THE STUFF OF LE­GEND Five Greek is­lands to fac­tor into your sum­mer plans

With their rich his­tory, un­ri­valled beauty and sparkling seas, Greece’s is­lands are rightly mythol­o­gised

Business Traveller - - CONTENTS - WORDS HAN­NAH BRANDLER ROSE DYKINS JENNY SOUTHAN

Greece has at­tracted vis­i­tors since an­tiq­uity – even the ci­ti­zens of the Ro­man Em­pire were not im­mune to the charms of this cra­dle of West­ern civil­i­sa­tion. Great weather, di­verse land­scapes, a rich his­tory, de­li­cious food and a coast­line lapped by the Aegean, Mediter­ranean and Io­nian seas all add to the draw. The big main­land desti­na­tions of Halkidiki, Thes­sa­loniki and the cap­i­tal, Athens, take some beat­ing, but the 200-plus in­hab­ited is­lands in the ar­chi­pel­ago are unique and each has its own dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter.

In spite of the fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties Greece has faced in re­cent years, trav­ellers con­tinue to visit its sandy beaches, cosy coves and ver­dant olive groves. And there is no need to fix on one des­ti­na­tion. Is­land hop­ping presents the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy sev­eral is­lands in one trip. Here are five of our favourites, ac­ces­si­ble by air and in­ter-is­land fer­ries.

SAN­TORINI

San­torini’s show-stop­ping sun­sets are some­thing to be­hold. Each day at dusk, peo­ple flock to the is­land’s west coast and perch along cliff sides to watch the sky ex­plode into

vi­brant sher­bet hues, with its vol­canic crater, Nea Ka­meni, cast­ing a dra­matic sil­hou­ette.

A mag­net for hon­ey­moon­ers and In­sta­gram blog­gers, San­torini is one of the Cy­clades is­lands. Thanks to its dis­tinc­tive vol­canic en­vi­ron­ment, the is­land is full of in­trigu­ing places to ex­plore: black sandy beaches, the sul­phur hot springs that fizz at the foot of the Nea Ka­meni, and the craggy, molten sur­face of the crater it­self.

A word of warn­ing: the com­pact cap­i­tal, Fira, is a pop­u­lar cruise stop, and its cob­bled streets can be­come crowded with tourists. As for those sun­sets, Oia, the blue­domed town to the north of the is­land, gets packed full of peo­ple ea­ger to wit­ness the spec­ta­cle.

For­tu­nately, the is­land is brim­ming with bou­tique bolt­holes that al­low for es­cape. Re­cent ad­di­tions in­clude Is­to­ria San­torini, a con­tem­po­rary 12-suite re­treat set along the black sands of Perivo­los Beach, and Canaves Oia Epit­ome, a se­cluded lux­ury re­sort just out­side of Oia.

MYKONOS

This 90 sq km is­land in the Cy­clades is known for its beach par­ties, ex­pen­sive restau­rants and gen­eral he­do­nis­tic vibe (it’s a favourite among the yacht crowd, celebs and the gay com­mu­nity). There are only a hand­ful of taxis on this bar­ren rock, which has lit­tle in the way of green­ery in sum­mer, but those who feel dar­ing can rent a quad bike.

Mykonos Town is movie-set beau­ti­ful with cas­cad­ing pink bougainvil­lea, blue-and-white painted streets, and lit­tle bars and tav­er­nas that look over the sea. Opened in 2018, Ken­sho Psarou ho­tel has 29 rooms with ter­races and hot tubs or plunge pools. Last year, Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World added the new Mykonos Riv­iera ho­tel to its col­lec­tion. The Grace Mykonos, Bill and Coo, and Mykonos Blu are other note­wor­thy bou­tique op­tions.

If you want to sun­bathe peace­fully on the beach all day, choose an­other is­land. Mykonos is the place to come for danc­ing in the sea af­ter lunch at Nam­mos, order­ing over­sized bot­tles of Belvedere vodka at Scor­pios beach club, and sun­set drag shows at Jackie O’. Ev­ery­where serves in­cred­i­ble food. Out­side of April to Oc­to­ber it be­comes a lot qui­eter, with many places shut­ting down for the win­ter.

RHODES

The largest of the Dode­canese is­lands, at about 1,400 sq km, Rhodes’ me­dieval city achieved UNESCO sta­tus in 1988. A labyrinth of cob­bled al­ley­ways, the Old Town is home to Gothic ar­chi­tec­tural gems such as the Palace of the Grand Mas­ters, and the Street of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, who for­merly ruled the city.

Rhodes’ com­plex his­tory – it also spent time un­der the rule of the Turks and Ital­ians – means the is­land is also home to Byzan­tine churches and Ro­man ruins as well as Vene­tian forts and build­ings from the Ot­toman pe­riod. The New Town caters to those look­ing for beaches, bars and shop­ping, and the east coast is well known for the clifftop

Mykonos is known for its beach par­ties, ex­pen­sive restau­rants and gen­eral he­do­nis­tic vibe

acrop­o­lis at Lin­dos. The coun­try­side around Ar­change­los and the ruins of An­cient Kameiros are also worth ex­plor­ing.

In May, the all-in­clu­sive Gre­co­tel re­sort on Kal­lithea beach will be­come the Gre­co­tel LUX ME Rho­dos, with its 276 rooms and 46 bun­ga­lows re­ceiv­ing a deluxe makeover.

CRETE

The largest of the Greek is­lands, as you might ex­pect, is also one of the most di­verse. Across 8,336 sq km on the south­ern side of the Aegean Sea, quaint in­land vil­lages are sand­wiched be­tween turquoise beaches to the north, and coves, cliffs and canyons to the south.

Myth and le­gend are the stuff on which Greece is built and the is­land can claim more than its share of evoca­tive tales and clas­si­cal his­tory – the Ideon Cave is be­lieved to be the birth­place of Zeus, while the ves­tiges of the Mi­noan civil­i­sa­tion, which ruled about 4,000 years ago, are pep­pered all over the is­land.

Crete is a hit with hik­ers through­out the year thanks to its moun­tain­ous ter­rain and mild win­ters. A pop­u­lar route is the 16km Sa­maria Gorge, a seven-hour walk that ends at the coastal vil­lage of Agia Roumeli. Fin­ish that and you’ll be in need of a good meal – rest as­sured that the is­land’s cui­sine is thought to be one of the health­i­est in the world, with an em­pha­sis on nutri­ent-packed or­ganic pro­duce, lash­ings of olive oil and lit­tle meat.

New open­ings this sea­son in­clude the 311-room Wyn­d­ham Grand Mirabello Bay in the coastal town of Agios Niko­laos. The Nana Princess ho­tel and its state-ofthe-art spa opened in Her­sonis­sos in June last year, while those look­ing for beach­front vil­las can now stay at Elounda Mare Ho­tel’s Mi­noan Palace, launched in Au­gust last year.

CORFU

Part of the Io­nian Is­lands, the “emer­ald isle” has a more Eu­ro­pean char­ac­ter than the rest of the ar­chi­pel­ago. It has long been pop­u­lar with trav­ellers for its beaches, pastel­hued vil­lages and lush olive groves.

The UNESCO-listed Corfu Old Town bears phys­i­cal re­minders of the is­land’s mil­i­tary his­tory. Ex­plo­ration of the town’s sea-fac­ing fortresses, which pro­tected the Vene­tian-ruled is­land from Ot­toman sieges over four cen­turies, are highly rec­om­mended and bring an ex­tra di­men­sion to the post­card-pretty looks.

Else­where, you’ll spot the un­mis­take­able in­flu­ence of 19th-cen­tury British rule – cricket is a pop­u­lar sport here – while Greek mythol­ogy holds that a ship­wrecked Odysseus washed up on Corfu’s shores.

For a lux­ury all-in­clu­sive stay, the Ikos Das­sia re­sort, which opened in May last year, has views of the Io­nian Sea and a 600-me­tre pri­vate sandy beach. Trav­el­ling with­out kids? Adults-only op­tions in­clude the lux­u­ri­ous Mar­bella Nido Suite Ho­tel and Vil­las in Agios Ioan­nis Peris­teron, which also opened in May.

British Air­ways and Easy­jet fly di­rect to all five is­lands from Lon­don be­tween April and Oc­to­ber.

PIC­TURED: The strik­ing blue domes of Oia in San­torini

ABOVE: The white cube-like build­ings of Mykonos Town RIGHT: Me­dieval streets in Rhodes

ABOVE: De­scend­ing into Sa­maria Gorge, CreteRIGHT: The pas­tel hues of Corfu Old Town

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