The Greeks gifted the world with democracy, philosophy, the Olympics, and yes, even the alarm clock. While there’s no doubt that the mere mention of the Mediterranean country conjures up images of crumbling coliseums, marble busts, and gods sitting atop Mount Olympus, Greece is more than the “heartland”, the Peloponnese Peninsula. It actually has more than 6,000 islands — and only 230 of them are inhabited. (Sidenote: Greece might populate 28 of the wild isles to stave off Turkish territorial claims.) Shutterbugs. Culture mavens. Beach babies. Gourmets. Romantics. The Greek islands have a little something for everyone. So, dust of your Rosetta Stone, snap up your passport, and travel light. From Corfu in the northwest to Crete in the east, we’re laying out the top six islands you need to visit.
Surrounded by bluer-than-blue seas, Corfu is a green cathedral carpeted with six million olive trees. It’s also studded with 18th century Venetian villas, buttercream-colored churches, and the remains of weather-beaten fortresses.
Wander the ancient Roman vineyards of Agios Matheos, or drop by Spianada Square’s tribute to Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, the British author and zoologist featured in BBC’s smash hit The Durrells in Corfu. Geek out on Greek mythology at the Archeological Museum. It houses the Lion of Menecrates, Kassel Apollo, and Artemis’ temple — one of 150 masterpieces of Western architecture. For a DIY-spa treatment, slather yourself in Canal D’Amour’s mineral mud. And, if you can swim the whole length of the canal, you’ll rope yourself a unicorn boyfriend, legend says.
Milos has a lunar landscape. Craters plummet to depths of 420 feet. Rocks twist vertically like churros. Early Christian catacombs sink into the hillsides while mineral-rich pockets of water bubble up from the ocean floor. It was in this Star Wars-eque landscape that the Venus De Milo was discovered. The goddess of beauty now holds court at the Louvre in France, but this horse-shaped island has plenty of other beauties to admire.
Hit up Paliorema Beach, one of Milo’s 80 sandy strips. Located by Thiorihio, it’s littered with old mining wagons and gear, along with crushed shells and sulfur crystals growing along the fine, white sand. Then watch the sunset on a castle in the clouds, Panagia Thalassitra. Good eats alert: local specialties, white pumpkin bonbons and watermelon pie, will help you parti’, karamu’, and fiesta all night long.
Greece’s largest island is the birthplace of Zeus, the sky and thunder god, and the cradle of European civilization. Wedged between emerald hills and moody villages, Mount Ida is home to the cave where Zeus was born. Crete’s highest mountain, its summit has no water or trees. Luckily, you can take refuge in stone shepherds’ huts or at Timios Stavros chapel, a Catholic church tucked inside of a limestone cave.
Want to examine galaxies far, far away? Visit The University of Crete’s Skinakas Observatory. Peel back the layers of history. Make a pit stop at Knossos Palace, the center of Minoan civilization. Dating back to the Bronze Age, it has winding hallways and rooms of various sizes. It’s actually more like a maze than a castle. Apart from its rich historical tapestry, Crete is the perfect place to unwind. Kneed your toes in its pink sand, listen to local musicians play the lyre, and kick back a shot of fiery raki — paired with local honey-flavored cheese, of course.
Santorini is like an artist’s palette. The crescent-shaped islands’ white buildings are topped with sapphire semi-circles. Candy-colored houses carved into cliffs pop against the black sand. Santorini is an active volcano slumbering in the middle of the Aegean Sea. (Though, the last eruption happened 3,600 years ago.)
History buffs, it’s also most likely the origin of the Atlantis myth. However, you won’t get swept away by the waves in Santorini. It’s not really a beachside vacation spot. Aside from the cities of Fira and Oia, it’s mainly scrub and sand. So, consider sitting poolside with a cup Vinsanto and a plate of white eggplant parmigiana while watching the sun dip into the sea, turning it pink while brightening the black cliffs.
*Featured image: Santorini, Greece
A 45-minute flight from Athens, Greece, Chios is an ideal beach escape for the European Wanderluster. The birthplace of Homer, it’s a maze of tightly-spaced houses, narrow streets, and Medieval arches. Stroll through Pyrgi, and marvel at its geometric graffiti. Visit Nea Moni, a UNESCO world heritage site, and see the collection of human skulls from the 1822 Chios’ Massacre.
Board replicas of steamboats and sailing ships at The Maritime Museum. Book lovers, turn pages at one of the largest libraries in Greece — The Korais Library. Built in the late 18th century, it holds over 13,000 books. Foodie? Greeking-up your flavor palettes with Mastic or “Arabic Gum”. The pine-flavored resin has an herbal aroma and adds a power punch to confections and liquors like mastiha.
With volcanic soil, towering cliffs, and lace-like coastlines, Patmos is for beach lovers. Windsurf, sail, paraglide, or canoe on Kambos Beach’s shallow waters, or enjoy some R&R at Agrio Livadi Beach. Cha-ching: it’s fully-equipped with sun beds, umbrellas, snacks, and drinks. Dubbed “The Jerusalem of the Aegean”, Patmos, the island where Rome exiled its criminals, is also a popular pilgrimage site. It’s the place where John the Apostle survived being boiled alive in a vat of oil by Emperor Domitian.
This desolate landscape is also where he penned Revelation: an apocalyptic book filled with bizarre creatures and mystifying symbols. Stand in the place where “the son of thunder” had his visions of fire and brimstone, the Cave of the Apocalypse, or visit the Monastery of St. John. Constructed in the 11th century, it’s made up of 10 chapels and 99 cells. The dark-hued fortress, however, holds a variety of treasures: 6th-century Coptic textiles, a 15th-century Arabic police baton, and even an Egyptian bust of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy.