reece: Islands and Temples


February 7 - April 15, 2006

Greek flag

When Gerry said he'd like to spend a couple of weeks visiting the Greek islands before we left the country, I should have known what to expect. The result was a three-month odyssey to and through a good number of the cyclades, the micro-cyclades, as well as Santorini, Crete, and Rhodes. But before we could even get started on that endeavour we had to first fill in some gaps left in our knowledge of the Peleponnese from our 1986 trip, and take a peek at Delphi.

Winter travel in Greece is peaceful if nothing else. We never had trouble finding a place to stay at a price we could afford, well, almost never. But in exchange we had to put up with very unreliable ferry schedules, some bitter cold nights, and one or two site closures. In the end, we concluded that we could not have managed it in summer, both because of the high prices and high temperatures. We kept hoping against hope for warmer temperatures every time we hopped to a more southerly island, but never really got our wish until Rhodes and that was only a temporary interlude.

Click on one of the photos below to find out about individual places and if you want our recommendations for Greek Island visits, click here.


Which Greek Island?

Here's what we prefer among the islands that we've seen. In order, we've been to Aegina (in the Saronic Gulf, near Athens), Syros, Mykonos/Delos, Naxos, Amorgos, Santorini (all in the Cyclades), Crete, Rhodes, and Kos (the last two being in the Dodecanese). In addition we've been in the harbors of Tinos, Paros, all of the Micro-Cyclades, and Kasos, Karpathos, and Halki. We haven't been to the Ionian islands - Corfu, Ithika, Zakynthos, which are world famous and many others, particularly those closer to mainland Greece in the north.

Accessibility is not a problem. Every island has an airport and you can fly into them. If you take ferries in the summer time there are fast ferries and there are ferries with cabins. Peeking into the cabins they look comfortable enough but compared to hotel rooms are pretty small.

We are pretty much in agreement in our evaluations. Comparing only what we have visited, here are our joint conclusions: The most interesting single town is the old town of Rhodes followed by Hania (Crete), Sitia (Crete) and Mykonos Town. The best single sight is Fira and the caldera on Santorini followed (not so far back) by the harbors at Hora Sfakion, Sitia, and Hania (all on Crete) and the alleyways of Mykonos. The best island archeology is Delos (accessed via Mykonos) and Knossos (Crete).

We have no idea about beaches; it has always been too cold to go into the water. Nonetheless, the nicest combination of looks and accessibility appeared to us to St George's beach on Naxos and the southernmost beaches on Kos, near the inland village of Kefalos. The Santorini beaches are probably pretty good and the western Syros beaches and harbor looked good too. Mykonos beaches seem to have a good reputation; they were nice to look at from a hill top but didn't seem sandy enough to be a good place to sun yourself.

A really simple thing to do to get a taste of island life is take a day or two day trip from Athens to Aegina. It only takes an hour on the boat and the island is pretty interesting. It has a nice, quaint harbor and has one of the best temples in Greece. You can stay on the eastern end and feel that you are in a remote corner of the world.

If you want to do the islands quickly and easily (and expensively) there are plenty of 4-5 day trips that give you 4-5 hours in a series of places; you sleep on the boat, traveling at night. The usual route is Athens (Pireaus) - Mykonos - Patmos - Kusadasi (Turkey - excursion to Ephesus) - Rhodes - Crete (Knossos only) - Santorini - Athens. We talked to several different people making this trip.

And finally, if you want a single destination that has lots to offer, choose Crete. Rhodes old town is more impressive than Crete's old cities but the island of Crete is bigger and has more varied landscapes and yet on a scale that makes it easy to get around especially with your own vehicle.

March 21, 2006