Best for island escapes: Cyprus

From up there, you can see everything," said the speedboat's grizzled captain, pointing skywards with a grin and a wink. And with that, he snapped me into my parachute, leant on the boat's throttle – and lifted me gently from the deck and into the air, attached only by the slenderest of ropes to the back of his craft as it bounced through the waves beneath me.

It was my first experience of parasailing – and as I flew like a modern-day Icarus, in sunglasses and swimsuit, hundreds of feet up, with the cristalline waters of the eastern Mediterranean stretching to infinity beneath me, it really did seem as if the whole of Cyprus was laid out for my inspection below.

There were the famous beaches, smart hotels and fish restaurants of Ayia Napa, which have drawn visitors to this coast for decades; there was the magnificent rocky headland of Cape Greco, home to tiny coves and some of Europe's best snorkelling; beyond that loomed the peaks of the Troodos Mountains, the island's most surprising landscape, with its hill villages, cool forests and trout streams; and finally, over there – a few kilometres into the hazy distance – was the abandoned city of Famagusta, once Cyprus's most popular resort, but under foreign occupation since the Turkish invasion of 1974, a poignant reminder of its troubled past and still-divided present.

We had come to sample a little of Cypriot life and the distinctive culture of this ancient land that has been coveted by so many – including the British – down the centuries. But first a few days of unashamed relaxation seemed in order – this was a holiday, after all! – so we booked ourselves into the modern-day Republic's most celebrated hotel, the InterContinental Aphrodite Hills Resort – one of Conde Nast Traveller's "hottest places to stay in the world" no less – with its spectacular swimming pools, private beach club, tennis academy, golf course and 578 acres of protected parkland on a hillside overlooking the island's south-west coast. It proved the perfect first base – though the wonderfully attentive staff, the friendly atmosphere, the manicured grounds and the molten sunsets from the open terrace of the rooftop bar meant we could happily never have left.

Suitably refreshed, however, we finally ventured west to view the ancient ruins and mosaics of Pafos, south to watch the ships pass by the bustling port town of Limassol, north to the fascinating walled city of Nicosia, the world's last partitioned capital. We drove up into the hills to nibble on stickily preserved fruits in the enchanting village of Kakopetria, where shady squares brought welcome respite from the summer heat.

And finally, we journeyed east to Cyprus's party capital, where we rented Sommer Villa, a simple but comfortable modern house with the bonus of a small private pool in the laidback resort of Protoras, a few kilometres along the coast from Ayia Napa. It proved an ideal bolthole from which to explore the island's best beaches, with their turquoise shallows and demerara sands (our tips: the glorious sweep in front of the Grecian Bay Hotel and the unspoiled crescent down the winding path to Konnos Bay) – and a memorable place, too, for one's first parasailing adventure.

Perhaps, I thought – as my parachute billowed above me, and I gazed from on high at Cyprus's unique, complex beauty – the speedboat captain is right. From up here, you really can see everything.

Sovereign (0871 664 0227; sovereign.com) offers seven nights half-board for a family of four staying at the InterContinental Aphrodite Hills Resort Hotel from £1,999, including flights, based on 28 June departure. See aphroditehills.com. Sommer Villa is available via HomeAway Holiday Rentals from £350-£700 a week. See holiday-rentals.co.uk (property ID: 418884)

Island dreams

# There's no shortage of beaches in the Cayman Islands, but the string of near-deserted stretches on the Southwest Coast of Cayman Brac recall a pre-tourist-trampled Caribbean while Grand Cayman has smart hotels that earn it "the Miami of the Caribbean" tag. caymanislands.co.uk

# The island of Sövalye off the Lycian Coast is a Turkish delight. Entirely pedestrian, thick with pine forest and home to just one hotel: The Ece, a boutique property entirely surrounded by the sea. Seven nights' B&B costs £550 pp including flights and transfers with Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500; exclusiveescapes.co.uk).

# They have the highest sea cliffs in Europe, a Gulf Stream-warmed climate and a near virgin landscape, but the Faroe Islands are little-visited. This year's increase in direct flights from the UK may change that. Four-nights' B&B, guesthouse accommodation, £645pp with Sunvil Discovery (sunvil.co.uk), including flights and car hire.

# St Kitts is having a make-over. Christophe Harbour (christopheharbour.com) is a 2,500-acre development along 13 miles of coastline, the largest of six massive developments on the island due for completion next year. This luxury resort has a mega-yacht marina (slips for 300ft vessels), five-star hotels and a golf course.

# Explore the most remote shorelines of the Galapagos Islands in style. Find sea lions, boobies and albatrosses with a National Parks guide and sleep aboard the 20-berth M/Y Grace, the yacht gifted to Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier by Aristotle Onassis. 10 days from £3,265 per person. Cazenove + Loyd (020-7384 2332; cazloyd.com).

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