Back in 1450 BC, a massive volcanic eruption caused the middle of Santorini to fall into the sea. It left a steep-edged crater known as a caldera peeping above the waves, which, today, is a spectacular sight from the island’s clifftops.
It’s not just the geological make-up of the island that turns heads, though. With its whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches and never-ending vineyards, Santorini is Greece at its traditional best. Thira, the capital, is a popular place to stay – it’s perched on top of the caldera rim overlooking the Aegean. And the northern town of Oia, which also has a spot on the caldera, is the best place to see the island’s famous sunsets.
The beach scene
If you don’t mind your sand in a darker shade of grey – a legacy of the island’s volcanic past – there are some great beaches in towns like Kamari and Perissa. Framed by jagged cliffs, Kamari’s dark sandy sweep has been given Blue Flag status. As for Perissa, the 7-kilometre stretch here comes with a good helping of watersports.
Mykonos Town is a jumble of white houses, scrubbed and polished and accessorised with blue doors and flower-filled balconies. The whole place is a warren of narrow lanes and endless nooks and crannies hiding a little church here, a tiny boutique there. It climbs from the port up the gentle inclines of a hillside, watched over by the island’s 16th-century windmills.
The town’s labyrinthine layout – originally intended to baffle marauding pirates – means it’s easy to get lost here, but that’s half the fun. There’s plenty to see while you get your bearings. Coming from the ferry quay, there’s every chance you’ll pass the Archaeological Museum and its pottery displays, plus the Folklore Museum housed in an 18th-century mansion. Keep walking uphill and you might end up on Matoyianni Street, wall-to-wall with independent stores selling leather goods and one-of-a-kind jewellery.
By the shore
Cupped in a wide bay, the harbour is where the Prada-clothed crowd hangs out to watch the world go by. It’s a whirl of activity, with fishing boats bobbing on the water and ferries coming and going from other islands in the Cyclades. The Little Venice quarter, so-called because of its balconied houses teetering right by the water’s edge, is nearby. It’s a long-standing artists’ haunt, and has almost as many galleries as it does restaurants and bars.
The town has a small beach at the harbour front, and superior sands are close by. Platys Gialos is a long, stretch, 15 minutes away by bus, and the springboard to other southern Mykonos beaches. From here, it’s a few minutes’ walk to the little cove of Aghia Anna, where a handful of bamboo dividers and a sole taverna keep things low-key. It’s only another 15 minutes over the headland to laid-back Paranga Beach.
With a coastline that unravels for over 290 kilometres, Kos has more than its fair share of beaches. They come in all shapes and sizes, from golden swathes backed by beach bars, to hidden bays and little-known coves. The island’s good looks don’t end with its shores, either. Inland, whitewashed villages spill down the hillsides and wild flowers blanket the fields. Then there’s Mount Dikeos, whose slopes are peppered with pine forests and castles.
In terms of where to stay, Kos has two very different sides to it. Kardamena is the best place to head for nightlife – its streets are packed with karaoke bars, English pubs and strobe-lit clubs. The cosmopolitan capital, Kos Town, is also lively, with holidays here revolving around lantern-lit dinners by the harbour-side, and cocktails and dancing in the bars of the backstreets.
Kefalos combines old and new. At first glance it’s thoroughly traditional, with its sugar-cube houses, ancient ruins and timeworn windmills. But it’s also home to the purpose-built resort of Kamari, which is bubbling with cafés, bars and restaurants. If you want to keep things low-key, Psalidi is another good option. There’s little more than a golden sandy beach and a sprinkle of tavernas and shops here.
Spectacular countryside, hidden beaches and laid-back towns are yours for the taking on holidays to Kefalonia – aka Captain Corelli’s isle.
The biggest of the Greek Ionian Islands, Kefalonia shot to fame in the Hollywood blockbuster, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Take one look at the place and you’ll see why its scenery was deserving of the big screen. Tree-studded hills stand guard over sprawling vineyards, and honey-hued sands are kissed by turquoise waters.
The popular resorts
Skala, in the south-east, leads the way as far as holiday resorts are concerned. Its long beach is backed by pines, and its nightlife is the liveliest on the island, with stylish bars and music clubs setting the tone. Lourdas, further west, is also popular. Life here revolves around the sleepy main square, and the village is fringed by 2 miles of coastline. Then there’s Lassi, which people flock to from far and wide to watch the spectacular sunsets.
Wherever you choose to stay, the island’s main attractions are within day-tripping distance. Don’t miss Myrtos Bay, a spectacular chalk-white beach which Captain Corelli’s directors couldn’t resist slotting into the movie. And pay a visit to the age-old chambers at the Drogorati Caves.
Holidays to Crete revolve around sandy beaches, scenic countryside, and an encyclopaedic offering of myths and legends.
Greece’s biggest island
Crete subscribes to the bigger is better school of thought. Not only is it the largest of the Greek Islands, but it’s the 5th biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea – Corsica pips it to the 4th place post by just a few hundred acres.
The full spectrum of beaches
Crete’s super-size means it’s got 650 miles of coastline to go around. The beaches in the Lassithi area, to the east of the island, are annexes to the cosmopolitan towns of Agios Nikolaos and Elounda. Here, sunbathers can mix stints on the sunbed with shopping sprees and long lunches in the squares. Further west, the Chania area teams Blue Flag beaches with an historical old town. The 12-kilometre-plus swathes of sand in the Rethymnon area are covered with the footprints of families, while the beaches in the Heraklion area are the staging areas and recovery spots for nights on the tiles.
Crete’s timeline stretches back more than 4,000 years. In fact, the island is credited with being the birthplace of modern civilisation. Evidence for this claim can be found at the Palace of Knossos, in the Heraklion area – the Minoans who lived here were some of the first people in the world to have fashions, parties and women’s rights.
Finally, Crete has a lion’s share of unspoilt scenery. You’ll get the best feel for what the island has to offer at Samaria Gorge, an hour’s drive from Chania. Stretching for 16 kilometres, it’s the longest in Europe.
Holidays to Rhodes fly off the shelves thanks to the island’s fantastic beaches, historical sites and party hot spots.
The most popular Greek Island
Rhodes’ tourism figures speak for themselves. Attracting more than 270,000 British holidaymakers every year, the island is the most visited in Greece.
Most people are drawn to Rhodes by the beaches. The island’s east coast is a ribbon of virtually uninterrupted sand, and it’s where you’ll find all the main holiday resorts. There’s Lindos, which is watched over by the ruins of an acropolis, and Faliraki, the legendary hangout of the 18 to 30s crowd. Then you’ve got the sleepy Blue Flag beach at Pefkos, and the quiet coves in Kalithea and Kolymbia, where sunbathers go to get away from the trappings of tourism.
You can’t talk about Rhodes without mentioning its history. The ancient ruins here date back to the time of the Trojan War, terracotta-topped churches remember the Byzantine glory years, and Ottoman minarets recall the time the island spent under Turkish rule. Then there’s Rhodes Town, which catalogues the comings and goings of knights over two centuries. The harbour area here was once dominated by one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the great colossus.
Rhodes’ interior is a montage of traditional villages and chalky mountains. Apolakkia, in the west, for instance, serves up scenery in big portions. The hamlet is home to whitewashed villas, old windmills, a monastery, and a shaded lake that’s ideal for swimming.
Offering sandy beaches, traditional town squares and some of the best nightlife in Greece, holidays to Corfu cover summer holidays from every angle.
The Emerald Isle
From the stripes of the national flag to its sugar cube villas and sparkling seas, Greece wears a uniform of blue and white. But Corfu throws an extra colour into the mix – green. Known as the Emerald Isle, the second-largest of the Ionian Islands is covered in cypress trees, olive groves and wild flowers.
Where you choose to stay will depend on the atmosphere you’re after. Gouvia and San Stefanos, in the north, are 2 of the quieter resorts. There’s plenty of space on the wide sandy beaches here, and the candle-lit tavernas tend to be family-run affairs.
Lively beach resorts
In Sidari and Roda, the pace picks up with the introduction of karaoke bars and cafés serving British breakfasts. That said, you’ll still find quiet coves on the coast when you need a bit of down-time. If partying is your main priority, make a beeline for Kavos, where strobe lights and DJ booths are the tools of the trade.
Beaches are only part of the story on a holiday to Cyprus. The island is also home to mountain scenery, centuries-old sights and unforgettable food.
An island for everyone
Thanks to its sandy beaches, ancient sights and up-tempo nightlife, Cyprus is a firm holiday favourite, attracting everyone from families to clubbers. Beautiful beaches and a mix of laid-back and lively resorts fringe the island. And if you go inland, you’ll find sleepy villages, hidden hamlets and the scenic Troodos Mountains.
The Larnaca region of Cyprus is home to the family-favourite resort of Protaras. Its golden beach and clear shallow waters are a winning combination for anyone with little ones, and its main strip has a good mix of restaurants, cafés and bars. Further south is Ayia Napa. It’s best known as a clubbing mecca, but it’s also home to one of the island’s best beaches and has a pretty old town. Neighbouring Nissi Beach completes the trio of resorts. It boasts a waterpark and white-sand beach with its own islet.
The town of Paphos is the best-known resort on Cyprus’ west coast. A traditional harbour town, it’s got a handful of golden beaches, a pretty marina and a long list of historical sights, including the Tombs of the Kings. Elsewhere in the region is Limassol, which has a 7-mile stretch of beach, and Coral Bay, where you’ll find a large horseshoe-shaped cove with Blue Flag credentials. If you’re after somewhere away from it all, the quiet seaside villages of Polis, Amathus Bay and Latchi give you an authentic slice of island life.