Do you dream of a Mediterranean island paradise surrounded by enticing warm seas, with cloudless azure skies, and the gentle caress of sun on your bare shoulders? Me too! Here are six Greek idylls that’ll have you rooting for your passport.
The largest of the Greek Islands, Crete is awash with stunning historical landmarks, towering mountains and gorgeous sun kissed beaches. Explore the winding cobblestone streets of the beautiful Venetian harbour at Chania, and hike Samaria Gorge in the island’s rugged interior. Visit the amazing ruins of Knossos Palace near Heraklion, a 4,000 year old Minoan settlement thought to be Europe’s first city. On the north of the island you’ll find miles of fabulous sandy beaches and lively resorts such as Agios Nikolaos. Or if you’re seeking a more low-key destination, head to Agia Galini or the blue flag sands of Plakias on Crete’s quieter south coast.
The delightful Dodecanese island of Symi sits serenely in the Aegean, a tranquil contrast to its big and bustling neighbour, Rhodes. Accessible only by boat, you’ll arrive at Gialos, the island’s lovely harbour lined with colourful houses that cling to the hillside. Climb the 500 steps (or take the bus) up into the scenic old town for spectacular views. Visit the 15th century Greek orthodox monastery at Panormitis, on Symi’s southern tip. Relax on unspoilt pebble beaches lapped by clear turquoise waters, such as lovely St Nicholas Bay near Pedi, or Marathounda, where you might encounter a wild goat or two! If you’re visiting between July and September, enjoy Symi’s performing arts festival, a flamboyant celebration of dance, music, art and film.
Treasured for epic golden sunsets, dazzling whitewashed villages and spectacular views from its elevated west coast, Santorini is an Instagram darling. This idyllic, crescent shaped island in the southern Cyclades is formed from the crust of a submerged volcanic crater, its soaring cliffs looming out of the Aegean. Visit the fascinating archaeological ruins of ancient Akrotiri, and relax on the vivid sands of celebrated Red Beach. Santorini’s fertile volcanic soils have fostered vineyards for thousands of years; sample the island’s acclaimed zesty Assyrtiko and sweet Vinsanto wines.
An hour’s ferry ride from neighbouring Skiathos brings you to the picturesque, verdant island of Skopelos. Skopelos Town is a charming huddle of whitewashed buildings topped with terracotta tiled roofs. Above the port lies the sleepy, atmospheric old town, or Kastro, where you’ll find Byzantine churches, and the remains of a Venetian castle. Explore the island’s network of hiking trails through a pristine interior of craggy bluffs, pine forests and olive groves. Skopelos’ abundant beaches span tranquil pebbled coves, and golden sandy bays edged by trees. Check out popular Stafilos on the island’s southern shores, or tranquil, secluded Limnonaria. Watch the sunset as you swim at gorgeous Panormos. As night falls, head back to the old town. Dine at a bougainvillaea clad tavern then catch a live jazz or traditional Greek folk music (rembetika) performance at one of the abundant bars.
The expansive northern Ionian island of Corfu has for centuries attracted visitors, entranced by its unfettered, diverse natural beauty. The island boasts miles of glorious sandy coastline framed by cypress covered hillsides, and a dramatic mountainous interior. Explore the attractive alleyways of the island’s capital, Corfu Town, a historical warren of bars, restaurants, shops, squares and museums. You’ll discover some beautiful examples of British, Venetian, Sicilian and French architecture, a nod to the island’s past. Don’t miss the elegant Liston arcade, built during Corfu’s French occupation. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches: destinations range from low key and traditional (Agios Georgios, Palaiokastritsa, San Stefano) to high octane resorts teeming with bars and clubs, such as Sidari and Kavos.
The largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos’ southwest coast is a beach lover’s delight, boasting an almost continuous stretch of golden sand lapped by the Aegean. The resorts of Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna and Plaka offer bars, shops, accommodation and eateries fronted by soft sands and shallow waters perfect for swimming. Inland, the hilltop reconstruction of the Temple of Demeter at Gyroula is a must-see for history fans. Explore the scenic old quarter of Naxos town (chora), whose steep alleys and squares are replete with churches, museums and shops. At sunset head across the causeway and climb to the impressive Portal of the Temple of Apollo, which dates back to 525 BC. It’s the ideal spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon before you head back into the old town for dinner.
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