Island Destinations Rated: North and West Europe
Introduction Africa Caribbean Region East & Southeast Asia
Indian Ocean Region Mediterranean North & West Europe
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Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These lightly edited excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.
Aran Islands, Ireland
"Unspoilt, beautiful, and dramatic destination for archaeology, bird-watching, and spectacular hill walking. The rugged beauty of the island is maintained and sustainable. The inhabitants maintain a strong sense of their cultural heritage and identity. Well resourced and cared for."
"Walking through chilly, wind-blown pastures, running a hand along the mortarless walls, you can't help but feel a connection to the craftsmen who, centuries ago, so carefully fitted each stone. That this feeling, this authenticity, has survived the modern world is nothing short of miraculous."
"Tourists could be more informed about the Aran Islands during the ferry ride to the island . . . a missed opportunity."
"Not a beach destination or otherwise susceptible to mass tourism; indeed, its capricious climate probably impedes the flow of tourists. The islands' green volcanic mountains and picturesque black-and-white towns look set to remain unspoiled."
"Wonderful place. Built environment in good shape. Locals are very sophisticated as most have lived overseas."
"Remote and temperate, the Azores remain lightly touristed. Main visitor type is the independent traveler staying in B&Bs. The ecosystem—from the beautiful hydrangea-covered hills of Flores to the rock-bottomed bays of Terceira—is in great shape. Whales still a frequent sight. Local culture strong and vibrant. Not uncommon to be invited to a person's house for dinner, or welcomed into a communal meal during a festival."
"Low-key, quiet destination. Much of tourism development in cottages. Pleasant but not outstanding landscape. Not cheap. Older clientele. Pleasant for getting away, relaxing, and doing very little. High sustainability but unexciting."
"The beauty of the architecture together with local cultural landscape makes the island very attractive and fascinating. Chimneys are special local feature."
"Wonderful rural landscape but summer impact of visitors appears to be getting stronger, particularly from Germany. Overall, local people are able to combine fishing, farming, and tourism quite effectively."
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Faroe Islands, Denmark
"Superb glaciated landscape with improbably steep slopes. Little flat land. Local society unified and resolutely Faroese, not Danish, with own language, etc. Built heritage, down to the grass roofs, reasonably protected, certainly cherished. Most tourists adventurous and well-informed."
"Cultural integrity strong. On Koltur, visitors can meet a farmer, tour the island, experience a living museum of farm life today, and sample local traditional cuisine. The farmer is part of a green certification program. If the numbers of cruise ships continue to grow rapidly, there may be problems with island carrying capacity."
"All new buildings are required to maintain historic architecture."
"Quite rightly, tourists are expected to be like the Faroese, such as taking choppy ferries and hiking through any weather. The future could bring severe social and environmental impacts, but the Faroese are aware of the dangers and are debating solutions."
"The canvas is impeccable and awe inspiring."
"Land of extreme natural conditions—fire and cold, wind and ice, light and dark—occupied by a distinct people and their millenary culture. Strong environmental awareness and pristine habitats. However, recent decisions to set up massive aluminum smelters have polarized the country."
"High degree of environmental and social sustainability, although the ongoing development of new smelters and hydroelectric projects may affect environmental values as well as image and attractiveness as a destination."
"Intact ecologically and culturally, with many different forms of touring available, from climate-controlled bus tours to multiday wilderness treks. Icelanders protect their environment and society, ensuring that they gain from tourism without causing harm."
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Isle of Man (U.K.)
"Maintains its own parliament, the Tynwald, and its own dialect and legislation. It has a rich cultural heritage with many prehistoric, early medieval, and industrial-era monuments."
"Attractive with a mountainous spine and nice coastline. Manx traditions retained, but shot through with immigration from England. Heritage cherished from the castles to local government (Tynwald, etc). Douglas a pleasant capital if somewhat parochial. Tourism has passed its peak; formerly a traditional resort for the English before Spanish package holidays. Traditional seaside hotels sustainable but underused."
"Character is reasonably preserved. The main event, the TT Motor Bike races, conflicts with environment, but it is the island's peak tourist time."
Isle of Skye, Scotland
"Combines dramatic mountain and coastal scenery with a vibrant cultural and social scene, and the resurgence of the Gaelic language is a beacon of hope for threatened languages and cultures. Environmental qualities are superb. Traditional arts, design, sport (shinty), and music remain strong."
"Recent improvements in protecting and interpreting heritage in the form of museums, footpaths, and an imaginative range of themed heritage events. Tourism policy moving towards sustainable solutions."
"A food and drink festival has become an annual event."
"The spectacular geology produces a remarkable wild landscape. Strong sense of cultural identity and associations with Bonnie Prince Charlie. The highland clearances are represented today by abandoned crofts, and the island is still a place of important cultural resonance for Scots. Concern was expressed about the impact of the bridge connecting to the mainland, but impacts appear to be mainly beneficial."
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Jersey and Guernsey, Channel Islands (U.K.)
"Highly scenic, with good quality of life. Well resourced, well maintained with excellent museums. Environmental quality and local character are protected. Social demographic and property prices adversely affected by a tax provision encouraging affluent individuals to settle on the islands."
"Jersey is well managed for sustainable tourism. Positives include the network of green lanes and cycle routes. Some inappropriately located coastal hotels are being removed. Outlook is positive."
"A preserve for the affluent, and, as such, will likely never be overdeveloped. Tourism infrastructure is highly developed but pricey."
"While much is well preserved, wealth is corroding some of the landscape through inappropriate status housing and golf courses."
"One of my all-time favorite destinations. The weather is often rotten, but the beauty of the sea, rocks, and houses is awe-inspiring."
"As is true with most of Norway, the local authorities have been careful in making sure that tourism coexists with the traditional culture."
"Deep, placid fjords, jagged, rocky peaks—a historic and geologic masterpiece. Many of the tiny fishing villages rent out cozy rorbu, the historic cabins where workers were housed in-season, and there are several excellent museums and art galleries."
"Tourism development professional, appropriate, and benefiting a local population that is therefore very supportive. Information well-organized and sustainability guaranteed. In all a top destination."
"Good environmental quality. The use of fisherman cabins as accommodation particularly appropriate as opposed to large hotels."
"Still wonderful, but cruising tourism is a threat."
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Madeira Islands, Portugal
"Despite a reputation for high-quality tourism, beautiful and diverse gardens, and walking in beautiful scenery, Madeira has suffered from mass-market hotel development spreading out from Funchal."
"Most of this Atlantic treasure seems relatively undisturbed by the tourism influx that has eaten up the coastline surrounding the capital city of Funchal."
"My favorite, full of flowers and pure nature. Wandering along the old water canals is fascinating. The nature is marvelous and very special. Religious events and churches invite visitors. Local market area is attractive, and fado music charms me. The negative features are high hotels that do not fit into the landscape and are too dominant in a townscape."
Shetland Islands, Scotland
"These islands have got everything 'with bells on': spectacular sea cliffs; pristine beaches; fascinating geology; over a million breeding seabirds; the highest density of otters in Europe; regular sightings of killer whales; and superb displays of rare sub-Arctic flora."
"A unique blend of Scotland and Nordic culture. Somewhat remote, the Shetlands have protected the environment and continue to attract tourists and maintain other sectors (fishing and oil) in harmony."
"Location, climate, and access keep tourism numbers down. Extremely high integrity in all aspects of heritage and ecology, despite oil developments. Great planning controls and attitude."
"There is great pride amongst locals in the islands and in the welcome they extend. Shetland Wildlife Trust, a major conservation group, organizes wildlife holidays."
"Historic structures (e.g., Texel Lighthouse) and the ever-present sheep make for a pastoral experience. Tourists bicycle everywhere. Very appropriate for the character of the area."
"Texel is a classic example of 'sustainable mass tourism.' The Dutch got it right. Very nice (and quite pricey) accommodations, and great management of the extensive dune systems, where most visitors tend to stay on the beautiful tracks and boardwalks."
"A nice balance between tourism and social/cultural integrity. There are limited mass developments and therefore you really feel part of life on Texel."
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