Having just returned from a 10-day Greek Wine Tour, I can tell you it is a definite bucket list checklist item for any world traveler or wine hunter.
A Greek Island escape makes the perfect holiday, but with around 1,400 islands in the Greek archipelago, choosing a destination that is not overrun with holidaymakers can be a challenge. While Corfu and Crete are deservedly popular, especially with first-time Greece travelers, here are five ‘secret’ Greek islands that should be on your itinerary.
Part of the Cyclades, and close to the mainland, laid-back Kea is no secret with the locals who flock here to their weekend retreats. Ferries to Kea leave from Lavrio, a 90-minute bus trip from Athens. Kea has a laid-back atmosphere, good walking trails, and 50 miles of coastline with tiny bays and unspoiled sandy beaches. Ioulidha, has some charming tavernas, while the delightful hill capital of Ioulis, the marina at Vourkari and Otzias Bay are other highlights.
Dominated by Mt Ochi, this Greek island ‘secret’, is really the second-largest Greek island after Crete. With remote villages nestled in the mountain slopes, connected by stone paths and tracks, it’s a walker’s delight. But add a captivating coastline, plenty of Roman ruins, old buildings, secluded beaches, and a wide choice of lively tavernas, and you have the perfect holiday ingredients.
The walks traverse lush valleys with old stone bridges fording streams, watermills and fountains. The walk to the Dimosaris Gorge ends at the village of Kalliani. Like Kea, you can get the ferry here from Athens. The capital, Karystos, overlooks the Aegean Sea and the Cycladic Islands in the south. Roman aqueducts, Byzantine churches and Frankish castles are interspersed with olive and fruit groves, vineyards and cypress trees and deserted beaches and coves are perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
Mountainous and picturesque Kalymnos, set between the islands of Leros and Kos in the Dodecanese, is renown for its sponge divers. It is a beautiful Greek island and way less touristic than its neighbour Kos, since it’s black-sand beaches are not as attractive for swimmers. For nightlife head for Masouri, but at Vathi, a haunt of yachties, you can dine on fresh seafood and afterwards dive into crystal clear water from the little jetty. You can reach Kalymnos by ferry from Peiraias.
The Aegean Dodecanese Islands, of which Karpathos is the pick, has a wild, natural beauty in the north, and is tamed and tranquil in the south. Sharp mountains, uncrowded beaches and tracks ideal for hiking make Karpathos the perfect Greek holiday experience, only without the hordes. The village of Olymbos has distinctive windmills that produce flour, while the surrounding countryside grows olives, grains, fruits, vegetables, and grapes that produce a distinctive local wine. Diafani has the remains of a Minoan settlement and Hellenistic-era public baths.
Between Kos and Tilos this tiny volcanic Greek island caters mainly to day-trippers although hotel and villa accommodation is available. Ferries run between Piraeus on the mainland and Rhodes. Be sure to visit the volcano crater, view fuming mini craters and walk the pathways of the dramatic and mountainous interior. Perhaps try the sulphurous waters of the health spa. There are many charming Orthodox Christian churches as well as four uninhabited monasteries, the largest is built beside a medieval fort.
About the Author - Jessica Altieri
A certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers and California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS), Jessica Altieri is a highly respected and in-demand wine judge for some of the nation’s leading wine competitions. Wine regions that I have visited include Greece, New Zealand, Austria, Argentina, Italy – Sicily – Puglia, France, California – multiple regions Napa/Sonoma/Russian River Valley, Oregon, Washington, and the Finger Lakes.