7 Best Islands to Visit in Greece
Thinking of going on a holiday to Greece? Find out which islands best suit your travel plans.
Despite laying a claim to some of the best beaches in the Aegean (more than 70 in fact), the mineral-rich, volcanic Milos is often overlooked in favor of its more glamorous neighbors, leaving its sparkling aquamarine bays to be enjoyed in peace and quiet by the few who go there. The island plays a fascinating part in the history of art; in 1820 an amateur archaeologist named Olivier Voutier went ashore and unearthed a female figure carved in marble, which would become known as the Venus de Milo.
Today, visitors can visit hot springs once written about by Hippocrates still bubbling up around the place, the second-oldest catacombs after Rome, the remains of an amphitheater and the capital Plaka, whose castle sits dramatically high on the summit. But ultimately, the lure of a blissful beach day is hard to resist, with a break for grilled smoked mackerel, saganaki (fried cheese), and roasted aubergine at a waterside tavern overlooking the colorful fisherman’s boats.
Where to stay: Melian Boutique Hotel & Spa (www.melian.gr).
Greece’s mainland remains surprisingly unexplored, including the Peloponnese, a mountainous peninsula in the south that is separated from the central part of the country by the Isthmus and Gulf of Corinth. Mythological charms aside—it is from here that Paris of Troy eloped with Helen and Hercules fought the Nemean Lion—the area is hard to beat for superb scenery and deserted beaches, not forgetting an incredible array of ancient temples, palaces, and fortresses. Hikers will love the landscape of vast sands, rugged peaks, and wide gorges which historically kept invaders at bay; but for a less arduous adventure, try following the Nemean wine route which starts in the pretty seaside town of Nafplio, and continues past the wineries dotted in the rolling hills of Corinth. After all that activity, check into the serene Amanzoe hotel with its herb-scented gardens and magnificent spa.
Where to stay: Amanzoe (www.aman.com).
Sifnos is one of the lesser-known destinations in the Cyclades but it is certainly worthy of your attention, especially if you are a foodie. In fact, many of Greece’s notable chefs hail from the island, including the late Nikolaos Tselementes who most probably created the moussaka and pastitsio we know and love today, by adding an inch of cream sauce and cheese to the original combination of ground meat and vegetables or pasta. Daily life is simple: Wake to a glorious orange sunrise before making your way down to the sea for a swim off the rock then feast on thimarisio, a fragrant lamb stew, before walking it off along some of the most heavenly trails in Greece. The buzzy town of Apollonia is fun for delicious mezze and, of course, ouzo, while the streets in beautiful Artemonas are lined with grand old villas, lush gardens, and pastry shops.
Where to stay: Verina Astra (www.verinahotelsifnos.com).
Patmos’ spiritual vibe and comparative inaccessibility draws hippie-chic travelers who are lucky enough to be in the know about this unspoilt paradise. Most arrive on chartered yachts moored up near the labyrinthe, white-washed hilltop village of Chora, which encircles the Monastery of St John, where the Christian prophet is said to have written the Book of Revelation 2,000 years ago. You’ll also need a boat to reach the Pantelis restaurant on nearby Marathi Island, which is the Harry’s Bar of the Dodecanese and serves utterly delicious seafood, or brave a demanding 40-minute hike to reach the sands of Psili Ammos and spend the afternoon lying lazily under the sun. Just don’t forget your beach towel. Benetos is another lovely spot for a dinner created with produce from its own vegetable farm.
Where to stay: Petra Hotel & Suites (www.petrahotel-patmos.com).
It may seem perverse to include this glitzy party island, but those in the know—including Linda Evangelista and Sharon Stone—enjoy its azure-blue waters from a base in the relatively undiscovered Ornos Bay. Away from the gleaming white buildings and jostling crowds of Mykonos Town, the recently reopened Santa Marina hotel encourages a far more tranquil sojourn on the ‘island of the winds’, which was brought to the fore in the 1960s by Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Grace Kelly. While others are reveling in the north, you can opt for a cooling dip in the aptly named Oasis Pool or a lunch of the freshest seafood on the colorful terrace above the hotel's sweeping private beach. From here, it’s also easy to travel the picturesque back-country roads to secluded Agios Ioannis beach, which is a good spot for windsurfing and other aquatic adventures.
Where to stay: Santa Marina Resort & Villas, a Luxury Collection Resort (www.santa-marina.gr).
Follow the Athenians to this hidden gem that is home to one of the most picturesque towns in Greece, Hora, whose buildings cling to the side of a mountain like giant sugar cubes. Famous for attracting artistic types, Serifos is a charming, sleepy throwback to the past, and the perfect backdrop for sipping potent Greek coffee and making friends with the locals. The atmospheric town square, paved in marble and dotted with blue tables and chairs, is the place to sample local orange cake and watermelon juice while the stray cats give you the eye. In the early evening, settle into one of the quaint tavernas by the sea for an authentic dinner of char-grilled octopus with rosemary or tomato pappardelle, calamari and fish-roe salad while gazing out across the captivating rocky landscape that was undoubtedly the backdrop for many ancient myths.
Where to stay: Coco-Mat Eco Residences (www.serifos.coco-mat-hotels.com).
Surrounded by an almost unbelievably turquoise sea, Lefkada remains one of the Ionian’s most unspoilt islands, despite being connected to the mainland by a causeway. Cinematic Milos beach is something of a mecca for kitesurfers, while you’ll never run out of swimming options at Kalamitsi, Pefkoulia and Porto Katsiki bays. There are also ample opportunities for hikers on the isle—the lush, green mountain trails behind Lefkas town are lined with birch and pear trees, cypress, and bushes of wild sage. The neighboring island Scorpios is the Onassis family’s private home, and after a few days here you may well be plotting to buy your own place in the sun. Make pretend at the newly available Villa Spiros, which is perfect for both families and friendship groups.
Where to stay: Villa Spiros (www.sjvillas.co.uk); sleeps 10.
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.co.uk
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors