The Cycladic group of islands are made up of 29 habitable islands, of these Santorini, Mykonos, Ios, Naxos, Paros and Tino are the most popular. However the most spectacular, apart from Santorini lie outside these big 5 hotspots of the Aegean Sea. These are Amorgos, Milos, Kea and Folegandros.
Santorini jewel of the Cycladic islands lies mid-way across the southern Aegean Sea. The best approach to this natural marvel is by ferry as it will allow you to feel the islands fullest impact. In fact as you sail towards it you will feel this islands extraordinary presence well before you see it. The islets some in the shape of a dragon while others evoking shattered fragments of some giant Mesolithic glass create another worldliness that does not prepare you for the imposing grandeur of Santorini. This fantastic landscape with its breathtaking 200-400m cliffs defies imagination. It scrambles your mind as it races to locate the way to the top. Not immediately apparent there are however three ways up the cliffs to the villages of Santorini, bus, cable car and donkey. Once atop the perpendicular cliffs of Santorini an experience in a traditional cave house isn’t for the faint hearted. However, do not let the precarious locations of the traditional architecture deter you as you will be rewarded with beautiful sunsets and views of Santorini. While sunsets and views are two of Santorini’s major assets Santorini is also home to the Cycladic period of Antiquity. Many of the ancient sites are within walking distance to some of the clearest waters imaginable so after all the deep thought a dip in this part of the Aegean is a must
Thira is the main town on Santorini; it is the central location to all your travel needs as it’s where the islands buses, taxis, restaurants and shops are located and as such all other parts of the island can be reached from this point. It is a very busy part of the island that has some amazing views of the caldera. Thira has a lot to offer if you are in possession of some excellent walking shoes, have an eye for detail and an adventurous spirit as some of the nicest parts of this town are well away from the main shopping strip. Pick an alleyway that leads away from the Caldera rim and follow it to its natural point of conclusion. Along the way you will come across quaint churches, neoclassical residences and rare glimpses into authentic island neighbourhoods. The discerning shopper can also be rewarded with some great shopping as Thira has a number of galleries and supports the handcrafted arts industry.
Oia is considered the jewel of Santorini mainly because of its vibrant romantic sunsets. Buses leave Thira every night and wind their way to Oia. Here, thousands of love struck pairs disembark and flock to its cliffs perching themselves on any available space. More often than not this available space is somebody’s roof! The enamoured masses wait patiently for the bright orange orb to drop into the Aegean, applaud its sinking into the sea and then spend the rest of the night at one of the villages many bars or restaurants. If you are planning to be intimate and cosy in Oia with your loved one be aware several thousand others have the same idea. To create some intimacy watching Oia’s sunset while being seated at one of the many good restaurants and café’s is a much more refined way to experience the dying embers of a day at Oia.
Akrotiri is the remnant ancient city of the Minoan Bronze Age civilization buried in the volcanic eruption of the second millennium. It is situated on the opposite tip of the Santorini caldera making it a fantastic drive along a coastline perched on 300m high cliffs. Every spectacular turn in this road catches your breath both for its beauty and the sheer nervousness experienced on the narrow roads you will traverse. When you finally descend into Akrotiri you step into a frozen world of a time long gone but somehow very present. The Minoan presence is carefully protected by the beautiful museum built over it. This museum has nothing behind glass; instead you are able to walk the same dusty paths the Minoan’s used to flee the islands massive volcanic eruption 3500 years ago. The carefully stored beds, vases, tables and many other found objects of the islands fleeing occupants give the visitor a very intimate encounter with the ancients of this island. When you are finished nearby Red Beach is worth a dip to cool off or if you are feeling adventurous take the connecting path to the modern town of Akrotiri, this path is also suitable for mountain bike riding.
Emporio is hidden away from the caldera and as difficult it may be to tear yourself away from the volcanic views of the caldera villages, this inner village is a medieval l gem worth visiting. Sitting on the foothills of Mt Prophet Elias, Emporio’s charm can be easily explored in one lazy afternoon. Its little cubic houses, blue domed churches, serene narrow pathways and many cave houses will delight and reward the walkers willing to explore an out of the way location on Santorini. Just remember any out of the way location is no more than 12km away on this tiny island.
Skaros was once the capital of Santorini. Built by the Venetians it has some interesting remains and foundations of the settlement. This geological formation can be found between Fira and Imerovegli. There are two paths one leads to the little white church with spectacular views of the Aegean and the second leads around to the top. While the first path is achievable by everybody, the second requires good mountain climbing skills and training especially if trying to climb the summit. Either path will reward you with an amazing sunset and in my opinion an impossibly romantic location for that wanting that special moment.
Mykonos is located at the heart of the Cycladic islands. It is touted as party central but it has so many more things to offer its visitors. In fact Mykonos has something for everybody. Its Cycladic architecture, heady nightlife and dropout atmosphere makes it an exciting destination for those looking to spice up their island holiday in Greece. Mykonos can be fast and furious or slow and lazy. If you’re the fast and furious type renting a quad bike and touring this island’s coastline is the best way to see its natural assets. Mykonos is blessed with an extraordinary array of beautiful beaches some not to miss are Platys Gialos, Kalo Livadi, Tourlos and Ornos beaches. If slow and steady is more your style then a 30 minute boat trip to mythological Delos the UNESCO protected ancient site will certainly calm and enrich the spirit. Mykonos town, Chora to the locals is a dizzying myriad of quaint alleyways burgeoning with boutiques, cafes, stylish bars, art galleries and restaurants. Be sure to visit Chora at sunset and watch the sun dip into the Aegean from picturesque Little Venice.
Tinos is a pilgrim destination of national importance in Greece. Tinos is much more than this,and is one of those islands you have to be in the know to appreciate. Unlike its bawdy neighbour Mykonos, Tinos has a depth to it that will surprise those willing to deviate off the typical Greek island path. Tinos’ natural beauty rivals any Cycladic island. Its beaches are less crowded and the island has a more sophisticated experience to offer its visitors. Its 80 windmills, 50 vibrant villages scattered amongst some of the most diverse terrain and Venetian fortifications are only a few of the things that will delight the inquisitive traveller. Of course its beaches, strong artistic community and local produce will not disappoint!
Santorini has some must see locations and things to do of which many visitors are blissfully unaware when visiting the island. Apart from the obligatory caldera villages the remaining island is left largely unexplored. So for something a little more adventurous while on Santorini head to Perissia Beach and Amoudi Bay and take a dip in their aquamarine waters. Also search out the picturesque villages of Pyrgos and Megalochiri and don’t forget to scuba into the sulphuric depths of the nearby Kameni or if this is a little to risqué try sailing its water instead. Either way your extra effort will reward you with experiences that will be the envy of all those who did not think to look beyond the touristy spots of the island. Happy investigating!
If you are heading towards the Dodecanese, then a stop off in Amorgos the last island before leaving the Cycladic group is worth your time. Amorgos has a safe harbour if you are arriving by yacht or ferry. Hora is the quaint Greek island village of your imaginings. It offers an island cuisine that is essentially unaffected by the gastronomic trends of Europe. Its traditional honey Raki is the local moonshine that will have you singing the blues in no time. Hora has seven footpaths worth traversing and you will be able to explore ancient sites, Acropolis’, beaches, bays and temples. These paths are listed below and are safe to navigate. Amorgos top attraction is the monastery of Hozoviotissa. Wedged into a cliff crevice this monastery and its Byzantine paintings is a spectacular spot to quietly reflect on the wonders of man’s ability to conquer nature.
Folegandros was named after the son of King Minos it sits quietly in the south eastern Aegean. It is a sleepy backwater that allows its visitor to completely escape the trappings of a fast and hectic lifestyle. Here there is literally little else to do but lie on the beach. The unpopulated beaches of Folegrandos afford you uncrowded beaches, traditional tavernas and some stunning walks around the island. The best walks are to the beaches of Livadaki a sheltered cove and Katergo at the bottom of a cliff. To get to Livadaki a stone white washed footpath guides you through hills of wild green sage and sweet smelling Chamomile. However, the most rewarding walk is along the zigzag lime washed footpath to the church of Panayia. Hora the main village of the island is an unspoilt gem. It hangs onto a north facing cliff and offers a smashing view of the Aegean.
It represents village life before tourism. Its 765 residents are some of the most inviting and welcoming in the Cyclades and their unpretentious take on tourism may be a welcomed relief after heady Santorini.
Milos home of the statues of Venus de Milo, Asclepius, Archaic Apollo and Poseidon is blessed with a mesmerising beauty few other islands can rival. Milos’ volcanic past has carved out a landscape that is extraordinary. Carefully carved out coves, cavernous catacombs and inviting hot springs only begins to delve into its rich natural wonders. Blended into this amazing landscape are marvellous mythologies, ancient architectures and vibrant village communities that provide mouth-watering local delicacies. Words cannot do justice to this island it must be seen to be believed definitely a small piece of paradise on Earth.