Greece and particularly the capital Athens is a country and city steeped in myth and legend with a history that stretches back for millennia. The home of philosophy and the birthplace of Western civilisation, Athens boasts a history of habitation that is longer than any of its European counterparts like Rome, Paris, Berlin or Madrid. The city has been continuously inhabited for at least 7,000 years. The oldest known human presence in Athens has been dated back to between the 11th and 7th millennium B.C.
The Islands of Greece however is what has made the country such a sought after tourist destination. Greece has more islands under its control than any other nation in the world which means one is spoilt for choice when planning an island holiday to Greece. The popular islands are world renowned and thousands of tourists travel to Greece each year. The Greek island towns of Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu and Naxos are some of the Mediterranean’s most popular island destinations.
Greece however “hides” some smaller towns on their many islands that only smaller yachts and speedboats can access. These towns are not always accessible by plane and obviously being islands they aren’t accessible by road. This remoteness makes these little towns and marinas special because one can get a true local feel of the Greek culture when visiting these places and they aren’t overrun by tourists as some of Greece’s more popular destinations are. Let’s look at some of these hidden gems of the Greek islands.
Hydra is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece, located in the Aegean Sea just south of the capital Athens. The town of Hydra is the only built up area on the island, with the interior of the island being largely uninhabited. The town is known for its art scene with galleries and museums scattered throughout the towns interior. The art scene was inspired by Leonard Cohen, the famous singer-songwriter who used to call Hydra home and who still owns a house there.
The town’s narrow streets lead from the harbour to the popular attractions like the museum, Cathedral and various monasteries and churches. Cars and motorbikes are banned from the island, making Hydra the perfect place for those travellers seeking to relax in an “old world” style destination. Donkeys and water taxis transport people across the island and along the coast to popular swimming spots and other small villages. Hydra is an upmarket destination, which means that eating at the restaurants on the marina can get quite pricey. But the food is well worth it, with fresh seafood dishes being the most popular among locals and tourists. If you are looking for a local traditional Greek tavern, walk down the narrow streets to the centre of town where many of these small establishments can be found.
At the farthest end of the Seronic Islands lies Spetses. Spetses, with it’s beautiful sandy beaches and cool pine forests, is one of the few islands in Greece that has not been run over by the vast numbers of group tourism. The island has a ban on private vehicles which means the silence and old world feel that Spetses has is only interrupted by the low shudder of mopeds and boats that drive on and sail around the island. The port of Dapia is where it all happens. The port is strikingly beautiful with white washed Neo-Classic houses, that have been beautifully preserved, forming the backdrop of this port.
The little town is scattered with smart cafés and stylish boutiques, that are filled with locals and tourists drinking their espressos and frappes as they watch the latest crop of travellers climb off the water taxis. The town’s narrow cobble streets lead onto Plazas that are filled with local taverns and coffee shops. There is a statue of Laskarina Bouboulina on the island which is a must see. The statue is that of the Greek heroin who led the islanders’ assault on an Ottoman fleet that was trying to sail through this channel during the Greek war of Independence. Be sure to take a horse-drawn carriages through the port town, and try the stuffed octopus at any of the local taverns to get the taste of some local cuisine.
The island of Skiathos lies in the Aegean Sea, off the North Western part of Greece’s coastline. Skiathos is famous for its excellent sandy beaches which are predominantly situated on the South and South-Western section of the island. Koukounaries is the most popular beach on the island. It is widely regarded as the best beach in all of Greece. All of the beaches have sunbeds and umbrellas for hire, and there are also water sport activities on offer. Banana Beach, which is close to Koukounaries, has two lively beach bars on its golden sandy beach. For those who are interested in nudist beaches, the banana nudist beach which lies just next to the main Banana Beach, is arguably the best nudist beach in Greece.
The Castle at the northern section of the island is the island’s oldest establishment. The castle, whose history dates back to the 16th century, was abandoned after its inhabitants moved to Skiathos town. Skiathos town has beautiful white washed buildings and cobblestone streets that snake through the old town to local taverns and beautiful small plazas hidden in its interior. The old town is situated atop of a hill that overlooks the harbour and town centre. The town has some of the trendiest bars in all of Greece, which are all open until the early hours of the morning. Stroll along the inner streets of Skiathos town, find a local tavern where they spit roast beautiful meats, while an old local plays some authentic Greek music, this is the only why to experience the real character of Skiathos and Greece.
Parga is not an island as it lies on the eastern coastline of Greece’s mainland in the Ionian Sea. But we thought that it had to be mentioned here because it has the character of a small Greek island town. Parga has two bays, one has a stony beach that water sport junkies use for kite surfing and kayaking, and the other is where the town is situated. The former is also where private catamarans and yachts lay on anchor overnight. Water taxis come to pick you up at your yacht to take you to the bay on the other side where the town is situated. The taxi ride to the other bay takes all of 5 minutes but it is the highlight of whole Parga experience.
When the local water taxi driver picks you up at your yacht you will have to be careful when climbing onto the much smaller boat. With Greek music blaring in the background, the driver of the boat takes you on a short sightseeing trip through the rocky outposts inside Parga’s bay. The small island just across the bay from Parga, has nothing but a Greek Orthodox Church on it. The driver takes you right past the island and as soon as you pass through the small rocky outposts, the beautiful town of Parga opens up ahead of you. The town has many little taverns and bars where you can enjoy local cuisine like calamari, souvlaki and giros.
The view of the castle atop of the hill that overlooks the town is mesmerising at night, but during the day be sure to climb up to the top and inspect the ancient castle. The walk up is well worth the effort as the views from atop the hill are spectacular as you can see both bays from the top. Because the water is so clear you can spot all of the reefs scattered across the bay. Parga has been largely untouched by group tourism which means that the town still has a local feel to it.
Poros is a very small volcanic island that lies just 200m from the Greek mainland. Two thirds of the island is built up with houses, shops and restaurants that have all been built in typical Greek style architecture, whitewashed walls with blue or red shutters. The island itself has little to offer for those looking for sandy beaches or water activities. But it does have an old world Greek charm with a mythical history that stretches back to the days when the Greeks used to worship the ancient Greek gods. The Sanctuary of Poseidon, which is situated in the most beautiful part of the island, dates back to the 6th century BC, it’s a must see for all visitors to Poros.
The little cobble streets and authentic taverns on the island is what makes Poros so unique. Because it is so close to the mainland this island has been inhabited for many years and thus has a rich history. Around every corner in Poros you find locals sitting in the street drinking wine and coffee in the shade, waiting for the heat of the day to pass. The smell of fresh bread filtering out of the local bakeries in Poros fill the air in the early morning while the smell of grilled seafood and lamb fill the air at night. Getting lost in the maze of the narrow cobblestone streets in Poros takes you back to what Greece would have been like before mass tourism descended onto it.
The tiny island of Paxos has no airport and it also has a shortage of water which has kept mass tourism at bay. The island, which forms part of the Ionian string of islands, lies off the Eastern coast of Greece. The coastline of Paxos has two extremes, gentle sand/rocky bays on the east coast, and caves and sheer cliffs that drop down to the ocean on the west coast. The main town on the island is Gaios which is a picturesque little village that has been built around the functioning port. The port is protected by two small islands namely Agios Nikolas and Panagia.
The main road on the island runs north to the town of Lakka. The enclosed harbour at Lakka is dominated by apartments and villas, but it is a nice visit for those who find Gaios a little busy. The smallest town on the island is Loggos. Here you will find a very small harbour that is packed with excellent restaurants. Life on Paxos revolves around the olive trade. The beautiful olive groves that dominates the landscape of Paxos is a sight for sore eyes. Doing an olive tasting with one of the local farmers is a popular activity in Paxos. A short boat ride from Gaios lies Antipaxos, a little island known for its sandy beaches and for producing great wines.
A boat ride to Antipaxos is a great little day trip from Gaios as it exposes you to both the sandy beaches and the cheer cliffs of Paxos. The best part of visiting this island is the boat ride into and around the island. The landscape of the island is absolutely beautiful and dramatic with white cliffs crashing down to the ocean on the one side and sandy beaches with beautiful forests on the other. Go and experience the beauty and drama of Paxos before mass tourism finds out about it.