The jewels of the Aegean

The Greek islands offer something for all tastes. Frewin Poffley goes hopping around 10 of the best

Naxos

Naxos

The largest island in the Cyclades, fertile Naxos has an attractive old kastro topped with a Venetian fortress, and a noted long ribbon of fine sandy beaches (popular with windsurfers) running down the coast to the south of the town. This combination is sufficient to encourage most visitors stay longer than intended. One downside is that it has also ensured that the unspoilt mountainous interior, littered with medieval watchtowers and picturesque villages (as well as the occasional ancient temple), is not explored by the majority of tourists. They miss out on one of the most attractive island landscapes in Greece.

Paros

The first island of call for many ferries sailing from Piraeus, Paros is the island hub of the Greek ferry system. As a result, this is usually the best island to head for if you want to switch to an island on a different ferry route (moving between the main ferry routes can otherwise be difficult). The island is large and has a mix of sights, beaches and towns to suit all tastes: an excellent island-hopping starting point.

Santorini

This volcanic island is on everyone's hit list thanks to the largest visible caldera in the world and the associated myth of Atlantis. The dramatic sea-filled crater, its steep black walls topped with a confetti of white cubist houses, is heavily touristed. But the persistent stories of vampires, the weird black volcanic sand beaches, and the sheer number of excursions on offer (from visits to the remains of ancient Minoan town of Akrotiri to submarine and canoeing trips around the coast) make this a must-visit destination.

Ios

Twenty years ago Ios was the party island, where Europe's youth idled away the summer living out the sun, sand and sex lifestyle to the full. The good beaches and attractive hilltop town remain, but the mix of tourists is now much more balanced as baby-boomers return with families to former haunts. There isn't much in the way of sightseeing, but the island retains much of its beguiling laid-back atmosphere during the day and offers the best nightlife in the Cyclades. A good place to unwind for a few days when you've had your fill of sightseeing.

Crete

Crete is popular as a starting point and as a junction for island-hoppers moving between the Cyclades and Dodecanese chains. This has pushed it up the rankings for island-hopper visits. But although there are plenty of beaches and sightseeing on offer, Crete is too large for real island devotees who soon move on. Worth considering if you are looking for a cheap flight to Greece and want to avoid Athens.

Mykonos

Thanks to the most impressive port town in Cyclades, Mykonos is almost ridiculously photogenic - which is why it was chosen as the location of Shirley Valentine. It has long attracted the rich and famous. The town's warren of white cubist streets was built to confuse pirates in days past, and does an equally good job with tourists today. Visitors in July and August will find it packed to bursting, a long way removed from its relaxed low-season self. Excessive holiday home building is also damaging the skylines, but the hordes still come. The main sightseeing attraction is the island of Delos just offshore, one of the great archaeological sites in Greece.

Kos

Another popular starting point for island-hoppers, Kos is a good choice if you want to base yourself on one island and day-trip to others. The beaches, nightlife and sightseeing are the main draws (castle-dominated Kos Town is a popular package tourist destination), but the island is large enough for those looking for a more relaxed and traditional settings. Another big plus is the opportunity to take a day-trip to Turkey, with daily excursion boats running to Bodrum from Kos Town.

Rhodes

Rhodes is another large island with an over-popular main town and beaches coupled with an interior that remains relatively unknown. The island's reputation has been tarnished of late, thanks to persistent tourist problems at the beach resort of Faliraki. But like other party destinations in Greece it is largely self-contained, and visitors to the rest of the island will find plenty to see and do without a hint of trouble.

The jewel in the sightseeing crown is the main centre: Rhodes City is one of the best preserved medieval walled cities in Europe and a UNESCO world heritage site. The large number of tourists can detract from the atmosphere, but it is easy to escape by wandering into the maze of back streets that make up the old town. Heavy tourism has produced a very good bus system allowing access to all the major sites, but given the size of Rhodes, car hire offers the most convenient way of visiting the remoter, more scenic areas.

Antiparos

A small, dreamy island neighbouring Paros, Antiparos appeals to all those looking for good old-fashioned Greek island peace and quiet. Many island-hoppers come for the day and then return to stay. The main town on the northern tip of the island has beaches of varying quality (including one nudist) on three sides. At its heart is a medieval Cycladic fortress made up of whitewashed houses built to form a defensive wall. The main draw is an impressive deep cave, said to inspired the salt house in Swiss Family Robinson.

Serifos

With plenty of character and not too many tourists, Serifos is sufficiently close to Athens that many of its inhabitants work in the capital and regularly commute home at weekends. This makes ferries very full on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays but is a valuable testament to the quiet, attractive nature of this island. Island-hoppers aside, tourists don't visit in great numbers as Serifos isn't close to a popular package tour island. Those who do find another of those whitewashed hilltop picture postcard towns (complete with a surfeit of windmills) overlooking the main port, and a beach that is reckoned to be one of the best in Greece. The relative lack of foreign tourists means that there is no nightlife but a succession of tavernas offering local food: a near perfect get-away-from-it-all Greek island.

Frewin Poffley is the author of 'Greek Island Hopping' (Thomas Cook)

Postcard from Mykonos

The Mykonos wallflower: a lesser-known species of Cycladic flora, with bright, gaudy petals and showy blooms. Drab in appearance and prone to wilting.

Three days after stepping onto Mykonos's shimmering sands, I was ready to leave; the living, sighing embodiment of the maxim, you're never more alone than when in a crowd. And in a crowd of near-naked, amphetamine-addled, touchy-feely friend-seekers, this was a crushing realisation. I had failed the island. Or it had failed me.

Either way, it was not something this backpacker had bargained for. Having spent the best part of three summers travelling the archipelago, seeking out its every hedonistic enclave, Mykonos seemed like a sure thing: the valedictory end of the party pilgrimage.

Like an over-anticipated blind date, the celebrations had fallen flat. I had all too eagerly fallen in with a group of physics students from a northern English university, who seemed to be approaching the island as an experiment to be observed.

We had set up camp on Paradise Beach - a glorious stretch of cappuccino-coloured sand where a parade of young nudist Europeans were having a beautifully brainless time. The scientists, overdressed in sensible swim-trunks, sat, smirked and passed dry judgement on proceedings as if behind sterilised glass.

By day three the will to party had left me. Resolving to leave on the first boat the following morning, I swam out to a spiky reef wall where I perched, saying a rather painful goodbye to the island, and watched the setting sun turn all the deeply tanned Euro-nudes Michelangelo bronze.

That's when the man with webbed feet appeared. "Look," he said, presenting an irregular-looking foot carefully on top of the reef wall like a solo synchronised swimmer. "I have webbed feet." As chat-up lines go - and it soon turned out this was one - he scored top marks for freakish audacity. Sparky was his name; and he was. And while I had no amorous intentions his party credentials shone like a mirrored disco ball.

He came armed with a group of exotic-looking cohorts with whom he shared a sprawling white rental villa. It crowned Mykonos Town's picture-perfect hilltop, offering views out to the sacred island of Delos where he used to take friends, showing them the giant marble phalluses that stand in the Sanctuary of Dionysos.

On an island where romantic encounters are brief, the last thing you would expect is a holiday romance that endures a decade. They say love finds you when you least expect it and somehow, while in search of a party, it found me. And it wasn't Delos's seductive statues or even Sparky himself, whose attentions wandered quicker than those of a stray tomcat, but one of his friends who had eyes as dark and shiny as kalamata olives, and who still gets a kick today out of telling friends that we met in Paradise.

Sarah Barrell

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
    'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

    Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

    Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
    Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

    Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

    New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need