The sun sets on the village of Oia on Santorini.
Island Adventure Beckons
Santorini, Mykonos, Paros and Naxos are all part of the Cyclades group of Greek islands.
When you see dazzling white buildings against the blue of sky and sea, you know you’re looking at one of the Greek Cyclades Islands. If you’re looking for a place to recharge and relax, this group of more than 200 islands in the southern Aegean Sea may be the ideal destination.
Naxos is the largest island; Paros is steeped in history and Mykonos and Santorini the most popular. Tourists often fly into Athens, on the mainland, and take ferries to the islands, or visit them as ports of call on cruises.
Once there, walk on the beaches or explore narrow streets, learn about the myths and history or dance away the night in the clubs. Each island is known for a specialty.
“Cruising is popular,” says Doug Ellison, chair and founder of Ellison Travel. “What do you want – romance or history – or do you just want a place to relax? If you want to see the islands, a cruise is best.” On shore, he recommends hiring a driver or taking public transit to be able to focus on the sights not the precarious roads or other drivers.
The distinct architecture and colours reflect the environment and the past. One story describes the islanders painting their houses during Ottoman rule in the 16th century when they were not allowed to fly their flag. White also cools buildings in the summer.
A natural stone walkway from the Portara to village of Chora on Naxos.
Another story resonates today. During a cholera outbreak in 1938, a law ordered all houses in the Cyclades be whitewashed to help stop the spread because it contains limestone, a disinfectant.
Greece’s famed white buildings sparkle in Parikia village on the island of Paros.
Whatever the reason, the contrast of blue and white results in an Instagram- able view wherever you look. Spend some time in Athens if you want a big European city experience and visit Athena’s Parthenon at the Acropolis and the stadium of the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Amazing cuisine and people watching attract diners to the beachside boardwalks on Mykonos.
Because they were island bound on a cruise, Karen Boyiakis – who visited with her family – didn’t expect to enjoy Athens as much as she did. “Learning the history of the cradle of democracy was wonderful.”
Historic windmills look over the town of Mykonos on Mykonos Island.
After taking in these magnificent historical sites, it is time sail across the sea for an island adventure.
If you want a slower pace and no crowds, Naxos is in the centre of the Cyclades. “Naxos is not on a lot of cruise stops,” says Ruth Adams, Vision Travel. “It’s reasonably priced, has great beaches, the food is wonderful, there is great hiking. It has a lot of pluses depending on the experience you are looking for.” She says the ferry ride from Athens was a relaxing five hours. “When you come into the main port, the temple of Apollo is really striking.”
Portara is near a great marble door on the islet of Palatia where, according to myth, the Minoan princess Ariadne was abandoned by her lover Theseus after he killed the minotaur on Crete.
“Watching the sun go down across the beaches was a favourite time: sitting in the restaurants all along the beaches, at the outdoor, open tables and watching the sun go down, drinking wine and eating seafood,” says Adams.
About eight kilometres west of Naxos, Paros is a pear-shaped island known for its white marble. History buffs will love its rich past. Paros sided with the Persia in both Greco-Persian wars. During the Crusades, the island was ruled by Venice, then conquered by the Ottomans in the 16th century and remained under their rule until the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century.
Today it is known for beaches and swimming. Gardeners will be intoxicated in the alleys by the scent of jasmine and bougainvillea. A lively club scene offers intoxication of a different kind at night.
“Mykonos is called the party island,” says Doug Ellison, chair and founder of Ellison Travel. As well as its nude beaches and night life on one side, the other half of the island offers shops and restaurants. “The port is a typical town with white buildings and windmills,” says Ellison. “You can drive across the island in 45 minutes max.”
Boyiakis agrees with Adams when she says, “People watching and enjoying the view of the water and sand, while eating and drinking, was my favourite.”
Formed after a volcano erupted and collapsed, Santorini greets visitors with tall cliffs. You can ascend to the main town by cable car or donkey. “It’s a beautiful town with narrow streets,” says Ellison. “It’s a busy place.” Be prepared to walk single file.
Real estate agent Ann De Bono took her family to the island, where they stayed at a village inn in Kamari. “A string of hotels with restaurants are across the street from the beach. It was quiet and pretty,” she says. “The little restaurants at each hotel where you sit at night, watching people walk by, hearing the music, having dinner with the family is magical,” she says making this pastime a unanimous choice. “I also watched a lone fisherman pulling up nets as the sun rose.”
She summed up the island experience as exactly how it looks. “The architecture, historic white buildings with tile roofs. Mediterranean blue everywhere and bougainvillea. Overturned fishing boats on beaches with nets. It’s authentic.”