The discussions have taken place around the dinner table. The whole family has agreed - this years summer holiday should be Greece!
But, where in Greece? There are 227 inhabited islands and you have to take into account the needs of everyone in your family. Ok so not all of them are really suitable for taking a holiday on but are you prepared for a bit of adventure and experience a local ferry to get to experience the real Greece or do you want to get off the plane and be at your hotel in 30 minutes? Are you wanting all inclusive or do you want to try the local restaurants? Is it that postcard picture experience that you want to achieve or do you want something off the beaten track that perhaps no-one else has heard of before?
Let me try and take you through the options.
Lets start with the destinations most people will have heard of and that are the easiest to get to.
Corfu, Rhodes, Zante, Crete, Kefalonia, Kos, Skiathos, Mykonos and Santorini. Even with these islands, the difference between them all is massive. Corfu, Kefalonia and Zante are on the western side of Greece (3 to 3 1/2 hours flight time) and are very green in nature. They are incredibly busy but with the size of the islands there are still small villages to stay in which would allow you to stay out of the main tourist traps. Skiathos is to the northern part of Greece and again is very green - a much smaller island which gives it a nice feel and some amazing beaches. Mykonos and Santorini are your picture postcard, white housed, blue shuttered islands with high prices due to the lure of them. Rhodes and Kos are in the south east which means a longer flight time (4 - 4 1/2 hours) but generally better weather if you are going to go slightly out of season. Crete is the furthest south and the largest island in Greece (it would take you the best part of a day to drive from one end to another) with such a variety of resorts that there is something for everyone. Most of these islands will give you the all inclusive option and the opportunity for a short transfer after your flight so that you can relax by the pool with a cocktail.
There are also direct flights from the UK to Lesvos, Limnos, Samos, Kalamata, Athens, Volos, Thessaloniki, Preveza and Kavala. These along with the main islands open up many more options. Athens has ferry links or connecting flights to many other islands so is a good option - particularly if you want to spend a couple of days exploring this fascinating city. Kalamata, Thessaloniki, Volos and Preveza offer mainland areas such as Halkidiki, Parga, Sivota, The Peloponnese and Pelion all of which offer a more relaxed way of life than the main islands. These tend to be more bed and breakfast resorts with the options of everything from villas to 5 star luxury and boutique properties.
But how do you go about choosing a smaller island? The easiest way is to choose an island group to start with. These are broken down into 6 main groups - the Ionians, Sporades, North East Aegean, Saronics, Cyclades and Dodecanese. Each of these island groups offers something totally different.
The Ionians consist of Corfu, Paxos, Antipaxos, Lefkas, Meganisi, Kefalonia, Ithaca and Zante. We have already discussed that Corfu, Kefalonia and Zante are the main gateways and most touristed of the islands. The others with the exception of Lefkas require a ferry or hydrofoil. Lefkas is actually connected to the mainland via a bridge/causeway which means that you would fly into Preveza on the mainland for this island. All of these islands are very green (they get quite a lot of rainfall in the winter) and have a mixture of cultures (with heavy Italian influence, especially on the food and even a Cricket pitch on Corfu from when the British ruled it). There are a lot of villas on these islands for rental making it a great holiday if you are looking for a home from home. There are lots of activities to do with Lefkas for example being well known for its sailing and windsurfing or you can rent small motorboats to go from bay to bay to find your perfect snorkelling point.
The Sporades are a small group of 4 islands (Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skyros) in the north west Aegean Sea. Skyros is slightly detached from the other 3 and is more Cycladic in its style and is not easy to get to from the others (easier to either fly on from Athens or a small boat from Evia). The other 3 are again very green, with pine forests coming right down to the beach. Skiathos is the most popular of the 3 and with its beaches it is easy to see why. If you are a fan of Mamma Mia however, go onto Skopelos to see the church where Meryl Streep ran up the steps or visit Alonissos which is a marine nature reserve and one of the last grounds of the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal.
The North East Aegean islands are generally the hardest to get to. Whilst there are limited flights to Lesvos, Limnos and Samos from the UK, the other islands of Chios, Ikaria, Fourni and Samothraki are very hard to get to. Chios and Ikaria have links to Athens by air which is the best way to get to them. Fourni can be accessed via Samos via a small catamaran but Samothraki must be the hardest to get to. Its two flights and a ferry (Athens, then Alexandroupoli and finally the boat). These islands offer a view of how Greek life used to be with many traditional methods still used (Chios being famous for Mastica, used in chewing gum but also a popular liquer in Greece) and landscape which you wouldnt necessarily associate with Greece such as amazing waterfalls.
The Saronic islands (Agistri, Aegina, Hydra, Spetses and Poros) are probably the easiest to get to, as they are a short boat ride away from Athens. Popular with the Greeks for their own holidays (being so close to the capital), ferries run back and forward all day long from Piraeus meaning you could even stay on the island and do a day trip to Athens to see the sights.
The Cyclades offer far more than just Mykonos and Santorini. 25 islands the majority providing you with those postcard like photographs with the whitewashed houses with their blue shutters. Excellent beaches, great ferry links, amazing food all mean this is a great island chain to pick from.
The Dodecanese stretch north to south from Patmos in the north to Karpathos in the south and Kastellorizo out on a limb four hours sailing (or a 30 minute flight) east of Rhodes. The season tends to run longer here in the terms of weather and these islands can go months without rain. Easy accessible between each other either by boat or some of them are accessible by the hopper plane, which runs from island to island if you arent keen on being on the water.
Having been to over 50 of the islands myself, I am more than happy to try and guide you to find your favourite Greek island. Just drop us a line and we will play cupid with you and the Greek islands!
Greece is a love affair for The Greek Specialist. Our first visit to the country came in 1997 and since then