‘Each is­land at­tracts a very dif­fer­ent crowd’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

John Donne was right: “No man is an is­land en­tire of it­self.” But each of the Greek is­lands is its own uni­verse, from far-flung re­treats to cos­mopoli­tan re­sorts. Back in the day when Greece’s fer­ries were as de­light­fully cheap as they were ag­o­nis­ingly slow, is­land­hop­ping around the Aegean was a rite of pas­sage for trav­ellers. Now, with cata­ma­rans, char­ter flights, a ferry route con­nect­ing the Io­nian is­lands for the first time this sum­mer, and a fleet of sea­planes sched­uled to launch in 2019, even the most re­mote is­lands are (rel­a­tively) easy to reach.

Find­ing the per­fect one for you is more of a chal­lenge. There are 6,000 Greek is­lands, broadly di­vided into six ge­o­graph­i­cal groups, plus Crete. The best-known are the Cy­clades, with their chalk-white vil­lages, blue-domed chapels and sea­side tav­er­nas strung with gar­lands of sun-dried oc­to­pus.

The Dode­canese bear the hall­marks of the coun­try’s che­quered his­tory. A trad­ing post be­tween Europe and the Ori­ent, they have at­tracted ma­raud­ers and mer­chants since an­tiq­uity, leav­ing a pot­pourri of me­dieval cas­tles, Ot­toman minarets and art deco architecture in their wake.

The rugged North­ern Aegean is­lands are al­most im­pos­si­ble to cat­e­gorise. Chios, with its for­ti­fied me­dieval vil­lages, Byzan­tine monas­ter­ies, and coun­try es­tates lush with cit­rus or­chards, is mag­nif­i­cent; Lesvos has wel­comed waves of refugees with ex­tra­or­di­nary hu­man­ity and hos­pi­tal­ity; and Ikaria is known for its rau­cous re­li­gious fes­ti­vals and noc­tur­nal lo­cals.

The Io­nian is­lands have more of an Ital­ianate in­flu­ence (they were un­der Vene­tian oc­cu­pa­tion for 400 years). Gen­tle and fer­tile, they have a softer light and qui­eter cli­mate than the windswept Cy­clades.

The pine-fringed Spo­rades are out on a limb, a sleepy ar­chi­pel­ago off the east­ern coast of main­land Greece. Only four of the 24 is­lands are in­hab­ited. Apart from Skiathos, which has an in­ter­na­tional air­port, the other three (Skope­los, Alonis­sos, and Sky­ros) are nat­u­ral beau­ties whose charms are largely undis­cov­ered.

Only an hour or two from Athens, the Sa­ronic is­lands are the most ac­ces­si­ble. But each at­tracts a very dif­fer­ent crowd: bo­hemian artists on car-free Hy­dra, shipown­ers on glam­orous Spet­ses, epi­cure­ans on Aegina, fa­mous for its pis­ta­chio farms.

Each of the Greek is­lands, even the most pop­u­lar ones, har­bour se­crets – if you know where to look. De­spite its stun­ning beaches and lush land­scapes, south­ern Corfu has es­caped mass tourism. Sur­rounded by 70 acres of for­est, the Roumanades Es­tate has be­longed to the Trivo­lis fam­ily since the 17th cen­tury. Spiros and Loukia Trivo­lis wel­come guests at their rus­set-red manor house. The kitchen in the two-bed­room apart­ment is stocked with home-made jam, fresh eggs, and olive oil from the es­tate. Go flamingo spot­ting in the wet­lands of Alikes Le­fkim­mis, swim at Gar­denos beach, or head fur­ther south to the sandy bay of Ark­oudi­las. A 17th-cen­tury monastery is hid­den among the pine trees.

Roumanades Es­tate (0030 6944 276 555; roumanades.com); from €910 (£805) per week, B&B. With two mil­lion vis­i­tors a year, San­torini is hardly a se­cret. But you can es­cape the hon­ey­moon­ers and cruise-ship day-trip­pers if you head in­land to Pyr­gos, the is­land’s best­p­re­served vil­lage, and sign up for a cook­ing les­son at Se­lene restau­rant. Or try wines from all 19 of San­torini’s winer­ies at Oia Vine­yart, a mel­low wine bar hid­den in Oia’s back al­leys. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you’ll be ser­e­naded by a bouzouki player.

Stay at Vor­eina Suites (vor­eina suites.gr); dou­bles from €360. It took Odysseus years to re­turn home to Ithaca. Get­ting here still re­quires some ef­fort, but you’re rewarded with limpid green bays and splen­did hikes (like the trek to the church of Anogi – ask for the key at the vil­lage cof­fee shop). The Chapel is ideal for a cou­ple look­ing to fall in love again. A yoga deck with a cush­ioned chill-out area over­looks a pri­vate beach, where day beds un­der the pine trees en­cour­age in­do­lence. For gen­tle ac­tiv­ity, go pad­dle­board­ing; the mo­tion­less sea makes it seem like you’re fly­ing.

The Chapel (0208 422 4885; fives­tar­greece.com); from £7,000 per week for two peo­ple, in­clud­ing break­fast, a boat trip with pic­nic, wa­ter sports and beach drinks.

An­tiparos Es­cape Vil­las (an­tiparos­escapevil­las. com) has the best se­lec­tion of stylish prop­er­ties with personality on An­tiparos. Large, lush Andros at­tracts few non-Greek tourists. And the lo­cals like it that way. There isn’t even a sign out­side Ktima Le­monies. In a val­ley cooled by rush­ing streams, hid­den down a dirt track, a hand­ful of el­e­gant stone cot­tages and a plunge pool are scat­tered among the cit­rus trees. A foot­path leads up to the ham­let of Lamyra, with its 19th-cen­tury man­sions, tin­kling mar­ble foun­tains, and or­chards drip­ping with apri­cots and or­anges. Check out the sur­pris­ing Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art.

Ktima Le­monies (0030 22820 23677; kti­male­monies.gr); from €120 for a dou­ble room, with break­fast. Along with guided tours of must-see sites such as Akrotiri on San­torini, and the palaces of Knos­sos and Phais­tos on Crete, An­dante Trav­els of­fers ac­cess to the ex­ca­va­tions at the Cre­tan fish­ing vil­lage of Sissi – an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore parts of this site not usu­ally ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic. A fish­ing boat will also trans­port you across the Gulf of Mirabello to the is­land of Moch­los, an im­por­tant Mi­noan trad­ing post.

An­dante Trav­els (01722 569757; an­dan­te­trav­els.com) has a seven­night Crete and San­torini es­corted hol­i­day from £2,450pp, all-in­clu­sive. De­par­tures in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber 2018 and April, May, Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber 2019. Aban­doned af­ter the earth­quake that rocked Cephalo­nia in 1953, the ghostly moun­tain vil­lage of Palia Vlachata springs back to life for three days in Au­gust. At the Saris­tra Fes­ti­val (Aug 3-5), video art is pro­jected on to crum­bling build­ings, bands per­form in the vil­lage square, yoga mats are rolled out in empty sta­bles, and the un­paved streets fill with rev­ellers of all ages. Near Sami is the un­der­ground Melis­sani Lake, where a boat­man will row you around. Go at mid­day, when the sun hits the wa­ter at just the right an­gle, and the tem­per­a­ture in­side the cave is deliciously cool.

Stay at My Lit­tle Place on the Hill (0030 69415 29959; mylit­tle­placeon­the­hill.com), a hill­side inn with moun­tain views; from €110 for a self-cater­ing suite. You don’t need a skip­per’s li­cence (or deep pock­ets) to rent your own boat on Paxos – there are dozens of se­cret coves where you can cast an­chor. At lunchtime you can moor your boat right be­low Villa Ma­rina, over­look­ing Mon­go­nissi bay, and cruise over to An­tipaxos, an even smaller is­land with no shops, barely any roads and a few tav­er­nas. Some 200 steps above Voutoumi Beach is Bella Vista, where grilled fish is served with stag­ger­ing views. The tav­erna doesn’t have a land­line, but guests can book with villa spe­cial­ist Scott Wil­liams.

Scott Wil­liams (01749 812721; scot­twilliams.co.uk) of­fers seven nights at Villa Ma­rina from £666pp, based on 15 shar­ing, in May, June or Septem­ber. A week this July/Au­gust costs £1,400pp. From Brice Mar­den to Juer­gen Teller, Hy­dra has long been a muse (and hol­i­day haven) for artists. Ev­ery sum­mer, Dakis Joan­nou, one of the world’s big­gest art col­lec­tors, invites the likes of David Shrigley and Matthew Bar­ney to cre­ate site­spe­cific in­stal­la­tions in the is­land’s old slaugh­ter­house. Check out Hy­dra School Projects at the old Sach­toureion high school, where emerg­ing and es­tab­lished artists fill the class­rooms with avant-garde art.

White Key Vil­las (0030 210 721

A pri­vate beach on Ithaca, known for its limpid turquoise bays

Limon­cello at Ktima Le­monies re­treat

A meal at a Fyki­ada yoga re­treat on Kyth­nos, left; Andros, right, in the Cy­clades

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