Whitewashed houses and ancient temples; pine forests and caster-sugar beaches; buzzing harbours where fishermen haul in squid for your lunchtime calamari — all surrounded by seas that sparkle as though scattered with diamonds.
These are the spots we should soon be able to look forward to visiting, as it seems as though holidays to Greece will go ahead in 2020 once an ‘air bridge’ is agreed between the country and the UK. Each Greek island has its own delights. Here’s our guide to suit all tastes…
Sunny in Santorini
The island of Santorini, which is described as an Instagrammer’s dream. Its churches are painted blue to ward off evil
Cliffs plunging into the sea, bright white villages clinging to vertiginous slopes . . . this is an Instagrammer’s dream. Invest in a place to stay that has an infinity pool, so you can keep cool while watching the sun melt into the Aegean.
Did you know? Its churches are painted in the iconic blue to ward off evil.
Getting there: Seven nights in the five-star Aqua Luxury Suites in Imerovigli this October cost from £731 pp B&B, including flights (britishairways.com).
The island of Hyrda, close to Athens, which is popular with bohemians and well-heeled Greeks
Close to Athens, Hydra has long been the haunt of bohemians and well-heeled Greeks. No cars are allowed, but it’s far from sleepy. The bars and boutiques in Hydra town are ranged like an amphitheatre down to the harbour. If you do want some peace and quiet, however, go hiking on Mount Eros.
Did you know? Musician Leonard Cohen lived here in the 1960s.
Getting there: Seven nights in the boutique Orloff hotel in September cost from £1,317 pp, including flights (sunvil.co.uk).
THE PARTY CROWD
Champagne in Mykonos
Mykonos is an island in the Cyclades and is a magnet for celebrities thanks to its exclusive restaurants and beaches
This Cycladic island is a magnet for celebrities — it was a favourite of Jackie Onassis, too. Exclusive restaurants such as Nammos do a roaring trade, while at the Paradise and Super Paradise beaches the party is swinging by mid-afternoon.
Did you know? Mykonos’s nickname is ‘the island of the winds’.
Getting there: Seven nights at the four-star adults-only Andronikos Hotel in August costs from £1,214 pp with flights (loveholidays.com).
Ios for ouzo
Young twentysomethings are drawn to the island of Ios, pictured, where they can get hazy on ouzo
Every year, crowds of twentysomethings descend on Ios to get hazy on ouzo. The winding streets conceal bars playing Euro-pop, while Mylopotas beach is the perfect sandy spot to sleep off the night before.
Did you know? Legend has it that Homer died in Ios.
Getting there: Seven nights at Ios Palace Hotel & Spa in August from £1,076 pp B&B, with flights and transfers (olympicholidays.com).
Castles in Corfu
The Greek emerald isle of Corfu, which is one of the best for families and is the birthplace of Prince Philip
The Greek emerald isle is packed with family entertainments: 57 beaches, an aquarium, castles, horse trekking and glass-bottomed boats. When temperatures soar there’s Aqualand, a vast water park.
Did you know? Prince Philip was born on the island.
Getting there: Seven nights in a villa in the unspoilt north-east part of Corfu this August costs from £2,036 for a family of four, including flights (jamesvillas.co.uk).
Kos it’s lovely
Kos, pictured, is one of the biggest islands in the Dodecanese. Locals from the island are called Koans
With plenty of beaches, Kos is one of the biggest islands in the Dodecanese. There are hot springs at Bros Therma beach to enjoy, plus numerous cycle routes to explore across flat, easy terrain.
Did you know? Locals are called Koans.
Getting there: A week-long, all-inclusive stay at the Blue Lagoon Village for a family of four in August costs from £1,035 pp including flights (firstchoice.co.uk).
Sifnos’s grilled prawns
The island of Sifnos, pictured, is just 15-miles long and was put on the map by late chef Nikolaos Tselementes
The 15-mile-long island of Sifnos was put on the gastronomic map by the legendary late chef Nikolaos Tselementes. Dine out at renowned restaurants such as Omega 3, with its perfect grilled red prawns. You should also try mastelo — goat or lamb cooked in red wine.
Did you know? Tom Hanks is a regular visitor.
Getting there: The ferry takes less than two-and-a-half hours from Athens, at £90 return (seajets.gr).
Petali Village Hotel offers four nights’ B&B in August from £839 pp (sifnoshotelpetali.com).
The island of Kefalonia, pictured, has vineyards aplenty and restaurants offering traditional Greek food
With vineyards aplenty, and restaurants offering kreatopita (a rich meat pie) and bourbourelia (a thick vegetarian soup made with beans and pulses), bon viveurs love Kefalonia. Be sure to save room for a slice of amigdalopita (almond cake drenched in honey).
Did you know? In 1953 an earthquake raised Kefalonia by 24 inches.
Getting there: Seven nights’ B&B at the Regina Dell’ Acqua Resort in September costs from £836pp, including flights and transfers (olympicholidays.com).
Splashing around in Naxos
An aerial view of Naxos, which is famous for its beaches that are dotted with tavernas
The beaches of Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna and Plaka are all dotted with tavernas, while St George’s beach offers shallow, warm water for children to splash around in.
Did you know? In Greek mythology, Zeus was raised on Naxos.
Getting there: Fly to Athens from around £68 pp return in July (ryanair.com), then take a SeaJets fast ferry from £140 return (go-ferry.com). Seven nights at Agios Prokopios Hotel in July costs from £331 pp B&B (prokopis.com).
The amazing Shipwreck Beach (or Navagio Beach) on the popular island of Zante
Shipwreck Beach is magnificent, as is Agios Nikolaos (excellent for scuba-diving), pine-fringed Limni Keriou, and Makris Gialos.
Did you know? Shipwreck Beach gets its name from a ship that ran ashore on a stormy night in 1980.
Getting there: A week for two adults and two children at the five-star Bay Hotel and Suites in August costs from £791 half-board with flights (onthebeach.co.uk).
WHAT’S GOING ON ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE
Foreign tourists will be welcome again in Spain, pictured, from July 1
Foreign tourists are welcome from July 1, when international flights resume and the quarantine policy ends. A trial will see at least 11,000 German tourists arriving in the Balearic Islands at the end of June. Spain has said it is not in talks with Britain over a possible ‘air bridge’.
Could be one of the first countries to set up an ‘air bridge’ with the UK, possibly by the end of June. The country reopened on June 4, with travellers required to present a negative test on arrival. Beaches reopened last Saturday. Tourists can download an app which uses a traffic-light system to indicate beach capacity. Most hotels have reopened and can display ‘Clean & Safe’ stamps to prove they have introduced hygiene and safety procedures. Bars and restaurants must close at 11pm.
Most hotels, restaurants, bars and beaches have reopened with measures in place. Tourists from ten EU countries have been given the go-ahead to visit without restrictions, although Britons are also allowed if they complete an online form and have a printed accommodation confirmation. Flights from the UK to Croatia will resume on Monday.
Border restrictions with European countries will be removed from Monday, except for people coming from areas with quarantine regimes, including Britain, where rules will be reciprocal. The country reopened its bars, cafes and restaurants on June 2 and lifted travel restrictions inside the country.
Open for business. International flights resumed and borders fully reopened on June 3, when the 14-day quarantine policy was also dropped. Most hotels, beaches, restaurants and bars have reopened with reduced capacity and a 1.5-metre distancing policy.
BY HARRIET SIME
The island of Delos, pictured, is full of history. Wearing stilettos at ancient Greek sites is illegal due to the damage they cause
This island is said to be the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo, whose mother was one of Zeus’s lovers. You can still see crumbling temples erected to the twin gods by the ancient Greeks.
Did you know? Wearing stilettos at ancient Greek sites is illegal due to the damage they cause.
Getting there: There is no accommodation here. Day-trippers typically come from Mykonos, Naxos or Paros. The ferry from Mykonos takes less than 30 minutes, and costs £16 return.
Rhodes, pictured, has seen the Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans and Venetians all leave their stamp
Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans, Venetians . . . all lived and left their stamp here. In Rhodes town you can almost hear the Knights of St John clanking around in their chainmail.
Hike to the Lindos Acropolis and imagine Roman ships massing on the horizon.
Did you know? The Colossus of Rhodes was the tallest statue in the ancient world at 33 metres.
Getting there: Flights cost from £59 return in September (wizzair.com), while four nights at the Evdokia Hotel cost from £204 pp (evdokiahotel.com).
Stroll in Skiathos
Skiathos is known as a ‘hiker’s paradise’. It has rocky peaks, dense woodland and idyllic sea views
Known as ‘the hiker’s paradise’, the island offers 200km of routes through rocky peaks and dense woodland. Climb up to Evia and Pelion for idyllic sea views.
Did you know? The first flag of Greece was created in a monastery here in 1807.
Getting there: Seven nights at Magdalena Studios’ self-catering apartments in September cost from £800 pp with flights (sunvil.co.uk).
Picturesque: Boats bob along at Amorgos’s main port, Katapola. The island has a population of less than 2,000
This craggy island, with its idyllic harbour at Katapola, offers a network of trails, inns, and the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa, 300 metres above the sea. Monks sometimes greet hikers there with glasses of raki.
Did you know? Amorgos has a population of less than 2,000.
Getting there: Eight-night self-guided walking holidays with accommodation, transfers and baggage transfer cost from £706 (walkingplus.co.uk). Get flights to Athens from £59 return (ryanair.com). The five-hour 30-minute ferry from Athens to Amorgos costs from £36 return (ferryhopper.com).
Escape to Folegandros
In Folegandros, pictured, you can see abandoned churches and fishermen hauling their catches
Explore abandoned churches, watch the fishermen hauling in their catches, and hike to Panagia church for wonderful sunsets.
Lazy days are best capped off with a drink in the peaceful square at Chora.
Did you know? The island’s ancient castle has been occupied since medieval times.
Getting there: Seven nights at Miramare Hotel from £269 pp in September (miramarefolegandros.gr). Fly to Santorini from £126 return (easyjet.com), then take a ferry for £158 return (aferry.com).
Alone on Alonnisos
Alonnisos, pictured, is a gem of the Sporades islands and attracts few tourists
This gem of the Sporades islands attracts few tourists. Expect sleepy beaches, bouzouki music in tavernas and crickets singing.
Did you know? Mediterranean monk seals flock to the island’s shores — it’s thought fewer than 700 exist worldwide.
Getting there: Twelve nights at the Paradise Hotel from £1,297 pp B&B in September, including flights and transfers from Skiathos airport (olympicholidays.com).
Living large in Crete
Crete, pictured, is the largest Greek island, boasting mega resorts and sun-dappled village squares
Mega resorts, sun-dappled village squares, Dinosauria Park (for the children), Minoan sites, nightlife in Chania and Rethymno, mountain hikes and splendid beaches . . . the largest Greek island has it all.
Did you know? Hercules is said to have saved Crete from a raging bull. This is where the expression ‘take the bull by the horns’ comes from.
Getting there: Seven nights’ half-board at the TUI BLUE Atlantica Kalliston Resort from £1,280 pp in August with flights (tui.co.uk).
HISTORIAN BETTANY HUGHES, FROM NEW CHANNEL 5 SHOW A GREEK ODYSSEY, REVEALS WHY SHE IS IN LOVE WITH THE GREEK ISLANDS
TV historian Bettany Hughes, who says that she first fell in love with Greece three decades ago
The Greek islands were where I first fell in love — twice. First with my travel companion, and second with the land we were travelling through.
We were island-hopping on ferries, mopeds and bicycles, and I was searching for ancient history and fabulous myths and legends.
Now, 30 years later, in the epic journey of a lifetime, I’ve gone back across the Aegean. I’ve travelled more than 1,700 miles by boat, through storms and earthquakes, with the company of dolphins (good) and killer bees (bad), on my own modern Odyssey.
We’re told that around 3,000 years ago the legendary Greek warrior, Odysseus, travelled by boat from the site of the Trojan War to his home island of Ithaca, having all kinds of adventures on the way. So I decided to pack a film crew and follow the hero’s course.
The adventures certainly came thick and fast. An earthquake rocked the converted olive oil warehouse we were staying in on Ithaca, and a sea storm saw us caught in 6m waves for seven hours in the middle of the Icarian Sea.
There was nothing the Greek hero loved more than a hot bath and an oil rub. On Lesbos I was invited to sit in volcanic jacuzzis with jolly local Lesbians, and on Mykonos (after clinging on through that white-knuckle storm) I was given a good rub down with oil infused with St John’s Wort — a remedy for aches and pains used ever since the ancient Olympics.
Say ‘Greek island’ and the stereotype of blue skies, blue seas and blue-domed churches springs to mind. We found all that and more.
On Mykonos, one of the last fishermen from one of the last fishing villages (now bought up for holiday developments) took me out with him. I met his seven-year-old son, who he fears will be the last in his family to harvest the sea.
On Samos a traditional boat-builder has made a wendy house in the sky — a tree-top cafe serving oven-fresh lamb and bread, and local Greek spirit tsipouro.
Bettany has travelled 1,700 miles by boat across the Greek islands, visiting the likes of Corfu, Lesbos and Samos, pictured
On Corfu I spent a wild night with best-selling authors Sebastian Faulks and Peter Frankopan, who were mourning their loss against Corfu’s ferocious cricket team — a sporting legacy from the British protectorate that existed for half a century from 1815.
Santorini, meanwhile, is the Pompeii of Greece. You can wander through the spooky streets of the town of Akrotiri, which was smothered by a massive volcanic eruption around 1615 BCE. Here, among the fabulous artwork and houses three storeys high, you’ll find the roots of the legend of Atlantis — a sophisticated civilisation swallowed up by earth and sea. The island has a cool Archaeological Museum, too.
Greece is still making its own myths. On the delightful island of Icaria it is rumoured that there are more people in their 90s than anywhere else in Europe — is it the water, the seasonal produce or the delicious lack of deadlines?
Chatting to youngsters Irene and Eleni — 90 and 97 respectively — they told me it was all down to the Greek attribute philoxenia: a love of strangers. It is a love I’ve felt for three decades, and one which has endured for at least 3,000 years.
I can’t see even Covid 19 stopping the Greeks welcoming strangers as though they are old friends.
- A Greek Odyssey with Bettany Hughes airs on Fridays at 9pm on Channel 5.