3 Greek islands you must visit

3 Greek islands you must visit
By admin


KNOCK-OUT KEFALONIA

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Steep green cliffs fall into the ocean at disconcerting angles, especially when you're in a rental car with an engine size that would scarcely power a lawn mower. Every road ends up at a beach – some sandy, some pebbly, all mostly empty and all stunning enough to lead to a damp car seat as you drive around and swim all day.

With 254 kilometres of coastline and roads that cut through mountains, the views out the car window will have you grabbing for your camera. Some turns are so sharp you feel you're going back the way you came. If you get lost and follow signs that start with agia, Greek for beach, you will discover pristine examples with not a soul around. Granted, you may end up travelling down a goat track and encountering a herd of stubborn hooves who do not respond to car horns. Do not be put off by their unimpressed stares, they will get a move on once you are close enough, reluctantly scattering off the road, leaving the tinkle of bells in the air.

As you drive around you will see the ruins of houses overrun with wild flowers, evidence of both the Second World War and the 1953 earthquake which levelled most of the island. A tragedy, it nevertheless means that the island has a wild and unkempt look. It is green with fir trees and olive trees, left to grow free after the disasters that caused many of the island's inhabitants to flee. 

Myrtos beach is the most photographed in Greece, and for good reason. From the edge of the elevated highway the cliff face drops down to the beach at an alarming slant and the height of this cliff protects the electric blue beach below. 

The idyllic aspect of Kefalonia is that you can find peace and isolation as well as civilisation when you need it. Fiskardo is a fishing port at the north end of the island and it overlooks the island of Ithaca – the mythical birthplace of Odysseus. The Venetian architecture of the two survived the earthquake and so has preserved the island from its days before the natural calamity. 

Hidden gem:

Melissani lakes in Sami, an underground cave of translucent blue water and white crystallised caverns. Here locals regale you with the story that this was once a shrine to Pan and make the most of the acoustics by singing traditional Greek songs. 

Tuck in:

Tavern at Agios Ierusalim where the menu is whatever they have in the kitchen – often moussaka and lamb, always morning-baked bread and feta cheese. 

SOPHISTICATED SANTORINI

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Even the cliffs of Santorini are glamorous, coloured as they are red, orange and brown instead of a humdrum grey. This island is a caldera, thanks to a volcanic eruption that felled the prehistoric dwellers here, not only wiping out this island but the Minoan civilisation on neighbouring Crete as well. Plato thought that Santorini held the lost Atlantis, and with three quarters of the island submerged by the event several thousand years ago, it seems plausible. 

Villages are located on the rim of the crater starting with the capital Thira up to the island's northernmost point, Oia. Santorini is renowned for its skies and as each town lines up in a northerly direction, each has a staggering view of sunrise to the east and sunset to the west. The best viewing spot for the sun's curtain call is at Oia as it affords an uninterrupted outlook of sun into sea. There is a 13th century Venetian castle in Oia that is the perfect spot to view. The village has marble streets worn down to a smoothness from centuries of pedestrian traffic.  

The beaches run along the east coast of the island and ratchet the sophistication up a notch with black volcanic sand. It's as if the glitterati who visit eschew the status quo of white and embrace the avant-garde noir. There are 362 churches on the island, staggering given the size of the place. They are all white with blue domes set against the ocean; it is an aesthete's delight. There are also many caves pockmarked into the hills of the island – they serve as earthquake shelters. You are never far from nature's drama in Santorini. 

Hidden gem:

Atlantis Books in Oia is in the basement of a whitewashed house and provides English language books to visitors. Modelled on the Parisian Shakespeare and Company, it is staffed by volunteering writers. 

Tuck in:

The produce of the island is exquisite thanks to the fertile soil and pristine micro-climate. Try the white eggplant, tomato keftedes and battered tomatoes – the climate of Santorini is pretty much a greenhouse for some of the best tasting tomatoes you will ever eat.

RADIANT RHODES

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The history of Rhodes is unexpected given its isolation. But it is here that you can find an acropolis that beats its famous cousin in Athens hands down. It is a place where ruins overlook the blue Aegean sea and the path is lined with bougainvillea. Ancient Rhodes Town was founded before the time of Christ – 408 years before in fact, however the acropolis predates this period. 

The ancients knew how to pick a prime real estate plot – the Lindos acropolis affords views of the Greek coast, offshore islands and fantastic sunsets. There are all sorts of archaeological delights to be found here, including stone balls the size of a portly child that once operated as sacrificial altars. 

Rhodes Old Town is the oldest inhabited medieval town in Europe. Circuited by historic walls, it is made for getting lost. Ruins of the Temple of Venus sit within these walls and are of monumental significance to Greek history. Hundreds of lanes are not named and there are walled gardens of orange, cypress and myrtle – not so secret when stumbled upon but you won't get directions per se.  

In the '60s and '70s Lindos was the destination du jour with artists, writers and a fair share of hippies choosing to make it their retreat. The streets are more like alleys and cars stay outside the village – there is physically no space for them to travel through. Bougainvillea drips from the arbours between buildings and stray cats languish on sun-warmed steps.

Hidden gem:

The butterfly valley, which crawls with lepidoptera between July and September. Jersey tiger moths, which are half zebra, half ladybird in pattern, carpet the grass, rocks, trees and air.

Tuck in:

Try grilled octopus or a traditional Greek salad – which includes capers and pine nuts. Head to taverns by the sea where the cooks take the catch of the day and turn it into a delectable dish, often served with lemon and butter – understated but exquisite.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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