With only a fraction of its 6,000 islands known to travellers, Greece is still one of the most under-explored places in Europe. Encountering a different side to the country, Katie Gatens discovers labyrinthine catacombs, award-winning beaches and the ancient remains of wild dwarf elephants.
Gavdos via Heraklion
Where? Around 30 miles south of Crete
Size: 12.7 square miles
Population: 152 (based on 2011 census)
Want to feel like you’re on a desert island? Dramatic cliffs with not a soul in sight are the order of the day here, the southernmost point in Europe. While it doesn’t have a year-round restaurant, it does have its own radio station, Gavdos FM, which transmits from a hut with a tin roof. Gavdos is renowned for its free camping, with small fires and camping permitted on the beach. Don’t miss Agiannis beach, once rated as the second-best beach in the world by National Geographic. There’s more wildlife here than people – including the endangered Mediterranean monk seal and sea turtles.
Dramatic cliffs with not a soul in sight are the order of the day in Gavdos, the southernmost point in Europe
Get there: British Airways flies to Heraklion and offers a seven-night break at the five-star Blue Palace. From there, take a ferry from Hora Sfakion, or Paleochora.
Before you leave Heraklion… Explore the striking Palace of Knossos – it’s a pretty impressive slice of architectural history.
A sculpture of an over-sized chair sits on top of Trypiti on the island of Gavdos - officially marking the most southern point in Europe. You can get to Gavdos via Heraklion.Discover Heraklion
Milos via Athens
Where? A horseshoe-shaped island 70 miles north of Crete
Size: 61.8 square miles
Population: 4,977 (based on 2011 census)
You may have heard of Milos without even knowing: the Venus de Milo was discovered here, in the village of Tripiti, in 1820. Milos itself feels a little like going to the moon: dazzling white cliffs jutting at peculiar angles and volcanic coastal rock formations lend the place an otherworldly feel. The volcano is still active, but that’s a good thing as it means that the island has hot springs that you can bathe in. Perhaps the best of its 80 beaches is Sarakiniko, with twisted white rocks sprawling into a sparkling blue sea. There’s more to see underground, too: Milos’s catacombs, a labyrinth below the island, which date back to around the 1st-5th century.
Get there: British Airways flies to Athens and offers a seven-night city break at the four-star Royal Olympic Hotel or a seven-night beach holiday at five-star Cape Sounio Grecotel Exclusive Resort. From Athens you can fly on to Milos in under an hour.
Before you leave Athens… How about seeing the Acropolis by helicopter tour? Get a bird’s-eye view of this ancient monument, plus the city and Olympic Stadium and Athenian coastline.
Did you know…?
Many of Milos’ beaches are scattered with gem-like pebbles and its catacombs are rumoured to be older than Rome’s famous underground system, dating back to the 1st century. You can get to Milos via Athens.Book flights to Athens
The island takes its name from the character Icarus in Greek mythology who is said to have fallen into the sea near the island. Look out for graffiti artworks of the winged hero on walls dotted around the port of Evdilos.Book flights to Mykonos
Back to nature
As well as the island being a bird watcher’s paradise, you can also spot geckos, lizards, two species of snake, marine turtles and dolphin. You can take a ferry to Tilos from Kos.Book flights to Kos
Ikaria via Mykonos
Where? Roughly 30 miles east of the Turkish coast
Size: 98 square miles
Population: 8,423 (based on 2001 census)
You’ll have to get used to a new way of life on Ikaria. Shops and restaurants have a relaxed attitude to opening hours, and the Ikarians can be found chatting and singing outside tavernas until the early hours. In the village of Raches, the streets only start getting busy after sun down. We should probably take a leaf out of Ikaria’s book: the island is listed as one of Earth’s five ‘Blue Zones’, where people live measurably longer lives. By day, hike over the rugged landscape – there are plenty of footpaths leading to waterfalls and rivers to go wild swimming in.
Get there: British Airways flies to Mykonos and offers a seven-night break at the four-star Theoxenia, from there, you can fly on to Ikaria.
Before you leave Mykonos… Visit Vioma Organic Farm & Vineyard for a wine tasting and an unforgettable lunch made with the farm’s fresh produce.
Take the plunge
There’s no need to fear the freeze when stepping into the Aegean Sea around Anafi – the average water temperature throughout the year is a balmy 19°C.Book Santorini holidays
Anafi via Santorini
Where? Around 21 miles east of Santorini
Size: 15 square miles
Population: 271 (based on 2011 census)
Anafi is a walker’s paradise, but mainly because there’s actually only one road on the island and nowhere to rent a car. The island’s steep cliffs and hairpin walkways will certainly challenge even the most experienced hikers, but the island’s unusual terrain also keeps tourists at bay. By day you can snorkel in the shimmering blue sea, or visit the monks in the ancient Zoodochos Pigi Monastery with its picturesque spire.
Anafi is a walker’s paradise, but mainly because there’s actually only one road on the island and nowhere to rent a car
Get there: British Airways flies to Santorini and offers a seven-night break at the five-star Iconic Santorini. From there it’s a two-hour ferry ride to Anafi, which runs once a day, most days in high season.
Before you leave Santorini… For the best view of the – justifiably – world-famous Santorini sunset, head to the west of the island for a drink at Palia Kameni cocktail bar.
Symi via Rhodes
Where? 12 miles north of Rhodes, off the coast of Turkey
Size: 25.4 square miles
Population: 2,590 (based on 2011 census)
Symi is the place the Greek jet-set don’t want you to know about. It’s not cheap, as you’ll see from the dazzling-white super-yachts lined up in its port. Neoclassical buildings flank the harbour town of Yialos, and every building in the town has been listed. Yet Symi still has rustic charm. The winding cobbled pathways and herds of cattle in the streets make the island feel authentically Greek. It gained its wealth from sponge fishing, and you can still see the copper helmets used by divers on display in the town. Do visit the 18th-century Venetian monastery of the Archangel Michael Monastery in Panormitis, which has the highest Baroque bell tower in the world.
Get there: British Airways flies to Rhodes and offers a seven-night stay at Electra Palace. From Rhodes, catch the ferry to Symi. Ferries go at least twice a day from spring to autumn.
Before you leave Rhodes… If you have time to see Lindos, on the southeast of the island, as well as Rhodes Town, then don’t miss the chance to go snorkelling at the uncrowded St Paul’s Bay.