Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Cyclades Islands, Greece

The Cyclades islands are the most well known of the Greek Islands and include Santorini and Mykonos which are the two most popular islands in Greece. Ferry trips are four to five hours to the closest islands (Kythnos, Syros, Tinos, Mykonos, Sifnos) and from eight to ten hours to the furthest (Santorini) depending on how many stops it makes. There are daily ferries from Pireaus to all these islands, with the exception of Kea which you get to from Lavrion and Andros which you get to from Rafina.


Amorgos
Few beaches but great swimming off the rocks in the main port of Katapola. Many tavernas and nightlife. Most boats arrive at inconvenient times, (like 3 in the morning), which gives a traveler a strange first impression. The Northern port of Agiali has nice beaches and is more of a resort area and is also reached by ferry. The capital town or Chora is up in the mountains. Fantastic Monastery of Chozoviotissa built into the wall of a cliff on the other side of the island from the port of is definately worth the trip. The small beach below is excellent for snorkling through a maze of boulders that have fallen from the cliffs. Easy connections to Paros and Naxos, the daily (in summer) trip from Pireaus is about 8 hours. The local boat Skopelitos visits the Small Cyclades islands of Schinousa, Donousa, Koufonisi and Iraklia.
 


Andros
Boats are from Rafina. The ferryboat goes to Gavrio. The Hermes Flying Dolphin goes to Batsi which is touristy but fun. Lots of activities and some great restaurants, particularly in the small traditional villages in the hills above. The best place is the main town of Andros on the other side of the island. No autos allowed in the village which juts out on a peninsula between two long beaches. There is a shipping museum and an excellent art museum there. Because of the wealth of the village tourism is not encouraged. Good reason to go there. Renting a car is recommended. This is a beautiful, green island that even has a small river or two.
  



Felegandros
Fantastic, they say, especially artists and poets who go to marvel over it's dramatic beauty. It is small and can fill up in the tourist season especially after Conde Naste Traveler called it the most beautiful undiscovered island in Greece or something like that.. The Chora is perched high in the mountains and is alive with tavernas and bars. The ferry stops at the port of Karavostasis where there are restaurants, hotels, beaches and buses to Chora and island beaches. Folegandros is about 9 hours from Pireaus with several boats a week. The island connects with Sifnos, Milos, Santorini, Sikinos and Ios a couple times a week.


 
 
Ios
Arrive by day to a quaint white cycladic village. By nightfall every house is a disco, bar, fastfood or boutique. Not recommended for anyone over 25, at least for not more then a day or so. It's like an international Daytona beach at Spring break . if you are of college age this place is it! You will meet boys and girls, you will get drunk and you will most likely sleep with them. If you are older, married, and looking for a nice peaceful island forget about Ios. If you are old and feel like you are young at heart this would be a good place to test it. Frequent ferry boats in the summer to and from Pireaus make the 8 hour trip with connections to Paros, Naxos and Syros. There are daily boats to Santorini and a couple a week to Sifnos and one boat a week to Crete, sometimes more in the summer.



Kea & Tzea
Quiet and traditional. Like going to the most remote island in the Aegean, but it's close to Athens. The ferry leaves from Lavrion, an hour plus bus ride and is best known for being used as a stand-in for war-torn Sarajevo when it was too dangerous to film there. Lavrion has come a long way since Theo Angelopoulos made Ulysses Gaze and the city is actually getting attractive. But because the ferries to Kea don't leave from Pireaus it is overlooked despite being one of the Cyclades islands. Kea itself is not quite ready for prime-time international tourism but it is a very interesting and beautiful island with a long history and is very popular with Athenians, many who have summer houses here or come for weekends. The village of Ioulis is a fantastic labarynth of white cycladic houses perched on the side of a mountain, with a small main square. Nice beaches and many of them are off the road and reached by hikes through beautiful settings. Because it is an island popular with Greeks there are lots of good restaurants including the famous Rolando's in Ioulida, known for his fresh fish. Few connections to the rest of the Cyclades though several times a week there is a ferry to Kythnos and Syros where you can make other connections. Most foreigners come here by sailboat and stay in the small harbor of Vourkari which has a row of fish tavernas, the best of which is Thalia's Ouzerie. Kea is known for its extensive ancient road network which is still largely intact making it a paradise for hikers.


 

Kythnos
The first island on the Western Cyclades route that includes, Serifos, Sifnos and Milos, Kythnos is an untouristy island with hot springs, some nice beaches and a favorite stop-over for sailboats and yachts journeying to the rest of the Cyclades. It also has an excellent scuba dive center, one of the best in Greece, in the town of Loutra.




Milos
Like Santorini, a volcanic island with spectacular rock formations and hot springs. Bikes or car useful if not essential. This is a beautiful island with fantastic beaches like Paliochori, Hivadolimni and the tiny cove of Sarakiniko, one of the most interesting places to swim on earth. The village of Pollonia has great swimming, restaurants and you can take a boat to the island of Kimilos. The main village of Plaka is made up of the cubic white houses which the Cyclades are known for. 


 

Mykonos
Expensive, decadent, and fun for gays, staight people and familes too. Intense nightlife with clubs that never stop, and if you can't handle it there are frequent boats to escape to other less wild islands. For a little culture there are trips to the uninhabited ancient island of Delos and the extensive ruins there. Plenty of excellent if not crowded beaches but people don't come to Mykonos to escape but to party and people-watch. Ferry trip is about 5 hours from Pireaus and three from Rafina. Catamarans and Dolphins do it in half the time. Easy connections to Syros, Tinos with several ferries a day. Daily connections to Paros, Naxos, Ios, Santorini, Andros and other islands during the summer. Also less frequent connections to Sifnos, Samos, Ikaria, the Dodecanese, Crete and Thessaloniki. There is also an international airport.

Naxos
Another overlooked gem in the Aegean, Naxos is big, green and may have the best beaches in Greece. It's close to the popular islands of Mykonos, Ios, Paros and Santorini with frequent ferry connections. Lively harbor town with restaurants, cafes, clubs and shops. Rent a car and see the whole island. Beautiful valleys that are like paradise if you enjoy walking, particularly the area known as Tragaia. The best beach they say is at Plaka with other nice ones at Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Mikri Vigla, and Kastraki, any of which would be the prized beach on any other island. The fishing village of Apollon is a popular location for day trips, with good seafood restaurants and a giant unfinished statue of the God Apollo laying in the ancient marble quarries since 600bc. The ferry trip is about 7 hours from Athens and stops in Paros and there can be five or more a day in the summer, fewer in the winter. Summer highspeeds take around three hours to get here. There are daily connections to Mykonos, Ios and Santorini. There are also less frequent connections to Crete, the Dodekanese, Ikaria, Samos, Amorgos, the small Cyclades islands, Skiathos, Crete and Thessaloniki.

Paros
Grand Central Station of Aegean ferry system, many boats stop here and Paros (along with Naxos) is a good island to include on your itinerary since you can easly get to Mykonos, Ios and Santorini. Town is full of foreigners, many who live here and there are plenty of cool bars. The tiny idealic fishing village of Naousa is so crowded in August that you have to stand in line to walk past the cafes that surround the port so come in June or early or July, or even better in September. The beaches of Paros though popular are also quite nice. Paros is known for its windsurfing. The beach at Parosporos (or is it Porosparos) has incredible body-surfing when the wind is coming from the north (I think). Paros is a very popular island and people who visit are pretty happy there.

Antiparos
It has nice beaches and cafes and is more relaxed then Paros. There is also the gigantic Cave of Antiparos which is the most popular site on the island. There are ferries connecting the two islands leaving every half hour or so from the town of Pounta, plus excursion boats that leave every morning from Parikia. Summer of 2004 brought many celebraties to Antiparos including Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks so who knows what the future holds for this smallisland. 




Santorini
Visually spectacular. Should be approached by sea to get the full effect of sailing into a giant crater so don't fly there and arrive before dark. Thira is touristy, Oia is a little quieter but the island is the most popular in Greece and for good reason. The daytime action is at the beaches, Perissa and Kamari. Good Raki and domatokeftedes (fried tomato-balls) are culinary favorites. Ruins of Ancient Thira are worth the trip if you are unimpressed by the most spectacular sunsets on this planet. Most people want to stay in the beautiful hotels overlooking the caldera but if you have children you will sleep a lot easier a few meters inland rather then on the edge of a 1000 foot cliff. Great nightlife, excellent beaches, spectacular scenary and romance make this one of the world's top destinations for honeymooners and weddings too.

Sifnos
Visually attractive and still Greek. For the thirty and older crowd, single or married with children. Apollonia, in the center of the island, has fun nightlife. Great beaches all around the island. Fantastic food and wine. Port of Kamares is nice combination of beach, restaurants and a few bars all within walking distance. The newly rennovated Stavros Hotel is great place to stay with a view of the beach and harbor from your balcony.


Serifos
Less wealthy neighbor of Sifnos. Relatively undeveloped outside of main port. Really beautiful beaches. Like Sifnos, Milos, and Kythnos, for older travelers though they have an excellent campground at Livadakia near the port. Their main village on a mountain overlooking the bay is one of the most spectacular villages in the Cyclades. Serifos is about 4 hours from Athens by ferry and there are daily connections to Sifnos, Milos and Kythnos.  

Sikinos
Not ready for Prime-time.That's more then enough reason to go there. Very little tourism, it is an island of mostly fishermen and farmers. There are rooms to rent in the twin villages of Kastro and Chora situated in the mountains and in the quiet port town of Alopronoia. 

Syros
A working class island. The capital of the cyclades with a century old ship yard servicing ocean going freighters and tankers, right in the harbor. Beautiful town, more like a small city. Two or three of the best restaurants in Greece. Extremely nice beaches too. If you love old buildings and good food, come here. Great old hotel called the Hotel Hermes right on the waterfront. Ask for a room with a balcony and you will never want to leave. There is a beach right in the back yard and the port in the front. It is also a few steps from the excellent Yaninea taverna-psistaria.  There are daily ferries from Pireaus and the trip is about 4 hours or 2 hours by highspeed. There are daily connections to Tinos and Mykonos and a ferry which originates here goes to all the Cyclades islands doing a different route every day. There are also Flying Dolphins and a High-speed ferry from Rafina. On some nights there is a ferry to Chios and Lesvos, currently the only connection between Lesvos and the Cyclades. 

Tinos
Beautiful island close to Mykonos with excellent beaches, traditional villages, beautiful landscape and a rich history. Perhaps the most spiritual island of all, the wonder-working icon in the church of the Panagia Evangalestria attracts people from all over Greece in need of a miracle and around the 15th of August the island is packed with pilgrims, as is every boat going to Mykonos that stops here. Hotels are so full that people sleep on the streets. But except for the two weeks around that date, Tinos is generally a quiet island and is not only worth a visit, you could spend your entire holiday here and be quite satisfied. There are daily ferries from Pireaus, about 4 hours away and also Rafina. Daily connections to Andros, Syros and Mykonos.   

 

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