Athens - Island-hopping vacations in the Aegean
Most travel myths only arose in the 19th or 20th century, but this one is far older. Thousands of years ago the Minoans and the Ancient Greeks sailed the Aegean waves and settled here to found the first European civilizations. These days, an extensive ferry network makes island hopping much easier, but aside from the well-known bathing and holiday resorts, visitors are also discovering virtually forgotten islands, where time seems to have stood still
Visitors arriving from Athens usually take a ferry from Piraeus, suburb and ancient seaport of the Greek capital. The Cyclades, a circle of islands including some of the most popular – and in summer most crowded – Greek islands, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini, are the first to come into view up ahead. Antiparos with its just 1000 or so inhabitants, typical white cottages, picturesque windmills and ancient Venetian buildings is a far more peaceful destination. Naxos, too, the largest of the Cyclades, has largely preserved its original character, while Delos is practically uninhabited. This little island (pictured here) was once the site of several temples and considered sacred throughout the Ancient World. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Dodecanes Archipelago lies further east and partly within sight of the Turkish mainland. Some 18 of the roughly 160 islands are permanently populated, but mostly only by a few hundred people. If partying and package deals are not your idea of the perfect vacation, steer clear of the main island, Rhodes. Symi with its tiny port (pictured here) is far more tranquil. Kalymnos, like Symi a former stronghold of the famous Greek sponge divers, has a rocky hinterland that makes it a popular haunt for climbers these days. Kite and windsurfers will find ideal conditions on Kos. Patmos, on the other hand, attracts pilgrims to the spot where the Apostle John allegedly wrote down the revelation that bears his name.
Thanks to a restrictive building policy, this “holy island’s” beaches have preserved their natural beauty.
In the northern Aegean, the islands are much further apart than in its southern reaches. The ferry rides are correspondingly longer, but the tourist infrastructure is generally also less well developed. Come with plenty of time and you can explore a completely different, more traditional, intact Greece, far removed from the buzzing tourist centers. Lesbos is one such haven of tranquility, an island no more than 70 kilometers across and wonderfully sleepy. The island’s secluded beaches and wild hinterlands are best discovered on foot or by bike. While the fertile eastern part of Lesbos blossoms into a riot of color in springtime, bizarre volcanic landscapes and a petrified wood lend the west its very special, very different magic.
Photos: Kuzia/Bahnmueller/mauritius images (2), Seux/Zahn/laif (2)