“First time in Croatia?” a bronzed, middle-aged man asked in an unidentifiable European accent.
He was standing on the bow of his yacht, his hair slicked back, bare chest glistening with suntan oil. His crew was in a frenzy behind him, tying up to the dock of the seaside café where I was seated with my parents. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, and it was, in fact, my first time in Croatia.
“Next time will be your honeymoon,” he told me, flicking his cigar. The ash floated down to the clear blue water as he turned away with a self-righteous grin.
A decade later, his prediction could still hold true—the Mediterranean remains a global hot spot, though savvy soon-to-be newlyweds will know to skip Dubrovnik for lesser-known destinations like the far-flung island of Vis.
Unfamiliar with Vis? You’re not alone. While much of the region has become overrun with tourists, there are still places along the Mediterranean that have yet to take over your Instagram feed. We’re all familiar with Amalfi and Sardinia, but what about Gozo and Sidi Bou Said? From the Barbary Coast to the Maltese Islands, here are the undiscovered jewels in the Mediterranean that should be on your radar.
The mythical Helen of Troy may be known as the Queen of Sparta, but the “face that launched a thousand ships” resides in Malta, the island-state where the 2004 film Troy was filmed. One visit to this picturesque setting will leave no doubt as to why those fleets were eager to arrive on its shores. Luckily, Malta has remained relatively unknown despite its Hollywood credentials. When I identified myself as American to a man working at one of the many Turkish food trucks, he nearly dropped my doner kebab. “How did you find my island?” The food was another delightful surprise: a blend of Greek, Italian and Turkish. Of the three Maltese Islands, Gozo is the perfect blend of pristine lagoons and quaint resorts, but I recommend island-hopping by day: Dive in Billinghurst Cave and swim below the Azure Window in the Inland Sea.
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
This cliffside city on Tunisia’s Barbary Coast proves that blue and white architecture is not exclusive to the Aegean Islands. Nicknamed Ville Bleue, the town’s colors match the icy blues of the sea and sky, making it a worthwhile playground for professional and amaeteur photographers alike. Located just north of Tunis, the culture of Sidi Bou Said reflects its Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean influences—a combination distinct to the Maghreb. That said, Sidi Bou Said is the ideal destination for the culturally inclined traveler.
For those who thought the Italian Mediterranean was just a popular honeymoon destination, the unspoiled Sicilian island of Pantelleria is a welcome surprise. Book your flight soon, however: The fashion crowd has already put down roots in this Mediterranean village. Giorgio Armani owns an appropriately fabulous villa, and a nearby vineyard is the rumored destination for the July wedding of Italian aristocrat Charlotte Casiraghi. Which means this well-kept Sicilian secret may not remain so undiscovered for long.
Mali Lošinj, Croatia
Our final selection brings us back to the country where it all began: Croatia. And Vis, specifically, the idyllic oasis off the coast of eastern Europe in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Though Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik undoubtedly have their charms, the landscape of Mali Lošinj feels decidedly more rugged—wilder even, untouched by time. And isn’t that what we all want when on vacation?
Katherine Parker Magyar is a writer who has traveled to 40 countries and all 50 states but calls New York City home. Follow along on her Instagram at @katherineparkermagyar.