Known as the Cradle of Polynesia, Samoa is notable for its Fa’a Samoa way of life — a 3,000-year-old social code that prizes family, tradition and the environment. Happily, the landscape is as lovely as the local culture. On the main island of Upolu, a plunge into the To Sua Ocean Trench swimming grotto is a must. On Savaii, Samoa’s largest island, visit caves, waterfalls, blowholes and the Saleaula lava field, formed by a 1905 volcanic eruption that buried five villages.
The sleeper hit of the Cyclades, Serifos is the summer retreat of interior designers and architects who prefer to keep the sandy beaches to themselves. (One French home-owner is so protective of her hideaway that she tells all her friends she summers on nearby Sifnos.) Even in August, you’ll find coves where you can skinny dip in blissful solitude. That’s because the best beaches (Kalo Ambeli, Vagia, Skala) are only accessible via bone-rattling dirt roads or donkey tracks. Better still, rent a motor boat from the laidback harbour, Livada. Make sure to moor outside Anna’s taverna on Sikamia beach for freshly caught fish and garden-grown salads.
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Sifnos owes its foodie reputation to its most famous descendant, Nicholas Tselementes, who wrote the first Greek cookbook in 1910. Forget souvlaki and moussaka: here, chickpea croquettes and stewed capers are taverna staples. The island is peppered with potteries that produce the earthenware casseroles used for revitháda (baked chickpeas) and mastello (lamb with red wine and dill). Traditional dishes are slow-roasted in a wood-fired oven at To Meraki tou Manoli, a local institution on sheltered Vathy bay. (While you’re there, invest in some timeless tableware from Atsonios pottery, in business since 1870.)
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.