Island-hopping the Cyclades

Island Hopping Cyclades Greece

A fragmented wheel of craggy islands embedded in the azure Aegean, the Cyclades offer a picture-postcard Greek island experience. While some of these islands are served by international airports, the best way to really get under their skin is to make like Odysseus and sail between each one. To get the most out of your island-hopping odyssey, we suggest limiting yourself to just a handful of islands. Although spots like Santorini and Mykonos are some of the most popular in Greece, if you know where to look you’ll find thought-provoking ancient relics, timeless island villages and undisturbed sandy coves…

3 days in Mykonos

Mykonos Greece

Situated in the heart of the archipelago, and with an international airport, Mykonos is the perfect place to start your island-hopping adventure. Don’t let the island’s rather hedonistic reputation put you off: there’s more to this wind-swept wonder than meets the eye.

What to do

Begin your first day by exploring Mykonos Town (also known as Chora). While the picturesque cobbled streets are hardly selfie-stick-free zones, mornings tend to be sleepier. The independent boutiques set within whitewashed walls are a great place to pick up a sophisticated souvenir. Meander your way down to ‘Little Venice’, where centuries-old traders’ houses hang above the water. In the evening, be sure to check whether there are any performances at the open-air theatre in nearby Lekka. This alfresco amphitheatre regularly holds traditional musical and theatrical shows that go unnoticed by the majority of Mykonos’ visitors.

Mykonos Greece

For your second day in Mykonos, take a trip across the waters to the sacred island of Delos. The mythological birthplace of Apollo, Delos is home to one of the most impressive temple complexes in the Hellenic world. Boats leave from the old port of Mykonos in the morning and return during the afternoon, giving you a lazy day to explore the sun-bleached ruins. Alternatively, take a boat trip to Tragonisi where you’ll find an underwater cave that is perfect for diving.

For your final day in Mykonos, it’s time to get some wheels and explore the island’s quieter spots. Take a drive up to the hill-top village of Ano Mera, home to some impressive Byzantine ruins. Explore some of the lesser-visited beaches. The small, sandy crescent of Kapari is the perfect place for a peaceful swim or if you want to go fully off-the-beaten-track, visit Houlakia beach, the only pebbled beach on the island and completely devoid of any development.

What to eat

Mykonos Greece

Many of Mykonos’s delicacies are best enjoyed as a tapas-style feast with a bottle of something chilled. Try crunchy rusks topped with kopanisti, a creamy, spicy cheese. Tuck into delicious homemade sausages, or try a slice of louza, a type of cured pork. Kremidopita – onion pie- is particularly famous. If you’re feeling brave, keep an eye out for rakomelo, a potent mixture of raki and honey, as dangerous as it is delicious. Sticking to the smaller tavernas will usually guarantee more authentic food. A good bet in Mykonos Town is Eva’s Garden, which serves Aegean specialities in a romantic patio overhanging with vines. For atmosphere, it’s difficult to beat Kikis Tavern, where food is cooked on a chargrill overlooking Agios Sostis beach.

Where to stay

M Mykonos Villas

Just minutes away from Mykonos Town, each of these four luxurious villas have a private pool and kitchen facilities, so you can explore the island at your own pace.

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Senses Luxury Villas

Not far from Elia beach, these contemporary-style suites each have terraces giving wonderful views, and their peaceful location is ideal for those looking for a more laid-back experience.

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Getting there and away

Mykonos International Airport is served by flights from most major European operators, making it a convenient place to start your trip. Ferries arrive and leave Mykonos at the new harbour, located a short drive north of Mykonos town. Ferries for Naxos leave regularly, and the journey lasts 40-minutes to 1 hour 40-minutes depending on the operator.

3 days in Naxos

Naxos Cyclades Greece

The largest island in the Cyclades, verdant Naxos offers beautiful hiking trails threading through ancient ruins and sleepy villages.

What to do

Climb up to the Portara, an immense archway that’s all that remains of an unfinished temple to Apollo. The 2,500-year-old portal is impressive, and from its precipitous position, you’ll be granted sweeping views over the town and the island beyond. Afterwards, plunge into the winding Byzantine streets of Kastro, Naxos’ labyrinthine old-town.

Naxos Cyclades Greece

On your second day, explore the island’s interior. Dominated by the colossal Mount Zeus, the heart of Naxos is perfect for hikers, with shaded trails winding through the beautiful Tragea plateau. Keep an eye peeled for the kouroi statues, gargantuan male figures that were left where they lay in the quarries nearly 3000 years ago. Another excellent spot is the atmospheric monastery of Panagia Drossiani.

Naxos’ beaches are every bit as beautiful as those on Mykonos, but the island’s relative obscurity means that you’ll often have them all to yourself. Agios Prokopios is one of the more well-known stretches on the island thanks to its soft sands and looking-glass waters. If you’re feeling a tad adventurous, venture to Cape Kouroúpia, a series of secluded coves perfect for skinny-dipping.

What to eat

Naxos Cyclades Greece

Naxos’s rich soil grows some of the finest produce in the Cyclades. Particularly well-known are its potatoes, which are best tried in chip-form alongside a hot giros. The island’s meat is particularly good, with grilled lamb, goat and beef all local favourites; game often makes an appearance during the season. It’s a bit of a drive, but Axiotissa is one of the best restaurants on the island. You’ll feast on traditionally-cooked dishes on the brightly-coloured tables in its beautiful patio. Meals on Naxos all end with a glass of kitron, a citrus-flavoured liquor produced on the island.

Where to stay

Nastasia Village Boutique

Nastasia Village Boutique

Stylish, minimalist design, tranquil gardens and a location in the heart of Naxos Town make Nastasia Village Boutique one of the best boltholes on the island.

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Getting there and away

Ferries arrive and depart at Naxos harbour, located in the main town. A ferry to Thira (Santorini) from Naxos can take up to two hours depending on the company, and depart daily.

3 days in Santorini

Santorini Cyclades Greece

Beautiful sunsets, volcanic beaches and picturesque villages make Santorini one of the most Instagrammable islands in the Cyclades.

What to do

Oia is Santorini’s best-known village, famed for its beautiful cobbled streets and stunning caldera views; which has also brought large crowds. If you want to really feel the pulse of this volcanic island, you’ll have to head away from the Caldera and into the island’s mountainous hinterland. Pyrgos is no less beautiful than Oia, with its wonderfully preserved medieval centre. It’s mostly unknown to visitors, so it’s a great way to see Santorini from a different angle. If you feel up to it, take a hike up to the mountainous monastery of Profitis Ilias, where you’ll be treated to bewitching views of the sunset.

Santorini Beach Cyclades

Santorini’s waters are some of the clearest in the Aegean, and its beaches some of the most unique. The sight of the black volcanic sand at Kimari and Perivolos beach melding into almost transparent waters is quite something, although be warned; the beaches become unbearably hot for bare feet during the afternoon. Another quirky option is the so-called ‘Red Beach’, a 20-minute drive south of the main town of Thira. It’s not the best for sunbathing, but the mars-like vista is pretty spellbinding.

The famous caldera has a dark past; it’s the result of a shattering volcanic eruption which destroyed a large chunk of the island and submerged the Minoan city of Akrotiri beneath volcanic ash. The event was so momentous that it’s thought by some to have inspired the mythical tale of Atlantis. Today you can visit the excavated remains of the lost city, which have been remarkably well-preserved and offer a fascinating glimpse into the island’s past.

What to eat

Santorini Cyclades

The island’s tomatoes, grown in the intensely fertile volcanic soil, are renowned across the Aegean. Try them fried as part of a traditional fritter, served with a side of fava paste and capers. The island’s wine is also particularly well-known; get better acquainted with it on a wine tour, or by visiting some of the smaller wineries for tastings: Gavalas in Megalochori is particularly good, although it can be a tad hard to find. The most traditional food on the island is served in Aktaion, a taverna that’s been satisfying customers since it opened in 1922.

Where to stay

Pegasus Suites and Spa

Pegasus Suites boutique hotel Santorini

With views over the Caldera, Pegasus Suites and Spa serves up spellbinding sunsets on a luxurious platter.

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Carpe Diem Exclusive Boutique Resort

Carpe Diem Santorini Greece Spa Hotel Chic Treat

You’re right in the heart of the historic village of Pyrgos in this gorgeous boutique. Be sure to set time aside for a pampering session in the hotel’s Althea Spa.

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Getting there and away

Ferries arrive at Santorini’s port of Thira, also known as Fera. Santorini International Airport makes getting to and from the island a doddle.

If you’ve got longer…

Paros

‘Life is nothing but sleep, swim, eat and read,’ wrote Cecil Beaton, when the photographer visited Paros with Truman Capote. 50 years on, and very little has changed on this laid-back getaway.

Ios

Away from the beach-clubs, Ios offers some wonderful diving spots as well as an enchanting sunset from the top of its precipitous old town.

Serifos

Mythical home of the legendary Cyclopses, this former mining island has a rugged, dramatic beauty and a sleepy pace of life perfect for a serene Greek getaway.

Milos

A tiny gem, those who pass over this island miss out on a beauty as great as its most famous daughter, the Venus de Milo.