6 Exquisite Mediterranean Islands

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Channel your inner god or goddess on CYPRUS, where Aphrodite is said to have emerged from the sea here at Paphos, forever setting the bar relatively high for bucket-list travel sites. Cyprus, divided between Greece and Turkey (there are several entry points where you can easily pass from one side to the other), has always been popular with European sun worshippers, skiers, and art lovers but lesser-known among Americans. We're here to tell you: Go! The area around Paphos, in the southwest region controlled by Greece, abounds not only with transcendent beach experiences but also with ancient ruins and art works devoted to the cult of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.
— Courtesy katsounas/myBudgetTravel
A quiet world away from Cyprus's beaches, bustling towns, and ski scene, the island's monasteries and churches offer a glimpse of the intricate masterworks, such as frescoes and mosaics, created by medieval artisans to honor saints such as Nicholas, the Virgin Mary, and the evangelist Luke.
— Lonely Planet
Street vendors and shopkeepers in Cyprus have been luring customers for centuries in towns and small cities such as Lemesos, where you'll find stylish boutiques, bars, and restaurants rubbing elbows with decidedly less modern, but altogether charming, enterprises. Stroll the Old Town for a delicious taste of old and new, and when you need a break from shopping, stop for a few plates of meze and sip a locally produced wine.
— Lonely Planet
There aren't many places in the world where you can juggle superb mountain hiking with world-class art, but the Troodos range in southwest Cyprus offers both. When you stop by one of the region's churches or monasteries to ogle the frescoes and mosaics, ask if the resident monks make their own wine: You may go home with a "you won't believe what I picked up in Cyprus" memento.
— Lonely Planet
The island of Cyprus, like some of its Mediterranean neighbors, has been a crossroads of cultures since prehistoric times. The Ancient Greek and Roman ruins here, not to mention archeological sites dating to neolithic, Bronze Age, early islamic, and Phoenician times, are among the finest in the Mediterranean, and will haunt you long after your return home.
— Lonely Planet
Budget Travelers will love Cyprus's charming towns and small cities, with first-rate food and lodging at reasonable rates. (And remember that Greece's financial crisis and the historically low euro are currently on your side as well.) Meze is the culinary delight here, offering you the chance to sample small plate after small plate of hummus, fried fish, sausages, and kebabs. STAY: New Helvetia Hotel, in the Greece-controlled southwest corner of the island, near the Troodos mountan range and Paphos, from $78.
— Lonely Planet
The largest of the Greek islands, CRETE rewards travelers who are seeking a truly "civilized" trip filled with trips to the local taverna, a variety of architecture from ancient to modern, and a warm welcome. And speaking of "civilized," Crete was the site of the incredibly advanced ancient Minoan civilization, destroyed by a still-mysterious volcanic/seismic disaster. Traces of the Minoans' structures can be found all over the island. In towns like Sitia, you'll enjoy access to beautiful beaches, with all the amenities of a comfy vacation standing watch from a hillside overlooking the sea.
— Lonely Planet
We love the way Crete's villages perch along hillsides, boasting a variety of striking architectural styles dating back to the island's Venetian, Renaissance, and even more ancient eras. The Lasithi region, pictured here, has an even more ancient connection, being home to the mountain cave said to have been the birthplace of Zeus.
— Lonely Planet
Don't get too carried away by the incredible art, history, and culinary delights of Crete: Relax! Sometimes it's best just to hit the beach and worship Appollo, the ancient Greek god of the sun.
— Lonely Planet
Wind power may be on the upswing all over the world right now, but in Crete the practice dates back centuries, of course. The iconic stone windmills of Lasithi are being restored in imaginative ways.
— Lonely Planet
A visit to the Crete village of Mochlos will afford you serenity and a chance to see the quieter side of this popular island. Drop by one of the village's handful of tavernas for a friendly welcome, and a short boat ride to a nearby island will bring you face-to-face with some of the finest archeological sites dating back to the mysterious Minoan civilization.
— Lonely Planet
Thanks in part to the no-nonsense approach to life here in Crete and in part (as in Cyprus) to the Greek financial crisis and historically low euro, Budget Travelers will find affordable luxury here. Long before "locally sourced" and "farm to table" became buzzwords in the U.S., they were simply a way of life in Crete, where lovely tavernas will serve up straight-from-the-farm dishes, including amazing lamb and stunning local wines. (If you dare, ask for a shot of raki, a powerful anise-flavored liqueur, to end your feast.) STAY: Elysee Hotel is right along the charming seaside promenade in Sitia, from $46.
— Lonely Planet
MALLORCA is certainly no secret to seasoned travelers, but we've got some surprises that will delight you whether you've already been or are determined to get back to this lovely Spanish island. We urge you to get beyond the party scene at the popular resorts and explore the island's lovely coves, where you'll find peace and quiet and some of the most beautiful stretches of sand anywhere on earth. And while Mallorca can't compete with the Greek islands as the site of ancient myths, you'll find the work of some more recent legends, including the architect Gaudi and the painter Miro, while exploring the island's artsy side.
— Lonely Planet
With such stunning beaches, art, and food, Mallorca doesn't need to boast about its amazing network of caves. But a tour through the eerie underworld of stalactites and stalagmites reminds some visitors of a thrilling journey into, well, the underworld. Legend has it that French sci-fi pioneer Jules Verne was inspired by Mallorca's underground caverns and lakes to write his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.
— Lonely Planet
When you're touring an island that has been the scene of discputes and conflicts since ancient times, including the Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and Christians, you should expect to stumble upon the occasional fort. Standing in austere contrast to Mallorca's natural beauty, they are a grim reminder that the islands of the Mediterranean have always been prized "possessions" for the civilizations along the coasts of Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Near East.
— Lonely Planet
Away from the resort scene, towns like Arta provide affordable lodging and a chance for Budget Travelers to live like a Mallorcan. Dining in Mallorca can range from traditional roasted pig in an inland village to (what else?) fresh seafood along the coast, and, as always, you should ask to pair your meal with a local wine. STAY: Na Set Centes is a lovely farmstay just outside the town of Arta, from $128.
— Lonely Planet
SARDINIA, an Italian island that in many respects is a nation unto itself (it even has its own Latinesque dialect, Sardo, that is spoken in remote interior regions), has been consistently praised for having 1,000 miles of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean (and, as you've seen from our other "exquisite islands," that's saying something!). You'll likely spend a lot of time relaxing on those pristine beaches (as well you should), but a visit here can also literally feel like a step back in time, with villagers tending flocks of sheep, making their own cheese, producing exceptional wines, and living in stone villages that have changed little since the Middle Ages.
Spiaggia della Pelosa is one of Sardinia's most perfect beaches, drawing crowds in summer not just for its pleasant waters but also for the iconic Catalan-Aragonese stone watchtower. Across Sardinia, you'll find a wide variety of ancient structures made entirely of stone, including thousands of distinctive stone huts, most famously clusttered in the interior town of Barumini.
D.H. Lawrence famously summed up Sardinia: "Sardinia is different." Quite frankly, that's what we love about it, from its limestone cliffs and white-sand beaches to its uniquely authentic culture. Budget Travelers will likely skip the pricey Costa Smeralda resort area in favor of small-town lodgings that deliver serious bang for the buck. Keep an open mind when dining in Sardinia, as recipes for pasta, cheese, and even wine have evolved in unique ways here (don't worry, you'll find plenty that tastes like traditional italian fare as well). STAY: Antica Dimora del Gruccione, from $66.
CORSICA makes a bold impression however you approach it, by air or by sea, with imposing cliffs (often with towns, such as Bonifacio, built atop them). The birthplace of Napoleon, this French island, like it's Italian neighbor Sardinia, is very much a world unto itself, with unique customs and culinary traditions. Many visitors pick Corsica for its geographical diversity: You can spend an afternoon hiking or driving the hairpin turns of the island's mountains (hiking trails include the legendary 112-mile "grande randonee" and the more manageable "Across Sea and Mountains" trail) and an evening sipping fine wine with a view of the azure sea.
— Courtesy lesleyjames/myBudgetTravel
The dining room at Les Roches Rouges, in Piana, Corsica, overlooking the Gulf of Porto. The historic hotel was built in 1912 and is a bit of a splurge, with even the best online deals topping $175, but the dining room is worth a stop for fish stew, filet of lamb, and a spectacular view of the sea.
— Courtesy lesleyjames/myBudgetTravel
Beautiful Ajaccio, Corsica, is one of the most popular spots for Budget Travelers to find affordable luxe lodgings. STAY: Kalliste (from the Greek word meaning, appropriately enough, "most beautiful"), from $76.
— Courtesy lesleyjames/myBudgetTravel
VIS, Croatia, is one of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secrets and we couldn’t resist spilling the beans even if it’s a bit of a splurge. From 1944 until 1989, the island was a Yugoslavian military base. That somewhat dark past has a present-day payoff: During those years of isolation, the island was protected from overdevelopment. These days, Budget Travelers willing to spend a little more than usual to nab a truly brag-worthy item to check of their bucket list head to Vis for an authentic experience, great seafood (the island’s longstanding fishing traditions live on), Croatian white wine, and relative quiet. STAY: Hotel San Giorgio is an elegant family-run lodging in Vis Town, from $197.

When it comes to perfect beaches, incredible cuisine, and jaw-dropping art and history, the islands of the Mediterranean hold treasured travel secrets. Ready for an odyssey across the storied sea that gave birth to the world's most enduring myths and legends? Join us for some bucket-list island-hopping!

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