Greece's secret isles

Yet-to-be-discovered islands such as Serifos and Koufonisia offer a tranquil alternative to tourist-packed Greek spots such as Mykonos

Right now, famous Greek beach destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini are filling up with global tourists. But Greece has 200 inhabited islands, so if you want a genuine local experience without the crowds, set sail for these seven quiet spits of land.


Come here hungry: This chic hideout is the original home of Nikos Tselementes, Greece's answer to Julia Child.

He was the first person to write down traditional recipes for Aegean cuisine 100 years ago and his book remains in print today.

Most of those signature local dishes lean heavily on the herbs that grow on the rugged landscape of Sifnos - think thyme and sage - as well as the olive trees and goat's milk cheeses, which are usually cooked in a type of clay pot used here for centuries.

Manolis is the best place to sample that food - the eponymous chef's son is now in charge of the kitchen.

Do not miss the mediaeval town of Kastro, a tiny fortified enclave bolted to steep cliffs that resembles a set from some lost Indiana Jones movie.

Where to stay: Book the villas that form part of the Verina boutique hotel, with a private lap pool, gym and hammam (steam bath).


This roughly circular island probably derived its name (which means rocky) from an ancient myth that claimed that Serifos' original inhabitants were petrified into boulders by Medusa's death stare.

Today, those rocks are its key allure. This is a paradise for outdoor types, a peaceful, hike-friendly island whose best beaches are reachable only after strenuous exertion.

To bake on the marvellous Kalo Ambeli, you need to drive on rough- hewn roads and then clamber over the landscape for at least 15 minutes.

Pack plenty of water, sunscreen and a shady hat for the island's prime hike: a four-hour expedition from the old town to the fortress- like whitewashed hulk that is the centuries-old monastery of Taxiarchis.

Where to stay: Livadi, the south- eastern port, is the handiest base because the island's old town is perched, Santorini-style, high on a hill via a long, twisty road.

Make like the chic Greeks who form the bulk of this island's visitors by booking a villa there.


It is not easy to reach this island in the northern Aegean, especially from Athens.

Hugging the Dardanelles, Samothrace is a six-hour journey by car and ferry, even from regional hub Thessaloniki.

The odyssey is well worth the effort though: Samothrace's lush greenery and pristine landscape are punctuated by the peak of Mount Fengari, which reaches more than 1,520m above sea level.

Spend time here exploring the countryside and you will be rewarded by thermal pools, hot springs, swimming holes and waterfalls.

Soak up history too: The rubble- strewn Temple of the Winged Victory, or Nike, was the original site of one of the best-known sculptures from antiquity - The Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is now spectacularly displayed in the Louvre in Paris.

Where to stay: Enjoy views from the terraces of Archondissa, a self-described boutique beach hotel perched perfectly on Therma beach.


Most incomers to Amorgos, the easternmost island of the Cycladic cluster, are making a pilgrimage to the key location site for Luc Besson's 1988 free-diving epic, The Big Blue.

If you want to follow their lead into the depths of the Aegean, Greek Navy special operations veteran Dimitris Sinodinos runs the decade- old Amorgos Diving Centre, which conducts scuba and snorkelling trips alongside freedive certification for first-timers.

Otherwise, come here for the chance to detox entirely: This kidney-shaped island is one of the quieter corners of the Mediterranean, even in the summertime.

Most of the amenities are in the chora around Katapola harbour, where you can try island delicacies such as xerotigana (fried tamale- like pies filled with beet and fennel).

Where to stay: English-speaking Mike Roussos owns an island- spanning network of chic chalets, Agios Pavlos, including several right on the pebbly namesake beach on Amorgos' northern edge.


Sure, actor Tom Hanks and his Greek-American wife Rita Wilson might have a house here and singers Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have both been sighted in its tiny chora .

But Antiparos is aptly named: This is the antithesis of nearby Paros, the rowdy, package holiday- crammed sibling island that is less than 2km away.

Indeed, this is a bohemian hideout, full of moneyed Athenians with few inhibitions.

Pack lightly for a trip - many beaches are clothing-optional.

The best skinny-dipping spot is the small crescent of sand just opposite the islet of Dipla, which can be reached by wading through the waters amid most tides.

While swimsuits are also optional at pebbly Soros beach, pack one to wear during lunch at the beachfront taverna, which serves a killer version of the island's signature fish stew, kakavia.

Where to stay: Crash at the restaurant with rooms, the Big Blue, with its lively bar and comfy hammocks.


The fashion flock makes up the bulk of this island's seasonal visitors, especially the Milanese who have co-opted it as an extension of La Dolce Vita.

Certainly, the largest, most appealing beach on the island, Pori, would not seem out of place on the Tuscan coast, complete with a stylish beach bar that mixes super- sized servings of Aperol spritz.

Gastronautis is a new-ish cafe in the town centre that features contemporary riffs on Greek classics. Its minimalist modern interior, though, has a distinctly Italian affect. There is even a design store, Spigolo, on the same cobbled street, run by an expatriate couple from Ancona.

Where to stay: The fanciest hotel in town is Aeolos, on the hilltop of the main settlement. The rooms are large, albeit simple, and the setting is unbeatable: The bougainvillea- wreathed terrace and outdoor pool offer killer views of the bay.


The package-holiday sun-seekers who have overrun Kos and Rhodes have damaged the reputation of their island cluster, Greece's eastern- most Dodecanese. They have also helped keep crowds away from unspoiled gems such as Karpathos, which feels like a trip back in time.

Women in Olympos, the island's hilltop town, often wear traditional dress. Karpathos is also known among mainlanders for the locals' love of folk music and the riotous festivals they throw during August.

Karpathos is also handy for more modern pastimes: Thanks to some windy weather systems nearby, several windsurfing outfits operate on the coast.

Where to stay: The Hotel Konstantinos Palace, with its multi-level pool, spa and expanse of beach, rivals most luxury hotels in South Beach or the south of France. It is steps from the downtown of the island's biggest community, where you will find a hotchpotch of tasty tavernas.

Boats leave the port daily to shuttle visitors to stunning, isolated beaches with crystal-clear water and grey, stone shores.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline 'Greece's secret isles'. Print Edition | Subscribe