Our experts pick 12 island idylls for a cut-price summer escape
Now that one of the Med’s best destinations is starting its long journey to recovery, Telegraph experts pick the perfect island to match your holiday needs
Fingers crossed – Greece seems finally to be back on the road to recovery. The hiatus in bookings is over, and holidaymakers can relax and think about returning to one of the best destinations in the Mediterranean for a relaxed and escapist holiday. There is plenty of availability too – even for last-minute bookings.
We’ve consulted our experts in Greece, Marc Dubin and Jane Foster, and other Telegraph writers who know the islands well, to come up with our top 12 for different types of holiday. We’ve also included a special deal or holiday for each. Please note that prices and availability are subject to change.
For our expert guides to the Greek islands and our hotel recommendations, see telegraph. co.uk/greekislands. For our detailed booking guide and list of operators, see telegraph.co.uk/greeceguide.
Best for beaches Zakynthos
The Ionian Islands are the place to head for sandy beaches backed by dramatic coastlines. Shipwreck Bay on Zakynthos, accessible only by boat, trumps them all – even if it does get a bit crowded. “Visitors to Zakynthos should avoid the boozy corners of the south coast and stick to the beautiful, unspoilt north and the mountainous west of the island,” says Telegraph Travel’s Joanna Symons. “Or base yourself on the pine-forested Vasilikos peninsula in the south-east, most of which has been protected from large-scale development because of the loggerhead turtles that breed on Gerakas beach – a perfect curve of golden sand. Those turtles know how to pick a good spot.”
Deal: Thomas Cook (0844 412 5970; thomascook.com) is offering seven nights at the four-star Smartline Margarita in Zakynthos for £599 per person on an all-inclusive basis. Price is for two adults sharing a double room and includes return flight from Glasgow on August 23.
Best for families Corfu
“If I could give a child a gift, I’d give him my childhood,” said Gerald Durrell, the author and conservationist, shortly before his death in 1995 – a ringing endorsement for Corfu, where the Durrells spent four years from 1935-39. Much has changed since then, but away from the excesses of Kavos in the south, you’ll still find idyllic, sleepy spots. “Tourist development is quarantined on certain coastal patches, and once inland you really seem to be on another island, even in another era,” says Marc Dubin, our Corfu expert. Family-friendly accommodation is ubiquitous.
Deal: A one-week stay at the luxurious Marbella Beach Hotel in Corfu, recommended by Marc Dubin, costs from £584 per person, including flights, based on selected departures in September and October. Call 0333 005 9018 or see telegraph.co.uk/corfudeal.
Best for hotels Mykonos
Greek hotels have a reputation for being rustic. Not so on trendy Mykonos, which has some of the most stylish boutique properties around. Marc Dubin recommends Cavo Tagoo, near Mykonos Town (Hóra). “Built atop an abandoned quarry in 1985 by owner-architect Paris Liakos, then renovated thoroughly in 2007, this ‘barefoot chic’ complex sets the standard for all the cutting-edge lodging that followed,” he says.
Deal: A seven-night stay at the five-star Cavo Tagoo suites, in Mykonos Town, with views of the Aegean, costs from £1,369 per person. Price includes flight, transfers and breakfast. Valid for travel between August and October. Call 0333 005 9018 or see telegraph.co.uk/mykonosdeal.
Best for food Crete
The southerly location of Crete gives it the longest growing season in Greece. It produces a cornucopia of delicious fruit and vegetables – you’ll even find avocados and bananas. Marc Dubin says: “Crete has figured prominently in the revival of Greek cuisine, drawing on such local ingredients as fresh or cured meats, wild edible plants and rakí or tsikoudiá, the famous local distilled clear spirits made from grape pressings in October.” His guide to the best restaurants on the island can be found at telegraph.co.uk/crete.
Deal: Seven nights at the five-star St Nicolas Bay Hotel and Villa in eastern Crete, recommended by our experts, costs from £899 per person. Price includes flight, complimentary upgrade to half board and return transfers. Valid for travel between August and October. Call 0333 005 9018 or see telegraph.co.uk/cretedeal.
Best for wine Kefalonia
There’s wonderful wine to be quaffed in Crete and Santorini, but we’re plumping for Kefalonia, whose Robola
winery is responsible for the tipple of choice of drunken Father Arsenios in Louis de Bernières’ classic novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Deal: Villa Nicholas in Fiscardo, offering views across a small bay to Ithaca, and with four bedrooms sleeping up to eight, now costs £6,280 – reduced from £7,381. The price, through GIC The Villa Collection (020 8232 9780; gicthevillacollection.com), includes flights from London Gatwick departing August 1 and transfers.
Best for peace and quiet Koufonissia
Jane Foster’s pick is hidden away between the larger Cycladic islands of Naxos and Amorgos. “Koufonissia is made up of two tiny islets, Ano Koufonissi (Upper Koufonissi) and uninhabited Kato Koufonissi (Lower Koufonissi), separated by a 200yd sea channel,” she says.
“Ano Koufonissi, with its whitewashed Cycladic cottages, has a buzzing little community. Locals live mainly from fishing, there are no real roads and hardly any cars, so everyone either walks or cycles. It is only over the past decade that Koufonissia has become a popular escape with Athenians in search of an unpretentious and inexpensive summer holiday. ”
Deal: Jane Foster recommends a stay at Koufonissia’s windmill (0030 2107 293789; windmill-villa.gr), which sleeps four and dates from 1830. The property has availability for a one-week stay from September 27, for €450 (£315) per person. You will need to book flights to Athens (try ba.com or easyet.com) or Santorini and then take a ferry to reach the island.
Best for hiking Andros
There are wonderful walks all over mountainous Andros, the most northerly of the Cyclades. Telegraph contributor John Gimlette recalls a hiking trip: “We marched along ancient pavements bounded by massive stone-panelled walls. We stumbled into orange groves or splashed along streams colonised by terrapins and operatic frogs. Then we climbed into great, crackle-dry valleys, home only to pine martens. Finally, we clambered up through almond groves and mulberry forests to the Panachrantos monastery, where the last two monks were living in a state of blissful decrepitude.”
Deal: A one-week stay at Aegean Castle, overlooking the sea at Agia Eleousa Beach, costs £658.50 per person, based on an August 3 departure, through Booking.com (bit.ly/1LCTJCn). Flights cost extra.
Best for couples Symi
Santorini is a strong contender, but Symi gets our vote. It has one of the most picturesque harbours in the country, crowded with pastelcoloured houses, bars, tavernas and chic boutiques, and dozens of tiny beaches accessible only by boat. Telegraph writer Francesca Syz calls it a “rugged gem with a harbour of crumbling neoclassical mansions, offering a wonderful local experience and some of the best food on the Greek islands”.
Deal: Marc Dubin suggests a villa holiday at the Laza Penthouse, available through Travel à la Carte (020 7286 9255; travelalacarte.co.uk) for a one-week stay from August 19 for £675.50 per person, not including flights.
Best for villas Skopelos
On a Greek island holiday, cool, stone-floored villas are infinitely preferable to hotels. Skopelos, which was the setting for the film adaptation of Mamma Mia!, has some wonderful options. Telegraph Travel’s Oliver Smith suggests Villa Aetoma, a 10-minute drive from Skopelos Town, bookable through Ionian & Aegean Island Holidays.
Skopelos is also known for its monasteries. There are dozens of them scattered around the island, including perhaps 10 on Mount Palouki, occupying the south-east corner of Skopelos. They make for a perfect ecclesiastical crawl – what more innocent, life-affirming activity could there be?
Deal: Ionian & Aegean Island Holidays (020 8459 0777; ionianislandholidays.com) is offering a one-week stay at Villa Raches in Skopelos (sleeps 2-4) for £955 per person (saving £514). July 31 departure. Price includes flight from London or Manchester and car hire.
Best for views Santorini
For stunning views, it’s hard to look beyond Santorini. “The island is best approached by sea,” says Marc Dubin. “As your ship manoeuvres over the midnight-blue waters of the caldera, the sheer lava cliffs of the crater’s lip, layered in varicoloured rock, loom overhead, with white houses on top like a dusting of snow. It’s one of the spectacles of the Med, as is the reverse view when staring out over the caldera waters from up top – something not lost on the strangely assorted clientele of honeymooners, cruise-ship passengers and backpackers.”
Deal: The Telegraph’s Ultimate Cunard Cruise from Istanbul to Rome includes a tour of Santorini with the historian Bettany Hughes, plus appearances by seven other Telegraph writers during the voyage. It costs from £4,949 per person for 14 nights in a top suite. Call 0333 005 9159 or see telegraph. co.uk/cunardcruise.
Best for nightlife Rhodes
Kos, Corfu and Mykonos all stand out, but we are plumping for Rhodes. The resort of Faliraki has a bad reputation, but things are infinitely more refined in Rhodes Town. “Head to the fast-changing old-quarter bars around Platía Aríonos and along Miltiádou,” suggests Marc Dubin.
Deal: Thomson (020 3451 2688; thomson.co.uk) is offering a saving of £211 on breaks at the five-star Hotel La Marquise in Rhodes. Fly from London Gatwick on September 2, and stay for seven nights, half-board, and you’ll pay £637 per person, based on two sharing.
Best for watersports Lefkada
Large bays and consistently good winds attract droves of sailors and windsurfers to Lefkada. The coastal towns of Vassiliki and Nydri are the most popular spots for hiring boats and boards. The island has plenty more to recommend it, from its glorious beaches to its sleepy interior – the gorgeous former capital of Karya is a particular highlight.
Deal: A five-night stay at the four-star Grand Theoni Hotel on Lefkada, between August 11 and 16, costs £399 for two adults through Booking.com (bit. ly/1OxmtMZ). Flights cost extra.
Shipwreck Beach on Zakynthos, above, a highlight of the Ionian Islands; Corfu, left, is ideal for family holidays; stay in a windmill on Koufonissia, right, and enjoy the peace and quiet
Oia in Santorini, above, the island deemed best for spectacular views
Large bays and consistent winds attract sailors and windsurfers to Lefkada, above; Symi, right, is known for its picturesque harbour; Andros, below right, is excellent for hiking