Irish Times promotes greek islands
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Irish Times promotes greek islands

Irish Times made for its readers a Greek islands guide. There are 6,000 Greek islands strewn across the Aegean and Ionian Seas and the editors made a list with the 10 best Greek islands.

1. Crete
Crete, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean, is a familiar package holiday destination – but don’t let that put you off. Rich in mythology, the island is the legendary home of King Minos, the minotaur and the palace of Knossos, as well as Daedalus and Icarus (the son who flew too close to the sun). So there is more to engage the grey matter than where to position your beach towel.

2. Mykonos

Greece’s most famous and fun island, Mykonos, is a piece of whitewashed heaven right at the centre of the Cyclades. It’s known for party glamour, so don’t worry if you arrive before noon to find no one around. Such is the legendary nightlife, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone up before lunch – other than fishermen mending nets on the water’s edge and bar owners busy cleaning up after last night’s shenanigans. It isn’t all about partying though, there are sights to see too. The town’s Little Venice is a picturesque strip of 18th-century houses with colourful balconies hanging out over choppy seas. Look out for the traditional windmills and the town’s local oddity – its pelicans.

3. Santorini

Jacques Cousteau thought he would find the lost city of Atlantis at Santorini and you’d forgive him for deciding it was here rather than, say, the Isle of Man. Where better to undertake research than a sun-drenched island soaring up out of deep blue seas with views so spectacular they turn even the town’s most modest “rent room” into a penthouse suite?

It’s no wonder the scenery is dramatic, the island was forged by volcanic activity dating to the 16th century BC and which left three-quarters of the island under water. It’s not great for small kids, due to the steep inclines, and it can also be somewhat uncomfortable watching donkeys struggling under the weight of fully grown adults making their regular trips uphill from the harbour to the main town, Fira. Don’t miss the stunning village of Oia, to the north of Fira, whose terraced houses are hewn into the cliffs and which is regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in the world from which to enjoy the sunset.

4. Ios

Lying in the sparkling seas half way between Mykonos and Santorini, and named for a flower – the violets that carpet the countryside here each spring – Ios is the island where the poet Homer is buried. These days it attracts travellers of an age more likely to see Homer as a cartoon character than a poet. But don’t let the fun-loving hoards of youthes who descend on its main town put you off. The town itself, situated on the western side of the island, is a captivating mix of cubist architecture. Punctuated with windmills, churches and sky blue cupolas, it’s a picture-postcard scene not to be missed.

5. Paros

Anyone looking to combine a serious walking holiday with a serious beach one would do well to think of Paros. P for Paros, p for paths – the island is completely criss-crossed with them. Today, thanks to the repair and restoration work of the island’s authorities, the ancient tracks used by the locals are now promoted as one of the best ways to explore the island’s interior. Connecting traditional villages, breathtaking landscapes and wonderful beaches, there is certainly plenty of reason to explore. Parikia, the island’s capital, has the region’s signature whitewashed cube houses and cobbled streets. To the north is Naoussa, a colourful village with the ruins of a Venetian fortress still standing guard at the entrance to its small harbour. Or take the island’s best-known path, the hour-long Byzantine Road, from the tiny village of Prodromos up to the mountain village of Lefkes, at the island’s highest point through a surprisingly green landscape.

6. Naxos

An emerald gem in a sparkling sea, Naxos is unique among the typically rocky islands of the Cyclades for its lush greenery.A large island – the biggest in the Cyclades – with serious mountains and deep, fertile valleys, it’s one of the few islands whose interior is almost as visually appealing as its coast. It has a sense all of its own too. Because agriculture is the main industry here, rather than tourism, its tiny hillside villages carry on much as they have for aeons, unimpeded by the visitors that flock to its coasts each summer. As a result, it can seem much more traditional and old-fashioned than other islands.

Antiquities: Naxos’s most famous ruin is the Portara, a 2,500-year-old doorway that once stood at the entrance to an unfinished temple. It faces Delos, Apollo’s birthplace, and scholars argue as to whether it was built in honour of him or of Dionysus, the god worshipped on Naxos.

7. Corfu

Arguably the best-known of the Ionian islands, Corfu is reckoned by some to be the most beautiful of all Greek islands. The capital, Corfu town, is built on a promontory and acts as graceful repository of all the architecture lavished upon it by its various occupiers, from arcaded buildings to its cricket pitch. Byzantine churches cosy up to Georgian mansions while, in its Old Town, guarded at either end by a fortress, the legacy of the Venetians looms largest, with the pastel hues of its buildings and shutters more reminiscent of Italy than Greece.

The narrow streets of the old town, now on the Unesco World Heritage Site list, and the gardens of the Spianada – literally “flattened” – Square are ripe for lazy days of wandering and browsing.

8. Zakynthos

With its soaring cliffs and powder white sands, Zakynthos is one of the most dramatic of the Ionian islands, particularly as the rugged coast contrasts so completely with the green and fertile interior. Known by the Venetians, and Falcon Holidays, as Zante, its nickname was “Flower of the East”. Flowers are still big part of the draw here – an estimated 7,000 species bloom here. It’s also home to some interesting fauna, having its own maritime preserve dedicated to the protection of loggerhead sea turtles, as well as to the local monk seals who use the island’s hidden coves and caves to give birth to their young.It’s a relaxed city, possibly because most of its younger tourists don’t venture beyond Lagunas on the southwest coast, the island’s party capital.

9. Kefalonia
Unfortunately now forever associated with a somewhat gormless looking Nicolas Cage, the dramatic island of Kefalonia is much more than the star of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, it’s a celebrity in its own right. Not for its architecture – it too was ravaged by the 1953 earthquake – but for its natural talents. Think soaring cliffs, steep mountains quilted in fir trees and gleaming white beaches. Make the most of its dramatic topography with hikes through Mount Ainos National Park, whose mountain tops out at 1,600m. Chances are you’ll be familiar with its most famous beach, the much photographed Myrtos, an arc of white pebbles backed by limestone cliffs. Or go celebrity-watching at trendy Fiscardo, known as the St Tropez of Greece. The picturesque fishing village in the very north of the island is more interesting still in that it gives you a glimpse of how the island once looked, as it alone survived the earthquake untouched. The capital, Argostoli, is an attractive working port where fishing boats jostle with smart yachts and a nice promenade for people watching.

10. Rhodes

The medieval city of Rhodes, on the northern tip of the island, is not to be missed. The old town was built by the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the “Hospitallers”. After the order had lost its last Crusading foothold in Palestine, it arrived here in 1309 and, over the next 200 years, set about transforming the city into a formidable stronghold – before sailing off into the sunset, or at least, to Malta. As with so many Greek islands, over time Turks and Italians came and went, putting their own stamp on its architecture, leaving cobbled streets with gothic towers standing beside mosques and public baths.

It’s not so much a sense of time standing still you get here, as much as time darting all over the place at once. It’s what makes it such as worthy member of the Unesco World Heritage Site club. If it’s heaving clubs and nightlife you’re after, head for Faliraki on the northeastern tip of the island, where cheap and cheerful is the order of the day.For a quieter option, head for picturesque Lindos, a whitewashed, cobblestoned, low-rise resort town mid way down the island’s west coast, with a good variety of restaurants and three bays offering clear water and safe bathing.