Top 10 Greek Islands
Chris’ personal picks from places in the world that he has visited.
Greece is truly the Playground of the Gods. Here are my top ten picks from the array of Greek Islands that lay spread like pearls across the Eastern Mediterranean.
Kefalonia: When I dream of Greece (which I do often!), it is the Ionian island of Kefalonia that appears to me. Hauntingly beautiful, uncommercialized, quintessentially Greek yet decidedly other-wordly, if you've seen the film 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', you have seen Kefalonia. I have happy memories of taking my young son down to the idyllic beach of Myrtos for an afternoon of pure joy...
Corfu lies off the west coast of Mainland Greece in the Ionian Islands and it has always appealed to travellers - and for good reason. The landscape is glorious, Corfu Town is historically cosmopolitan and the coastline is necklaced with coves and beaches. Just avoid the one or two over-developed package vacation centres and you will love the laid-back vibe. My favourite spots are the ridiculously pretty Paleokastritsa and Mouse Island.
Ithaka: The second smallest Ionian island after Paxos, this former Mycenaean kingdom has been inhabited for four thousand years and is identified with Homer's Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, whose delayed return to the island is one of the elements of the Odyssey's plot. Vathy's harbour is one of the largest in the world, but nowadays only about 3,000 people live on this quietest of Ionian islands.
Crete: The largest of all the Greek Islands (260 kms east to west), Crete provides history from the Early Minoan around 2,500 BC to the German invasion of WWII. It has mountains rising to over 8,000 feet, a spectacular coastline, Europe's deepest gorge (Samaria Gorge) and its best-kept secret: the The Lasithi Plateau, a fertile plain ringed by mountains at an average altitude of 2,760 ft. and famous for its white-sailed windmills that used to number over 10,000.
Kos: I was on the very first charter flight to this island from the UK many years ago. Then, it was an undiscovered backwater. Now it is a vibrant and very busy mainstream tourism destination, but the charm of its small villages and the magic of its ancient sites remains intact. This focal point of the Dodecanese Island grouping is celebrated as the birthplace of Western medicine: here Hippokrates founded the first medical school in the 5th century BC at the Aslepeion.
Rhodes: The largest island of the Dodecanese has it all: breathtaking beaches, history in every stone and an island culture all of its own. The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood astride the Harbour of Rhodes Town whose Old Town is now a UNSCO World Heritage Site. Go to Lindos, for the perfect combination of beach, picturesque white-and-blue village, all topped by a Doric Acropolis with a Knights of St. John medieval fortress for good measure!
Thassos: If you want a get-away-from-it-all island off the main tourist track: this is it. Thassos lies in the northern Aegean Sea, close to the coast of Thrace and is reached by ferry from Kavala on the mainland. This is real Greece with no fancy hotels or upmarket restaurants. Wander around the meandering streets of the villages or hire a bike as I did and circle the island, eventually coming to rest in the centre of the island in the ancient village of Theologos.
Symi: There are no sprawling resorts here, just a few simple accommodations in tiny local hotels and apartments sprinkled amidst the lovely pastel-coloured mansions that rise above the harbour town of Yialos. Known as 'The Jewel of the Dodecanes', this tiny island is mesmeric. I stayed in one of the old mansions on the hill and lost myself in the maze of pathways and trails and soaked up the heady atmosphere of this whole other world.
Aegina: Aegina is only 30 kms southwest of Athen's port of Piraeus and the regular hydrofoil service whisks you there in no time. When you arrive, go straight to the pine covered hillside 12 kms east of Aegina Town. Here is the most beautiful temple in all of Greece to my mind: the Doric Temple of Aphaia. Stunning in its perfection and its hilltop location and bathed in the liquid light of the Greek islands and almost lost in time...
Hydra: This island is the closest one to Athens where you can truly get away from the crowds and immerse yourself in the Greek experience. Picturesque waterfront mansions give way to steep cobbled streets that rise up into the hills. Hire one of the ubiquitous donkeys and just go where you fancy takes you. Relax: you're on Greek time...