It’s no secret that the idea of traveling to a tropical island is the dream vacation for millions of people. For those in Western Europe, many people travel to far-flung destinations to achieve this dream and some even crowdfund to buy their own tropical islands. The South Pacific, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean are the most common destinations. However, few people are aware that Eastern Europe is home to its own array of (almost) tropical islands. It’s time to travel to them with our guide to the top five islands in the Black Sea!
From living in both the Black Sea port of Odessa and the Bulgarian coastal city of Varna to traveling to the war-torn, breakaway state of Abkhazia on the shores of the Black Sea, I’ve spent a fair bit of time around this historical and stunning body of water. The amount at which it’s overlooked by mainstream backpackers and some of the best travel blogs is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the sense that it often means having an array of almost tropical islands nearly empty explore, a curse in the sense that it doesn’t see the tourist revenue it deserves being distributed to locals.
5. Berezan Island in Ukraine
Situated at the mouth of the Dnieper-Bug Estuary, Berezan is one of the almost tropical islands of the Black Sea and is a mile and a half off the coast of the Mykolaiv region (oblast) in Ukraine. 900 meters long and 320 meters in depth, the island was likely connected to the mainland thousands of years ago. Today it’s separated by largely shallow water.
Like many of the almost tropical islands of the Black Sea, the island of Berezan was first recorded as being inhabited by the Ancient Greeks between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C. when it was home to a Greek colony that prospered on the wheat trade with the Scythian hinterland. During the days of Kievan Rus, the island became a strategic military outpost due to its position on the trade route between the Varangians and the Greeks.
In the 16th and 17th centuries during the Russian Empire, the island became a Cossack stronghold as they waged wars against the Ottoman Empire. The island fell under the reign of the Tsar following the fall of nearby Ochakov. In later years, one of the leaders of the Sevastopol Uprising during the Russian Revolution of 1905, Pyotr Schmidt, was executed on the island.
These days, there are regular excursions offered by the nearby town of Ochakiv in Ukraine. The island is visited by tourists seeking to explore its wealth of history as well as its extensive fauna and flora. For linguists, the island is an important site due to being the discovery site of Southern Ukraine’s only Runic inscription: the Berezan Runestone.
4. It’s Time to Travel to the Bulgarian DMZ at Saint Cyricus Island
One of Bulgaria’s many Black Sea Islands, Saint Cyricus Island straddles the coast of the Stoles peninsula in Sozopol and is connected to the mainland by a road and a breakwater. Despite only rising 49 feet out of the water and with an area of around 0.03 square miles, the island boasts decent infrastructure.
The name of Saint Cyricus Island comes from a medieval monastery that was set up on the island. The ruins of which can still be explored on the island today. In the 1930s, the Bulgarian Navy set up an academy on the island and took over a former sailing school that was set up for local orphans. The island then became a military area and was restricted to the public.
In the 2000s, Saint Cyricus Island became a Bulgarian DMZ when it was demilitarized and opened to the public. Today it’s a monument of Bulgarian culture and the state takes great steps to preserve its heritage and culture such as requiring any new buildings to be constructed in the same historical style of Sozopol. It can be reached easily from Sozopol and is a popular tourist attraction in the summer months.
3. Dzharylhach in Ukraine
Dzharylhach is situated on the Ukrainian Black Sea Coast and was known as the “Course of Achilles” by the Ancient Greeks who had a sizeable presence along what is today Ukraine’s coastlines along the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Dzharylhach is located in the Kherson region (Oblast) near the Crimean peninsula which is now under Russian control since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Although the Western part of Dzharylhach is a spit, the overall area of 56 square kilometres and an impressive length of 42 km makes Dzharylhach the largest (almost) tropical island in the Black Sea. Home to mineral springs, tranquil beaches, and over 400 small lakes, it’s a phenomenal habit for unique flora and fauna. Deer, boar, cormorant as well as various sealife called the island home.
Dzharylhach is also home to a small number of compact resorts enjoyed largely by local Ukrainians in the summer looking to soak up the sun and make some friends for a season. In the summer, this Black Sea island can be reached by regular ferry services from the Ukrainian city of Skadovsk.
2. It’s Time to Travel to the Ukrainian Snake Island!
Not to be confused with the Snack Island in Brazil or the Snake Island movie, this is the Snake Island off the coast of Ukraine, and throughout history, it has been no less deadly or terrifying than the first two. Situated at the mouth of the Danube as it flows into the Black Sea, Snake Island has seen a significant amount of combat fought over it due to its strategic position. It’s time to travel to the Black Sea’s most war-torn island!
For centuries, this almost tropical island off the coast of Ukraine was controlled by the Ancient Greeks who viewed it as a sacred shrine to the hero Achilles and as such took its original name after him. In more modern times, the Greeks during the Ottoman Empire renamed it Snake Island (or Fidonisi in Greek). This was where the naval Battle of Fidonisi, fought between the Ottoman and Russian fleets in the First Russo-Turkish War, got its name. After a brief spell under Russian control, the island fell under Romanian control from 1887.
In WW1, due to the alliance Romania had with Russia, Snake Island was attacked by Turkish warships targeting a Russian military radio station there. In WW2, when Romania sided with axis forces, the island saw extensive naval warfare throughout the war until it was captured by the Soviets in 1944. Today the island is a part of Ukraine and in 2004 it was part of a border dispute between Romania and Ukraine that was thankfully deescalated without violence.
These days, it’s thought that around 100 people inhabit Snake Island. Most of these are Ukrainian border personnel, their families, and students studying the flora, fauna, and geology on the island. The island is fairly well developed and home to a bank, post office, a satellite TV provider, a phone network, and a good Internet connection. The closest mainland city is Vylkove which is situated around 5 hours away at the mouth of the Danube.
The most popular attraction on Snake Island is its lighthouse which was built by the Russian Black Sea fleet in the 19th century. Various excursions are organized from the Ukrainian mainland. When it’s time to travel to this fascinating Black Sea Island, it’s worth booking an overnight stay in advance at one of the special purpose guest houses on the island due to the 5 hour journey each way.
1. Anastasia Island (Formerly Bolshevik Island) in Bulgaria
Coming in at first place on our list of tropical islands in the Black Sea that it’s time to travel to is Saint Anastasia Island off the coast of Burgas, Bulgaria. Situated 12 metres above sea level, this is the only island off the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast to have people living on it. Until recently, it had the rather unsavoury name of Bolshevik Island.
The island has been inhabited since the Middle Ages when a convent was set up there named after Saint Anastasia. However, the religious role of the island was put on hold in 1923 during the era of the Kingdom of Bulgaria. The convent fell into disrepair and the island became a prison for political prisoners largely consisting of Communist revolutionaries.
In 1925, a Communist named Teohar Bakardzhiev hatched a plan for him and 42 other political prisoners to escape Saint Anastasia Island. The plan was successful and the Communist revolutionaries managed to flee the Kingdom of Bulgaria and make it to the Soviet Union. Following the Communist takeover of Bulgaria after WW2, the new Communist government renamed Saint Anastasia to Bolshevik Island in memory of the daring escape.
A visit to what is arguably the best of the Black Sea answer to tropical islands is not difficult at all. During the summer season, regular passenger ferries depart from the Bulgarian city of Burgas and are very affordable. The modern island is very photogenic and home to a lighthouse, museum, guesthouses, and a very good restaurant.
To round off our list of 5 (almost) tropical islands along the Black Sea Coast. Whilst they may not match up to the tropical islands on offer in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, they are a fantastic alternative in the heart of Eastern Europe. With friendly locals, phenomenal food, unbeatable history, and enough culture to make you force yourself to remember you’re still in Europe, these islands and the Black Sea countries around them should not be overlooked. It’s time to travel to the islands of the Black Sea!