Top 5 Greek islands to escape the crowds
Portfolio takes a look at the Greek islands offering a more peaceful getaway
The seas of Greece are sprinkled with thousands of glorious green islands framed by turquoise waters. Some attract a flood of visitors, but these are the islands where tourists are few and far between.
Tucked away in a small natural bay just off the Turkish Riviera, the inconspicuous Symi is a tiny, mountainous 25-square-mile gem of natural beauty and unique architecture.
The vast majority of Symi's 2,500 inhabitants are based in the town of Ano Symi, an adorable fishing hub of winding streets with breathtaking views over the harbour and the surrounding mountains. No matter where you are on Symi, you can guarantee you'll always be within touching distance of excellent hiking trails, beaches and wonderful neoclassical architecture.
Although pilgrims flock from all over to the town of Panormitis and its world-renowned monastery, the island never feels busy and retains the laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere that has become one of the trademarks of holidaying in Greece.
Where to stay:
For five-star luxury, check into The Old Markets boutique hotel in Ano Symi.
Just a swift 90-minute ferry journey from Athens is the mystical island of Hydra, graced with soothing natural hot springs and steeped in Greek tradition. With rolling plains of untouched wilderness – and at such a short distance from Athens – one would be forgiven for thinking Hydra might have gone the way of Rhodes or Crete and be dominated by resorts, new-build holiday homes and tourist traps.
However, Hydra has a strict blanket ban on new construction projects and motor vehicles are not allowed within the main town, with residents opting to maintain the pristine olde-worlde eccentricities of the island by transporting goods and people by mule. This peculiarity in itself has enticed tourists to embark on day trips from Athens, but the Daily Telegraph reassures us the island remains "endearingly time-warped", and a truly tranquil, charming throwback to a bygone era.
Where to stay:
The Orloff Boutique Hotel in Hydra town is perfect for an authentically Greek stay, complete with a breakfast of local produce.
Kefalonia – the largest of the Ionian islands west of the Greek mainland – offers some magnificent sights, including stunningly angular scenery, dramatic cliffs and some of the best beaches in the whole of Greece. And all this without ever losing its irresistible bucolic charm.
A ring of delightful affluent towns are pitched around the coast, offering excellent bars and restaurants, but escape the hubbub in the wild interior of this 300-square-mile paradise. The island is big enough to accommodate its guests effortlessly, offering numerous quiet beaches and villas.
Where to stay:
Unique Kefalonia offers stunning luxury villas, each with private infinity pool, sea views, gym, yoga pavilion, and even a vegetable garden.
Known by locals as the "island of colours", Milos is perhaps Greece's best-kept secret, isolated far out in the Aegean Sea. A beach-lover's island if ever there was one, Milos boasts over 70 separate beaches, set amidst a framework of bizarre geological volcanic rock formations that give the island a natural array of colours that even a rainbow could envy.
Tiny, sleepy fishing villages flank the perimeter of the island, while one of the largest towns, Plaka, sits perched on a mountainside away from the coast and offers one of the greatest sunset spots in the world. Be sure to visit the remarkable ancient catacombs carved from the island's soft rock almost 2,000 years ago.
Where to stay:
For a truly unique holiday, visitors can rent out one of the island's many windmills, which have been tastefully converted into cosy holiday apartments.
As The Guardian attests, Alonnisos "is not the Greek island of travel posters". Holidaymakers looking for desert-like mountainscapes and quaint villages of white-washed houses will find none of that on Alonnisos, an untamed expanse of densely forested wilderness jutting out of the northern reaches of the Aegean Sea.
Despite being just a short hop from the tourist trappings of Skiathos, the only thing you'll find in abundance on this beautiful stretch of land is total silence. Lose yourself hiking through Alonnisos's luscious woodlands before heading down to Tzortzi Gialos, a pebbled beach of gorgeous azure-blue water, secluded and surrounded by pine trees on all sides. For true isolation off the beaten track, look no further than Alonnisos.
Hidden in the island's wild interior is a beacon of pure luxury at Villa Adelphia, which can accommodate up to 20 people in its complex of eco-designed cottages and has a breathtaking private pool