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Whether you head to the famous Cycladic islands, home of whitewashed, blue-domed buildings, or to the lesser-known Dodecanese islands closer to Turkey, Greece’s islands have much to offer. We love the amazing food (particularly the great olive oil), warm-hearted residents, and gorgeous scenery — and so do a lot of others. Most tourists flock to islands like Santorini and Mykonos, but there are still a few islands that remain relatively uncrowded. Read on for five of our favorites.
Part of the famous, Instagrammer-beloved Cycladic island group, Milos holds its own with Santorini and Mykonos, but it’s practically empty of tourists — all the better for those who do come for its wonderful beaches, turquoise water, and amazing gastronomy. (And it’s intriguing for art history fans as well: It’s where the famous Venus de Milo was discovered.) The town’s harbor is surrounded by villages backed by cliffs, many of which are lived in by only a handful of residents, which further adds to the effect of living abroad on a Greek island (and who doesn’t daydream at office desks about that?). It’s much better than being one in a pack of pulsating, camera-toting tourists. The island has 70 well-kept beaches, a beautiful capital with characteristically charming streets, gorgeous sunsets, fish cooked in sand, and picturesque, closet-sized churches topped with fluttering Greek flags. For a self-catering stay two minutes from the beach, try Delmar Apartments and Suites.
Just an hour away from Milos is Sifnos, another Cycladic island that offers much of the archipelago’s beloved charm without all the tourists. With steep hills descending to clean, golden beaches (the first stop should be Platiyialos), postcard-perfect villages, low-key nightlife, and inexpensive food, there’s more than a few return visitors to this island, even though it’s still far beyond the tourist trails. Go to the port of Kamares for some fresh seafood and gorgeous produce served up by little harborside restaurants — and treat yourself to a little local ouzo to get you fully in vacation mode. (Don’t forget to try clay-oven-roasted lamp for a truly Greek treat.)
More accessible from Turkey than from Greece, the island of Fourní in the Northeast Aegean was once a shelter for Corsican pirates. You’ll be hard pressed to find a tourist shop here, but what you can take home are frame-worthy photos of its gorgeous geography: bays embraced by fjord-like cliffs, charming villages, and bustling harbors are all wonderfully inevitable to stumble upon here. Fresh fish is going to be the order of the day, too: The residents, who number about 2,000, are mostly fishermen. After exploring the island on foot — the hiking is amazing — be sure to kick back on the isolated beaches, where locals come to dip their feet in crystal-clear water.
Come here for the beaches, stay for the ruins and food on this under-the-radar Cycladic island. Kea is not as well connected as other popular spots nearby, which is why it continues to remain relatively free of tourists — unless they’re in-the-know Greeks, who head here on vacation. However, it has a lot to offer, particularly if you’re keen on Greek gastronomy. Octopus marinated in ouzo, freshly caught lobster, and salads made with local cheeses and herbs are all popular on menus here, and a strong spirit, Tsipouro, made from grape skins, is the local liquor of choice. Walking is the transport of choice here — you’ll find well marked paths to the beach and ruins, as well as to a millennia-old statue of the island’s icon: a sleeping lion.
Another under-the-radar Cycladic favorite, Paros is slowly becoming more well-known, thanks to its resemblance to heavily touristed Mykonos. That’s not to say that the two are the same, or even that comparable — after all, each island has its own secrets and charms. Here, you’ll find the blue-domed cathedrals and white buildings so emblematic of the area, but in contrast to the more touristy islands, this one has still managed to keep its unique flavor, even as it gradually becomes more visible on the radar (the first cruise ships arrived in 2014, but they can’t anchor in the small harbor). Visit Ágii Anárgyri monastery, try your hand at watersports, and trek to a beautiful 19th-century lighthouse on a cape before heading home to the Senia Hotel, with a gorgeous infinity pool and views of the ocean.
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