Four Private Island Escapes in Europe
Escaping to your own private island is a dream for many - but it doesn't have to mean far-flung destinations and long-haul flights
Isabella Island Resort, Croatia
This idyllic Mediterranean resort is set on the island of Sveti Nikola, just a five-minute boat ride from the centre of the historic resort of Poreč, yet feeling like a different world. Blanketed in lush greenery and pine forest, with manicured gardens, spectacular sea views and secluded beaches, this is a perfect island escape.
Choose to stay in the main Isabella Hotel, or, for added privacy, book one of the beautiful Isabella Villas (the villa apartments have small, well-equipped kitchens for a little extra freedom). Guests have access to a range of pools, restaurants, bars, sports and entertainment (including plenty to keep the kids busy).
The main hotel restaurant, Isola, serves local and international dishes and has a special children’s section, or head to the Momenti restaurant and take a seat on the terrace for the best views of Poreč’s old town across the sparkling water. The Miramare restaurant is an upmarket option with the backing of Michelin-starred chefs the Cerea brothers, who have put together a menu of grilled meat and fish, gourmet pasta, salads and three varieties of artisan pizza (Napoletana, Romana and al vapore).
When it’s time to hit the beach, the island’s themed beaches make sure you get exactly the experience you’re looking for – some are aimed specifically at families, while others are quieter and angled towards complete relaxation. Younger guests will be kept entertained at the outdoor freshwater activity pool (complete with slides), children’s pool, play zones and games lounges, but there’s an adults’ outdoor infinity pool too (kept heated to 28 degrees), and a wellness centre which is only for those aged 16+. It offers indulgent signature treatments using organic products packed with medicinal Mediterranean herbs.
If you prefer to keep active, there’s a daily fitness programme, a 24-hour gym, diving school and plenty of watersports on offer, while evenings are filled with music and entertainment – from professional singers and dancers to open-air cinema evenings.
Poreč, a five-minute boat ride away on the mainland, is the most popular resort in Istria. It’s got a rich history and its old town is wonderfully-preserved, so take time to explore its temples, palaces, walls and towers. The highlight here is the Euphrasian Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back in parts as far as the sixth century. It’s also possible to take a boat from Poreč to Venice. It’s a three-hour trip, but ferries are timed so that you can spend an entire day exploring the city and be back in Poreč that evening.
Island Lodge, Sweden
In the heart of the Stockholm Archipelago is Island Lodge. The archipelago is made up of more than 24,000 islands, islets and skerries, only around a thousand of which are occupied. Island Lodge is small and secluded, with primeval forest fringed by beautiful beaches. It’s just 40 minutes by boat from Stockholm, but many passengers arrive from Vaxholmcentre (the hub for passenger ships to the central and Northern archipelago), which is just 10 minutes’ away.
This is not an island escape where you can expect not to lift a finger – it’s more of a life experience, but there are some truly unique aspects to a once-in-a-lifetime trip here. Aimed at groups rather than couples or lone travellers, you and your group will stay in seven high-tech tents which combine Scandi interior design with natural features. All offer breathtaking views over the archipelago, luxury bedding, wood-fired stoves, lamps and candles, and roll-up/removable windows and doors with optional mosquito nets. Nearby you’ll find showers and wash basins with cold and warm water (note that’s warm, not hot).
But it’s not all hard going here – there’s an outdoor open fireplace your group can gather around, a wood-fired hot tub with room for 10, and even a floating sauna for up to 14. A former rock-shelter torpedo workshop is now equipped with wifi and an indoor lounge. Dinner is served under canvas on the seafront, prepared and barbecued by an award-winning chef using seasonal, organic and local produce. It’s all very chic, in an earthy sort of way, and offers a unique opportunity to escape the everyday and reconnect with the natural world.
Activities on offer include tours of the archipelago (by boat or helicopter), seal and sea eagle safaris, fishing and shooting.
Calling this ‘the mainland’ is a bit of a push (Stockholm is made up of 14 islands connected by more than 50 bridges), but it’s certainly worth a stop in Sweden’s capital en route to or from Island Lodge. It’s got a rich history, but it’s also a modern hub for technology, fashion, music and film, and there’s a packed calendar of cultural festivals and events across the city. The food scene here is something special, with everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to trail-blazing sustainable spots which put the environment at the heart of what they do (without compromising on flavour). At the other end of the scale, Zum Franziskaner is one of the oldest restaurants in the city, with an Art Nouveau beer hall where you can sample craft lagers and traditional Swedish cooking.
Isle of Eriska, Scotland
On the other side of a slightly rickety-looking bridge just 25 minutes’ from Oban is the Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa and Golf, a traditional but luxurious resort offering an escape where you won’t want to be found.
Dripping with old world charm in a remote location, and with coastal views over Loch Linnhe, the hotel has a variety of accommodation, with 34 bedrooms in the main building and various self-contained spa suites, garden cottages, hilltop cottages, and even a self-catered option, Arnott’s House. Rooms in the main hotel are dripping in Scottish country style, with a neutral colour palette and plush furnishings, while garden cottages are the perfect family bolthole and the spa suites are a haven of tranquility, with private hot tubs and cosy fires. Our pick are the hilltop reserves, each of which has incredible views over Loch Creran to the island of Lismore and beyond (best enjoyed with a glass of something fizzy while enjoying the hot tub on the deck).
In the main house, the traditional restaurant offers a sophisticated å la carte menu with an eye on local produce – think cured Loch Melfort trout with apple and lovage foraged on the island. A three-minute walk from the house, The Deck has views over meadows to the loch, and offers a must-not-miss tasting menu experience (take the wine pairing to make a real night of it).
The island is easy to explore on foot, criss-crossed with meandering paths and rocky trails which lead to isolated shores and hidden coves. A 150-yard rough driving range is available for those of all abilities and none, there’s a croquet lawn in front of the house and you can even try your hand at falconry, axe throwing, archery or sea kayaking, or take a tour of the apiary with the island’s own beekeeper. If the weather doesn’t play ball, there are indoor facilities for tennis, squash, table tennis, badminton, bowling and football.
If all that is a bit much for you, Eriska’s Stable Spa has a good pool and offers treatments using natural products from Ishga and ESPA. Retreats as idyllic as this are few and far between.
Eriska’s isolated location makes it the perfect base for exploring some of Scotland’s more remote gems. A full-day tour of Glencoe and the Trossachs can include a boat trip on Loch Lomond, as well as a visit to the fortifications of Inverary Castle and a scenic drive up Loch Linnhe. Other nearby attractions include the malt whisky distillery at Oban, Kilmartin House Museum and Crarae woodland gardens. And of course, Oban is the port from which you can head west into the sunset and explore more of Scotland’s magical islands…
San Clemente Palace, Italy
The Venetian island hideaway dreams are made of. This five-star luxury urban resort is set on the private island of San Clemente, just a few minutes’ complimentary boat ride from Piazza San Marco in the heart of Venice. The hotel itself is almost as stunning as the city it serves, with a series of beautifully restored monastery buildings, 12th century chapel, and 15 acres of ancient gardens. Inside there are grand staircases, lofty ceilings, Terrazzo flooring and Murano chandeliers, along with 196 stylish rooms and suites. Art installations rotate around the property annually.
The rooms here ooze Venetian luxury – think cream and gold tones, embroidered robes and silk-covered walls. There’s a great range of suites too, from junior suites through to the vast Tintoretto suite, named for the 16th century painter, with its own dining room, sitting room, two ensuite bedrooms, dressing room and bathroom.
Five restaurants and bars cater for all tastes, including award-winning modern Venetian cuisine (the hotel’s Acquerello restaurant has been awarded Best Italian Restaurant in Europe). You can start your day with breakfast in the Insime courtyard restaurant, and the Sunset Bar is the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the lagoon with a cold aperitivo. At the hotel’s Merchant of Venice spa you’ll find steam rooms, treatments, massages and a hair salon, while outside the heated pool is a rarity in Venice, surrounded by palm trees and cabanas, with the unbeatable backdrop of the Venetian lagoon.
It’s hardly an undiscovered gem, but might we suggest exploring Venice? Take a gondola ride down the Grand Canal, strike a pose on the iconic Ponte di Rialto, marvel at the architecture of Doge’s Palace and the Basilica di San Marco, and, of course, enjoy an Aperol spritz in the place where the now-ubiquitous drink was born (they often serve them with an olive instead of an orange slice here, which we love).