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The Greek Islands are a can’t-miss destination for most travelers, thanks to the postcard-worthy scene of whitewashed buildings stacked on craggy cliffs that tumble down to the blue sea.
But for travelers who have already hit the major players in the Greek archipelago, here are a few off-the-beaten islands in Greece that raise the bar on idyllic island living.
HydraIf you close your eyes and envision the most idyllic Greek island, what you’re picturing is Hydra. Known as one of the only Greek islands that is completely vehicle-free (no cars or scooters), Hydra is the jewel in a crown that is already glittering. Popular among both backpackers and the boho chic crowd, Hydra draws travelers with its cobbled streets, dramatic vistas of rocks and the sea, time-warped tavernas (cafes) and traditional “bouzouki” music. If that’s not enough of a sell, Hydra has entertained the likes of celebrities from musician Leonard Cohen and actress Sophia Loren to rock band The Rolling Stones — so if it’s good enough for them, it’s probably good enough for your clients.
Getting There: From Athens International Airport, visitors can go to the port of Piraeus and take a ferry to Hydra. These depart about five to six times per day, and the trip takes from one to three hours depending on the type of vessel.
IkariaIkaria is known for having a large portion of the world’s centenarians (people who are 100 years old or older), which says a lot about the quality of life on this wild and unspoiled Greek isle. Centuries of invasion from the Persians, Romans and Turks forced the locals to move inland, which has resulted in a culture with preserved traditions and ways of life. No one knows the secret of the locals’ longevity, especially considering their love of cigarettes and strong red wine. But a laid-back lifestyle replete with salty sea air, daily naps, and a diet that is big on fresh produce is certainly a style worth considering — or, at the very least, worthy of a vacation.
Getting There: Ikaria Island National Airport can be reached directly from Athens via Olympic Air & Aegean and Sky Express airlines; flight time is about 40 minutes. Clients can also use ferry company Hellenic Seaways, which connects Ikaria with Athens (Piraeus Port), Mykonos, Syros, Patmos, Paros, Naxos, Fourni, Samos, Chios, Mytilini, Limnos and Kavala.
KalymnosRugged is an understatement when facing the rugged shores of Kalymnos. The dramatic limestone cliffs are a mecca for rock climbers, but those who prefer to remain with two feet firmly on the ground will still marvel at the contrast between the stone and the vibrant blue sea. For travelers who aren’t as experienced in rock climbing but wish to try their hand, there are plenty of rock faces that are perfect for beginners. Load up on grapefruit and the day’s local catch for sustenance before tackling a day of climbing.
Getting There: Fly to the nearby island of Kos, and take a ferry from the port of Mastichari. The port is about 10 minutes from the airport, and there are six to 10 boat crossings per day to Kalymnos.
NaxosNaxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands, and it’s one of the most affordable. Begin a visit in the main, waterfront city of Hora, known for its shopping, meandering alleys and hilltop vistas. Clients who venture outside the main city will find that life moves at a decidedly more relaxed pace, complete with isolated beaches, ancient sites and the occasional donkey crossing. Come to Naxos hungry, as the island is known for its local potatoes, cheeses and cured meats. Hiking and horseback riding are popular pastimes here, as is mountain biking and kite surfing.
Getting There: Fly into Athens, then take a ferry from either the ports of Piraeus or Rafina to Naxos.
RhodesThree-hundred days of sunshine make Rhodes one of the most ideal year-round escapes in the Greek islands. Not to mention, the island is chock-full of ruins, making it a paradise for history buffs. Rhodes also packs a punch for nightlife and is popular for its sugary beaches, restaurants and beautiful views. It’s not the most off-the-beaten-path island, but compared to its competitors, such as Crete, Mykonos and Santorini, it still delivers on bucolic serenity and charm.
Getting There: There are several daily flights to Rhodes from Athens and weekly flights from Santorini. Most people prefer to fly to Rhodes, as a ferry can take up to 18 hours.
SkiathosOne of the smallest of the Greek islands, Skiathos is a beachcomber’s heaven, with more than 60 beaches to explore — the most famous of which is Koukounaries. A heart-pumping nightlife pulls in a young crowd that keeps the party going until the wee hours of the morning. Then, come sunrise, tired partygoers can collapse on one of the island’s many gorgeous beaches. Cultural events, concerts and the club scene is what draws the majority of travelers to this pearl in the Aegean, but the island is also famous for its watersports, walking routes and gorgeous main harbor.
Getting There: From Athens, take a 30-minute flight to Skiathos Airport. Clients can also take a ferry to Skiathos from Agios Konstantinos in central Greece or from the port of Volos. (There is no direct ferry from Athens.)
SkopelosYes, you recognize Skopelos as the setting for the 2008 film “Mamma Mia.” Still, even with the island’s Hollywood debut, it manages to retain its humble, road-less-traveled appeal. Washed-in-white buildings creep up into the rocky hills, while electrically blue water laps up onto pebbled beaches. More than half the island is blanketed in pine forest, and travelers can explore the area to discover Byzantine monasteries, a pirate’s grave and a medieval castle.
Getting There: Several airports, including those in Volos, Athens and Thessaloniki, have connections to the main ports that service Skopelos; Skiathos Airport is the closest to the island. From Skiathos, the ferry journey is about 30 minutes.