Alice Dunn

The joy of car-free islands

The joy of car-free islands
Tresco, Isles of Scilly
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No traffic, no pollution, no sound of engines revving at midnight; car-free destinations may be few and far between these days but there's no better way to escape the clamour of modern life.

Perhaps the most delightful car-free retreats are the ones situated most closely to cities: the contrast only adds to their allure. Sail away from Athens for a couple of hours and you will reach Hydra, a car-less island popular with artists and writers keen to fuel their creativity under an azure sky. Henry Miller visited Greece at the invitation of Lawrence Durrell in 1939 and wrote ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’, an ‘impressionist travelogue’ partly based on his experiences of Hydra, inspired by Greek writer George Katsimbalis. Miller said: ‘The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, expanded my whole being.’

Hydra, Greece

Leonard Cohen bought a house on Hydra in the 1960s and a road was named after him. Inhabited by approximately 2000 people, the island has a village-feel with a famous pharmacy in the centre of the shopping district, in position since 1890. There is also a family-owned sweet shop which serves a marzipan-like treat made using the same recipe since 1930. In the centre of the harbour, The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, built in 1643, is one of six island monasteries. Donkeys are the only mode of transport. They are used to move luggage across Hydra, while horses offer rides up the mountains. There are no beaches on Hydra itself but there are stone sunbathing platforms, and a beach is a five-minute boat ride away.

If a beach is non-negotiable, then Lopud Island might be a better option. Sunj Beach on Lopud is gloriously sandy and can be reached after half an hour on a ferry from Dubrovnik. To burn off excess adrenaline, a steep forty-minute hike leads to Sutvrac Fortress. Lopud is a popular place to buy a holiday home. Locals lovingly restored the island after the damage caused in the Second World War.

Elafiti islands ( Kolocep, Sipan and Lopud ), Croatia

A trip to Hong Kong is likely to make visitors crave the quiet of Lopud. So it may come as a surprise that tranquillity is a mere half hour away by ferry at a cost of just over £2. Lamma Island is the third largest island of Hong Kong and has lots to offer. Yung Shue Wan is Lamma Island’s main town, full of seafood restaurants, coffee bars and boutique shops. Birdsong from the luscious papaya and mango trees can be heard across the footpaths. It is utterly blissful and a world away from bustling Hong Kong. In fact, the only reminder of Lamma’s proximity to Hong Kong is during the three-mile-long Lamma Island Hike, where you get a brief glimpse of a power station. The charming fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan offers the widest range of seafood cuisine.

Lamma island, Hong Kong

A car-free fishing village closer to home can be found at Clovelly in Devon. Charles Dickens was so taken with the place that he immortalised it in his short story ‘A Message from the Sea.’ From his description, not much has changed: ‘The village was built sheer up the face of a steep and lofty cliff. There was no road in it, there was no wheeled vehicle in it, there was not a level yard in it. From the sea-beach to the cliff-top two irregular rows of white houses, placed opposite to one another, and twisting here and there, and there and here, rose, like the sides of a long succession of stages of crooked ladders, and you climbed up the village or climbed down the village by the staves between, some six feet wide or so, and made of sharp irregular stones.’

Car-free Clovelly, Devon

Clovelly is untouched by modern life and still dominated by beautiful cobbled streets and cottages on a steep climb at a 30 per cent gradient. The seaside community is privately owned and the general public must pay to visit. Potential home buyers in Clovelly even have to be interviewed before being accepted as residents. With no cars in the village, logistics like the weekly food shop are a challenge for the inhabitants of the 80 cottages in the north Devon cliffs, who must resort to dragging sledges laden with supplies up and down the hill. Mercifully, visitors are spared those concerns, and instead only have to worry about getting the shutter speed right on their cameras as they capture the view of the sea peering beyond the hill.

Other favourite destinations without cars include Sark in the Channel Islands: three miles long and one and a half miles wide, tractors are the only available mode of wheel-transportation here (although you need permission to drive one); Islas Cíes off Spain boasts the spectacular Rodas Beach; Tresco in the Isles of Scilly is famed for its sub-tropical flowers and cycling trails – and is a favourite haunt of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; and for the best pedestrianised places, try Ghent in Belgium, Rottnest Island Australia, or Fire Island off New York.