The 12 greatest Mediterranean islands for a family holiday

There is a reason that families choose islands over the mainland when they seek their summer sun.
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There is a reason that families choose islands over the mainland when they seek their summer sun.

Mediterranean islands can deliver the perfect summer holiday - but which one is right for you and your family?

There is a reason that families choose islands over the mainland when they seek their summer sun. Of course, the beaches running from the Costa del Sol to the Cote d'Azur, curving around Puglia and along the miles of Croatian and Greek coastline have their charms.

But a family escape to an island offers something different. First, there's the sense of physical separation from the mundanities of work and school life. Then there's the fact that the island is finite: you can cross its main attractions and activities off your list at a leisurely pace - travel time to and from these events will be minimal - and then you can gaze out at the sea, happily marooned and safe in the knowledge that nothing else is visible on the horizon.

But which is the right island for your family? 

FORMENTERA, SPAIN

If you must do something, the clear water is ideal for snorkelling.
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If you must do something, the clear water is ideal for snorkelling.

Good for: relaxing times with small children

Compared with its Balearic neighbours, Formentera is less developed, with a handful of hotels, discreetly luxe villas and a lot of basic apartments.

With hints of the Caribbean, it is all about the superb white-sand beaches with sparkling sapphire sea and only rustic bars to distract you from floating the day away. If you must do something, the clear water is ideal for snorkelling and the largely flat island is crisscrossed by tracks for leisurely walks or bike rides. 

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ELBA, ITALY

Good for: happy campers and a mountain of fun

Fetovaia beach, Elba island, Italy.
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Fetovaia beach, Elba island, Italy.

Elba, off the Tuscan coast, is perfect for families prepared to camp - the island is scattered with sites big and small - but it also has a wealth of mid-range accommodation and small resorts.

The beaches at Procchio, Fetavaia, Marina di Campo, Biodola, Lacona and Cavoli are excellent, with swimming possible late into the season - a consideration given the island's popularity in August, when it has more than one million visitors. Besides the excellent food, wine, hiking and pretty villages (don't miss Marciana), kids will love the chairlift to the summit of Monte Capanne (1019m), Elba's highest point.

CRETE, GREECE

Good for: good value off-peak packages

Chania's Venetian Harbour.
Nathan Brown

Chania's Venetian Harbour.

With direct flights year-round and swimming weather guaranteed well into November, Crete is a safe bet for low-season bargains. The rugged hinterland is all snow-capped peaks and wild ravines, forgotten villages and ancient ruins; families generally stick to the all-inclusive resorts which are situated along the east and west coast.

With its Venetian fortress, Egyptian lighthouse and covered food market, Chania makes a good base for exploring little-known ruins and beaches, such as the ancient amphitheatre at Aptera and the twin bays of Marathi, where the wind never seems to blow.

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ANTIPAROS, GREECE

Good for: lazy days and Boho bliss

Hora view, the capital of Naxos island, Cyclades, Grecce.
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Hora view, the capital of Naxos island, Cyclades, Grecce.

With just one low-lying village behind its dinky harbour, Antiparos is small enough to explore in a day. Weeks can easily drift by at mellow beach bars such as Big Blue, overlooking Glyfa, and Beach House on Apantima, where kids can run amok in the playground as their parents snooze in hammocks.

Low-key Greek tycoons have villas overlooking Soros and Agios Giorgios beaches; stylish Scandinavian families prefer the main town, flanked by shallow bays and lined with cute cafes. Best of all it's flat, so there's no lugging buggies up and down cobbled steps. Neighbouring Paros got an international airport last year - meaning that its more fashionable and exclusive satellite, Antiparos, is much more accessible. 

NAXOS, GREECE

The beautiful classic port harbour of Antiparos island in the Cyclades, Greece.
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The beautiful classic port harbour of Antiparos island in the Cyclades, Greece.

Good for: sandy beaches 

The largest of the Cycladic islands, Naxos has ancient ruins, medieval watchtowers, and mountain villages to explore; but it's the miles and miles of sandy beaches on the west coast that draw young families.

With their calm, shallow water and rippling sand dunes lined with laid-back beach bars, well-priced tavernas and family-run hotels, Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna and Plaka are the most popular beaches, yet never feel too crowded. 

Restless kids can learn to waterski, rent pedalos, or even gallop along the beach (the horse riding school is run by Brits). 

MENORCA, SPAIN

Good for: independent families with young kids

With a wealth of low-key self-catering accommodation as well as hotels, Menorca suits families who like to organise their own days, whether packed with activities or just enjoying simple pleasures such as picnics on the beach while the little ones potter about with buckets and spades. If you've brought older children, the calm turquoise sea is perfect for kayaking or diving. 

CORFU, GREECE

Good for: free-range luxe villa breaks 

Corfu has a reputation for package deals, but the north-east coast is far more sophisticated. Dubbed Kensington-on-Sea, it's awash with spectacular villas with private boats for puttering off to pristine coves. Head inland and the sense of seclusion is even more intense. Kids can roam free at The Rou Estate, an abandoned hamlet transformed into 14 villas with private pools and fragrant gardens.

Winding paths lead you to a communal infinity pool and excellent restaurant should you feel like socialising. Agni, with its tavernas Toula's and Nikolas, is 6km away. Kassiopi has the ruins of an old castle and a pretty harbour where kids can go crabbing. 

IBIZA, SPAIN

Good for: beaches, wellness and nightlife

You may not want to dance all night these days, but in Ibiza the grown-ups can easily combine a bit of hedonism - there is plenty of daytime debauchery on offer at the beach clubs - with family-friendly outdoor pursuits such as stand-up paddleboarding, yoga or hiking. You are never far from either a mojito or a kale and beetroot smoothie. 

RHODES, GREECE

Good for the full Greek package

Sure, it's touristy, but the moated medieval capital of Rhodes is like stepping into a fairy-tale castle. Kids can run around the city walls, treasure hunt for coats of arms on the Street of Knights, and relive the Crusades at The Palace of the Grand Master. Charter flights and cheap packages abound, but the best resorts are around Lindos. Framed by sandy beaches, this resort has a 14th century fortress and an ancient Acropolis to explore. If the hike is too steep for little feet, there are always donkeys for hire.

SARDINIA, ITALY

Good for: luxurious hotels 

Sardinia's interior is relatively undistinguished, but its coast has some of the safest beaches and clearest water in the Med. Try the coast at Cala Gonone (nicely low-key), the Costa Verde (dunes, off the beaten track), Riviera del Corallo (verdant, play areas, facilities) and the Costa del Sud (gently shelving beaches).

Italians holiday in family groups, so the island has family-oriented hotels and resorts filled with facilities and activities. Some resorts are expensive - notably Forte Village - but plenty, such as Colonna, Club Hotel Marina Beach (marinabeach.it) and Valle d'Erica (delphinahotels.co.uk), are not.

MALLORCA, SPAIN

Good for: non-stop activity to suit all budgets

The huge variety of sports, accommodation, beaches and culture makes the island appealing to all ages and tastes, whatever your budget. Blue-flag beaches include Cala Millor and Platja de Muro, with miles of golden sand and there is a range of watersports available. 

Cyclists can ride through flat countryside or tackle more challenging mountain routes and shopping is excellent in Palma for the less-sporty family members.

LEFKADA, GREECE

Good for: novice sailors

The powdery beaches of Lefkada are the poster children of the Greek tourist board. The turquoise coastline abounds with water sports - windsurfing across Vassiliki bay, kite surfing on Agios Giannis, sea kayaking expeditions from Nidri.

Mild winds and sheltered coves make this corner of the Ionian ideal for novice sailors. Ionian Rib Cruising has experienced skippers for an exhilarating whizz around the islands of Meganisi, Kalamos, and Kastos, with a Go Pro camera for underwater photography. 

With contributions from: Jane Foster, Rachel Howard, Tim Jepson, Ben Ross

 

 - Sunday Telegraph

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