Top 10 Greek Islands and Where to Stay (part 1/3).
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Did you know that the whole complex of Santorini islands is still an active volcano (the same as Méthana, Mílos and Nísiros) and probably the only volcano in the world whose crater is in the sea? The islands that form Santorini came into existence as a result of intensive volcanic activity; twelve huge eruptions occurred, one every 20,000 years approximately, and each violent eruption caused the collapse of the volcano’s central part creating a large crater (caldera). The volcano, however, managed to recreate itself over and over again. The last big eruption occurred 3,600 years ago (during the Minoan Age), when igneous material (mainly ash, pumice and lava stones) covered the three islands (Thíra, Thirassiá and Asproníssi). The eruption destroyed the thriving local prehistoric civilization, evidence of which was found during the excavations of a settlement at Akrotíri. The solid material and gases emerging from the volcano’s interior created a huge “vacuum” underneath, causing the collapse of the central part and the creation of an enormous “pot” –today’s Caldera– with a size of 8×4 km and a depth of up to 400m below sea level. If you’re going to visit only one Greek island in your life then let it be Santorini. Breathtaking volcanic views and one of the best sunsets in the world consistently place it at the top of any Greek islands list. Its beaches are very peculiar (and do not appeal to everyone) due to the black and red volcanic sand. Couples should opt for tranquil and romantic Oia, where luxury rooms with a Caldera (the volcanic crater) view can cost a forune, whereas those young at heart should choose Fira, the lively capital of the island built on top of the Caldera cliff with equally fantastic views. The eastern side of the island is generally cheaper and has little of the magic Santorini feel. Cooing American and Japanese honeymooners line up to take selfies as the sun sinks behind Santorini’s caldera, the flooded volcanic crater. That view may be a romantic cliché, but it still takes your breath away. A volcanic explosion blew out Santorini’s heart 3,500 years ago, leaving black-sand beaches, vertiginous cliffs in psychedelic hues, and swirling rumours about Atlantis in its wake. The eruption also preserved the ancient city of Akrotiri under layers of ash, and created fertile ground for exceptional Assyrtiko grapes and Vinsanto wines. Apart from a boat trip to the smouldering crater of Nea Kameni and hot springs at Palia Kameni, there’s not much to do but gaze at the mesmerising views from your suite, dangling on the edge of the caldera. The best hotels are concentrated in Oia, but the inland village of Pyrgos is up-and-coming. Go for a twilight Bellini at Franco’s then dinner at Selene, a pioneer of new Cycladic cuisine.
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A cross between Capri and Ibiza (in its good days) but with a very cycladic feel, Mykonos boasts of the best beaches in the country, the craziest nightlife and the most ridiculous prices you’ll pay in Greece. Celebrities, gay, and wannabes flood the island every summer. They sunbathe their days away on their pre-booked sunbeds and the nights squeezing pass each other in the narrow streets of the picturesque village, moving between bars and clubs. Bring along the best pieces of your wardrobe (preferably white), all your energy and credit cards. Greece’s most famous cosmopolitan island, a whitewashed paradise in the heart of the Cyclades. According to mythology, Mykonos was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules. And did you know that the island took its name from the grandson of Apollo, “Mykonos”? Set out on a journey to discover a fascinating world where glamour meets simplicity. On Mykonos celebrities, college students and families mingle together to celebrate the Greek summer. Whether you are an entertainment junkie out for a real good time, or a visitor who wishes to explore the island’s history and tradition, Mykonos will certainly meet your expectations. One of the most scenic corners of the island is Alefkántra or “Little Venice ”, an 18th century district, dominated by grand captains’ mansions with colourful balconies and stylish windows. With balconies perched over the sea, pictures of the famous Italian city spring to mind. Relax at a waterfront café and admire the view of the quaint windmills standing imposingly on the hillside above, set against a luminous blue backdrop. The second traditional settlement of Mykonos is Áno Merá, situated around the historic monastery of Panayia Tourliani (a 16th century church with a brilliant carved wooden iconostasis). To the north, in Fteliá, lies an important Neolithic settlement, and a 14th-13th century BC Mycenaean tomb. Using the Hóra as your base, set out on a trip to discover the beauties of the island, in particularly its sun-kissed beaches. Along the southern coast you will find a great selection of the most cosmopolitan ones. Here, wild parties keep the crowds rocking day and night. Paradise and Super Paradise may already be familiar to you. Órnos and Psaroú are favorite spots for families. Try a visit too to Platis Yalós, with a well-organized beach where you can soak up the sun lazing on a sun lounge. However, if you are looking for a serene beach to unwind with a book, pick a less organized one on the northern coast of the island, like Ayia Ánna, Houlákia, Kápari, Agrári and Ayios Stéfanos.
Where to stay:
Unlike the Cyclades, Skiathos and its neighbouring Sporades complex are flooded with pine trees that reach the sea and surround its numerous sandy beaches, like Koukounaries, one of the pretiest and busiest in the country. Hora, the capital of the island is an idyllic village with red-roofed white houses built on a hillside sourounding the harbour. An ideal destination for families and those not attracted by the harsh and rocky natural beauty of the islands of southern Aegean. Easy access to the rest of the Sporades, Skopelos, Skyros and Alonissos, makes a local island hopping possible. Skiáthos, the most cosmopolitan island in the Northern Sporades, is truly a paradise on earth, with lush pine forests and crystal-clear azure waters. Despite the rapid growth in tourism here in recent decades, it the island is still picturesque and unspoilt and blessed with more than 60 beautifully clean beaches. The most famous is Koukounariés, which has been declared the third most beautiful beach in the Mediterranean. When you add in its bustling nightlife, it is only natural that the island attracts thousands of young visitors every year! Whether you want to hide yourself away from the crowds or dance until you drop – and then wake up and do it all over again –, Skiáthos, with its delirious night life, is a real treat for visitors and especially for young people seeking the freedom to ignore conventions and party on to the frenetic beats of their favourite music! The pedestrianised street by the Old Harbour is the ultimate hotspot for entertainment! Buzzing bars and clubs keep youngsters rocking through the night and until the early morning! The party continues in the area of Ammoudiá (on the road to the airport) where entertainment addicts celebrate in big open air clubs! Colourful cultural events, concerts and art exhibitions held throughout summer add a special touch to holidays on the island! The island has 60 superb beaches, among which Koukounariés or Golden Sand in the southwestern part of the island stands out. Koukounariés beach is also famous for its lush pine forest- whose needles “touch” the water offering unique natural shade- and Strofiliá, a rare wetland nestling amidst the pine forest, which has been declared a protected area due to its enormous ecological value. Among the accommodation options there is a campsite, popular with young people, at Koukounariés. There are also plenty of tavernas and lively cafes and bars. If you like, you can also rent a boat, play tennis at one of the local hotels’ tennis courts or try out some exhilarating sea activities! Meyáli Ámmos, on the road to Koukounaries and Ahladiés, is a popular beach with crystal clear waters and picture-perfect tavernas by the sea. Banana (or Krassa bay) is a wonderful beach surrounded by pine trees that attracts young people thanks to its water sports facilities and the frenetic parties that take place in its cafes and bars all day and all night! Banana’s sister beach, Small Banana, next to it, is ideal if you want to avoid the crowds or if you are looking for some peace and seclusion. It is famous for its clear blue waters and its pine trees. Those who want to get away from the crowds should also check out the western part of the island: Mandráki, Eliá, Agkistros and Small and Big Asélinos are all ideal choices to escape the crowds. Lalária, on the northeastern part of the island, is the kind of beach you find once in a lifetime. Impressive white rock formations; small round pebbles (which is what lalaria means in Greek), beautifully clean waters and the “hollow rock” standing imposingly on the beach provide a beautiful natural backdrop that will take your breath away. Note: you can only reach the beach by boat departing, weather permitting, from the port of Skiáthos.
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