Lazing on an isolated strip of sand is all well and good, but the best kind of island getaway is much more than a day at the beach. We surveyed the world’s ocean outposts to bring you the top spots for local atmosphere, one-of-a-kind retreats and natural wonders, plus a few pugnacious kangaroos.
PETIT HOTEL HOSTATGERÍA SANT SALVADOR, MAJORCA, SPAIN:
Monks no longer pray at the 14th-century monastery, but guests can enjoy the views from almost 1,700 feet up Sant Salvador Mountain. www.santsalvadorhotel.com
ST. PHILOMENA ABBEY, CALDEY ISLAND, WALES:
Twenty Cistercian monks farm and create perfume on this island, where their order has resided for some 1,500 years. Guests are expected to make their own beds and help wash up. www.caldey-island.co.uk
ABBAYE DE LÉRINS, ÎLE SAINT HONORAT, FRANCE:
For centuries, Cistercian monks at this abbey have made wine from vineyards above the Bay of Cannes. Enjoy the wines — and the seafood — at their restaurant, La Tonelle. www.abbayedelerins.com
FO GUANG SHAN MONASTERY, TAIWAN:
Home to a 120-foot Buddha and nearly 500 life-size statues of his followers, the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan offers chanting, calligraphy lessons and delicious vegetarian meals. www.fgs.org.tw
CONVENTI SICILIA, SICILY, ITALY:
Located in historic Cefalù, this three-story guesthouse, once part of a 15th-century convent, comes with a view of the town’s medieval streets and the fishing boats in the harbor. www.conventisicilia.it —RACHEL STURTZ
THE THRONGS HAVE RETURNED to the mainland, the smell of wood smoke permeates the air, and a chill has set in. Yet there’s no better time than December to visit Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts. The island’s cobblestones, red brick, weathered shingles and church steeples make for a holiday backdrop only Currier & Ives could conjure, and its annual Christmas Stroll (running from Dec. 2 to 4 this year) is just one highlight of what the locals call the slow season, characterized by steep discounts, inns with hot mulled wine and crackling fireplaces, peaceful walks on empty beaches, and lazy afternoons and nights in restaurants and pubs.
But as quiet as it is in winter, there’s still a lot to do. The Theatre Workshop of Nantucket puts on productions though December, and then stages readings on the third Friday of every month for the rest of the season. Ocean currents keep the temperatures more moderate here than on the mainland, so the golf courses can stay open longer, with low off-season rates. “Every couture shop and small boutique on the island goes 75 percent off,” says Gabriel Gould, executive director of the theater workshop. “The beaches are still beautiful. When the rest of the East Coast is getting hammered with snow and you can’t get out your door, people here are going on 10-mile walks. The restaurants that stay open are cozy and sweet. And there is still art.”
Living on an island that transforms from busy summer resort to wintertime small town “is like living in two different places without having to move,” says Jennie Ahlborn, a year-round island resident who dresses in Victorian costume and leads the caroling during each year’s Christmas Stroll.
The weekend of the stroll is the one time in winter when the crowds come back. Merchants decorate their windows, Santa Claus arrives by Coast Guard cutter, children trim the trees on Main Street and Ahlborn and her carolers lead sing-alongs. There are no traffic lights. No neon. No piped-in Christmas music. Everybody’s in a good mood. In short, “you’re stepping inside a postcard,” says Ahlborn. “Although I cringe when I hear the word ‘quaint’ — it seems so facile to use that word to describe Nantucket. It hasn’t been designed to look this way. It just does.” —JON MARCUS
After the revelers decamp from Ibiza, the summertime party haven off Spain’s eastern coast, the island undergoes a rebirth. Oceanside restaurants serve tapas to the remaining inhabitants, who spend their days taking strolls over the craggy hills to watch nature reclaim what is hers. In the northwest corner of the island, on the plain of Santa Agnès de Corona, that involves the annual flowering of hundreds of almond trees. In late January, the red-earth valley erupts into a spectacle of fluffy white and pink blooms, and on the following full-moon nights, locals and visitors set off on midnight hikes to see the flowers glowing in the moonlight. In place of sweat and sunblock, the only smell is the blossoms’ honey scent; the island’s wildest denizens are the thyme, rosemary and lavender in the underbrush. And boy, is it quiet. —JACQUELINE DETWILER
ISLAND WISDOM, PART 2: UPON DETERMINING NANTUCKET ISN’T COLD ENOUGH…
Try storm watching in British Columbia. Bent double beneath a roiling pewter sky on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, strain headfirst against the tempest toward the surf. Reaching some rain-pelted rocks studded with purple starfish, force your rapidly numbing, salt-licked face upward as waves the size of houses crash against the log-strewn shoreline and giant cedars crack and groan behind you. Then go inside. Facing down raw nature is storm watching’s great lure, but sipping hot chocolate by your hotel window afterward is its great reward. —JOHN LEE