Your Summer gateway to Greece – Part Two, Cyclades and Ionian Islands

Lesser known Cyclades and Ionian Islands

With Summer in a full swing, it’s time to bring the second part of our gateway to Greece, your guide to Cyclades and Ionian islands.

We hope, that the Part One of our blog, where we took you to Athens and Central Greece, inspired you to plan your next adventure to this beautiful country. If not, there is still time to do so, as you will get an amazing time in Greece until October. September is actually a much better month to travel and explore Greece, once the crowds returned home and the hot August weather has cooled off a little bit.

So, where do we go now? We will take you on a journey to the lesser known Cyclades and Ionian Islands, that you may or may not heard of.

 

Authentic Ionian Islands gateway

The Ionian Islands is a group of seven islands, which lie off the country’s west coast, in the Ionian Sea. The islands have centuries long Venetian influences, which is still visible in distinct architecture, much different to that of Cyclades.

Ionian Islands, Photo by Chris Karidis via Unsplash

Ionian Islands, Photo by Chris Karidis via Unsplash

Corfu, Zakynthos, Cephalonia, Lefkada, Ithaka, Paxos and Kythira are the seven Ionian Islands, even though Kythira, being closer to the southern tip of Peloponnese and further away from the other islands, is considered a part of Greek Attika region.

So, let’s forget about the most popular, but beautiful islands of Cephalonia, Zante or Corfu and venture off the beaten path to equally beautiful Ithaka, Paxos and Kythira in search for sun, sea, relaxation and adventure.

Ithaka

Mythical Ithaka, only a couple of kilometres away from Captain Corelli’s Cephalonia, is much smaller, less touristy and more rugged than its neighbour. And if you loved Cephalonia, you will fall even more in love with Ithaka’s tranquillity, peace and authenticity. This is more authentic traveller, than package holiday kind of place, which is why is on our list!

Small and sleepy little island will give you a perfect getaway from the crowds, with hiking, snorkelling, sun soaking and sailing opportunities. The picturesque capital of Ithaka – Vathy, with its architecture protected by law, to resemble its original style destroyed in earthquake in 1953, is the island’s main harbour since 16th century. The capital is also the liveliest place on the island, but far away from the noise of its bigger neighbours, Corfu or Zakynthos. Morning walks, hikes, sun soaking and exploring Greek villages, with hardly any tourists are the lazy summer activities of Ithaka. But the island is definitely worth visiting, it has been described by some, as the most beautiful Greek island.

Paxos

Not far from Corfu, lies the smallest Ionian island – Paxos. A perfect summer getaway for independent traveller, where you can enjoy freshly caught fish, olive groves and exploring the pebble bays and coves of the island. With only 2500 habitants, the three main towns of the island are Gaios, Lakka and Logos, but luckily, with plenty of tavernas serving Greek salad, tzatziki, saganaki and grilled octopus. If you are into yoga, meditation and escapism, the island, which is only 10km long and 3km wide, will offer you an opportunity, to find time and space to do just that and detach yourself from the rest of the world.

Kythira  

Another beautiful place in Greece to escape mass tourism and seek authenticity amongst medieval ruins, monasteries, Venetian architecture and secluded beaches. Exploring local villages and archaeological museums, enjoying empty and undeveloped beaches, visiting Mylopotamos waterfalls and taking a swim in the refreshing ponds, or eating authentic Greek food whilst drinking Mythos will be as far as you will go with your adventure here. And if you’d like Kythira and would like to own a piece of heaven, you can think of settling in nearby Antikythera and Greek government will even pay you to live there, to populate the island!

 

Off the beaten path Cyclades

The Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea. The archipelago consists of 220 islands, although many are inhabited. And whilst you may be familiar with Mykonos, Paros, Naxos or Santorini, there is much more to explore in Cyclades, if you venture off the beaten path from the well-known and touristy islands. But, whilst we take you to less explored destinations, it is worth to keep the larger islands on your bucket list. Nothing beats Oia’s sunset in beautiful Santorini or drinking chilled wine in Scorpios, Mykonos seating on comfy cushions and staring at sea, at golden hour.

 

'Welcome to Amorgos. Nobody will find you here.'

It takes an effort to get there and not many people bother, hence Amorgos has been lucky to escape from the mass tourism. If you are flying to Greece, you can get to the island by ferry from Mykonos or Athens.

It is 1988 and the movie called ‘The Big Blue’ - “Le Grand Bleu”, by Luc Besson with Jean Reno is being filmed. It’s a tale of underwater adventure by two friends sharing the passion for free diving, filmed in a beautiful blue waters of Amorgos island. There aren’t that many adventures to do on the island, but free diving or scuba diving are certainly one of them. You can free dive or scuba dive, even do your PADI course in Amorgos Diving Center or just take a snorkelling trip.

Besides wild adventures, such as reading your book, meditating, enjoying Greek coffee in a local taverna; you can do hiking trips, explore the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa build on a rocky mountain and cool off afterwards in Agia Anna, a secluded beach nearby, where the movie ‘Big Blue’ was filmed.

There is no vibrant nightlife on the island, for that you’d have to head to Naxos, Mykonos or Ios island. However, even though the island is not touristy, you will find enough bars and tavernas in the main towns, of Chora, Aegialis, and Katapola. By the way, Chora is usually the name of the main town in many Greek islands.

The best part of the island are translucent waters and beautiful beaches, plenty of which to explore. There was a reason why Luc Besson have chosen Amorgos for the movie location. And that reason is for you to explore!

Folegandros

Fall in love with this stunning and untouched island and enjoy peaceful holiday free of traffic and noise. There are three villages on the island: Karavostasi - the port the “Chora” – the capital and Ano Meria and traffic is not allowed in any of them. You can enjoy walking cobbled streets, amongst white houses with blue roofs, tavernas, bakeries and feel transported in time. The island, one hour by Ferry from Santorini or Paros, might feel isolated, the noise you are likely to hear at night will be that of the ocean, rather than coming from anywhere else, but that what’s makes it different from its bigger and more famous neighbour Santorini. Folegandros unspoiled and breath-taking beaches are part of the island’s charm and you can get to most of them by a local bus or a taxi boat. They will be so much different to the beaches of Mykonos, you won’t find many umbrellas here costing you your monthly mortgage, but instead you will get idyllic and peaceful surroundings with spectacular views and awe moment sunsets.

You will stay mainly in B&Bs in Folegandros, but since the word is out, there are more little boutique hotels coming into the island, giving you choice to immerse in a little luxury in this peace of heaven.

Ios island, more than just a party

Ios Island, photo by Matthew Waring via Unsplash

Ios Island, photo by Matthew Waring via Unsplash

In the last years, Ios has risen to the reputation of taking over from its famous party island – Mykonos. However, in both cases anyone who thinks Mykonos or Ios are just party islands is fundamentally wrong and is missing out by avoiding the islands. And since the majority of our ‘off the beaten path’ places in Cyclades and Ionian islands are also quiet and slightly isolated islands, we are throwing Ios into the mix. Good thing, when you visit Cyclades, you don’t usually limit yourself to one island alone. Most people choose island hopping and there are plenty of well - connected ferries to take you to the island of your choosing. So, you may want to combine your peaceful stay with heading to the livelier neighbour – Ios island. Bonus - is it not as expensive as Mykonos.

So, why visit Ios? Imagine Mykonos or Santorini beauty minus the crowds. Equally beautiful beaches to Mykonos, equally beautiful sunsets to Santorini, sans selfie-sticks. You get the same beauty, but more authenticity and you will be more spoiled for choice than Amorgos, Folegandros or other lesser known Cyclades islands, with bars, hotels, nightlife, tavernas. Immerse yourself in relaxing in one of many Ios beautiful beaches, with Mylopotas, Gialos, Agia Theodoti and Manganari being the most popular ones. Gather in Chora before the sunset, to watch the sun setting in one of many bars, before heading to dinner for souvlaki, fresh fish, tzatziki, washed with Greek wine (try the wine from Santorini).

You can also do water sports in Ios, such as windsurfing, scuba diving or enjoy trekking routes, for example the 4hrs walk from Chora to the monastery of Agios Ioannis, during which you can enjoy beautiful island views.

Weather it is mainland or island Greece; this beautiful country will not leave you disappointed and if you were ever told to watch more sunsets than Netflix, Greece is the place to be for that.

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Cyclades Islands, lunch with a view. Photo, author’s own.