Greece is an island nation, with the Aegean and Ionian Seas crammed with pretty, bite-sized land masses surrounded by beautiful seas. Starting with the largest, the Peloponnese and Crete, there are hundreds more inhabited islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas and a great number of uninhabited ones as well. Many of the major Greek islands are served by airports, so direct flights from Europe may be possible – if not flights will be connected either through Athens or Thessaloniki International airports. Most islands are also served by ferries and taking the scenic route is recommended if you have the time.
Choose from Corfu and Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea. Corfu (Kerkyra), the second largest of the Ionian Islands, with its nearby tiny neighbouring islands of Mathraki, Ereikoussa, and Othonoi, houses the Ionian University. Corfu’s ancient history and mythology are interlinked and related to Poseidon the sea god and Asopus the river, with the ancient island inhabitants known as the Phaiakes. In Kefalonia, apart from the pretty capital Argostoli and the many beaches, Mounts Ainos with its natural park and mounts Paliki, Gerania and Agia Dynati with their tiny charming communities and characterful monasteries are lovely to visit. The Capes of Agios Georgios, Kounopetra and Atheras are very atmospheric.
The volcanic island of Santorini (Thera) in the southern Aegean Sea may be the basis for the legend of Atlantis. It’s a member of the Cyclades island group and Therasia is its nearest inhabited neighbour, with pretty Aspronisi, Christiana and the Nea and Palaia Kameni minor islands nearby as well. In Santorini, the geological caldera and the giant lagoon surrounded by forbidding high cliffs are spectacular.
Still in the Aegean Sea, the island of Thassos in the north can be reached by plane to Thessaloniki (Halkidilki tours also land here), then coach to the lovely town of Kavala and a ferry crossing from picturesque Keramoti. Thassos itself is a good size, permitting the visitor to either stay in one place and make the most of it (like Limenas, the main port and island capital) and/or tour around the many coves, beaches and some pretty villages like Agios Georgios and Ormos Prinou. The ancient marble quarries of Alyki and the paleolithic iron mine of Tzines are of specialist interest.
At the other end of the Aegean sea, further south and near the Turkish coast, the cosmopolitan island of Rhodes is pretty exceptional. It is the largest in the Dodecanese islands group and famous for one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes. Rhodes medieval Old Town is a great place to visit during the day, a World Heritage Site and a good party spot.
By contrast, the tiny island of Kos, also in the Dodecanese group, with its 14th century Knights of Saint John of Rhodes fortress guarding the main harbour entrance, is also full of ancient Greek antiquities. Despite its diminutive size, Kos is a great place to either party or chill out.
Crete is both large enough to spend a few weeks at and beautiful, with variety of pastimes possible. The beaches can be spectacular, e.g. the black volcanic sand beach at the bottom of the Samaria Gorge facing the Arabian Sea can be most inviting, particularly after you’ve done the 3-hour long spectacular downhill hike. Agios Nikolaos in the east is still pretty authentic, whereas the big towns/cities (Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, Ierapetra and Sitia) can be more chaotic but also great fun to visit. Remnants of the unique Minoan civilisation, which was probably destroyed by a huge tsunami that originated in Santorini, will greet you wherever you visit in Crete.
Posted : Monday, June 11th, 2012 at 10:00
As well as writing about travel, Karen Bryan offers tips on saving money, frugal living and how to live well on less, on her site Help Me To Save