The European islands most likely to turn 'green' next – and the best holidays for you

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Corfu, Mykonos, Menorca, Ibiza - Getty
Corfu, Mykonos, Menorca, Ibiza - Getty

Robinson Crusoe had the right idea. Not in being shipwrecked, per se (even in the pages of 18th-century literature, being on a boat in a storm is rarely a strategy worth pursuing), but in managing to maroon himself on a tropical island. Which of us, at some point in the past 15 months, has not dreamed of a palm-shaded beach, lost an ocean away from the world and its ills, and decided that such isolation sounded blissful?

There will be a modicum of this thinking in the Government’s first update to the green list of sanctioned destinations for British travellers this summer – which is set to be announced by the Department for Transport some time in the coming week, ahead of June 7. Although Crusoe’s area of exile, the Caribbean, is unlikely to make anything more than a limited appearance (for now), there have already been hints that several islands closer to home, among them Malta, may soon be part of the select group of places that tourists from the UK can visit without having to quarantine on return.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed as much last week, saying that he has asked Joint Biosecurity Centre, the Covid analysis group, “to consider islands within their criteria, and, where possible… to include them, if facts stacked up” – ahead of the update.

Although nothing is straightforward in the Covid era, the line of thinking is pretty simple – that islands served by direct flights from Britain can be considered separately from their respective mainlands. And we have seen this policy before – last summer, when the Government placed some of the Greek outcrops in different categories to the likes of Athens. Add in local levels of vaccination and it should be possible to draft a list of islands in the Mediterranean and beyond where Britons should be able to go without restriction, even if the mainland destination to which they are attached remains off the travel map for now.

Which islands? Well, that’s the big question – and all will not be revealed for another few days, at least. But the figures already point to a re-embracing of the Balearic and Canary Islands – and, further afield, some of the popular options in the Greek Aegean. We crunch the numbers, measure the data, and assess the likelihood of Tenerife, Ibiza, Crete et al being available soon for a welcome spot of marooning…

Looking promising

The Balearic and Canary Islands, Spain

Chances of being green-lit: 9/10

The most likely additions to the green list at the next announcement are, fortunately, big favourites of British holidaymakers: the Spanish islands of the Canaries and the Balearics. In these two small regions lie some of Europe’s most popular summer destinations – from Mallorca and Menorca in the Mediterranean, to Lanzarote and Tenerife off the coast of North Africa.

These islands not only have both low case numbers and encouraging vaccination figures, but, perhaps most importantly, have excellent tourism infrastructure. Each major island has its own airport with direct flights to the UK, meaning that the Department for Transport can approach each separately should it need to amend the advice on an individual basis.

The Canary Islands have the curious honour, too, of being excluded from the Foreign Office’s advice against travel to Spain, which means it is one of the few current amber destinations to which tour operators are still running trips.

Another bonus is that Tui’s continuing operations to the islands for European customers, such as those from Germany and Belgium, have demonstrated that it is possible for tourists to return to their home nations in a safe manner, and not have an impact on infection numbers. There’s little doubt that the tour operator will have already pointed this out to the UK Government.

Tenerife

The biggest of the Canaries may be Europe’s most reliable destination. Not only does it exist in a year-round warmth that is generally enough for T-shirts; it is also so large (70 miles from tip to tail) that it caters for almost any possible style of holiday – from cycling tours that tackle Mount Teide to cultured days in its capital, Santa Cruz, via sun-and-sea breaks to the resorts of the south-west. Options for the latter are numerous. For example, a week at the five-star GF Gran Costa Adeje, flying from East Midlands on August 14, costs from £598 per person, via the reborn Thomas Cook (020 8016 3295; thomascook.com).

Tenerife - Getty
Tenerife - Getty

Gran Canaria

Package specialist On The Beach (0871 474 3000; onthebeach.co.uk) has – not unreasonably – reacted to the ongoing uncertainty around travel by taking all holidays off sale between now and the end of August. This may be reviewed, but if you are happy to wait, the Canaries will still be enjoying temperatures of 26C when the shoulder-season starts. Gran Canaria does not have the accommodation range of Tenerife, but is not short on options either. A week at the five-star Seaside Palm Beach resort, next to the famous dunes of Maspalomas, flying from Birmingham on September 4, costs from £911 per person.

Lanzarote

Whichever rare wit coined the term “Lanza-grotty” at some point in the mid-1980s did an enormous disservice to what is arguably the most beautiful of the Canary Islands. Lanzarote eschews the volcanic template of a central conical dome for a series of smaller peaks, scorched lava-zones (the incomparable Timanfaya National Park) and, in the north, steep cliffs. It demands to be explored – though you can as easily snooze in the sun. A seven-night stay at the five-star adults-only Secrets Lanzarote Resort & Spa costs from £619 per person, with flights, through Tropical Sky (01342 395 143; tropicalsky.co.uk).

Lanzarote - Getty
Lanzarote - Getty

Fuerteventura

Distinctly underrated, Lanzarote’s immediate neighbour (but for the narrow channel between them, the pair would be one island) is home to some of the Canaries’ sandiest beaches – no small claim in an archipelago of hard volcanic contours. Several of them adorn the long east coast – Playa de Jandia, the Playas de Corralejo, Playa Sotavento. The latter is host to the four-star H10 Tindaya resort. A seven-night stay, flying from Gatwick on September 4, costs from £909pp via Travelbag (020 3944 4940; travelbag.co.uk).

Mallorca

The largest of the Balearics is almost as reliable a destination as Tenerife. What it lacks in winter heat, it makes up for in glorious beaches (especially around north-easterly Alcudia and Pollenca), majestic mountain scenery (the Serra de Tramuntana) and a dining scene that has gathered Michelin stars in Palma and Deia. You can absorb all of this from the Iberostar Selection Playa de Muro Village, a five-star resort on Alcudia Bay. A week’s stay in July starts at £2,004 a head, with flights, via Kuoni (0800 422 0753; kuoni.co.uk).

Menorca

Mallorca’s neighbour has a – not wholly undeserved – reputation for providing a quieter style of Balearic relaxation. But Menorca still delivers a pleasing take on Spanish “city” life – both Mahon and Ciutadella are crammed with churches, markets and restaurants for evenings on the terrace. Hotels, meanwhile, are of a good standard and affordable. An all-inclusive week at the four-star Marina Parc resort, flying from Gatwick on August 9, starts at £690 per person with Teletext Holidays (0121 425 1758; teletextholidays.co.uk).

Majorca has both low case rates and encouraging vaccination figures - Getty
Majorca has both low case rates and encouraging vaccination figures - Getty

Ibiza

The most party-flavoured of the Balearics has long been greater than the sum of its super-clubs and is now eulogised for its luxury accommodation as much as its up-all-night energy. A delightful case in point might be the Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay, a south-coast offshoot of the celebrated restaurant brand, within walking distance of Ibiza Town. Here is a world of five-star finesse, with a Six Senses spa to go with the inevitable gastronomy. A seven-night stay in summer starts at £4,000 per person, including flights, via Scott Dunn (020 3131 5514; scottdunn.com) – although this can dip to £1,900 if you wait until October.

Ibiza - Getty
Ibiza - Getty
Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu and Crete, Greece

Chances of being green-lit: 8/10

Greece is where it gets complicated. Firstly, it has scores of islands – some with populations you can count on a few dozen hands – and secondly, its data is wrapped up in unhelpful boundaries which cluster together islands, such as the North Aegean, which includes Samos, Lesbos and Chios. This would make it difficult, one would imagine, for the DfT to make its comparisons.

The data show that the North Aegean’s islands have the most favourable comparison to national rates, but all three groups have seen slight upticks this month. On vaccines, there is scant data, but Greece has said all medium and small islands should be fully vaccinated by the end of May, as part of its “Freedom” drive to kickstart islands.

The best indicator might be found in the Foreign Office’s advice on Greece. The FCDO has departed from the guidance of the DfT to exclude several islands from its guidance against travel: Rhodes, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu and Crete. It seems likely, then, that these are the islands set to turn green in June.

Crete

There is so much of Greece’s biggest island – Crete is a monster of the Aegean, extending 200 miles from east to west – that it could provide a decade of summer holidays, in good times or bad. Its history as a kingdom in its own right makes it a treasure trove of ancient legend. Ruined Knossos was reputedly the home of the Minotaur in the labyrinth; Zeus was “born” in one of its caves (or two; the “site” is contested). You can sample as much or as little of this as you wish from many a grand resort. A week-long half-board escape to the five-star Daios Cove retreat, at Agios Nikolaos, flying from Heathrow on July 24, starts at £2,655pp with British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787; ba.com/holidays).

Rhodes

This much-loved slice of the Dodecanese offers the same happy combination of the past on display. The capital, Rhodes Town, still sings of the Knights of Malta who built its medieval fortifications; Lindos, on the east coast, pops up in the Iliad – and hideaways for spells of serious sunbathing. A seven-night stay at the five-star adults-only Lindos Blu resort (within walking range of the ancient citadel), flying from Manchester on August 21, starts at £1,801pp with Olympic Holidays (020 8492 6868; olympicholidays.com).

Corfu

If there has ever been a tendency to regard this croissant-shaped jewel of the Ionian as Greece only for the most basic fly-and-flop simplicity, Corfu can respond with a growing elegance of accommodation and, depending on where you are staying, views that gaze across to both the mainland and the sunny southernmost corner of Albania. You can enjoy this twin panorama from the Grecotel Eva Palace – a five-star retreat on the east coast of the island at Kommeno Bay. A seven-night break, flying from Bristol on July 30, costs from £1,319pp through easyJet Holidays (0330 551 5160; easyjet.com/holidays).

Corfu - Getty
Corfu - Getty

Zakynthos

Zante has already danced with Britain’s Covid travel corridors. It was one of seven Greek islands placed on the quarantine list for returning British travellers last September, after a local rise in infections – only to be excused its place on the naughty step just a month later. Whether or not it will need to Hokey Cokey this summer, it is another excellent option for a week away, its much-photographed Shipwreck Beach forever an emblem of Ionian escape. A seven-night all-inclusive break to the five-star Tui Blue Caravel resort, flying from Gatwick on July 27, starts at £1,060pp with Tui (020 3451 2688; tui.co.uk).

Kos

Way out east, almost in Turkish waters, Kos has a well-won profile as an ideal choice for a holiday with children – and even Covid cannot change this. An all-inclusive week for a family of four at the Atlantica Beach Resort (a four-star with three pools, and the south-coast strip of Helona Beach beyond) flying from Stansted on August 7 starts at £3,343 in total, including a free child place, with First Choice (020 3451 2716; firstchoice.co.uk).

On the fence

Sardinia, Italy

Chances of being green-lit: 5/10

Sardinia has long tempted tourists from the UK to the hiking trails of its mountainous interior, with the prospect of an afternoon wind-down on a beach afterwards. It now seems possible that Britons may be able to indulge in such a day again soon, thanks to the island keeping its case rate below that of its mainland counterpart. Sardinia is not in the same league as Spain’s holiday islands in attracting guests, but it does boast direct air links with the UK. It would be a surprising addition to the green list but its figures make for pleasant reading.

Sardinia

There is much to recommend Italy’s Tyrrhenian island in the time of Covid – it has a sparseness of population and a vastness of scale that means it never feels crowded, even on its beaches. It also, contrary to the general perception of it as a raw and rustic outpost, deals in genteel comforts and refined resorts – especially along a south coast that comes with crescents of soft sand. One of them is the Hotel Stella Maris, a four-star resort just above the needle peninsula of Capo Carbonara. A week’s half-board stay, flying from Gatwick on August 14, starts at £2,424pp, with Citalia (01293 831739; citalia.com).

Sardinia - Getty
Sardinia - Getty
Santorini, Mykonos, Samos and Skiathos, Greece

Chances of being green-lit: 6/10

These Greek islands are in a strong position when it comes to transport, with many of them boasting their own airports. Some, like Santorini and Mykonos, also offer direct flights to the UK. However, they have been excluded from the Foreign Office’s relaxation of travel guidance, so it’s possible they will miss out on the green light this time around. This could be because the Department for Transport does not consider it prudent to open up all of Greece’s islands at once. With the big-hitters like Corfu and Crete poised to go green, they may delay giving the go-ahead to these islands.

Santorini

In a strange way, the pandemic may be the perfect time to visit an icon of the Cyclades that has been fiendishly popular – almost beyond its capacity to cope – for much of the last decade. Normal service will surely be resumed, but for now, Santorini is a little calmer than usual – though its caldera cliffs, spearing starkly into the Aegean, remain unchanged in their ability to astonish. Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386465; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers it as part of a six-night Greek Island Hopping package with Delos and Mykonos. From £2,090 per person, including flights.

Mykonos

If you would rather concentrate on an island that has become an emblem of Greece at its most graceful – all floaty fabrics, dressing up for dinner, and deluxe villas caught in the sunset shadows of slow-turning windmills – Mykonos rarely falls short of expectations. Options for summer are still available, including the three-bedroom Villa Varvara, which peers down to Mykonos Town from a low hillside. It can be booked for £7,249 the week of September 4, excluding flights, with James Villas (0808 115 1101; jamesvillas.co.uk).

The famous Mykonos windmills - Getty
The famous Mykonos windmills - Getty

Samos

One of the North Aegean Islands, Samos is something of an outlier in terms of Greek holidays – literally, in the case of its location, where only a mile of water separates it from the Turkish mainland across the Mycale Strait. Significantly sleepy, it also rewards those who choose to explore – it is certainly worth hiring a car to drive a west coast that could be California with all its sheer-sided drama. A seven-night stay at the three-star Kerkis Bay Hotel (set on the seafront amid the quiet of south-coast Ormos Marathokampou), flying from Gatwick on July 15, starts at £982pp via Sunvil (020 8568 4499; sunvil.co.uk).

Skiathos

This slight sliver of the Sporades could be described as Samos’s mirror-opposite – pressed so far into the western shallows of the Aegean that it almost touches Greece’s Pelion peninsula. Its accessibility is part of its appeal, as is the scope it offers for easy morning island-hopping to archipelago colleagues Skopelos and Alonissos. A seven-night holiday at the five-star adults-only Aegean Suites, flying from Stansted on August 7, costs from £1,619pp through Destinology (01204 684 878; destinology.co.uk).

Skiathos - Getty
Skiathos - Getty

Long shots

Corsica, France

Chances of being green-lit: 2/10

France raised eyebrows when it began easing lockdown measures last month, even though case rates were still alarmingly high – but the country has held its nerve and new infections are down on its April peak. It is unlikely, however, that its main holiday island, Corsica, will get the green light from the UK Government in June.

The island’s case rates are down (below 1 per 100,000 for new daily infections) and are among some of the lowest in France. However, it seems unlikely the Government would use its green-list capital on an island not considered a major tourist destination for Britons, and attached to a country that still has infection rates more than four times those of the United Kingdom. It also doesn’t help that the nation has just imposed a 14-day quarantine period for all those arriving from Britain.

Porto-Vecchio

Contrary to its rough-and-rugged image, there is an increasing sophistication to France’s fine fragment of the Tyrrhenian Sea – particularly in the south-east, where Porto-Vecchio, on its sheltered bay, is dotted with boutiques and waterfront cafés, while the hillsides above it gleam with upmarket villas (some of which are still available to rent out this summer).

Villa Fiorella is a key example: a two-bedroom joy with an infinity pool that can be rented for £4,680 in the week of August 8, through Simpson Travel (020 3504 2025; simpsontravel.com).

Dalmatian Islands, Croatia

Chances of being green-lit: 2/10

Croatia’s Adriatic coast is peppered with islands, stretching from Istria in the north to Dubrovnik in the south. They range greatly in appeal, but some of the most popular include Vis, Krk and Hvar.

Unfortunately, for the purpose of analysing data, the islands’ numbers are wrapped in their mainland regional authorities, making it difficult to see which destinations have the best numbers. Croatia, as a whole, is coming down from the peak of its second wave, but still has a case rate far higher than that of the UK, and a sluggish vaccination drive not yet reaching a third of the population.

What’s more, with no direct flights from the UK, it will be an unlikely addition to the green list at this point.

Brac

The lack of direct flights from the UK is not considered an impediment by Jet2holidays (0800 408 0778; jet2holidays.com), which offers getaways to what is both the largest of Croatia’s Dalmatian islands and a dream of a beach destination, where the V-shaped sandbar-spit of Zlatni Rat has become a social-media staple.

A seven-night escape to the four-star Hotel Milna Osam (on the west coast, where Brac tapers towards its neighbour Solta), checking in on July 25, costs from £975 per person. This price includes direct flights from Stansted to Split, plus organised coach and ferry transfers from the mainland.

Don't expect Brac to make a green list appearance just yet - Getty
Don't expect Brac to make a green list appearance just yet - Getty
Sicily, Italy

Chances of being green-lit: 1/10

Sicily feels almost too vast to be a Mediterranean island, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why its case rate is slightly higher than Italy’s average, though it is now falling. Until recently, Sicily’s rate was bucking the national trend and rising. This makes it an unlikely addition to the green list.

Cefalu

If Sicily remains off-limits to British travellers for a while longer, it will not be because the Mediterranean’s largest island is lacking as a destination. Palermo has all the swagger of any major Italian city, while Taormina is a wonder of the ancient world. But above all, it can be a great setting for a fun family break. Sicily4U (01483 497 060; sicily4u.co.uk) has a raft of villas there – including Villa Mazzaforno, which has four bedrooms and a pool on the north coast at Cefalù. It is available the week of August 7 for €3,340 (£2,873).