A reminder that you alone are the best mode of transportation, Source: Depositphotos

7 Car-Free Islands in Europe to Practice Your Hiking Skills

7 Car-Free Islands in Europe to Practice Your Hiking Skills

The pace of life in these places is so laid back that you might feel like you’ve gone back in time

The mobility landscape is in a state of flux and transformation in Europe. However, which way it will go is anyone’s guess. What’s sure, however, is that there is a trend towards turning our backs on the fossil-fuel personal vehicles that have defined the past decades and have even influenced the way cities are shaped and planned.

Whichever way things turn, motorized traffic is here to stay in one form or another, hopefully in a way that will be cleaner, and less intrusive, while still convenient for the people.

And while we’re busy weaning ourselves off from our dependence on cars, it may seem mind-blowing that there are places in Europe where four-wheel machines never arrived and were never welcomed.

Residents of these places have continued living much the same way their ancestors did without ever including cars, engine troubles, traffic accidents, or refuelling worries in their lives.

Seek and you will find, as the old adage goes and so I did. Last week, I presented you with towns and cities on the Old Continent, which have banished partially or fully the roar of automobiles.

This time, together we’ll head a little bit further from the shores and visit some picturesque islands where the idyll setting is more than underscored by the lack of road traffic.

Ile de Cavallo, France

ile cavallo

Ile de Cavallo has been known for ages for its beautiful boulders. Source: Marina Setti, on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This tiny island is interesting also because it is known as France’s southernmost inhabited place. And you wouldn’t even think you’re in France when there. It’s located in the Strait of Bonifaccio that separates the islands of Corsica (France) and Sardinia (Italy), part of the Lavezzi Archipelago.

The small island is known for its granite boulders which have been smoothed over by the natural elements and were praised as a building material even during the Roman Empire. These days, however, it’s privately owned, though still open to the public (in France beaches can’t be private property).

There is a fancy hotel and a restaurant in this Mediterranean gem, and you can only get around by bicycle or an electric golf cart. The island recently gained some prominence thanks to a Netflix documentary about a 1978 murder incident involving the heir to the defunct Italian throne – Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy.

Comino, Malta

comino boats

No roads on Comino, Source: Depositphotos

Staying in the azure Mediterranean, we reach Malta. Itself a small country completely surrounded by the sea, it also contains an intriguing small island by the name of Comino.

You can find it between the main Malta island and Gozo, and it’s one of the tourists’ most preferred destinations. It’s barely inhabited – apparently, its official population is 2 people – yet it contains a bunch of interesting sites worth checking out. The most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon whose cyan colours beckon travellers from near and far.

The pristine nature of the island, however, has been threatened in recent years due to fears of tourism overexploitation and the resulting waste generation this brings in its wake.

Île-d'Aix, France

ile d'aix street

A street on Aix Island shows why locals haven't heard of garages. Source: Enguerran Fouchet, on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This small island, located at the place where the Charente River pours into the mighty Atlantic Ocean, is home to about 230 people. It only became an island somewhere around 1500, but it’s been inhabited since at least the 11th century when a convent was established there.

These days you can hitch a ferry ride from the town of Furas to reach the isle, but once you get on it, you’d better rent a bike or rely on your two feet to move you around. The place is quite unassuming, but it’s been linked to some of the most unhappy days of famous political leaders.

None other than Napoleon spent his last days on French territory there in a vain attempt to evade British blockade and escape to America. Seeing the futility of this, he surrendered to the British and was taken from there to his exile, never to return to France again.

Fort Liédot on the island served as the prison of Algerian independence leader and freedom fighter Ben Bella between 1956 and 1962. He later served as the first president of the African country.

From the island, you can see another fort – the oval-shaped Fort Boyard, whose known and loved by all French people as the setting of a popular TV game show of wit and endurance.

Hydra, Greece

hydra mules

Traditional Hydra taxis awaiting customers. Source: Depositphotos

This is a 64-km2 island that is part of the Saronic Isles and one of the closest to Athens’s Piraeus port. It has a charming harbour with centuries-old mansions and a rich artistic heritage. It is also a great place for hiking, swimming, sailing and snorkelling.

It currently counts about 2,000 residents, who get to feel that they live in one of the Greek capital’s sea-based suburbs. From Metochi, it takes only 20 minutes to reach Hydra.

Hydra is incredibly rich in history since its inhabitants, who were skilled sailors, were instrumental in Greece’s fight for independence against the Ottoman Empire. It has six monasteries, many old-style mansions, festivals, as well as an artistic community.

What it doesn’t have is wheeled transport. We presume that also means that bicycles aren’t allowed either. If you want to get around the isle, you can hire a mule, though – or a boat taxi.

Marettimo, Italy

marettimo isle

Cars would seem out of place here. Source: Depositphotos

Marettimo is the region of Sicily’s westernmost community, and it’s not even located on the main island. It can be reached by a ferry from Trapani and the trip takes about an hour. The Ancient Greeks called it the “Sacred Island” and today it is primarily inhabited by fishermen. And fishermen as we know need boats more than cars.

This is also another island where donkeys and horses thrive as they are still a preferred mode of mobility in the local uneven terrain. All the hills contain caves and grottoes and ancient ruins. Plus, it’s a nature reserve with exceptionally rich flora, including plants you can only find there. Better keep it a secret!

Juist, Germany

juist street

A busy street on Juist. Source: Depositphotos

It’s about time we paid a visit to the Northern Sea, as believe it or now, there are also traditional island communities. There, at the maritime border between the Netherlands and Germany, we’ll find the island of Juist, part of the East Frisian Archipelago.

Juist is basically a 17-km long sand strip that presents a dreamy, windswept and melancholic landscape and gives visitors endless opportunities to explore, reconnect with the elements and generally feel free.

The only types of four-wheeled transport allowed on the island are several tractors and horse-drawn carriages, mostly used as service vehicles. Juist is also notable as the first place in the world where unmanned aircraft (drones) were authorized (in 2014) to deliver goods and medicines to the community.

La Graciosa, Spain

la graciosa isle

A bird's eye view of La Graciosa from Lanzarote. Source: Depositphotos

There are some 730 people inhabiting La Graciosa, making it the only island in the Canary Archipelago to almost lack any motorized transport, save for a few authorized service vehicles. There is no need for those anyway, as the small isle’s streets are covered with unpaved sand which doesn’t break character with the overall arid and volcanic landscape visible as far as the eye can see.

La Graciosa is ideal for surfing, kayaking, cycling, and relaxing. You can reach it by ferry from Órzola in Lanzarote. You can also have a nice view of the island from Lanzarote’s Mirador del Rio panoramic viewpoint.



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