Three sanctuaries by the sea

Escape the bustle of everyday life on one of these overlooked island retreats. Chris Carter reports.

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Providencia: a delectably quiet place in the Caribbean

Providencia is Colombia, but only by the skin of its teeth, says Paul Richardson in the FT's How to Spend It magazine. The western Caribbean island is called Old Providence by its 5,000 inhabitants, who are the descendants of slaves brought there by the British. The island had been an English colony until 1641 and surnames to be found here include Williams, Bush and Brown. Spanish is very much a second language.

That said, Monasterio del Viento, meaning monastery of the wind, sits pretty on the island's north-east coast, with "its toes in the powder-blue sea". The hotel has four rooms and two suites, decks and terraces for dining, a small pool and a covered jetty over the water. On the first night, Garca de la Concha, who runs the place, served up a supper of lobster brochetas and roast red snapper, "while I lounged on cushions in regal seclusion", says Richardson.

Manzanillo Beach is "a Caribbean dream of coral sands as soft as icing sugar, gracefully leaning coconut palms and weatherbeaten beach bars serving cold Colombian beer and bowls of ceviche". It's not for nothing the islanders have watched in horror as their island neighbour, San Andrs, has succumbed to overdevelopment. You can count on there being no further hotels on Old Providence. "For the moment, this is simply a delectably quiet place in which to lie low and empty your head."

A gorgeous monastery between Europe and Africa

"Jagging from the sea between Sicily and Tunisia", Pantelleria is an "impregnable barley-twist" of volcanic rock, says Antonia Quirke in Cond Nast Traveller. The hillsides are "covered in 1,000-year-old Arabic terraces of vines and capers so teeming with trans-Saharan winds that the branches crawl close to the ground in a gnarled bonsai swoon". Meanwhile, "little hamlets of lava-stoned domed houses called dammusi resemble scarab beetles, with windows like gashes and gardens of cactuses, stalked by sulking cockerels".

Sikeliais the "island's most beautiful hotel". Small and mellow, and converted from an old monastery, it is "gorgeous". "High palm trees cleverly shade a pool that sounds like a river in flow, and Little Richard plays softly in the bar through the early evening as sparkling wine the colour of Somerset cider is served with local tuma cheese and octopus roasted with oregano." A waiter there said "Come and see Africa". So it was up a flight of stairs to the domed roof, where the horizon appeared as a "dense string of ravingly jumping candle flames". Twenty-seven miles to the west, the sun was setting over Tunisia.

A twitcher's paradise

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Rathlin Island is a "dramatically beautiful place", says Neil Hegarty in The Daily Telegraph. Located just off the Causeway Coast between County Antrim and the Mull of Kintyre, it is Northern Ireland's only inhabited island. It is a "beguiling sight" from the mainland, with its white cliffs "beckoning you over from the bustling cheer of Ballycastle on a 15-minute ferry ride". It even has its own festival in Rathlin Festival Week, which runs from 8 to 15 July. Expect traditional music, children's activities, guided walks, model boat races and plenty of island eccentricity.

That's not the only reason to visit at this time of year. Rathlin is a "twitcher's paradise" "a veritable city of fulmars, sweet-faced kittiwakes and more, crowded on the rocks". Colourful puffins sit nearby, "while peregrines leer ominously from their clifftop perches, waiting to pounce [against] the panoramic backdrop of wide skies, tumbling Atlantic waves and the distant mainland". Best of all, Rathlin is a sanctuary for birds that have struggled on the mainland of late. This year, the rasp of the much-loved corncrake was heard on the island for the first time in several years. The grass is left to grow tall to provide a home for the red-billed chough, the rarest and shyest member of the crow family. So keep your ears open and binoculars handy, and you should be in for a treat.

For a place to stay, the historic Manor Houseenjoys an enviable setting on the water's edge. Once the residence of the island laird, this fine Georgian building is now cared for by the National Trust and offers 11 smart rooms, all with sea views.

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