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Lesser Known Greek Islands

KYTHIRA

Apr 29, 2015
Kythira Island Greece

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Top 10 Greek Islands for Summer 2015

Evening in Santorini Santorini

 

SANTORINI

Possibly the most photographed Greek island, Santorini is a glorious mix of stunning steep cliffs rising out of a sparkling deep blue Cyclades sea and whitewashed houses, black sand beaches and bijou designer hotels featuring luxury rooms and plunge pools.  The views over the caldera and sunsets from the west coast are magnificent.

You can travel by boat from Santorini to Crete and Rhodes.

Top tip: go out of season when prices are not so hiked.

 

CRETE

The largest and most southerly of all the Greek Islands, Crete has everything the visitor could possibly want. The majestic white mountains are snow-covered even in the height of summer and the north eastern coast of Crete is a paradise for tourists looking for stunning beaches and excellent snorkelling. The Cretan people are even more hospitable than anywhere else in Greece and their cuisine is said to be the healthiest in the world as Crete produces mega amounts of olive oil, some of which is exported to Italy.

Top tip: Crete is lovely in October and the sea is still beautifully warm.
Mykonos is a popular island, particularly with young people as it is packed with bars and nightclubs and has become quite expensive in recent years. Nevertheless it is worth a visit even if only to sit and watch its vibrant nightlife at one of the cafes or bars situated in one of the cobbled streets in the town centre.

Top tip: take a boat out to Santorini

 

HYDRA

The quiet island with no cars or motorbikes!  Hydra is a paradise for those wanting to really get away from it all and yet still be close to Athens which is one and a half hours away by ferry. Mules board the boats at the harbour as they arrive to carry supplies up through Hydra’s tiny streets to the shops, restaurants and tavernas.  Hydra has a couple of lovely beaches and the most stunning architecture.  Hydra is the former home of Leonard Cohen and one of the old stomping grounds for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Pink Floyd

 

KEFALONIA

Host to the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Myrtos is the most famous of its beaches.

Argostoli and Lixouri are the two (rival) main towns, while Fiscardo and Sami (the village where the film was set) are well worth visiting if only to watch the arrival of the many charter yachts which come in to spend the night and whose crews eat at some of the marvellous tavernas.

Top tip: Head to Ithaka, the home of Odysseus, less than an hour from Kefalonia by boat.

 

PAROS

Paros features amazing sugar-cube style Greek houses and is a great jumping off ground for the rest of the Cyclades islands due to its proximity.   The  lovely old town of Parikia is the is the capital and is also home to the port of Paros.  Most nightlife is to be found in Naousa. International windsurfing competitions are held at Chrysi Akti beach which can get crowded and noisy, but if you are looking for a quiet holiday,  Antiparos is the island for you and is just minutes away by boat.

 

CORFU

Corfu in the northern Ionian has probably been the most attractive island for the British to visit. Its centre is attractive with Venetian and French influences and  has to be the only place in Greece where the locals play cricket !  In the north of the island is Paleokastritsa, which, with its lovely green pine-scented hills seems a world away from the noisy resorts of Benitses and others further south.

 

SKIATHOS

Skiathos features pine trees which reach the sea and surround its lovely sandy beaches. Koukounaries is one of the prettiest and from here you can travel to the rest of the Sporades, Skopelos, Skyros and Alonissos

 

RHODES

Rhodes has a  wonderful harbour the entrance of which was straddled by the Colossus of Rhodes.  The Medieval old town, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, is a mix of interesting shops, tavernas and bars.  Although second in size to Crete, Rhodes has some popular villages located close to its airport and of course Lindos is well known as a summer tourist resort.

 

IOS
With its whitewashed houses and frenetic nightlife Hora Ios’s main village is still attractive to young people who want to do little else than party.  Its beaches are amongst the best in Cyclades.  The isolated beach of Manganari is where you should head if you tire of the nightlife on Ios!

Top tip: Ios is only a short ferry crossing to Santorini

 

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This Year Greek Islands Are Even More Appealing

Plaka, Spinalonga Plaka, Crete

Looking out of my window at the rain on a decidely cold August day, I am glad I went to Crete this summer – despite a couple of days when the petrol stations were closed.   The lack of other tourists made this July a very special time to be in Greece – we even had the beach to ourselves one lunchtime and always managed to sit at the best tables next to the shimmering water in our favourite tavernas.

One of special note is Ergospasio in Elounda.  Co-owners Kostas and Dimitris have done a marvellous job converting the old Carob Factory.  A three-storey stone structure set at the water’s edge features some very beautiful touches; pashminas for the ladies when the wind gets up in the evening, their own Ergospasio label wine, and this year’s addition, a gorgeous and talented singer and guitarist singing in Greek and English.  There is even a little washing line (complete with pegs) where the boys hang their baby squid to dry as soon as it reaches dry land!
Crete will always hold a special place in my heart but this year more than any other I felt so fortunate to be able to enjoy all it has to offer with so few people around.

The locals had time for a chat to catch up, even the usually bustling fishing town of Aghios Nikolaos had an almost serene atmosphere as we enjoyed our last morning’s breakfast next to the harbour.  I’m pleased to report that the sea is still as crystal clear as ever it was (and the waiters as chirpy).

So if you haven’t been away and are looking for a relaxing break before the kids go back to school, I would thoroughly recommend this island, reputedly the birthplace of Zeus.

If the beach is not for you there are so many other places to see on Crete, centre of the Minoan civilisation and steeped in so much history.  My favourites are the archealogical site at Knossos (where the first flushing toilet was invented), Vai Beach (the palm tree beach where the original Bounty ad was filmed), The Samaria Gorge (simply breath-taking scenery).  You can even take an excursion to stunning Santorini to experience the most amazing sunset I have ever seen,  not forgetting of course the pretty little island of Spinalonga, which was a leper colony up until the late 1950’s and whose history inspired Victoria Hislop to write “the Island.”

 

Ikaria - A Place To Live A Long Life

Ikaria Greece Ikaria Island

I have finally found the special Greek island I would like to retire to which is in the north-east Aegean. Both my best friend and my mother sent me the article written by the Daily Mail journalist Jan Moir, about Ikaria so I believe this is the Greek omen I have been waiting for –  there must be something in the fact that two people who know me better than most others thought of me when they read it.

I have therefore done a little research on Ikaria.  Located off the coast of Turkey, close to Samos where, strangely enough, I almost bought a share in a property a couple of years ago. Apparently the people live until more than 100 and are happy drinkers and some even still smoke!

Back to Ikaria – in Jan Moir’s words “the people live longer and better than almost anywhere else on the planet.”  Well, that’s a good enough start for me!

People on Ikaria regularly reach the age of 90 with two and a half times the frequency of Americans. Ikarian men, in particular, are four times as likely to reach 90, and are often in better health than their foreign counterparts.
It is said that Ikarians also suffer less depression and a quarter of the rate of dementia. ‘On Ikaria, they stay sharp to the end,’

It comes as no surprise to me that locals and experts agree that the most important keys to Ikarian longevity and good health are diet, exercise and wine, which us Grecophiles have known particularly about the island of Crete for some time.  We Brits could do worse than to take some advice from Greek islanders who are said to be some of the healthiest people in the world.

Ikarian wine, made from a mixture of red and white grapes, does not contain any additives or sulphites, but has a very high alcohol content of 16 per cent and sometimes even 18 per cent — this just gets better!  On Ikaria it is usually drunk in small but convivial measures, and never without food.  (Greeks are more sensible about their drinking habits than elsewhere in the West).  Please Waitrose, can you get your act together so that I can order some online!

A typical Ikarian breakfast is tea (made with wild herbs), bread with local honey, (bought by me in large quantities when in Greece to combat nasty winter colds in miserable UK winters), olives and cheese. Elsewhere in Greece the tea is swapped for strong Greek coffee and most of the Greeks I know only have a cigarette or two for breakfast.  The main meal of the day on Ikaria, like on other islands, is lunch: typically vegetables with pulses or beans, wine (of course) and bread – a must everywhere in Greece, followed by a siesta. The light evening meal on Ikaria is apparently similar to breakfast.

Horta, a generic name for a selection of wild plants picked from the hillsides is a well known dish all over Greece – usually boiled and dressed with olive oil and lemon or sometimes used in salads.

 

The island’s capital 

 

Agios Kirykos (Άγιος Κήρυκος) Its population was 3,243 at the last census, and its land area is 74.745 km². It is the administrative capital of Ikaria and includes the island of Fourni.

The municipal unit shares the island of Ikaria with the municipal units of Evdilos and Raches; of the three, it is the largest in population and smallest in land area.

It was named after St. Kirykos , the youngest martyr of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who suffered death at the age of three in Asia Minor. The Cathedral Church of the town is devoted to him. Agios Kirykos is famous for hosting the annual International Chess Tournament, “Ikaros”, each July.

As with most other Greek islands, Ikaria boasts its own archaeological museum, a traditional square, and a stadium (in Patela), which hosted the 10th Pan-Aegean Games.  It also hosts the statue of Skepsi (thinking woman), the altar of the flame for the Aerathletic international IKARIADA Games and the Lefkada Annunciation medieval monastery.

here are a few small hotels offering pools right by the sea. Check the Trip Adviser site to see what others have said.

Ikaria offers an excellent diversity of beaches to suit everyone. From remote sandy beaches where you are unlikely to encounter anything except pure nature, to cosmopolitan beaches with amenities.The clarity  of the shallows surrounding Ikaria are unparalleled. The sea surrounding  Ikaria ranks amongst the cleanest in the world. Ikaria’s most popular sandy beaches are predominantly located on the North side of the island and on the South side the beaches are less crowded.

Music and dancing are major forms of entertainment on Ikaria, and figure prominantly in the lives of Ikarians. Throughout the year Ikarians host baptisms, weddings, parties and religious festivals where one can listen and dance to live traditional Ikarian Music.

 

Ikariotiko

While in Ikaria don’t miss the chance to experience firsthand the “Ikariotiko” (traditional dance of Ikaria) by attending one of the many Panagiria (Saints’ Days/Feasts) which take place during the summer. In the meantime you can get a taste of Ikarian Music by clicking here.

 

Turtle in Zante Caretta Turtle

Zakynthos History

Homer first mentioned the island of Zakynthos in his writings in both The Iliad and The Odyssey, where he stated that the first to inhabit the island was the son of King Dardanos of  Troy, after whom the island takes its name.

Zakynthos was conquered by the Great Imperial King Arkeisios of Kefalonia and the next King to conquer the island was of course Odysseus from Ithaca.  Later Zakynthos became an independent democracy.

 

Zakynthos Town

Reminiscent of Venice, with its historic St Mark’s Square, the town of  Zakynthos is very pretty as it curves naturally around a beautiful bay The town itself  is dominated by a Venetian Fortress and the St Dennis Cathedral.

Zakynthos Countryside

 

Zante, as it is now known for short, has one of the most breathtaking coastlines in the Mediterranean.  The most southerly of the Ionian Islands and the third largest after Corfu and Kefalonia, Zante ranges from mountainous landscapes in the north to lush hills and flat countryside in the south.

The Venetians called it ‘The Flower of the Orient’ because of  its olive groves, lemon trees and bougainvillea which make the whole island a painter’s paradise.

 

Places to See On Zakynthos

 

THE BLUE CAVES

On the north of the island, below Cape Skinari is one of Zante’s best known attractions.  The blue caves are so named as the reflections of the sea give a blue hue against the stunning white backdrop of the rocks and when snorkelling in the area, these hues give swimmers a similar reflection so that their bodies appear blue!

 

TURTLES

Zante is also renowned for the Caretta loggerhead turtle, an endangered species which only nest and breed in Greece (a good choice)!

 

Sadly though their numbers are in decline and the National Marine Park of Zante has been established to help to protect their natural environment.

 

The best place to visit if you want to see these amazing creatures is Laganas Beach particularly at sunset between July and August.

 

PORTO VROMI, MARIES

The village of Maries is said to be named after the two Marys, Mary Magdalene and Mary Klopas. Surrounded by myths and legends the area is also home to the amazing rock profile belonging to Poseidon, God of the Sea.

This is the place to come for a boat trip to see the shipwreck on the north-western coast of Zante, where it is rumoured that Mary Magdalene came ashore to spread the gospel of Christ – her footprint can even be seen on the rock.

 

THE JEWISH CEMETARY

Until 1712, the Zakynthos community had two synagogues, the “Zante” Synagogue and the “Cretan” Synagogue, which took its name after the Jews from Crete who had settled in Zakynthos when Crete was occupied by the Ottomans in 1669.  The “Zante” synagogue suffered serious damage during the earthquake which shook the Ionian Islands in 1953; and the “Cretan” synagogue is no more than a ruin today.

 

During the Nazi Occupation, the Germans asked Mayor Karrer and The Metropolitan Bishop Chrysostomos to hand them a list of the Jews living on  Zakynthos.  Thanks to their denial, the Jews were rescued and hid in some of the more remote villages of the island. To show their gratitude, the Jews of Greece erected a monument in memory of the these two extremely brave men in the old Synagogue’s courtyard area.

Zakynthos no longer has a Jewish community, but visitors to Zante can visit the cemetery, which is located in the Rouveli area near Bohali.

 

RELAXATION ON ZANTE

On Zante you can choose from spending lazy days in secluded coves to visiting bars and  clubs featuring 70’s disco tunes or, for those who like the quieter life, there are plenty of seaside adventures to be had.

 

Traditional Greek tavernas, modern bars, and boutique shops, are all a feature on the island of  Zante.  The most attractive to the visitor though have to be Zante’s most amazing beaches. Beautifully tranquil resorts feature white-sandy beaches at Alikanas, Alikes, Tsilivi, and Dafne to mention just a few…

Navplion – A City To Visit in Summer Or Winter

House in Navplion Typical Navplion House

Within walking distance of the (industrial) harbour wall is the most amazing ice-cream shop … further on a plethora of side streets lead you away from the main road to the pedestrianized area and grand main square which is adorned with the most attractive Venetian-style houses, restaurants, bars, shops and tavernas.  There is so much to do in Navplion, you would be hard-pressed to get round it all in a day, well, that is if you take in refreshments, food and shopping like we did!

 
During the hot summer months, pretty much all the restaurants feature those welcoming ice-fans to cool you down while you sip your vodka-martini and watch the action – always lots going on in the way of outdoor entertainment.

Navplion History

Navplion was the capital of Greece before Athens (1821-1834) and sits at the head of the Argolic Gulf in the Peloponnese.  It is here where the fearless sea captain Laskarina Bouboulina and her fleet of eight ships sailed to and took part in the siege of the fortress which she eventually captured.  Bouboulina was born on the island of Hydra, moved to Spetses following her marriages to two sea captains who left her wealthy enough after their deaths to buy several ships and form her own fleet.  Very sadly, Bouboulina was shot on 22nd May 1825,  in a family dispute. Bouboulina was one of the first women to play a major revolutionary role and without her and her ships, the Greeks may well not have gained their independence.

 
Easily accessible from Navplion is Mycenae
What a spectacular coastal view from the home which used to belong to the King of Sparta, Agamemnon.  There is an almost eerie silence which surrounds the ruins now and the highlight for me were to treat the well-worn steps from ground level, leading underground to an extensive plumbing system which provided Mycenae with fresh drinking water.
 

Mycenae

The site of Mycenae was first excavated in 1874 by Heinrich Schliemann, the German amateur archaeologist who had also discovered the ruins of Troy.  A magnificent palace used to reside on this hillside, which was surrounded by great walls.  The city was crowned with an acropolis even before the Mycenaean civilization, and the location of the site was of huge strategic importance.  The ancient city boasted houses, bakeries, workshops, and even a granary. Several of the tombs in Mycenae have been named after the family of Atreus. There is Agamemnon’s tomb, the tomb of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus’ tomb.

 

Mycenae was almost completely destroyed by a fire in the 12th century. The Mycenaean civilization declined, but the area was still inhabited. It is believed it was abandoned in the 3rd century AD.

 

The findings from Mycenae can be viewed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, but all over Greece there are also smaller museums that hold Mycenaean objects.

 

Summary

Navplion is a joy to visit.  From a sailor’s perspective, no showers immediately available on the quayside but lots of small hotels if you are desperate in the winter.  You can eat with the locals at a typical taverna offering local dishes in one of the back streets or dine out in your finery at one of the high class (and more expensive) restaurants that Navplion has to offer.  The buildings are amazing with a strong Italian influence and there is lots going on.
 
Return soon to read more about Greece, her islands and all she has to offer.

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