Your Greek islands guide
There are 6,000 of them strewn across the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Here are 10 of the best
If you see a tourism poster featuring a Greek island, there’s a good chances it is one of the Cyclades, south east of mainland Greee. With sandy beaches, signature white buildings and sparkling blue seas, it’s a perennially popular summer playground for Greek and international visitors alike.*
Crete, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean, is a familiar package holiday destination – but don’t let that put you off. Now that Ryanair flies to Chania in the northwest of the island, you can avoid the teeming streets and beaches of tourist traps to the east such as Heraklion, Malia and Hersonissos, and enjoy a much more relaxed, picturesque side of the island.
Rich in mythology, the island is the legendary home of King Minos, the minotaur and the palace of Knossos, as well as Daedalus and Icarus (the son who flew too close to the sun). So there is more to engage the grey matter than where to position your beach towel.
At 260km in length, there’s plenty of it too. Base yourself amid the pretty Venetian houses of Rethymnon, or Chania itself, and make sorties to see such sights as the gorge of Samaria, the White Mountains, the fortress island former leper colony of Spinalonga and the mountain villages of the Lasithi plateau.
Antiquities: The Diktaean Cave near Psychro is known as the Bethlehem of ancient Greece; it’s the birthplace of Zeus.
Villas: Villa Athinais is a new villa sleeping eight in the quiet village of Gerani, 15km west of Chania. Situated on a hill, it has sea and mountain views, a pool and gardens. €3,185 a week in high season.
Greece’s most famous and fun island, Mykonos, is a piece of whitewashed heaven right at the centre of the Cyclades. It’s known for party glamour, so don’t worry if you arrive before noon to find no one around. Such is the legendary nightlife, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone up before lunch – other than fishermen mending nets on the water’s edge and bar owners busy cleaning up after last night’s shenanigans.
It isn’t all about partying though, there are sights to see too. The town’s Little Venice is a picturesque strip of 18th-century houses with colourful balconies hanging out over choppy seas. Look out for the traditional windmills and the town’s local oddity – its pelicans.
While there’s not much to the interior, other than bare rock, the maze-like streets of Mykonos town more than make up for it, particularly at night when it thumps like Ibiza. Bus or boat it to legendary Paradise and Super Paradise beaches – although, in high summer, you’ll be hard-pressed to find space to lie down. Known as the Island of the Winds, Mykonos is also great for sailing and surfing. But mainly for partying.
Antiquities: Let the party people sleep while you spend your days exploring the many archaeological sites, including Ftelia, on the northern coast, where excavations have unearthed settlements dating from 5,000BC. Don’t miss the short boat ride to nearby Delos, birthplace of Apollo. First inhabited in 3,000BC, the entire island is now an open museum.
Villas: Stay at the Villa Morpheus – named after the Greek god of dreams – a luxury south-facing property set above the bay of Agios Lazaros, with an infinity pool on the terrace and panoramic views. Located 4km from Mykonos town it sleeps eight and costs €14,000 per week in high season, including four hours of maid service each day. See mykonosvillas.com
Jacques Cousteau thought he would find the lost city of Atlantis at Santorini and you’d forgive him for deciding it was here rather than, say, the Isle of Man.
Where better to undertake research than a sun-drenched island soaring up out of deep blue seas with views so spectacular they turn even the town’s most modest “rent room” into a penthouse suite?
It’s no wonder the scenery is dramatic, the island was forged by volcanic activity dating to the 16th century BC and which left three-quarters of the island under water. It’s not great for small kids, due to the steep inclines, and it can also be somewhat uncomfortable watching donkeys struggling under the weight of fully grown adults making their regular trips uphill from the harbour to the main town, Fira.
Don’t miss the stunning village of Oia, to the north of Fira, whose terraced houses are hewn into the cliffs and which is regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in the world from which to enjoy the sunset.
Beaches are often volcanic black, which means they heat up often unbearably under bare feet. They also shelve very steeply. In Santorini, however, it’s all about finding a perch high up in the terrace of a bar or restaurant and enjoying spectacular views from such a height as to make the ferries arriving below look no bigger than goldfish in a pond.
Antiquities: The Minoan bronze age settlement at Akrotiri, near the island’s Red Beach, was deserted because of the eruption of a volcano, and was preserved by the same event. Like a mini Pompeii, it has multi-storey houses with frescoes, sewer systems, stone streets and squares and even items of furniture to see.
Villas: Check out this stunning minimalist villa, overlooking the caldera, with vaulted bedrooms, private veranda and spa, swimming pool with glass front and spectacular sea views. Located between Fira and Oia, it sleeps six people and costs €17,500 a week in high season. boutiquevillassantorini.gr
Lying in the sparkling seas half way between Mykonos and Santorini, and named for a flower – the violets that carpet the countryside here each spring – Ios is the island where the poet Homer is buried.
These days it attracts travellers of an age more likely to see Homer as a cartoon character than a poet. But don’t let the fun-loving hoards of youthes who descend on its main town put you off. The town itself, situated on the western side of the island, is a captivating mix of cubist architecture. Punctuated with windmills, churches and sky blue cupolas, it’s a picture-postcard scene not to be missed.
By day, follow the labyrinthine streets up to the town’s citadel to explore the castle and open-air theatre, the Odysseas Elytis, named after a Greek Nobel laureate. By night, wend your way back down via its heaving bars and late-night cafes.
It’s not all socialising. The mountainous island is loved by hikers and bikers too, who follow the shepherds’ paths that have latticed the interior since time immemorial and which reward the fit with stunning views.