmy breezes and a relaxed way of life, it’s easy to see why islands are some of Europe’s most popular destinations, especially during the summer.
But the very things that make them so tempting also make them too popular. Who hasn’t waited in a long line at the only restaurant in town or wrangled for that last spot on the beach?
If you can wait until the fall to visit Europe’s islands, you’ll find them vastly appealing. The sea might be a little colder, but October is a great month to relax in the sunshine, far from the madding crowds.
As the last vestiges of European land until the Americas, the Azores are a lush set of islands that have verdant flora all year round. The landscape, consisting of towering rock formations, deep lakes and immense expanses of greenery, is so dramatic, it’s even been awarded the title of “Europe’s Most Beautiful Landscape.” This is not a place to sunbathe on the beach, however. This Portuguese archipelago’s mild climate—temperatures in October range between 59°F and 70°F—makes it a go-to destination for outdoorsy types.
To experience the impressive volcanic topography first hand, choose from one (or more) of 70 mapped trails. The Pico das Camarinhas–Ponta da Ferraria route on San Miguel is a relatively easy hike that starts at the coast, where you’ll be able to see the remnants of the volcanic island, Ilha Sabrina. It weaves through basaltic slags, deep craggy craters and mountainous domes made from hardened lava over the course of nearly three hours.
One of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has a complicated history. Gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, the island was thrown into turmoil when Turkey invaded in 1974. Tensions were high for many years, and although matters aren’t fully resolved—the island is split in two, the north being Turkish and the south, Greek—there is now a sense of harmony.
During the summer months, temperatures can reach more than 100°F, which can make exploring the plethora of historic and cultural sites a chore. With cooler climes and fewer people, fall is a fantastic time to visit and learn about Cyprus’ past.
To discover the island’s recent history in real-time, visit Nicosia, which is considered the “last divided capital in Europe.” The city’s National Struggle Museum denotes the arduous journey Cyprus took to be freed from British rule and contains documents, photography and other memorabilia from the time.
Faroe Islands, Denmark
In the North Atlantic, you’ll find the Faroe Islands. Technically under Danish sovereignty, this 18-island range has had autonomy since 1948. Hundreds of miles from its closest neighbors, Scotland and Iceland, these rugged volcanic land masses are perfect for those who want a break from their busy lives.
The Faroians have a unique diet including fermented meats, fresh fish and root vegetables. The robust cuisine has inspired many, including Poul Andrias Zisca, the head chef of KOKS, the world’s most remote Michelin-starred restaurant.
Zisca uses age-old techniques such as salting and drying when crafting his fare. Every dish is considered and carefully put together, from Jákupsskeljar, a raw scallop served in its shell, to Skerpikøt, slivers of air-dried lamb. The location is equally spellbinding—diners can enjoy their meal in a traditional wooden hut next to the calm waters of Lake Leynar.
Canary Islands, Spain
Just off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands consists of eight landmasses. The five biggest—Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and La Palma—are crammed with sun worshippers during the summer. In October, the temperatures are between 60°F to 80°F, making them a good option for that last dose of vitamin D.
Arona is a southern region that’s home to Tenerife’s best beaches. El Camisón is a small cove close to the larger resort of Playa de la Americas. Its sandy beach is surrounded by towering palm trees that provide plenty of shade.
The sea is calm, making it an inviting spot for swimmers, who can bathe without the worry of being bashed by big waves. It’s also home to People Bar, a charming spot that’s just the place to order a classic Sangria (add Champagne if you’re feeling fancy).
A microcosm of everything that makes Italy so beloved, Sicily is often considered the jewel in the country’s crown. You’ll find picturesque villages scented with citrus, myriad restaurants where you can happily expand your waistline and gasp-inducing landscapes. When somewhere is this delightful, it means it can get busy, very busy.
In the fall, you can take in the sights without having to battle for space from other budding Italophiles. The island’s capital, Palermo, may invite you to explore its varied and magnificent Baroque architecture. However, the real autumnal treat is located in the south of the island.
Travel through the mountainous landscape to the historic commune of Zafferana Etnea, which sits in the shadows of historic Mount Etna. Every Sunday in October, the Zafferana Ottobrata festival celebrates the produce of the season. The town’s narrow streets brim with locals proudly offering tastings of grapes, olives, porcini Etna mushrooms, honey—and of course, plenty of wine.