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Greece and the Islands

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Greece is one European country I've never visited.  If I wanted to visit one or more islands, how would I go about choosing, other than just picking names I recognize?


Does being accessible from Athens narrow it down?

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That's what I figured.  But which ones?  Or doesn't it matter?  I would like to visit a less touristy island, if that's possible.

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Paxos is less touristy (and it has Antipaxos, and they're both Paxi!) 


Pelion is not an Island but might as well be. 

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Guest Ptipois

From travelling to the Greek islands many times to write or update guidebooks back in the late 90s, I think I can help.


First you have to choose your archipelago, then you pick your island(s).

Each archipelago has its own style and mood.

If you're into the bone-dry charm of white cubes scattered on hills and rockiness in general, head for the Cyclades or the Saronic gulf. (Not a strict rule — place like Patmos in the Dodecanese are very Cyclades-like.)

If you prefer more greenery and (at places) slightly Italianized landscapes, pick the Ionian islands — Kerkyra, Zakinthos, Kythira.

If you like larger islands with forests and a schizoid mix of totally unspoiled places, package tourism and islands not really worth stopping at, depending on where you go, pick the Dodecanese. 

If you want the same thing as above, but less touristy, with more influences from the continent above and Eastward (Northern Greece, Turkey), try the Eastern and Northern Aegean islands.

I am less familiar with the Sporades, which I hear are a mix of Cycladic and North-Aegean. 

Evia (Euboiea) is also an Island but that doesn't show. It is rather close to Athens and I don't think many non-Greeks tourists go there.

Crete is a country per se rather than an Island.


Some basic facts: all islands are reachable. Some through a longer journey than others. I have learned to appreciate the marine connections very much, including them in the pleasure of the journey itself. Actually, updating guidebooks was so exhausting that the ferry trips were pure relaxation. They can be very pleasant indeed.

Some islands are connected by hovercrafts, sometimes very large ones which absorb any bumpiness of the sea. Avoid small hovercrafts, if there are any left — getting sea-sick on one of them is a nightmare.

On long ferry crossings, like more than 7-8 hours, a cabin is worth the expense.

Island-hopping is a very nice thing to do. Stay on an island for a few days, then sail to the next one or a more distant one, rinse and repeat.

Every island has: decent food (though I haven't checked for many years), some beaches, quiet corners and, sometimes, overcrowded parts. Some islands like Ios or Mykonos seem completely spoiled by the party crowd, but as on every other island, just stray away for a few miles and you're all alone.


After that I can only list the islands I like best:


Cyclades: Sifnos, Amorgos, Milos, Paros, Naxos. Sifnos has good food. Amorgos is gorgeous but devoid of any spring water, so peak season can be a bit harsh. Milos (volcanic) has interesting rock shapes and lovely, though atypical, beaches. Santorini is stunning but gets really crowded and is probably the hottest place in Summer. Naxos is very large and notoriously the place where Ariana was abandoned by Theseus. It still holds on to this tradition since it is very easy to get lost on Naxos, if you travel to the Southwestern part of the island, which is totally undeveloped and empty.


Saronic gulf: Aegina the pistachio island (probably quite built-up by now but I recently heard good things about it), not been to the other islands. If you don't mind archeological sites, the temple of Aphaia is one of the loveliest old-stone sites I've ever seen.


Dodecanese: Tilos (avoid Nisyros), Astypalea, Rhodes and Kos (congested around the capital cities but full of void once you move around), Patmos can be crowded but is a jewel. Nobody ever goes to Kasos and Karpathos, but these islands supposedly have remained very traditional. To check. Symi is charming and very dry. Kalymnos is mountainous with very little elbow-room on the coast, but it does have charm. Roads only go halfway up the island. Leros used to be the nutcase island, I sort of liked that (no tourism whatsoever), but I don't know how things are standing now. Arki, Lipsos and Fourni are tiny little things with tavernas where you can order spiny lobster. 


North Aegean: Samos is a large island. The South coast (Pithagorio) overcrowded with not very nice people, North coast (Samos town) quieter, very woody island where it is advised to rent a car and explore. Ikaria is one of my favorites, physically very much like Samos but smaller, mostly unspoiled with plenty of traditional agriculture and good food. Haven't been to Chios but to Lesvos yes, a very large, nice island covered with olive trees, good food as I remember. Haven't been to Limnos, Thasos and Samothraki, but would love to go there.


Foodwise, you can eat very well or terribly on every island. The bad news is that you don't really know where. You'll certainly eat horribly wherever hords of package tourists are gathered (Kos city, Rhodes city). As a rule, small, family-owned tavernas are safe. On some islands, they'll serve their own wine. Of course it is advised to avoid any place with a written or printed menu and select the tavernas where they let you enter the kitchen and lift all the covers on the pans to let you see what they cooked today. When that happens, very little can go wrong. Remember that bread, cutlery and paper napkins are charged extra.


Wines: very good on Santorini, Rhodes, Lemnos, and Chios.


My selection of drop-dead-gorgeous villages, the visit of which should not be missed if you set foot on their islands:


Langada, Tholaria and Chora in Amorgos,

Symi in Symi,

Chora in Patmos, 

Chora in Sérifos (beautiful, weird island where writers and poets usually have a house),

Agia Marina and Kastro in Leros,

Artemonas and Kastro in Sifnos.

Of course, list not complete.




ETA: the article linked above pretty much hits the nail. All the mentioned islands are among the best. 

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