Six thousand islands scatter the Greek mainland, clustered into eight groups and each with its own charms. These pretty islands offer a glimpse into the ancient past, as well as beautiful clear waters, wonderful hospitality, and delicious local dishes. Lonely Planet guidebook in hand, my most recent trip took me to the Dodecanese island of Rhodes, but share here my favourite Greek retreats of summers past: picturesque Santorini, chilled out Mykonos, and the quiet celebrity hideaway of Symi.
The largest of the Dodecanese, if you arrive via the port at Old Town chances are you’ll also pass the site where the Colossus of Rhodes once stood. The Old Town, a world heritage site, is made up of cobbled, windy streets lined with little boutiques, specialist shops and restaurants and best explored on foot to fully appreciate its medieval grandeur. Pop by Marinos for an impressive collection of Greek wines.
If it’s food you’re after, you must pay a visit to family-run Tamam Restaurant in the new town. Be prepared to queue – this place is a local hotspot, and they don’t take reservations – but you’ll be greeted in line with a little fizz as you do (Soho, take note). This place is like dining with old friends.
If you have a car, the Acropolis of Lindos is a short 45 minutes drive away. Climb to the top to take in some of the best views of the island, or pack a bikini and make your way down to the sheltered beach cove at St Paul’s Bay. Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, it has to be one of the most unique beach settings you’ll ever find.
Ancient Kamiros was a happy (if accidental) find, stumbled across en route elsewhere. Just a handful of other tourists were also there to appreciate this beautifully preserved Hellenic site.
2. Symi Island
It’s difficult not to fall in love with beautiful Symi the moment you arrive. It’s Italian past is unmistakable in the pretty pastel-hued architecture. You can easily pass the time sat in one of its numerous harbour cafés, watching the sail boats to and fro. This is the place to pick up natural sponges and sample locally-caught Red Mullet. The population of Symi is just 2000 so, as you might expect on an island where everyone knows everybody else, hospitality was truly welcoming. Two retired fishermen offered us a glimpse into local life as we sat and chatted over Ouzo and locally produced olives. Islanders here, they say, are “one big family”.
Blue domed terraces and crystal waters might be the image most conjure up when they think of the Greek islands. Santorini, and specifically the village of Oia, is just that. You’ll find plenty of local artisans selling their wares here, and breathtaking sea views at every turn. If ever there were a place made for sunsets, this is probably it. A little walk out of Oia’s centre you will find the Alkyona Resturant. A little local taverna offering homemade Greek dishes in an al fresco seaview setting. It is also a great spot for watching the famous Cyclades sunset.
Also part of the Cyclades, the island of Mykonos is famous for two things: its windmills, and its resident pelican. Mykonos Town itself is quite small but worth a wander for little trinkets and handmade jewellery finds. Venture beyond and you’ll find no shortage of sandy beaches to soak up the Grecian sun. Kalafatis was my beach of choice.
Top tip: Many of these islands are small and can quickly crowd so it’s worth familiarising yourself with scheduled cruise ship arrivals. CruiseCal compiles a handy list if you’d rather explore without the congestion!
Little Grecian adventure, anyone?
See also: The Beauty Edit | Greek Island Hoppng.
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