Greek Island Hopping
Written by Isabella Zampetaki
With nearly 100 islands to choose from, la dolce vita in the Greek Aegean comes in all different shades of white and blue.
The Aegean archipelago is diverse enough to quench everyone’s thirst for summer fun with destinations that are hip, laid-back, cosmopolitan, or contemplative.
Athens: the gateway to the islands
Before catching a ferry or renting a yacht to conquer the islands, it is well worth spending a night or two in Athens. Despite the financial crisis, the cradle of civilisation is rocking again with several new sophisticated cafés and restaurants that attest to the city’s unbroken entrepreneurial spirit. Spend a day at the Acropolis and its state-of-the-art museum, then fill the night taking in an arts performance at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus or a free screening at the Athens Open Air Film Festival.
It is well worth travelling to Santorini by sailing boat or ferry to experience a dramatic first impression of the island. This beautiful portrait is formed not just by the vertical crater rim interrupting the Aegean’s big blue expanse, but also by the whitewashed houses nestled on top of it, 100m above sea level. Make your way to Oia or Fira, the two main villages built on the caldera, for romantic views of the famous Santorini sunset.Santorini’s essence lies in the volcanic nature of its black soil. This unique geology dots the island with sandy beaches of unusual colours and rock formations while also fostering indigenous food varieties such as the Assyrtiko grape, fava beans, the local cherry tomato, and white aubergine. Love for Santorini is defined through eating – and a cooking class is a great opportunity to try a few dishes!
Mykonos is Greece’s indisputable summer capital in terms of luxury and lifestyle. It is the place where jetsetters and international celebrities unite. This easily accessible island boasts some of the country’s hippest restaurants and hotels, some of the Aegean’s best beaches, and music venues where big-name DJs keep the crowds dancing until it is time for an early morning swim. What makes Mykonos even more intriguing is that, despite its cosmopolitan character, locals remain loyal to centuries-old traditions.
Folegandros is a toned-down version of Santorini. You still get the white-village-at-the-edge-of-a-cliff sensation, but the island’s remote position on the map keeps out mass tourism and encourages an alternative, sophisticated crowd. Folegandros is one of those unspoiled Greek islands where minimalism reigns in all possible forms: there is just one village and one beach that are accessible via paved roads – and not much else to distract you from the rituals of summer relaxation. You will, however, find three lively squares in the heart of the village, where locals and visitors alike convene for Greek coffee and lunch in the shade of the trees.
The natural beauty of this lesser-known island of the southern Aegean is comparable to that of the ancient Greek statue that bears its name. The renowned Venus de Milo was discovered here in the early 19th century and is now on display at the Louvre in Paris. Milos’s sea-sculpted volcanic terrain twists and twirls to form some of the most stunning coves and natural scenery in the Mediterranean.
Among the island’s 60 beaches, Sarakiniko stands out for its sculpted rocks of sugary texture and turquoise fjord-like coves. The craters and small caves in the bone-white rocks create a lunar feel. Equally dramatic is Papafragkas beach, a corridor of sea and a small fringe of sand enclosed by sheer white stone cliffs.
When you tread this old city’s silent cobblestone alleys, surrounded by imposing palaces, you might find it hard to believe that you are in Greece. The fairytale walled city constitutes an architectural legacy and cultural heritage which also includes mosques, schools, and baths from the era of Suleiman the Magnificent, as well as ancient Greek antiquities. Italian flourishes are also present in this unique blend of cultures, stemming from the early 20th-century Italian occupation of Rhodes and the surrounding Dodecanese islands. The role of Rhodes as a crossroads from East to West was recently presented in an exhibition at the Louvre and will be travelling back to the island this summer.
Neoclassical two-storey mansions painted in bright colours dot the hidden harbour of this tiny island, which lies only two miles from the Turkish coast and the city of Kas. Its picture-perfect seafront became internationally known after the Academy Award-winning Mediterraneo movie was filmed on the island. Needless to say, this is a place of utmost relaxation.
Distance: 2,973 km
Flight Time: 5 hours, 5 minutes
Frequency: 3 flights a day
Equally tempting sets of islands
The Indonesian Archipelago
Sure, you know about Bali, but have you heard of Lombok and the Gili Islands’ pristine beaches? With about 17,000 islands in total, there is much more to this archipelago than the classic vacation spots your friends have already visited. Top attractions include the untouched wilderness of Borneo, Sumatra’s unique surf spots, and Java’s magnificent Mt Bromo, one of the great hiking and trekking destinations.
These 18 mountainous islands lie halfway between Iceland and Norway. Unspoiled nature and magical Nordic landscapes make them a naturalist’s and bird-watcher’s paradise. A series of village festivals, including a Viking-inspired wooden rowing-boat regatta, introduce visitors to local lifestyle and traditions, while the G! music festival spreads modern vibes at the beach of Gøta every summer.
Off the northeast coast of Queensland, Australia, these 74 islands present an exotic peacefulness born of the quieting shelter of the Great Barrier Reef. Whitehaven is the flagship white-sand beach in this archipelago of pristine, indigo-turquoise waters that beg to be cruised and snorkelled.