With more than 2,000 islands, islets and rocky outcrops to choose from, picking the right Greek island to go to is a tricky task. These are my favourites...
With my formative years being spent in Greece, most of my early travels were around the Greek islands, and I still go back year after year. After all, with more than 2,000 to choose from, there’s much to still discover. Here though, are my favourites of the ones I’ve visited thus far.
Surely one of the most beautiful places in the world, Santorini (or Thira) and sister island Thirassia, ring the caldera of a sunken volcano with two smaller (and still smouldering) lava islands between them. Santorini’s capital, Fira, sees a host of white houses, some troglodytic, cascade down the side of a towering cliff to the island’s tiny port, where ferries from Athens and cruise ships dock. At the top of the cliffs, narrow, tortuous alleys hide cool bars, fine restaurants and gold- and silversmiths. A little further along the coast is the village of Oia, said to be home to the most beautiful sunsets in the world. In dramatic contrast, the opposite side of the island plunges to plains full of olive trees and vines – Santorinian wine is seriously under rated – as well as fabulous beaches that underline the island’s volcanic nature. Perissa is home to a long stretch of black sand, while in Akrotiri the sand is a deep crimson.
Where to stay
Santorini’s original boutique hotel in Oia set high standards for others to follow. Perfectly furnished suites open to balconies that overlook infinity pools that seem to drop into the caldera itself.
This 18-room all-suite clifftop retreat in Oia has superb views out to the caldera. Rooms are carved into the cliffs themselves and feature stark white walls and minimalist décor.
The smaller, sister island to the Cyclades main ferry hub, Paros, Antiparos was the island where I played out most of my summers from my late teens to my early 30s. Such is my affection for Antiparos that in a previous life, I even got married here. Our choice of Antiparos as a summer hideaway was a simple one: the journey necessitates several ferry changes meaning it’s off the tourist trail, the main village, Hora, is a step back in time, covered in scarlet bougainvillea and with a smattering of cool bars and traditional tavernas, while the beaches are incredible. There’s also an old Venetian castle and a spooky cave full of stallectites and stalegmites to explore. Some years later, Antiparos’s charm remains, except for the fact that it’s becoming increasingly more known with Tom Hanks, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt all having visited over the past few years. Go there now before the mass influx begins.
Where to stay
The basic but clean hotel has a great location right on the port and a restaurant and bar with fabulous views over the bay to Paros.
On the opposite side of the island to Antiparos town, this hotel in the hamlet of Agios Georgios (St George) has a gorgeous location right on the island’s best beach and close to its best taverna, Captain Pipinos.
I fell in love with Corfu before I’d even been there thanks to Gerald Durrell’s superb book My Family And Other Animals that seemed to mirror some of my youth in Athens. And then I fell out of love with it when the 18-30 hordes invaded in the 1980s. Ayia Napa in Cyprus and the Rhodes town of Faliraki’s dubious gains as more recent capitals for the Oi Oi Polloi to venture mean that Corfu has once again become a gorgeous place to visit. The Old Town around the port is an atmospheric maze of small alleys that culminate in the cricket green – a remnant of British rule. Head here in early evening for the best illustration of the Greek volta – the early evening stroll; families, young couples and groups of friends will parade the promenade before sitting down at a pavement café for ice-cold café frappé. Journey to the verdant centre of island for sleepy villages seemingly untouched by time (there are fabulous hikes in the cooler shoulder seasons) or head to one of the many wonderful beaches – the island has hundreds of coves to discover.
Set on a private peninsula outside of town and part of Greece’s biggest hotel chain, the Imperial lives up to its name as one of the best hotels on the island.
For something more intimate, try the Delfino Blu – a boutique hotel with great service in the village of Agios Stefanos.
Corfu’s near-neighbour is an hour away by hydrofoil but is well worth the journey. The main port and town have a more Italian feel than most Greek islands: the traditional white walls and blue roofs are replaced by pastel coloured Venetian-style architecture and, with the harbour being a haven for plush yachts, at first glance, you could easily be in Capri. Traditional Greek filoxenia or hospitality, remains though, especially in local tavernas like Blue Grotto where the sign outside proudly proclaims the restaurant open to “Foodaholics only”. For a more cosmopolitan feel, spend one evening at Erimitis restaurant. Perched on a cliff over the wild, west coast, the food matches the stupendous sunsets. Also take time to explore Paxos’s maze of old trails and donkey paths through olive groves, past fields of wild oregano and thyme and over rocky outcrops like the majestic Trypitos Arch. English eccentric Ian Bleasdale has painstakingly mapped them out over more than 20 years in his excellent walking guide to the island. If Paxos suffers, it is from a lack of great beaches, so make sure your hotel has a pool. Sister island Antipaxos (you may be getting a theme here) does have two fabulous stretches of sand though and regular caiques leave Paxos harbour throughout the day for the short trip over – pack sunscreen and a hat.
The main hotel in Paxos's main town of Gaia, comprises of apartments that surround a huge pool.