Santorini may well have conquered a corner of your imagination before you’ve even set eyes on it. With multicoloured cliffs soaring over 300m from a sea-drowned caldera, it rests in the middle of the indigo Aegean, looking like a giant slab of layered cake.
The island spoons the vast crater left by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history. Smaller islands curl around the fragmented western edge of the caldera, but it is the main island of Thira that will take your breath away with its snow-drift of white Cycladic houses lining the cliff tops and, in places, spilling like icy cornices down the terraced rock. When the sun sets, the reflection on the buildings and the glow of the orange and red in the cliffs can be truly spectacular.
Santorini is no secret and draws crowds for most of the year, yet it wears its tourism well and its offerings make it worth the bustle. The island’s intrigue reaches deep into the past, with the fascinating Minoan site of Akrotiri and the gorgeous traditional hilltop village of Oia.
It also glides effortlessly into the future with accomplished artists, excellent wineries, a unique microbrewery, and some of the Cyclades finest accommodation and dining experiences. The multicoloured beaches are simply the icing on the cake.
Mykonos is the great glamour island of Greece and happily flaunts its sizzling St-Tropez-meets-Ibiza style and party-hard reputation.
The high-season mix of hedonistic holidaymakers, cruise-ship crowds (which can reach 15,000 a day) and posturing fashionistas throngs Mykonos Town (aka Hora), a traditional whitewashed Cycladic maze, delighting in its authentic cubist charms and its chichi cafe-bar-boutique scene.
The number of tourists (and cashed-up A-listers) visiting Mykonos is booming, and there’s been a corresponding boom in construction and renovation: hip new hotels, beach bars and restaurants are mushrooming, and prices are escalating. In July and August, come only if you are prepared to pay and intent on joining the jostling street crowds, the oiled-up lounger lifestyle at the packed main beaches, and the relentless party. Out of season, devoid of gloss, glitter and preening celebrities, find more subdued local life, the occasional pelican wandering the empty streets, and beaches backed by banging clubs which have gone silent.
Mykonos is also the jumping-off point for the archaeological site of the nearby island of Delos.
Zakynthos, also known by its Italian name, Zante, battles against heavy package tourism along its eastern and southeast coasts. Beneath the kiss-me-quick types zipping around on quad bikes it's a beautiful island – you just have to make a determined beeline to western and central regions of forested mountains dropping off to unreal turquoise waters to leave them behind. The northern and southern capes are verdant and also less exploited. Choking on restaurants and cherry-red bougainvillea, Zakynthos Town adds a bit of sparkle to the overrun east, where the loggerhead turtle population struggles in the face of development.
Navagio is the most famous beach of Zakynthos island, with the golden sand and the exotic blue waters. Do not miss a boat trip to Navagio and the Blue Caves during your Zakynthos holidays. Wonderful beaches in Zakynthos Greece are also Vassilikos, Gerakas, Spiantza and other places on the southern side. Due to their soft sand and clean water, these beaches are used as breeding spots for the loggerhead sea turtle known as the Caretta-Caretta.