Swap 'been there, done that' for Europe's lesser-visited jewels

Steaming hot springs, Byzantine architecture, food festivals and even donkeys in striped trousers. Europe's islands are stepping stones to some of the most intriguing culture in the world. We've narrowed down our favourites to four. Take in spectacular landscapes, unusual flora and fauna, and unique experiences that can only be found on these little-known isles.

ITALY – PANTELLERIA

Pantelleria

Floating between the southern tip of Sicily and Tunisia, Pantelleria is a hideaway volcanic island that's bursting with life. From the steaming hot springs and geysers to the slopes of vineyards in bloom, the natural power of this island is everywhere. Around its edges, dark sand and rugged beaches give way to a sea that's perfect for diving. Keep an eye out for rays, turtles and even dolphins as you drift over rare black coral. Or set out on a search for unchartered caves and craters on a boat tour around the island. Enjoy nature's free spa at the thermal sea baths of Gadir – the perfect end to a day exploring the 'Black Pearl'.

Where to stay: the sleek and sophisticated Sikelia hotel

Sikelia

GREECE – NAXOS

Naxos

Ancient and beautiful, unspoilt Naxos is about as authentic as it gets. Just four hours away from Athens, yet still relatively unknown, it dances to its own Cycladian rhythms. One of the more mountainous Greek islands, there is a prominent hiking culture here and sugar cube houses spill down the green hillsides. After all, with a history dating back to 4000BC you'd expect the architecture to be nothing short of breath-taking. From archetypal Greek villas to stone-columned ruins, this is a vision of Greece that postcards simply can't do justice to.

Where to stay: the Naxian Collection hotel on the west coast of the island

Naxian Collection

FRANCE – ÎLE DE RÉ

Ile de re

A short drive over the bridge from historical La Rochelle brings you to the subtle and sophisticated Île de Ré. With style in spades and a gentle coastal breeze, it's easy to see why well-heeled Parisians choose to summer here. The coastline is the place to start – and whilst the small island population tends to keep the beaches quiet between Autumn and Spring, true seclusion can be found year-round via the cycle routes around St Marie. Further inland, more adventures are to be had by bike, cycling from vineyard to village – and keep an eye out for donkeys in pyjamas...

Where to stay: the coastal Le Clos Saint-Martin hotel and spa

Le Clos Saint Martin

CROATIA – LOŠINJ ISLAND

Losinj Island

Dolphins. Turtles. Tranquil fishing villages and colourful houses. On the surface, Lošinj is a picturesque escape off the Adriatic coast. But dig a little deeper and you discover a striking island centred around relaxation and wellness. The Mediterranean climate and hundreds of medicinal plant species give Lošinj an alluring fragrance that changes with the seasons – and provides the ingredients for soothing aromatherapy treatments. Visit in the spring for the island's food festivals and wild asparagus harvest. Or make the most of the water sports, beaches and mellow hikes in summer and autumn. Festivals and carnivals define the winter months with a particular highlight ¬being Balinjerada – a soap-box style downhill race in home-made vehicles that run on ball bearings.

Where to stay: Boutique Hotel Alhambra, a classical mansion with its own private beach.

Alhambra