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04.01.2023 09:52 by Catharina Flämig
Did you know that Greece lays claim to around 3,000 islands? And that only around 115 of these islands are inhabited? No? Well, the Greeks aren’t sure about this either. As a matter of fact, nobody really knows how many islands there are, and in Greece you can never be sure how many of them are actually inhabited. One thing is certain: you can’t visit them all. Therefore, it is a good idea to get an overview of the various island groups before deciding where in Greece you would like to spend your holiday.
Ionian Islands: If you love nature, evergreen Mediterranean flora, and the shimmering sea in its countless shades of blue, if you are a keen hiker or cyclist, or simply want to enjoy the most beautiful beaches in Greece, then we recommend a trip to the Ionian Islands. This wonderful archipelago lies just off the west coast of Greece and is made up of numerous spectacular islands including Corfu and Zakynthos.
Sporades: Nature lovers will also find their happy place in the Sporades archipelago whose islands line up like pearls on a string. The archipelago lies to the east of Volos in central Greece and recently become famous worldwide being the location for the filming of Mama Mia with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.
Cyclades: Are you looking for the picture book Greece of blue and white cube houses with a rocky, barren backdrop? Are you a water sports enthusiast, a lover of long, sandy beaches? Then the Cyclades, located in the middle of the Aegean Sea, is the perfect place for you! This spectacular archipelago is home to some of the most famous Greek islands such as Santorini, Naxos, Paros, and Mykonos.
Dodecanese: Do you long to holiday among pastel-coloured houses and diverse culture while experiencing traditional island life? Do you enjoy walking and cycling? All these can be found in their superlative on the Dodecanese Islands, an archipelago lying in the southern Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey. The most well-known vacation spots in the Dodecanese are Kos, Rhodes, and Patmos.
Saronic Islands: Are you looking to stay somewhere easily reachable from Athens? Would you like to mingle with Greek travellers? Do you want to take excursions to nearby islands or the Greek mainland? Then a holiday on the Saronic Islands, located between the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland, is the perfect choice for you!
There is more than enough information and travel tips about the better-known Greek islands on the Internet so there is no need for us to say another word about them! We would rather share with you the smaller, unknown islands that have their own special charm, being places where traditional Greece can still be experienced. But which one is the most beautiful of all?
Let us begin by answering this question straight away: the most beautiful of all Greek islands does not exist. Beauty is after all in the eye of the beholder and inevitably depends on what each individual person likes to do and in what they see beauty.
However, if you would like to holiday away from the tourist hot spots and enjoy an authentic Greek experience, read on to find out our top 5 Greek islands:
Just off the west coast of Greece, Kefalonia is the largest island in the Ionian Sea and home to the archipelago’s tallest mountain, Enos, standing at 1,682 m. Kefalonia also lays claim to the only National Park in all the Greek islands thanks to the black fir Abies Cephaloniae (Kefalonia fir), which can only be found here, and a large population of wild horses. The rare Mediterranean monk seal Monachus and the sea turtle Caretta Caretta can be found off the coast of Kefalonia. The island is also home to the indigenous grape variety Robola, used in the making of the award-winning white wine.
Kefalonia also has some of the most beautiful cliffs in Greece, stretching along most of the island’s entire west coast. A panoramic road allows for spectacular views down to the medieval town of Assos, nestled on a small peninsular, and over to the breath-taking Myrtos Beach. A vast cave system weaves its way under the island, and Melissani Cave is one of the island’s main attractions, which can still be visited by rowboat. As the roof of the cave has fallen in, the water takes on wonderful colours as the sunlight pours through the cave opening. Picturesque harbour towns such as Fiskardo, located in the far north, with its colourful waterfront houses round off Kefalonia's highlights.
The island is large making it the perfect place to stay for several days. Kefalonia has its own airport which is served by various charter airlines as well as domestic flights from Athens and Thessaloniki. The island can also be reached by ferry from Patras on the Greek mainland. On a longer vacation, you can settle in and make yourself comfortable in one the wonderful apartments or villas and enjoy the everyday life on the island. Alternatively, should you choose to go on the Islandhopping tour Bike & Boat Ionian Islands you will visit Kefalonia for a day as well as having the opportunity to discover other islands in the area such as the neighbouring island of Ithaca, the mountainous island of Lefkas, and the olive island of Paxos.
Mama Miaaaa! Even for those not fans of the Hollywood film adaptations of the famous musical, we are certain this phrase will still come to mind thanks to the extraordinary beauty of Alonissos. This Sporades island enchants with the magic of Mother Nature: Lush green landscapes and numerous untouched beaches with crystal clear water transform Alonissos into an El Dorado for any outdoor activity. Alonissos is an island where you can truly relax and unwind.
Whilst on Alonissos, be sure not to miss a visit to Palaia Chora. The former capital, nestled in the mountainside, is located 3km from the port of Platiri and is undoubtedly one of the most authentic Greek mountain villages in the country. Chora was once built on several terraces but was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1965 resulting in the village being abandoned. It remained uninhabited for several years. Since then, there are been efforts to restore the ruined houses and, thanks to the care taken during the renovation process, the village has regained its original charm. There are now several cosy taverns and kafenia, wonderful places to relax and enjoy the Greek way of life absolutely worry free. At no extra cost, visitors to the village can enjoy the spectacular view over the sea and the incredible sunsets, which are among the most beautiful in the Aegean.
The best way to get to this island of bliss is by flying to Volos and then taking the Sporades ferry which stops at all the larger islands including Skiathos, Skopelos, and Alonissos. Alternatively, you can fly to Thessaloniki or Athens, then take the intercity bus to Volos before continuing by ferry.
There is hardly a Cyclades island more enchanting than Sifnos. It may not be love at first sight, but a second glance proves it is a place to be cherished forever. Sifnos, one of the Western Cyclades islands, is known beyond the borders of Greece for its colourful pottery. Directly on arrival at the ferry port of Kamares you get an impression of the island’s colourful splendour. There are several pottery displays, the perfect place to get some colourful souvenirs. Kamares also lays claim to one of the most beautiful beaches on the island and, thanks to its good transportation system, is a great place from where to explore the whole island. But there is no need to go far from Kamares when looking for somewhere to stay. Besides, those who overnight in Kamares can end their day enjoying a beautiful sunset from the Old Captain Bar, massaging the sand with their toes and relishing in the heavenly relaxation.
Those who love hiking would be hard pressed to find an island better suited to long and spectacular adventures on foot. Paths of Greece, a Greek company specialising in creating hiking trails, recently cleaned and signposted the island’s historic trails and also created connecting paths between various tracks. The results are hugely impressive: Sifnos now boasts a network of over 200 km of well-signposted trails. For more information please visit: Sifnos Trail Website.
Should you want to discover traditional Cycladic architecture be sure to take an excursion to Kastro. The village, protected as a historical site, is the uncrowned queen of the island. Windmills, winding alleys, cube houses with flat roofs and blue doors and shutters, a little church sitting far out on its small peninsular in the sea... Kastro fulfils the Cycladic cliché in the most beautiful way imaginable. Those who have walked their feet tired should be sure to take a break at Café Dolci. In this little slice of paradise, you can enjoy hot or cold beverages and delicious homemade sweets. The evening is also a wonderful time to linger a while to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere.
Sifnos is only accessible by ferry or high-speed ferry from Piraeus. If you only want to make a short stop on the island but still experience all the highlights Sifnos has to offer and explore other islands in the Cyclades, then we recommend the Bike & Boat Cyclades and Saronic Islands tour.
According to Greek mythology Nisyros was formed during a battle for the rule of the world between gods and giants. Poseidon, the god of the sea, took a rock from Kos and threw it at the giant Polybotes in an attempt to kill him. This rock fell into the sea, burying Polybotes beneath it and forming the island of Nisyros. The story goes on to tell that though hit by the rock, Polybotes survived, trapped under the rock. Whenever the wounded man rears up and moans, Nisyros is shaken by an earthquake or a volcanic eruption.
Nisyros is in fact of purely volcanic origin with a unique landscape and extraordinary flora and fauna. The multi-coloured geological formations stand in a magical contrast with the white houses in the harbour town of Mandraki and Nikia, which clings to the steeply rising slope of the huge Stefanos volcanic crater in the centre of the island. From Nikia there is an incredible view over the gigantic crater and its steaming sulphur springs. The village's main square is decorated with pebble mosaics and is one of the most beautiful in the Aegean Sea. Magnificent pebble mosaics also characterize Mandraki, where a visit to the Panagia Spiliani monastery nestled into the rocks is not to be missed.
Hiking is very popular on the island and the local initiative ANAEMA has shown great commitment in maintaining the historic hiking trails of Nisyros. The organization also offers guided hiking tours, cultural excursions, and cooking classes on this breath-taking island.
Nisyros can only be reached by ferry. This can be done either directly from Athens or with the ferry lines connecting all Dodecanese islands. Hotels and private accommodation are only available in Mandraki and its surroundings. If you feel like exploring the island by bike, you can join the Bike & Boat tour South Greek Aegean. On this tour you will discover the South Aegean islands of Kos, Symi, Tilos and Rhodes, as well as Nisyros.
Hydra, the pearl of the Saronic Gulf, lies just two hours by high-speed ferry from Athens. Although the island’s name translates to “water” in ancient Greek, today Hydra has the least water reserves in the entire archipelago and is the most mountainous island in the region. It is precisely these two characteristics that are responsible for the island remaining untouched by modern tourism, despite its extraordinary beauty.
In the middle ages, the Hydriotes laid claim to the largest merchant fleet in Greece. The island’s captains sailed the world’s oceans and seas, bringing back great wealth to their homeland. This is still evident in the island’s capital, which bears the same name as the island itself. During the liberation struggle against the Ottoman occupation, which lasted from 1821 to 1830, the Hydriotes did not hesitate to convert their fleet into warships to aid in the fight for liberation. The Hydriotes made a decisive contribution to the victorious outcome of the Greek revolution, which led to the establishment of the modern Greek state, thanks to their participation in a naval blockade of the Ottoman bastions in Nafplio and Monemvasia in the Peloponese.
The people of Hydra paid an extremely high price for their assistance in the revolution, losing almost their entire fleet and with it their most valuable source of income. The island sank into a 120-year long slumber from which it was awoken by the filming of the 1957 Hollywood film “Boy on a Dolphin” staring Sofia Loren. This film made the island world famous, attracting numerous artists and tourists to the island in the years that followed. It was at this time that Hydra made one of its most important decisions: sustainable tourism. The island was and is to this day completely car free, even mopeds and bicycles can not be found on Hydra. Donkeys or your own two feet are the only way to get around the island. Hydra is truly a unique island in Greece, a peaceful place free of the sounds of modern civilisation.
The island’s capital, Hydra, lies like an amphitheatre on the slopes of steeply rising mountains. In Hydra, a day goes by in a flash, whether it be passed wandering the picturesque alleyways, browsing the beautiful boutiques, or swimming in the shimmering, clear sea. There are numerous hiking trails around the island, but there are also options for those who prefer to just walk a little: The lovely walk from Hydra to Vlychos Beach can be enjoyed in one direction, with there being an option to return back to the capital by taxi boat. You can enjoy a one-day excursion to Hydra from Athens though a longer stay is also a wonderful idea. However, if you wish to stay longer be sure to book your accommodation as soon as possible as accommodation possibilities are very limited. Islandhopping also visits Hydra on the Bike & Boat tour Peloponnese & Saronic Islands. Should you take this trip, you will also have the opportunity to explore the islands of Aegina, Poros and Spetses as well as selected sections of the Peloponnese coast including Nafplio and the legendary Mycenae.
Are you itching to pack your bags? Wherever your next trip takes you, Greece is guaranteed to amaze you!