Into the blue: Greece’s best secret islands

Angelina Villa-Clarke 18 March 2021

For sun, sea and seclusion, head to some of Greece’s lesser-known islands. These gems promise all the enchantment of better-known destinations, but without the crowds. 

Antiparos

Antiparos viewed from the sea
Antiparos viewed from the sea

What’s the vibe? Antiparos is one of the lesser-known Cyclades (an archipelago of 220 islands, including Santorini and Mykonos). Low key and laid-back, you’ll be able to wander around whitewashed towns and soak up the sun in a sandy cove to call your own.

Best beach? The island is blessed with many gorgeous beaches, but the horseshoe-shaped Sifneikos Gialos, on the north of the island, is one of the best and a popular spot for its stunning sunsets.

Where to stay? The Rooster, opening this June 2021, is a wellness resort offering organic food and locally-influenced design. it promises to be a stylish place to stay in the heart of Antiparos’s dramatic countryside.

Where to eat? With its blue and white wooden table and chairs, octopus drying in the sun and gorgeous sea views, it doesn’t get more archetypally Greek than Captain Pipinos, on the south-west coast of the island. Order the mezedes—a version of mezze—for a selection of the freshest seafood around.

What’s to know? The Cave of Antiparos is just as well known for its millennia-old stalagmites and stalactites as it is for its graffiti, with Alexander the Great, Lord Byron and the first king of Greece, Otto, having inscribed their names into the rockface. Be warned there are 411 steps to go down.

 

Ikaria

The island of Ikaria
Aerial image of Ikaria

What’s the vibe? Rugged and wild, this is an untamed, mountainous outpost—close to the coast of Turkey—ideal for hiking and birdwatching.

Best beach? The Seychelles Beach, in the south, has, like its namesake, cotton-white sands and tempting azure waters.

Where to stay? Thea’s Inn, in the pretty village of Nas, offers rustic rooms and a picturesque restaurant serving authentic cuisine—try the delicious aubergine mousakas.

Where to eat? The island has a rich heritage of wine-making (legend has it that Ikaria is the birthplace of Dionysus, the god of wine). Head to the MaryMary taverna, on Armenistis Beach, which champions local wines and regional dishes with a modern twist.

What’s to know? The island is named after Icarus, another character from Greek mythology, who flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea. Ironically, the island has made a name for itself for having a population of people who live the longest on earth.

 

Hydra

the island of hydra

What’s the vibe? One of the Saronic Islands, close to Athens, this unspoilt gem has no cars (with donkeys still used to transport luggage from the harbour). The island has a scenic, cliff-framed coastline, charming, winding streets and a hip bohemian feel.

Best beach? Hydra’s crystal-clear waters are best experienced by diving in from one the many hidden coves. Most beaches are pebbly, but Mandraki Bay has a lovely sandy beach.

Where to stay? Carved out of a centuries-old mansion, Four Seasons Hydra—an independent hotel—has elegant rooms and views over Vlychos Beach.

Where to eat? At the coastal Kodylenia’s Taverna, in Kamini, you can eat fresh feta salads and grilled meats, as the waves gently lap nearby.

What’s to know? Home to singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who lived here since the 1960s, the island attracts many artists due to is slow way of life and inspiring scenic beauty. It also hosts a series of contemporary art shows each year at the DESTE Project Space Slaughterhouse.

 

Milos

The coloured housefronts of Milos
The coloured housefronts of Milos

What’s the vibe? Discover some of the best beaches in the Aegean and the place where the famous Venus de Milo statue was discovered in 1820 (now in The Louvre). The volcanic island of Milos has hot springs, catacombs and jaw-dropping scenery.

Best beach? With its multi-coloured rock formations and caves, Paliochori Beach is one of the most unusual on Milos.

Where to stay? Simple, all-white rooms are cosy and cool at Tania Milos, in the coastal village of Pollonia.

Where to eat? Watch the sun go down at Medousa, a pretty seaside eatery in the fishing village of Mandrakia. You’ll find an endless array of delicious Greek dishes, such as souvlaki and grilled calamari.

What’s to know? The island’s hillside capital Plaka—found some 220m above sea level—has sweeping views over the ocean, a 13th-century castle and picture-postcard narrow streets and white houses.

 

Sifnos

Chrisopigi Monastery in Faros on the island of Sifnos
Chrisopigi Monastery in Faros on the island of Sifnos

What’s the vibe? Regarded as the cradle of Greek cooking, Sifnos has a trendy food scene (popular with young Athenians). Factor in its natural beauty, and you’ll discover one of the most enthralling spots in the Cyclades.

Best beach? Chrisopigi Beach, close to the famous Chrisopigi Monastery (above), is peaceful and never crowded. With its clear, shallow waters, it’s a great beach for snorkelling.

Where to stay? The contemporary Villa Miro, with its own infinity pool, is close to the very pretty village of Artemonas. Best of all? The impressive ocean views.

Where to eat? You’ll be spoilt for choice with many pastry shops, tavernas and stand-out restaurants offering mouth-watering bites. One of the best fish restaurants is Omega 3, not much more than a beach shack, and apparently a favourite of Tom Hanks.

What’s to know? There are 366 churches on Sifnos—with their photogenic blue domes and white walls. The best way to see them, and the other interesting sights on the island, is by taking one of the hiking trails, known as the Sifnos Trails.

 

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