Greek Island Hopping
Iconic Greek islands and how you can cruise across them
Greece is the country everyone is dreaming about this summer. The silent sparkles of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. The fluid drizzle of olive oil over a fresh salad. Evening spent enthralled in the stories of ancient legends and myths. The time when the world stood still as you watched a sunset from the clifftop of a Greek island. These are all flavors, smells and sounds of Greece.
Greece is a land of ancient tales and mysteries. Its capital, Athens, has been inhabited for over 5,000 years and today, still shares its ancient landmarks with modern travelers. In fact, almost all of Greece’s mainland cities host primeval archaeological sites or medieval ruins to wander through and explore. There are 18 Greek monuments listed as UNESO World Heritage Sites, and 13 of these are on mainland Greece.
With that in mind, there is so much to be discovered across the Greek islands. Offering its own charm and romance, the Greek islands are certainly stand-alone destinations but, for those who want to experience the absolute best of Greece in one trip, our Greece small ship cruises are the perfect choice.Our 8-day, 7-night cruise offers the ultimate Greek island-hopping experience. Starting and ending in the beautiful capital of Athens, the cruise visits iconic islands including Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Folegandros and Hydra respectively.
This article was first published in issue three of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.
Cosmopolitan Mykonos is renowned for its world-class dining, high-end shopping, lively nightlife, 5-star resorts and spectacular beaches with summertime parties that tend to draw the jet-setting international crowd, including yachters, supermodels, celebrities, and all sorts of VIPs. You may rub elbows with some while searching through shops with designer labels like Louis Vuitton. But it’s not just for high rollers, the island offers plenty for outdoor adventurers and history enthusiasts as one of the most popular Greek islands to visit. You’ll want to check out the historic windmills in Little Venice, take a day trip to visit the sacred island of Delos, and as recreational activities abound, take part in everything from the usual snorkeling and swimming in clear cobalt waters, to sailing, sea kayaking, kitesurfing, biking, and Jeep tours.
While the busy summer season is the time to delve into the party atmosphere on Mykonos with parties in the clubs and on the beaches for dancing ‘til dawn, visiting in mid to late spring or just after the crowds have begun to thin in September and early October, you can still enjoy warm weather along with a more tranquil setting. For a more authentic experience with the chance to get to know the locals and their culture, there are some outstanding tours that will allow you to do just that. Perhaps book a cooking class that will allow you to learn new culinary schools and share a slice of the island with friends and family after your trip. They’re offered by locals, often in their own homes, so that you can get to know more about family life while learning how to prepare a tasty Mykonian meal using fresh island ingredients, perhaps right from your host’s own garden. Afterwards, you’ll be able to dig in and enjoy, complemented with local wines.
Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades at 166-square-miles, renowned for its beaches that are some of the best in the entire country, with fine, soft white sands edged by crystal-clear aquamarine waters. Many stretches are ideal for swimming while others are perfect for windsurfing, with everything from organized beaches that include water sport centers, umbrellas and sunbeds to secluded, unspoiled spots that set the scene for romance and tranquility. Incredibly diverse, there are soaring mountains in the island’s interior that make it a hiker’s paradise too, while ancient ruins are waiting to be explored. Despite its stunning beauty, Naxos has someone managed to remain somewhat of a secret, with large numbers of tourists heading to its more famous neighbors, Mykonos and Santorini. It’s the kind of place that nearly every type of traveler will enjoy, from honeymooning couples to nature lovers, foodies and wine enthusiasts.
Naxos is becoming increasingly renowned for its food scene, focused on farm- and sea-to-table ingredients. Just a few include island-produced wines, artisan-made cheeses, produce like Naxian potatoes, and plenty of fresh fish and seafood. It was featured in an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” with the chef/writer/TV personality raving about the cuisine, noting that it’s the “sort of place where you can still walk into a town square and find yourself caught up in a celebration…Get ready for wine, raki, and getting hand-fed by strangers.” The island also boasts an incredibly picturesque Old Town in Chora with winding, marble paved streets lined with whitewashed architecture draped in bougainvillea, along with many charming traditional Cycladic towns, some deep within the mountainous interior. One of the most popular things to do is to visit the Portara, the massive 6th-century BC doorway that’s become the symbol of the island that perfectly frames a brilliant sunset.
Second in size only to Naxos, Paros lies in the heart of the Cyclades, offering striking natural beauty with a wide range of beaches that provide something for everyone. Faragas Beach is one of the most popular, st along the south coast with calm, clear turquoise water, providing an ideal mix of entertainment and relaxation. When you’re looking for a quiet, secluded spot you’ll find little coves on either side. There are other beaches like Golden Beach that are perfect for wind/water sports like kitesurfing and windsurfing along with stretches that host music and parties, including Pounds Beach. Beyond the sand, you’ll find plenty of ancient monuments, historic sites, and churches like the famous Church of Ekatontapyliani, a 4th-century AD Byzantine church which a name that translates to Church with the Hundred Doors. Legend tells that 99 doors were found here, and the one-hundredth will only be discovered when Constantinople is once again ruled by the Greeks.
There are plenty of opportunities for scenic walks here, including miles and miles of hiking trails, and you’ll also want to explore some towns and villages on foot. Paros Town, or Parikia, is the main port with the old quarter at its center, framed by high hills. It’s a maze of enticing streets and alleyways paved with marble, with Cycladic whitewashed homes highlighted by blue doors and shutters. There’s a 13th-century Venetian castle to discover too, built from the remains of ancient sanctuaries that were dotted across the island. Delicious eats can be found throughout Paros, with menus typically featuring many dishes made using traditional recipes handed down through generations. Think lots of fresh seafood, including dishes like stuffed vine leaves, marinated octopus, and orzo with shrimp. The island’s winemaking tradition goes back over 5,000 years, with many grape varieties grown here and wineries where you can sample the results.
One of the most famous Greek islands, Santorini is a destination on the bucket lists of many travelers and a top spot among honeymooners and all sorts of romance-seeking couples. It’s not an exaggeration to say the scenery is truly jaw-dropping, as the first glimpse when sailing into the caldera, the crater which formed when the volcano collapsed, will take your breath away. You’ll be staring up at the dramatic cliffs for a sight unmatched anywhere else. Once on land, you can discover all sorts of unique beaches thanks to the volcanic landscape, including a red beach, multiple black sand beaches and a few white beaches too. The villages dotted across the island, like Oia, Fira, Firostefani and Imerovigli create an impressive sight of blue and white. Whitewashed buildings splashed with vibrant blue doors and shutters, along with blue-domed churches, all of which reflect the brilliant blue of the sea and sky, spill down the cliffs. Oia, at its northern tip, is renowned as one of the best places in the world for watching a sunset, with crowds breaking into applause each day as the sun dips below the horizon.
While Santorini’s stunning seascapes and landscapes are one of the star attractions, it’s also known for its unique winemaking methods, with many vineyards across the island offering tours and tastings. It also boasts an impressive archaeological site, a 3,500-year-old Minoan settlement that was preserved under volcanic ash following a massive eruption like Pompeii. The well-preserved ruins include streets, multilevel buildings, stairs and even drainage systems that are all still visible. Some of the other highlights here include the hike between Thira and Oia that follows the edge of the caldera, and sunset sailing trips that cruise around the island’s shoreline with opportunities to swim and soak in natural geothermally heated hot springs.
Folegandros is a tiny island in the Cyclades that while not as well-known as some of its popular neighbors like Santorini, provides a totally different experience without the crowds. It’s the place to enjoy a more tranquil getaway with breathtaking natural beauty, including pristine beaches and scenic hiking trails, along with quintessential Cycladic architecture and fantastic cuisine. You can get lost in the narrow, meandering alleyways to discover all sorts of surprises without getting caught in tourist jams as there are no big cruise ships pulling into port or even an airport here. It has a laid-back feel, as if you’re in another time, with historic windmills that spin in the sea breeze and goats scurrying up the hills. Some 12.5 miles of paths are ideal for scenic walks, following old donkey tracks that were once used for local transport too
With no motor vehicles in Chora, the largest settlement, it’s especially enjoyable to explore. You’ll be able to stroll cobblestone streets without being interrupted by traffic, enjoying the sights of whitewashed buildings and well-preserved homes that date back as far as a thousand years in the Kastro. There are many lovely squares for people watching while sipping a glass of wine, plenty of interesting shops, and traditional eateries serving authentic dishes made with fresh island ingredients. From Pounta Square, you can follow the cobbled street that leads to a path that snakes up the mountain to the church of Panagia and a panoramic view of the sea and island. There are villages you won’t want to miss either, like Ano Meria. It’s almost like a living museum, a place where you’ll see octopus drying out on the lines in front or restaurants and locals riding their donkeys. Ecological and Folklore Museum displays well-preserved items like an old loom and primitive wine press.
Experience the Greek islands of yesteryear with a trip back in time by visiting Hydra. On this virtually vehicle-free island, you won’t hear the roar of motorcycles or the hum of car engines as transport is on foot, by donkey, or boat. It offers an incredibly peaceful getaway, a place to relax and watching the donkeys trod by as you enjoy views of the beautiful harbor. It’s all about authenticity, with few other tourists around, taking the opportunity to get to know the locals and taste their mouthwatering local fare. Despite being just a short distance from Athens, it’s managed to retaining its charming, historic character as one of the most unspoiled gems in the Sarconic Gulf islands. That may be a welcoming surprise as some have called Hydra the island that brought tourism to Greece. It began after author Henry Miller wrote in his book The Colossus of Marousi that it was “aesthetically perfect,” while the 1957 film “Boy on a Dolphin” starring Sophia Loren, called many to come see it for themselves.
New buildings cannot be constructed, only old ones restored which helps to limit any growth. You’ll see magnificent 18th– and 19th-century stone mansions that were built amphitheatrically around the horseshoe-shaped harbor, revealing the islands wealthy past. Today, many house museums. After pulling into port, note the mules and donkeys lined up which transport building supplies, groceries, as well as visitors’ luggage. You might take advantage of that for assistance and then stroll the cobbled streets, spending time savoring moments in peaceful squares where you can hear the clip-clop of the animals’ hooves. Another one of the most popular things to do is enjoy watersports, particular diving, with underwater caves and old wrecks to explore. There’s a diving center that provides open water courses and gear as well as day and night diving trips.
Read more travel insights in Issue 3 of Unforgettable Travel
This article was first published in issue three of the Unforgettable Travel Magazine.
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