A personal concept, granted, but paradise for many resembles a tropical island. Its most extreme form is ‘islomania’, an irresistible attraction to islands, a term coined by the writer Lawrence Durrell. For those with a little more perspective, the pleasures are perhaps more obvious: swaying palm trees over fine sand, a golden sunlight and the promise of bath-warm waters. Simple and soothing, with geographic dislocation bringing psychological removal: an island paradise’s lack of clutter gives freedom not just of space but of thought, as if being among such stripped-back surroundings is in itself cleansing. And maybe it is; in a crowded and hectic world, a far-flung piece of splendid isolation might just be the ultimate in luxury…
The original Spice Islands are paradisiacal in their ability to throw up unexpected offerings. Sure, there's the spellbinding beaches to lounge on and fine reefs to snorkel, but there's also Stone Town. One of Africa's least enticingly-named destinations is a treasure trove to explore, its streets a labyrinthine layout of pirate-proof alleyways, with every historic dwelling trying to outdo its neighbour for extravagance in decoration. What's more, it's no museum piece, but a place that's palpably alive with daily life.
Honey Island, Brazil
A 'stop the world, I'm getting off' kind of place, the Ilha do Mel is a no-cars, roads or power lines destination - if you're after beachfront mega-clubs, you're in the wrong place. Clean as a whistle with spot-on eco-credentials, Honey Island seduces with clean water, beachside trails and a jungle interior. Mystery and myth readily attach themselves to beauty, and Honey Island comes with its own version of the Ulysses tale - on the island's east, sirens are said to lure sailors into a grotto, never to emerge again. The symbolism is obvious - this is a place that visitors have trouble leaving.
The beaches aren't classically beautiful, it's nowhere near deserted, and you'll be hard pushed to find palm trees, but Santorini's distinctly Mediterranean take on island paradise is pretty much irresistible come sunset. Find a decent vantage point over the sunken caldera, pour yourself a glass of something chilled and watch the natural fireworks: as the sun dips, whitewashed villages turn a blood-orange, the steep volcanic hillsides redden, while the water comes wine-dark.
Fish Island, Bolivia
Okay, so you wouldn't want to live here, but Bolivia's Fish Island takes some beating as a get-away-from it-all destination. Cast adrift in the world's largest sea of salt - the Salar de Uyuni - some 4,000 metres up, if this isn't the middle of nowhere, it's in the same neighbourhood. After travelling through the hallucinatory, horizon-less mass of white that is the Salar, seeing Fish Island feels like a mirage. A rocky outcrop home to huge columnar cacti, the island is the perfect place from which to try to take in the Salar's incredible size and silent power.
It’s difficult – arguably pointless – to bestow special praise on one island of the Galapagos, but perhaps mentioning the experience on just one brings into sharper focus what makes the entire archipelago so special. You arrive on Espanola’s golden beach, deserted save for scores of lazing sea lions, several of whom act as the island's welcoming committee. A path leads uphill, through a colony of red and black marine iguanas as the volcanic strata and unusual vegetation vie for your attention with the beautiful ocean. Past blue boobies performing their mating dance (namely showing off their blue feet), countless nazca boobies and hovering frigatebirds, poised piratically overhead, you come to a fine viewpoint. Beneath you a blowhole casts fleeting rainbows; enormous bull sea lions lie underneath, wallowing in the cooling spray. And on the cliffs, albatross.Whether taking flight or at rest, old couples or a newly-hatched furrball chick, seeing these glorious birds is the crowning moment of visiting a very special island.
Where’s your island paradise? Drop us a comment below to let us know your favourites.