Saturday, November 03, 2007
i am a rock...
Many of my friends already know that I have a thing for islands. Aside from their inherent beauty, islands are places where people pride themselves on their culture. In some cases, island residents represent a microcosm of the larger nation to which they belong. Other times, islanders are fiercely independent and want nothing more than to be left to their own devices. Either way, I've found that visiting an island and meeting its people is always a rewarding experience.
So when I recently discovered National Geographic Traveler's rankings of the top 111 islands in the world, I started some mental drooling. What an amazing list! The only sad part is knowing I'll probably never get to see all of these places. But thanks to all those family trips and other vacations I've taken over the years, I have already been to one-eighth of them! Of those, here are my top four...
Faroe Islands: These are the islands that got the highest score in the whole survey, and I'd have to agree that the Faroes (seen in the photo above) are probably the best-kept secret among vacation spots in the world. You're not going to find sand and sun here—the islands get precipitation almost every single day, and temperatures hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. But the majestic canyons of carved green rock, combined with the warm, but independent-minded natives (they're technically Danes but speak their own Faroese language), make this destination one of the most unique you'll ever find.
Bora Bora: The second-best-known island of French Polynesia (after Tahiti), Bora Bora lives up to the hype. With its dramatic extinct volcano rising from its center and the surrounding lush rainforests and pristine beaches, this small island is nothing short of gorgeous. Many of the local resorts offer charming bungalows either right on the water's edge or sitting on stilts in the water. There are also plenty of places to explore, whether it's hiking in the jungle, canoeing the lagoon, or snorkeling along the reef. Talk about the perfect getaway!
Mallorca: True, it gets a bad rap for being too touristy and overdeveloped in spots, but Mallorca, the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands, is still tops in my list for the hidden gems you'll find along its shores and in its Tramuntana mountain range. As long as you rent a car and make a point of exploring outside of the capital city of Palma, you'll find plenty of quiet aqua-colored beaches and coves, as well as quaint villages—like Valldemosa and Deià—that still retain their traditional Mallorcan appeal.
Aran Islands: If you're looking for old-world charm and lovely vistas mixed with a spot of history, the Irish Aran Islands are for you. Inishmore, the largest of these small islands, is covered with rocks—some in their natural state, but many more in the form of ubiquitous stone walls. There are also a number of iron age forts that deserve exploring. And with all the sheep on the islands, the local residents are known for their woolen goodies, including the famous Aran Sweaters.
Of course no list like this can go without some debate...Here are the four islands I think the peeps at NGT missed!
Long Island: Okay, lots of Long Island (New York) is an eyesore, with miles and miles of nothing but strip malls. But the eastern and western ends of this glacial moraine are completely unique. For instance, on the eastern fork, you've got the ever-popular vacationing communities of Montauk and the Hamptons. And on the western edge, well, you have two of the most culturally interesting parts of New York City: Brooklyn (home to Coney Island, above, which used to be its own island but not anymore) and Queens! Of course, I do live here, so I'm a little biased...
Montserrat: You may have heard about this island when a major volcanic eruption happened here in 1997, wiping out much of the infrastructure and decimating several towns. While the Soufriere Hills Volcano is still active, Montserrat is making a comeback. It's a beautiful Caribbean island, but it's also an amazing place to go to witness geology in action. During your stay (I'd recommend no more than a few days), you can see how the ash cloud from '97 created havoc and meet with the vulcanologists who are monitoring this Caribbean jewel.
Åland: This archepelago between Sweden and Finland is not well known among Americans, but is a popular destination for Scandinavians during the warm August months. Technically a part of Finland, Åland islanders retain a semi-autonomous government and actually align themselves culturally more with Sweden (they speak Swedish, for one thing). A lovely way to view the sparsely populated islands, which feature a nice mix of rolling meadows, evergreen forest, and rocky shores, is by bike, since they're relatively flat.
Easter Island: I've actually never been to Easter Island, but I'm shocked that it didn't make it to the NGT list. Maybe it's because it's so hard to get to (you have to fly through Chile, its mother country, or Tahiti) or because the ecosystem there has been in major decline (check out Jared Diamond's Collapse for more on that). But, this island is chock-full of prehistoric arifacts, including petroglyphs, stone houses, and, most nobably, their famous Moai, spooky human-shaped statues that line the island's coast. I definitely hope to get there soon!
So, what say you? Feel free to bash my picks or make your own in the comments section! The islands we're talking about here are generally small islands and shouldn't be major independent countries (so, for instance, Ireland, Japan, and Australia don't count). Happy traveling! ∞