The other day, when TripAdvisor listed the ten top islands in its new Travelers' Choice poll, I decided I needed to get out more. I'd been to only three.
Then I noticed what was missing.
So to Hellas (that's Greece) with their list. Since these things are just arbitrary conversation-starters anyway, I'm pretending to be incensed and making my own. No crowd-sourced wisdom, just my memory.
I should admit it's been 20 years since I've laid eyes on some of these places, but I have seen them all. One of the reasons we love islands, I think, is that the way they hold onto their own cultures, even as the surrounding world changes by the day.
Also, these are not all swimsuit destinations. I don't blame East Coast folk for spending their February days imagining warm distant beaches, but out here in the hot, dry West, we're willing to fantasize about islands of all stripes.
Anyway, here (with photo gallery above) are 10 islands the Trip Advisor voters missed.
10. Krk, Croatia. Despite an appalling lack of vowels, this Adriatic island has a wealth of pebbly beaches, deep blue sea, low-key atmosphere and small-scale affordable lodgings. But be careful of the home brew. Plenty of islanders make it (fig schnapps, for instance), and many are so generous that they'll offer you some. You need to stop at one shot, if not sooner.
9. Moorea, French Polynesia. Glass-bottomed hotel rooms (not the whole floor, just a bit under the coffee table). An amazing array of fish that are easy to see, even if you snorkel on the surface. You can circle the island by bike in half a day. It was here that a waiter once beckoned my wife and me by saying: "Live music tonight. American girl. Autoharp. Interesting."
8. Paros, Greece. Santorini and Mykonos get most of the attention, but their lazier neighbors in the Cyclades have much to offer. Naxos (beloved by the TripAdvisor people) is one, but I preferred the windmills and whitewashed walls of Paros.
7. Santa Cruz Island, California. This is part of Channel Islands national Park, off Ventura -- no restaurants, no hotels, no retail, just a raw reminder to kayakers and campers of what coastal California looked like 200 years ago. If you camp on a slow night, it'll feel as though you have the island to yourself.
6. Capri, Italy. Don't go in August, and avoid weekends if you can; the crowds can be massive. But this is a place to see. High-end Italians have been holidaying here for centuries, and for about 40 years, Graham Greene lazed here in sunny splendor while imagining dark plots, venal characters and dismal locations for his novels. Capri has sea views from the high bluffs, luminous light in the blue Grotto seacaves, the sweet tang of the locally beloved limoncello liqueur and a passel of charming (and pricey) little hotels. Take a café seat under the clock tower in the Piazzetta and try to guess who in the passing parade might be a spy.
5. Manhattan, New York. No palm trees, but you'll get over it.
4. Isla Espiritu Santo, Mexico. A Baja California desert island with tall cactus and blue-footed boobies. Kayak heaven.
3. Cuba. Only about 100 miles south of Florida, Cuba has been mostly off-limits to Americans for the last half a century. The island's government might be oppressive – OK, absolutely oppressive -- but one day, that'll get sorted out (U.S. restrictions have been easing) and more Americans will feel comfortable checking out the beaches and inland valleys (especially the sudden hills of the Pinar del Rio area). It's where Columbus landed. And even though I hate it when tourist bureaus use the word "vibrant," the local culture is, you know, not unvibrant. One day I picked up a guitar in a sleepy café and wound up in a four-man jam session.
2. Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is a tiny Caribbean haven, just 7 square miles. I got there on a Windstar cruise 17 years ago and found myself sharing a beach with more goats than people. Yacht people and divers, however, are big fans of the place. Neighboring Nevis is another sleepy treat.