An airline deal has made many of Greece’s lesser-known isles and regions easier to visit – our expert shares the ones are worth discovering
As the world opens up to tourism once more, one of Europe’s leading low-cost airlines is opening a wider window on Greece’s blissful blue skies, mirror clear seas and silk sand beaches.
For travellers seeking to discover a more authentic side to the sun-soaked country, EasyJet has teamed up with Sky Express, Greece’s most popular no-frills carrier, to offer UK travellers the chance to book flights via a single platform to more than 20 lesser-known Greek destinations.
These are the ones that should be at the top of your list.
The cultured one: Syros
With its twin hilltop settlements – topped by a snow-white Catholic cathedral on one side and a blue-domed Orthodox church on the other; streets bursting with magnificent old houses built by wealthy sea captains during the 19th century (when the island oozed wealth); and marble-lined capital Ermoupolis – Syros is one of the Cyclades’ most intriguing cultural gems.
The wild one: Naxos
Mykonos and Santorini might grab the headlines, but with its lost-in-the-past villages, endless sandy beaches and low-key tavernas serving succulent local dishes, their Cyclades sister Naxos offers a calmer – and more charming – alternative.
From immense kouroi statues to flamingo-flecked salt lakes, the region’s largest island has plenty of attractions too. Bask on Alyko’s glorious sand dune-studded beaches, backed by cedar forests, and get lost in the narrow alleys of the mountain village of Chalki, where they make punchy local lemon liqueur Kitro.
The otherworldly beauty: Milos
Santorini might be Greece’s volcanic poster child, but the lesser-known Cycladic island of Milos, where Alexandros of Antioch’s celebrated Venus statue was discovered in 1820, is equally spectacular.
Take time to marvel at the copy of the Venus de Milo in the island’s tiny museum, and then be wowed by brightly painted syrmata fishing huts and lunar-like beaches – including Sarakíniko, where blindingly white rocks rise dramatically out of transparent waters.
The holistic haven: Skyros
Skyros, the wild Sporades archipelago’s southernmost gem, where British poet Robert Brook (author of The Soldier sonnet) lies buried and where legend says Theseus (he of the Minotaur) was hurled from a cliff by lairy king Lycomedes, is best known for its alternative vibe; yoga and wellness retreats are ten-a-penny.
But there is more besides, from its unique breed of Skyrian ponies and pretty pine-studded landscapes, to the capital Chora spilling like white lava over a cliff topped by a biscuit-coloured Byzantine castle.
The miraculous one: Ikaria
Known as the island ‘where people forget to die’, you can expect to see a lot of tanned elderly folk when you hop off the plane in Ikaria; one in three inhabitants make it to their 90s on this tiny island 30 miles from Turkey’s western coast, making it one of only five Blue Zone destinations (famed for their residents’ longevity) in the world.
Apart from health-giving hot springs and pristine beaches, locals will tell you that even the hearty red wine on their island (where legend says Dionysos was born) has miraculous powers.
The war hero: Leros
These days peace emanates from Leros’s sweet-scented forests and pebble-lined coves. During WWII, however, Mussolini used this tiny island off the coast of Turkey as his military HQ and the capital Lakki is considered to be one of the best examples of rationalist-fascist architecture outside of Italy.
This Dodecanese island was also the setting for Alistair MacLean’s wartime classic, The Guns of Navarone, and is famed for its fish restaurants that serve some of Europe’s best oysters.
The mainland gem: Kastoria
Built with cash earned from the region’s centuries-old trade in fur pelts, this city in the mainland region of Western Macedonia sits above a lake framed by pine-studded mountains and scattered with pelicans, swans and fisherman sculling their traditional plava flat-bottomed boats. Rustic tavernas serving hearty food abound here. Dishes to try include tzigerosarmades, made from rice, lamb mince and offal, and sarmadakia: parcels of cabbage leaves packed with spiced beef.
The Cretan charmer: Sitia
Sitia’s gleaming new international airport opened a few years ago, offering easier access to the – hitherto little explored – eastern half of Greece’s biggest island.
Far from Chania’s crowded cobbled shopping lanes you’ll find unspoilt beaches, including Vai, home to Europe’s only palm forest; authentic tavernas serving slow-cooked kleftiko lamb; and the Unesco-listed Sitia Geopark, a vast swathe of wilderness dotted with hiking trails and picturesque villages.
The green goddess: Astypalaia
Currently getting a green makeover with the help of German car giants Volkswagen (who’ve brought electric vehicles and renewable power technology to this butterfly-shaped Dodecanese island), Astypaleia is a magnet for beach lovers, who come here to laze in secluded coves lapped by sparkling waters and linked by a network of dirt tracks.
Away from those glittering seascapes, island capital Chora’s taverna-lined streets, Byzantine castle, and eight picturesque windmills are the main lure.
The really remote one: Karpathos
Karpathos might have been mentioned by Homer in the Iliad (in a classic typo he refers to the island as ‘Krapathos’) but the second largest of the Dodecanese islands is rarely found on tourist radars.
Topped by Olympos, a mountain village with ancient houses the colour of faded lego bricks, where women clad in traditional garb (very) firmly rule the roost, this lovely rugged island 27 miles from Rhodes is renowned for its tiny villages and secluded sand-strewn coves where rare Mediterranean monk seals love to frolic.