Top Ten Small Islands

By small, I am meaning very small, that is less than 5,000 acres (about 8 square miles), although most of my chosen islands are much, much smaller than that. They are all marine islands.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

There is something quite magical about taking a boat (or causeway) out to an island that is small enough to be clearly defined in your view and then be able to walk around the whole island within a few hours. You feel in some ways almost in control – king or queen of the island!

These are not holiday islands suitable for families. Rather they are peaceful, even contemplative places, that appeal to me as a Senior. Some are very well known, others are ones that you only come across by chance.

My choice of these top ten islands is based largely upon their historical and cultural importance or natural interest. But this is very much my personal list – all are islands that I have very much enjoyed visiting.

Of course that limits the list to the 68 countries that I have visited, so apologies to the countries that I have not yet visited. I’m sure they have there own very interesting small islands.

My Top Ten Small Islands, listed by continent:

Lindisfarne Priory with Castle in background

Lindisfarne Priory with Castle in background

Lindisfarne, England (1,000 acres) – This island off the Northumberland coast is also known as Holy Island recognising it’s religious significance. It can be reached by a causeway when the tide is low, at other times it is a true island.

The island’s unique atmosphere can be sensed when visiting Lindisfarne Priory, an important centre of early Christianity in the North of England and the home of St Cuthbert, and Lindisfarne Castle, with its distinctive shape visible for many miles from the mainland. Try some of the famous Lindisfarne mead.

Ilnacullin Italian Garden

Italian Garden on Ilnacullin

Ilnacullin Island, Ireland (37 acres) – This magical island garden, warmed by the Gulf Stream is a 10 minute boat ride from the mainland. There are large collections of camellias and magnolias and great views back to the mainland.

Buildings within the garden include an Italian temple, a GrecianTemple and a Martello tower dating from the Napoleonic Wars; it is well worth climbing up to the battlements for panoramic views. For more information see: Ilnacullin Island.

Remains of Phoenician barracks on Motya Island

Remains of Phoenician barracks on Motya Island

Motya Island, Sicily, Italy (100 acres) – Archaeological sites on the island, which were worked on by Joseph Whitaker of marsala wine fame, date back to the Phoenicians and include a necropolis, barrack buildings (casermetta) and an artificial port.

The Whitaker Museum on the island brings together a wide range of artefacts from the island and a fine marble statue of a charioteer. Unfortunately when I visited the statue was in the British Museum. For more information see: Sicily Touring Holiday.

Mont St-Michel
Mont St-Michel

•Mont Saint-Michel, France (247 acres) – This tidal island, now connected to the Normandy/Brittany coast by a dry causeway, has been fortified since ancient times. The monastery which dominates the island dates from the 8th-Century.

Mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts more than 3 million visits a year, hence avoid the busy tourist periods. However when I visited in July in the afternoon, the Benedictine abbey and cloisters were relatively quiet and peaceful. On a clear day there are great views from the higher parts of the island. There are four museums to visit and the Old Town nestling beneath the abbey has a certain charm.

Mediterranean Garden in the middle of the island

Mediterranean Garden in the middle of the island

Veli Brijun, Croatia (1,700 acres) – A ferry connects the mainland port of Fažana to the island of Veli Brijun, where President Tito used to entertain his many international guests including Queen Elizabeth, Ho Chi Minh and Sophia Loren. Photographs of their meetings appear in the Tito museum along with Tito regime memorabilia including Tito’s Cadillac, a gift from President Eisenhower.

An important Roman site on the island is at Verige Bay, where the ruins of a 1st century luxurious villa can be seen. There is small zoo on the island, displaying animals that were donated to Tito by world leaders. I found the well-kept Mediterranean Garden in the middle of the island a great place to relax on a hot day.

Goree from the fortress

Gorée from the fortress

•Île de Gorée, Senegal (45 acres) – The island of Gorée is connected to Dakar on the mainland by a 30-minute ferry service for pedestrians – there are no cars on the island. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 and serves as a memorial to the slave trade with a museum, the ‘House of Slaves’, with steps leading out to sea.

Following the bustle and bustle and congested traffic of Dakar, I find Gorée a true haven of peace and quiet. My second visit was 20 years after my first and I was pleased to find little had changed, other than maybe an extra restaurant providing necessary refreshment after strolling around the island in the heat of the day.

View from Robben Island shore

View from Robben Island shore

Robben Island, South Africa (1,200 acres) – A tour of the island commences with a ferry ride from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront, with great views looking back towards Cape Town.

I found it a moving experience being addressed by ex-prisoners and seeing the Nelson Mandela cell.

There is much more to see on this island including the lighthouse, dating back to 1864, the quarry where prisoners toiled, and the fauna, including African penguins and three species of tortoise. I particularly enjoyed walking along the shoreline with great views of Cape Town and Table Mountain – so near and yet so far for the prisoners held on Robben Island.

San Francisco waterfront from Alcatraz

San Francisco waterfront from Alcatraz

Alcatraz, California, USA (22 acres) – The views during the ferry crossing (from Pier 33 in San Francisco)  and from the island are superb including of course of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The prison itself, which housed Al Capone and the Robert Stroud (the ‘birdman’ who never had any birds in Alcatraz) is an interesting but claustrophobic experience.

You need to allow about 3 hours for your visit. Seniors 62+ get a small discount on the tours.

Pulau Panjang

Pulau Panjang

Pulau Panjang, Jepara, Indonesia (47 acres) – I visited this island many years ago when working in Java and was captivated by its lush tropical vegetation and white sandy beaches, surrounded by shallow seas. An idyllic place that is way off the usual tourist routes.

It is a 10 minute boat ride from Kartini Beach, Jepara, with views along the way of the colourful coral reefs and other marine life through the clear crystal water. The tropical forest in the middle of this island has massive cottonwoods, Java tamarind and ancient pines, interspersed with shrubs and bushes. It is a breeding place for many sea birds.

Kapiti Island from the main coast road

Kapiti Island from the coast road

Kapiti Island, North Island, New Zealand (4,800 acres) – This is one of New Zealand’s most valuable nature reserves and an important bird sanctuary.

Kapiti is one of very few accessible island nature reserves in New Zealand providing a chance to observe birds that are not on the mainland amid spectacular scenery and vegetation. Visitor numbers are strictly controlled, see: Kapiti Island brochure.

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