Hi dave – very cool and informative site! We’re a family of 6 (all adults) traveling to Greece for the first time…and most likely the last time. We’d like to visit some historic sites, but more interested in experiencing Greek life in small towns. Beaches and nightlife are not important. I’m looking to put together a balanced itinerary covering 10 days (11 nights) and had the following in mind:
Another South Pacific island group (see a pattern here?), the Cook Islands are pretty far off the map. OK, not too far, but they are considerably less visited than some of their neighbors. These tiny islands are named after James Cook, the intrepid man who discovered them. With few amenities, this is the best place to find your inner castaway and escape modern life. The islands see similar weather to the rest of the area, with temperatures hot and humid all year round.
Chania is a great choice. A wonderful charming town. Elounda is great for a quiet laid back stop, Agios Nikolaos has a more interesting vibe and is more of a real town. Also very charming. I prefer Ag Nik but Elounda has more luxurious hotels. (Crete hotels.) Naxos has lots to see in the interior so if you didn’t explore then certainly consider that. Folegandros and Milos are both incredible. Folegandros is more suited to walking and relaxing (and has some top notch restaurants and hotels). On Milos you need to do a tour and get out and actively explore to do it justice. Geologically Milos is stunning. A little like Santorini but with better beaches.
The almighty church has kept nightlife in check. If you must see and be seen, head to quietly glamorous Astivi or Stoa bar, on miniature Agia Lesvias square, in Hora. Beach life is generally languid and low-key; Psili Ammos and Livadi Geranou are our favourite hideouts. Dinner reservations are essential at Benetos, for Med-Asian fusion on an organic farm, and Lambi for grilled fish on a purple pebble beach.
Patmos has an indefinable je ne sais quoi - an otherworldly quality that radiates from its crowning glory, the medieval monastery of St John. This turreted fortress, bursting with Byzantine relics, is named after John the Divine, who conjured up his apocalyptic revelations in a cave nearby. Pure-white Chora, a World Heritage Site, is where A-listers and fashion editors stay. High walls and heavy doors conceal magnificent mansions dating back to the 16th century.
Glass-bottom boats with thatched canopies ply shimmering lagoons. Tanned locals in pareus (sarongs) play ukuleles. Ridged velvet-green mountains punctuate the skyline. Palm trees reach higher than any roof. This is reality in the Cook Islands, a 15-isle archipelago marooned in the South Pacific. Go on a mountain safari on the main island of Rarotonga, or head to Aitutaki to stay in an overwater bungalow and motu-hop to deserted sugar beaches that beg to be Instagrammed.
Naxiots once made considerable fortunes exporting potatoes, cheese, marble and emery. Locals bequeathed undesirable seaside plots - useless for farming - to their laziest offspring. When tourists cottoned on to the island's scores of fabulous beaches, these wastrels found themselves sitting on gold mines. The west coast of Naxos is fringed with mile upon mile of powdery sands. Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna delight toddlers and teenagers alike with their shallow waters and beach bars. As you head south, the beaches get wilder: Plaka, where you can gallop across the dunes on horseback, Mikri Vigla for windsurfing and kitesurfing, and crystal-clear Kastraki.
The other groups are best tackled individually. For example, the Ionians have no ferry connections to the rest of the Greek islands; the same story with the Sporades and the Argo-Saronics. The NE Aegean islands do have a link to the Dodecanese and the Cyclades but are probably best left for another trip once you have got the feel of the rhythm of the Greek islands.
Tinos is only 15 minutes from Mykonos, so it's a wonder it isn't overrun with tourists. The harbour is swarmed on 15 August, however, when Orthodox pilgrims flock here to kiss the icons at Panagia Evangelistria monastery, one of the holiest sites in Greece. Otherwise, the island is miraculously untouched. Solitary chapels and whimsical dovecotes stud thyme-scented hills, dropping to sandy bays whipped by the meltemi wind. There's a nascent surfer scene on Kolibithra bay, where a VW camper van has been converted into a cute beach bar.
In 2016, Stiniva beach on the island of Vis was named the best beach in Europe. One of the top beaches in Croatia, Stiniva is well hidden from the sea and not the easiest beach to access. It’s either a hike down to the beach or access by small boat, but a spectacular view will reward you for your effort. Although Vis has never really had large tourists numbers, it has become a popular stop for those sailing the Croatian islands.
Airlines often have a strong seasonality, with traffic low in Winter and peaking in Summer. In Europe the most extreme market are the Greek islands with July/August having more than ten times the winter traffic, as Jet2 is the most seasonal among low-cost carriers with July having seven times the January traffic, whereas legacy carriers are much less with only 85/115% variability.
Beach Day: Spend a day on one of many beautiful small beaches and bays, including pebble and sand beaches. Beaches to check out are Pocukmarak (the biggest beach on the south side, which also happens to contain a stone sarcophagus and two covers in the water that are around 1500 years old), Tratica, Carpusina and Sotorisce (the biggest and the most popular beach on Silba).