With summer coming to an end in Northern Europe and the kids back at school, you might be starting to feel those winter doldrums setting in. Meanwhile the islands of Greece are still basking in sunshine for another month or so and are the ideal place to get away to for a week or two of sun, sea and sand. With so much to do and see, such as sailing, hiking, visiting ancient monuments or simply kicking back and enjoying the fabulous beaches, it’s easy to see why Greece is consistently a family favourite for many people the world over at almost any time of year. So if you’re thinking about extending your summer holidays before winter truly sets in, here is a great guide to some of the best islands in Greece for you to check out on your next couples or family getaway this year.
The Dodecanese are actually a collection of 165 islands off the coast of Turkey in the far south-east of Greece in the Aegean Sea. Karpathos however, is something of a hidden gem, being undiscovered by Brits for the time being. You cannot fly direct to the island from the UK, you have to go via Athens or other connecting Greek airport. However, you can get here via Rhodes or Crete by ferry, which makes for a fantastic journey as you are essentially cutting through many of Greece’s island chains to get here.
Once on Karpathos, you will be on the main port of Diafani, which is actually a quaint village in it’s own right. With virtually no tourist industry to speak of, this is a glimpse of the traditional old Greece that is quickly disappearing, and you can see all of the island by foot, passing by small villages and coves. One thing you cannot miss are the crumbling and still white washed ancient windmills that dot the village of Olympos, formerly used to grind wheat to make the island’s delicious bread that you can still sample today.
When you are finished exploring, take the opportunity to gorge yourself on freshly caught whitebait, olives and pomegranates, before heading back to one of the few guesthouses on the island.
Hydra, Saronic Islands
Only a half hour ferry ride from Athens, nevertheless Hydra is another car-free and delightful island that is popular with high-end Athenian families. But don’t worry, visitors are still few and far between and most appear to be a handful of sailors with yachts in the marina, which is a great place to eat on the waterfront with the numerous restaurants and cafes that line the water. It’s here that the past time of sailing in Greece is really evident with the numerous yachts and other boats moored along the shorelines and in the harbours of the island. The food on Hydra is one of the main draws, with many culinary masters coming to sample the local fare such as garlic lamb with feta cheese and olives – all staples to Hydra and its locals, making this a truly quintessential Greek island for getaways of all kinds.
Activities on Hydra are quite family friendly, so if you have kids they can enjoy donkey rides around the island, or you can take a ferry that goes to the small surrounding islands that jut out of the sea. Perhaps the best thing about Hydra is how small and local it really is. With one main town simply known as Hydra Port with a population circa only around 1900, Hydra is ideal for those looking to really get away from it all.
Probably one of, if not the pinnacle in popular Greek islands, Santorini is known for its beautiful whitewashed villages nestled into rocky, volcanic cliffsides, dotted with blue dome roofs and gorgeous chapels ringing bells as tourists and locals marry. Known as the ‘honeymoon island’ to many, Santorini enjoys a bit of a reputation as being a luxury seekers paradise, what with all the resorts and hotels offering packages that range from mid-range pricing all the way up to luxury. The island is known for its local cuisine as well as a small but popular wine industry which features wine made from locally produced Aegean grapes. Try the local wine with a typical Santorini dish, Brantada, a cod fish dish made with flour, water, salt and occasionally beer. While it may not be available at your local hotel, smaller villages such as Exo Gonia will have it in their local restaurants, making it a great day trip option to both try local food as well as experience local life.
A volcanic string of islands, Santorini has experienced several serious earthquakes in the past along with volcanic eruptions which have helped to create the islands that make up the chain today. Some of the islands have even developed their own lagoons thanks to these eruptions, creating almost private, azure swimming holes that you wouldn’t have gotten without volcanic activity. A real treat and a truly unique experience for those in the area.
If ever there was an island with honestly a little bit of everything, it’s Corfu. From small towns with winding cobbled back streets to the main Corfu Town and its impressive fortress giving way to a network of back alleys lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, Corfu has a bit of something for everyone. Home to delicious fish dishes, fresh from the sea alongside a rich, local history of regional winemaking all combine to create the idea experience for travellers of all ages.
The old town of Kerkyra enjoys a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List and for good reason – the twists, turns, corner fruit stalls and smell of coffee wafting through the air honestly transport you to a simpler time long in the town’s past. Although those days are over, there’s something about Kerkyra that remains elegantly simple and beautiful. For those who love sailing, why not combine your time in Corfu with a trip over the water to Albania’s resort town, Sarande – a beautiful and hopping place in the late summer when the temperatures have cooled a bit to allow people to enjoy the sights of the region such as Butrint Archaeological dig without getting heatstroke. Albania is not just a unique place to visit, but with beautiful white sand beaches nestled in seemingly private coves, it also has some of the most stunning beaches in all of Europe.
So if you’ve been looking for that next great adventure, look no further than sailing around the Greek islands and stopping off for a day or two in each. With so many things to see on each island, the only issue you might run into is just what to fit into each stop. So grab your sea legs – the Greek islands await!