Se­cret GREECE

While the north­east Aegean is off the main tourist routes, even in the well-known Greek is­land groups you can find the odd place that’s lit­tle changed over the decades

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Secret Greece -

ASTY­PALEA DODE­CANESE WHY AM I GO­ING? On the map, Asty­palea ap­pears to be a but­ter­fly cap­tured mid-flight be­tween Kos and San­torini; the is­land’s two wings are linked by a nar­row strip that’s also home to the tiny air­port. This way­ward mem­ber of the Dode­canese is con­ve­niently over­looked by most non-Greeks, and devel­op­ment has been bliss­fully low-key. The prize view on the is­land is of hill­top Hora, the pris­tine white old town, seem­ingly flow­ing along a spur capped by eight de­funct wind­mills, then down the slope un­til it reaches the har­bour at Skala, Asty­palea’s main set­tle­ment. The is­land’s beaches – mostly a mix of peb­bles and sand – give onto vivid blue bays. The most eye-catch­ing are ac­tu­ally a short boat trip away, to the neigh­bour­ing, un­in­hab­ited islets of Kout­somyti and Kounoupi. The lat­ter’s beach is a rib­bon that unites the two parts of the is­land, rather like an Asty­palea in minia­ture (day trips from £13; asty­palea­ WHERE SHOULD I STAY? At Fil­d­isi, a vil­lagestyle clus­ter of 10 white­washed houses with royal-blue shut­ters steps down the hill­side to the in­fin­ity pool and bar, which look out over Li­vadi Bay. The purist colour scheme con­tin­ues in­side the stu­dio apart­ments (from £90; fil­d­ WHAT AM I EAT­ING? Seafood comes with a dash of so­phis­ti­ca­tion at Astro­pe­los, set on the beach at Li­vadi and shaded by tamarisk trees. The ce­viche catch of the day, grilled oc­to­pus and lob­ster spaghetti are high­lights (mains from £8). WHAT AM I DRINK­ING? The Latin-Caribbean in­flu­ence on its cock­tail menu aside, Cas­tro Bar is no Cuban pas­tiche: its sun­set-friendly ter­race perches un­der the old Vene­tian kas­tro (cas­tle) in Hora. Keep things sort-of-lo­cal with a Mel­low Mint, which in­cludes mas­tic liqueur (face­ cas­tro­bar.asty­palaia).


WHY AM I GO­ING? The south­ern­most of the seven main Ionian Is­lands is a beau­ti­ful out­lier, closer to Crete than it is to the rest of its group. Green­ery blan­kets most of the is­land, grow­ing out of con­trol around wa­ter­falls such as the Ner­aïda cas­cade at My­lopota­mos, whose pool changes shades of blue and green in a play of light. The is­land’s tiny hill­top cap­i­tal, also known as Kythira (or Hora), has a good choice of taste­ful small shops sell­ing hand-wo­ven clutch bags and be­spoke jew­ellery, while in­land Po­ta­mos hosts a Sun­day-morning flea mar­ket as the sur­round­ing cafés fill up. The vil­lage is also the base for Pyr­gos House, which runs a fab­u­lous choice of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties on the is­land, in­clud­ing guided walks, sea-kayak­ing, olive-pick­ing and canyon­ing (pyr­ The An­cient Greeks picked Kythira (along with Cyprus) as one of the two myth­i­cal lo­ca­tions for the birth­place of Aphrodite, god­dess of love. If you head to the south­east-coast sands of Kal­adi, keep an eye out for any Re­nais­sance painting- wor­thy beau­ties float­ing in on a gi­ant scal­lop shell. WHERE SHOULD I STAY? Be the lord or lady of all you sur­vey at Xenonas Fos ke Choros (‘Guest­house Light and Space’). On a hill­top in the cen­tre of the is­land, with views to the Ionian Sea, this sturdy tra­di­tional villa has four rustic rooms, with cush­ioned flag­stone benches, met­al­work lanterns and drift­wood-framed mir­rors (from £85; agreek­ WHAT AM I EAT­ING? Rab­bit stew, veal chops and other hearty dishes are the main­stays at O Pla­tanos, along with sal­ads that in­clude is­land bar­ley rusks. This ut­terly charm­ing kafeneio (café) takes its name from the plane trees that shade it in the cen­tre of My­lopota­mos vil­lage (mains from £5). WHAT AM I DRINK­ING? Frappé (frothy iced coffee) might be the Greek stan­dard, but Ve­randa Café prides it­self on its freddo cap­puc­cino. This smart spot in Hora also has a well-stocked bar and a ter­race with sea views that’s per­fect for a beer at sun­set (ve­


WHY AM I GO­ING? Near the cen­tre of the Cyclades, but far from mass tourism (there’s no air­port, only ferry ac­cess), Sifnos has dreamy views – par­tic­u­larly around the town of Kas­tro, a clus­ter of sugar-cube houses on a rock above the east coast. If you like your beaches to be big, on shel­tered bays and backed up by a choice of tav­er­nas, look south and west at Platis Gia­los, Vathy and Ka­mares. For more in­ti­macy, head south to Fa­solou or north to Vroulidia. Sifnos also has a strong culinary rep­u­ta­tion for an is­land of its size, and one place vis­i­tors can share in its cre­ative side is at Sifnos Farm Narlis, whose cook­ing classes be­gin with pick­ing herbs and veg­eta­bles in the gar­den (from £55; WHERE SHOULD I STAY? From its van­tage point high on the east coast, Ve­rina As­tra has end­lessly com­pelling Aegean views from the ve­ran­das out­side its seven suites. Tra­di­tional tech­niques are used in­side and out – dry-stone walls, bas­ket­work – for a re­sult that still looks very con­tem­po­rary (from £125; veri­na­ho­tel­ WHAT AM I EAT­ING? In labyrinthine, hill­top Apol­lo­nia, Ram­ba­gas Res­tau­rant’s tree-shaded ter­race is a venue for Cy­cladic cui­sine in new guises: sum­mer tomato frit­ters in yo­ghurt and mint sauce, or pork shoul­der sou­vlaki with lemon tzatziki (mains from £12; kik­ladonx­ WHAT AM I DRINK­ING? Choose from more than 50 Greek wines – mostly from small pro­duc­ers – at Omega 3. Ones from Assyr­tiko grapes are a favourite. The nu­tri­tion-minded name of this south-coast beach­front bar hints at its other main­stay: all things fish (face­book. com/omega3­greece).


Only four miles off the Greek main­land, and less than two hours’ sail­ing from the port of Athens, Hydra is not re­mote in any ge­o­graph­i­cal sense. Cars and mo­tor­bikes are banned here, how­ever, so most of is­land life has stayed within walk­ing ra­dius of the main – in­deed, only – town. This rises like an amphitheatre from the small har­bour, in tiers of ter­ra­cotta-tiled stone houses. Here, the most vivid sounds are the clop of don­keys’ hooves and the bab­ble from café ta­bles. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was a hon­ey­pot for the rich and ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined: Aris­to­tle Onas­sis, Maria Cal­las, El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Sophia Loren among them. Each sum­mer for the past decade, a branch of Athens’ Deste Foun­da­tion for Con­tem­po­rary Art has put on an exhibition in a stone-built old slaugh­ter­house ( Strik­ing out fur­ther into this spindly, but moun­tain­ous is­land de­pends on how far you’re will­ing to hike to a beach, though wa­ter-taxis do reach some coves and there’s also the op­tion of sad­dling up with Har­riet’s Hydra Horses (rides from £23; hy­dradi­


Used in the 19th cen­tury as a sponge fac­tory, Brat­sera Ho­tel of­fers 25 rooms with wood-beamed ceil­ings and plas­tered stone walls, all ar­ranged around its court­yard pool in the heart of Hydra Town (from £165; brat­ser­a­ho­


Over­look­ing the en­trance to Hydra’s main har­bour, Omi­los serves at­trac­tively pre­sented, yet sim­ple dishes such as seafood risotto or sea bass with crushed potato. In its 1960s in­car­na­tion, the res­tau­rant was a jet-set favourite and its in­te­rior is still mod­ishly white – the canopied water­side ter­race is the high­light (mains from £12; omi­


Con­tinue a lit­tle fur­ther along the coast from Omi­los and you’ll reach Spilia Beach Bar. With cock­tails on the menu, and swim­mers jump­ing off from the rocks be­low the ter­race, it’s a care­free place to await sun­set (spili­a­

Dusk falls over the hill­top town of Hora and the old port of Asty­palea is­land

The white­washed houses and nar­row lanes of Hora, the main town in Kythira. BOT­TOM RIGHT The fish­ing vil­lage of Avle­monas

The beach of Vathy with the Monastery of the Ar­changels (Tax­i­archis). IN­SET Bas­ket bowls adorn the wall of a room at Ve­rina As­tra

The water­side ter­race at Spilia Beach Bar. LEFT A fish­ing vil­lage on Hydra

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