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Unassuming Alonissos is a rugged, green jewel, which is part of the northern Sporades archipelago. There are archaeological sites, Byzantine monuments, monasteries, exceptional hiking (with sensational views) and inviting beaches. Plus, the island is in the middle of a marine park dedicated to protecting the monk seal.
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An island in the Aegean, Icaria is named for Icarus, the boy who fell to his doom after flying too close the sun. Well, there’s no sign of a fallen mortal these days; instead, think mountainous terrain, lush forests and sheltered swimming coves.
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Located in the Saronic Gulf, only an hour away from Piraeus, the main port of Athens, is Agistri. Inland, there are dense pine forests; the coastline is lapped by aquamarine waters. There’s no mass tourism here, but Agistri a favourite with Greeks on their summer vacation. An off-peak stay on this island is laid-back.
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A favourite with locals, Ammouliani (also known as Amoliani) is the only inhabited island of the northern Chalkidiki region and has a population of just 600 people. Its coast boasts long sandy beaches and small hidden coves, excellent for swimming. While here, take a day trip to the uninhabited Drenia islands nearby.
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Just 45 square kilometres of land located one nautical mile from the island of Paros, Antiparos is a small gem. Many of its golden beaches are within walking distance of the main town Chora, which is dominated by typical Cycladic architecture: whitewashed homes, blue-domed churches and narrow streets.
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This small five-square-kilometre rocky outcrop in the Cyclades is a UNESCO World Heritage site due its preserved archaeological sites. You can’t stay here, but its history alone is worth a visit—the island is home to the Archaeological Museum of Delos, considered to be one of the most important institutions in Greece. It’s also said to be the birthplace of twins Apollo and Artemis.
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The westernmost of the Dodecanese is Astypalaia; its highlights are rugged coastlines, mountainous terrain, a charming port, myriad pebbled inlets and bays, traditional food and an unhurried vibe. All up, the perfect antidote to modern life.
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Roberto Cavalli and the Missoni family are reportedly fans of Koufonisia, actually a trio of small islands not far from Naxos and Mykonos. It’s no surprise to find the chic set are drawn to this mini paradise: the port on the main island of Pano Koufonisi boasts beautiful architecture –whitewashed buildings, distinctive blue accents, cobbled alleyways – and the coastline is surrounded by emerald and turquoise waters.
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Rugged mountains, rocky shorelines and secluded coves and beaches: the easternmost Cycladic island Amorgos is certainly picturesque. In the villages, traditional whitewashed houses abound, while the open spaces are a haven for hikers. The island is most famous for its Monastery of Hozoviotissa, which clings dramatically to one of the mountainsides.
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Another of the Cyclades group, Kythnos is rocky and barren yet still beautiful – and a favourite with mainlanders who come here in droves in the summer. The unpretentious island boasts archaeological sites, museums, churches and famous thermal springs – as well as more than 70 beaches including the striking Kolona, which is actually two beaches on either side of an isthmus.
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The second largest island of the Dodecanese lies between Rhodes and Crete on the southern side of the Aegean Sea. Inland, there are craggy mountains with traditional villages clinging to their sides and fringing its coastline are isolated beaches both sandy and pebbly. It’s delightfully underdeveloped, but every summer windsurfers from around the world flock to its shores.
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One of Lefkada’s satellite islands, the Ionian island of Meganisi is a small island of only three villages and as such is a day-trippers’ escape. But it’s worth considering this quaint, unspoilt paradise for a longer stay. There are fertile hills and a beguiling coastline of fjord-like inlets with many beaches walkable from the main ports.
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Maybe we should feel sorry for an island that shares its name with a mythological many-headed serpent that’s the stuff of nightmares? Then again, maybe not: Hydra is a stunning little escape with a pretty town spread around a crescent-shaped harbour that’s located just 37 nautical miles from Athens’ main port of Piraeus. It’s also an art-lovers’ destination thanks to many contemporary galleries. The best bit? It’s free of motor vehicles; donkeys are responsible for most transport.
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With whitewashed villages and mesmerising beaches and coves, Leros is a strong contender in the lesser-known stakes. Even though many Greek islands have ancient and mythological histories, Leros, in the southern Aegean, has a little modern history going for it: one harbour town here, then called Portolago and renamed Lakki, was crafted in Mussolini’s razionalismo style during the Italian occupation.
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Just two kilometers off the coast of Turkey but actually belonging to Greece, Kastellorizo is miniature charmer. Its delightful horseshoe bay is dotted with yachts and fishing boats and rimmed with colourful buildings. All around are clear azure waters, perfect for swimming. This is also the home of Galazio Spilaio (Blue Cave), one of the most stunning caves in the Mediterranean.
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On the island of the same name is the uniquely preserved medieval castle town, Monemvasia in the Peloponnese. It’s close to the mainland and connected by a 200-metre causeway. Spend days exploring the alleyways and churches and climbing the striking plateau, 100 metres above sea level, which delivers incredible views.
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Milos boasts stunning rock formations thanks to its volcanic origins; it’s also home to delightful villages, hot springs, and around 80 beaches, some with distinctive black sands. This southernmost of Cycladic islands is where the famous statue of Venus de Milo was found in 1820.
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Lipsi, one of the Dodecanese islands, is an unrushed kind of island that hasn’t been heavily impacted by mass tourism, largely because of its distance from Athens. Pristine beaches are the big draw, the loveliest of which is Hohlakoura with its clear water and intriguing rock formations.
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As the counterpoint to its party-island neighbour Mykonos, Naxos is big on nature and culture. This, the largest of Cyclades, has an appealing air of nonchalance. The mountainous terrain and green valleys are littered with churches, monasteries and castles, and the long, golden beaches are typically beautiful.
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Villages steeped in character, a large natural harbour (complete with shipwreck), valleys rich in olive groves and vineyards, 62 kilometres of hiking trails, several archaeological sites and one of the largest oak forests in the Cyclades—Kea is a treasure trove. And we haven’t even mentioned the many sandy and pebbled beaches that ring the island yet.
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Another isle that’s loved by locals but relatively unknown further afield is Sifnos. Perhaps that’s because nearby Santorini and Mykonos get the bulk of the airplay. No matter. In addition to its postcard-perfect scenery, Sifnos has a slow rhythm, low-key nightlife, authentic vibe and a strong culinary scene.
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Looking at the divine beaches and scenic interior, it’s hard to imagine how Saint John could have conjured the apocalyptic visions of Revelation from this Dodecanese isle. His namesake monastery, which draws religious and history buffs, dominates the island but being both remote and beautiful, this really should be your next romantic escape.
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This is where Achilles, he of the vulnerable heel and star of The Iliad, apparently spent his early years. If you could, you’d spend a few years on this, the southernmost of the Sporades group, too: there are pine-backed beaches, scenic coastal hamlets, a buzzy nightlife and an artistic, carefree ambiance.
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The smallest of the inhabited Ionian islands is a delight: covered with hilly olive groves and fringed with underwater caves, sparkling blue water and some of Greece’s best beaches. There are just three villages, so expect a leisurely pace of play coupled with traditional Greek hospitality.
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Climb the 500 steps to the acropolis, make a pilgrimage to one of the monasteries, or chill out on the beaches, some of which are backed by dramatic cliffs. In town, peruse chic boutiques and dine at buzzy tavernas. Yep, the Dodecanese island of Symi should be high on your must-visit list.
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The western Cycladic island of Serifos features medieval villages, whitewashed houses, pebbled and sandy beaches, and multiple trekking routes. Ganema, the long sandy beach on the south side of the island, is feted as one of the prettiest in the Aegean.
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This island in the western Aegean may have starred in Mamma Mia! but don’t let that put you off. Despite Hollywood fame, its rugged landscape is beautiful, it’s the greenest island in Greece (more than half is covered by virgin pine forest), its beaches are relatively quiet and the main town, also called Skopelos, is charming and unspoilt.
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The Cycladic island of Syros has impressive Venetian and neoclassical architecture and a cosmopolitan main town, Hermoupolis. Coupled with its sheltered beaches, unassuming air and friendly vibe, it’s an unexpectedly charismatic escape.
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More lush and verdant than many of the Greek islands, Tilos, a tiny member of the Dodecanese group, is renowned for wildflowers, rare birds and in the waters, turtles and monk seals. The landscape is perfect for hiking and the beaches ideal for lounging.