Katie McGonagle tells you how to mix and match Greek hotspots on an island-hopping itinerary
Choosing a favourite flavour of ice cream is almost impossible – sometimes you crave classic vanilla, but sometimes you fancy rich rocky road with sprinkles on top.
So why restrict yourself to just one, when you can have a taste of every flavour?
The same applies to the Greek islands – where one excels in noisy nightlife, another offers total seclusion, and yet another has family-friendly sandy beaches and classic Greek cuisine.
That’s why island-hopping is the holiday equivalent of giving your clients a spoon and telling them to dig in to any tub they fancy – just find out which flavours might suit with our guide to mixing and matching the Greek islands.
PLAY THEN PAUSE
A simple twin-centre can offer complementary island experiences, according to Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides. He says: “A fortnight on a small and peaceful island can be too long, but combine it with a week on a busier island and you have an excellent island-hopping formula. Many of the smaller islands are within easy reach of more popular islands so transfers aren’t a problem.”
Chief among those contrasts is action on one island – whether by day, with watersports and sightseeing, or by night with buzzing bars and clubs – followed by blissful relaxation on another. Twinning Corfu and Paxos does just that; the former has a selection of sandy beaches packed with watersports, sightseeing highlights in the Old Town, and busy bars at every tourist resort, while the latter’s version of nightlife is a harbour-front taverna in a tiny fishing village.
There’s no airport on Paxos – hence fewer tourists – but ferry transfers from Corfu start at £30 from Olympic Holidays. Cosmos offers a budget-friendly self-catering option (Sample product, page 44), while CV Villas can offer properties sleeping up to four people, with flights and car hire, from £1,160 for two weeks in June.
Kos and Leros also offer a similar winning combination, with the former’s famed Bar Street, well-established tourism infrastructure and wealth of historic sights, and Leros’s off-the-beaten-track product including boutique hotels in converted windmills, a growing focus on scuba diving, and its history of occupation during wartime. A twin-centre break with Cosmos starts at £550 for a week in September.
Lambrianides also highlights rugged Kalymnos as an alternative partner to Kos, offering excellent mountain climbing, quiet beaches and traditional sponge fishing.
Sizeable Crete and Rhodes make tempting twins for those who want to discover the country’s cultural heritage.
Both boast a lengthy list of settlers who have left their mark, with Minoan palaces, Roman and Byzantine architecture, and a mix of medieval churches, monasteries and Ottoman mosques on the former to the latter’s ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine ruins, and fortifications left behind by medieval Venetians, the Knights of Saint John and the Ottomans, who occupied the island until 1912.
Culture isn’t all about days gone by; tucking into fresh fish or pausing in a secluded beauty spot can be just as enlightening.
With one of the most beautiful harbours in Greece and rugged walking routes affording spectacular views, Symi is Greece in a nutshell, while fellow Dodecanese island Halki makes a worthy alternative for its picture-perfect architecture and small, secluded beaches. A three-centre with Rhodes leads in at £1,051 with Sunvil.
Add a dash of cosmopolitan chic with romantic hotspots Mykonos and Santorini. The ferry transfer takes two hours and costs €80, meaning it’s easy to split a week between gorging in gourmet restaurants and celebrity-spotting in the bars of Mykonos; and revelling in the romance of Santorini’s sunsets and stunning caldera views.
Sovereign Luxury Travel offers three nights at Grace Mykonos then four at sister Grace Santorini, with flights and private transfers in May, from £1,089.
Insight Vacations also favours luxury and boutique hotels on its new eight-day mini trip Greek Islands, starting in Athens with two days in Mykonos followed by high-speed ferry to Santorini, costing from £2,225 for B&B accommodation and sightseeing.
GIVE ME MORE
The romantic pairing of Santorini and Mykonos is one of Thomas Cook’s three Santorini Island Hopping itineraries; the others combine Santorini with quiet, typically Greek Naxos and either lively Ios or low-key Paros; prices start at £775 for 15 days.
Cyclades Island-hopping sells well for other operators too. Western & Oriental head of product David Pointer says: “Our most popular itinerary includes Santorini, Paros and Mykonos. With easy connections by ferries and faster catamarans, we can take the hassle out of connecting the islands by not only booking flights, accommodation and transfers, but ferry tickets too.”
Likewise, Cyplon can tailor-make itineraries such as three nights each on Santorini, Paros, Naxos and Mykonos, with flights, transfers and ferry tickets, from £1,248 B&B in May.
For some clients, hopping between islands is their way of escaping the crowds to discover their own Greece. That’s why Islands of Greece brochures Undiscovered Cyclades, a 12-day tour visiting Folegandros, Milos and Santorini, from £849 including flights.
Similarly, Inntravel has a chance for independent travellers to forge their own path, with Enchanting Cyclades, a self-guided walking tour of rugged islands Serifos, Sifnos and Milos, where the Venus de Milo statue was discovered. The itinerary starts from £720 for 10 nights’ B&B accommodation, transfers and route maps, but excludes flights and ferries.
SAILING THE CYCLADES
As beautiful as they are on land, these islands really sparkle at sea.
G Adventures is reporting such strong sales of its sailing programme that it has added a fourth boat in Greece this year, sailing eight and 10-day itineraries from Athens to Mykonos and Mykonos to Santorini, which can be combined for a longer adventure.
Itineraries are flexible, meaning skippers stop off at their favourite spots along the way, and can even teach passengers the basics of sailing. Its best-seller is the Santorini round trip on-board a 15-metre yacht with time for hiking, snorkelling and soaking up sun on deck (from £1,049 excluding flights).
Charting a similar course through the Cyclades, Intrepid Travel offers Sail Greece: Santorini to Mykonos, an eight-day sailing trip taking in Santorini, Ios, Amorgos, Naxos and Mykonos (from £870 excluding flights), plus a 10-day Cyclades Islands Overview, which adds the less-developed Small Cyclades (from £1,075 plus kitty and flights).
Sister brand Geckos Adventures also boasts 10-day tour Poseidon’s Playground, which drops anchor at a new island almost every day (from £1,075, flights extra).
The Sporades, of Mamma Mia! fame, are another popular pick. Sunvil managing director Chris Wright says: “Skopelos and Alonissos are close together, but offer quite different experiences, making them ideal for a two-centre.
“Skopelos is vertiginous and green, with a pretty harbour of winding streets and whitewashed houses, with some lovely intimate tavernas and sophisticated bars.
“Alonissos is wild and rugged, ideal for walking, with clear waters that are part of a marine park protecting the rare monk seal and dolphins.”
Islands of Greece includes Stunning Sporades in its range of island-hopping trips: sit on one of 65 sandy beaches or enjoy harbour-front nightlife in Skiathos; then explore the lush forests and clear blue seas of Skopelos, before moving on to undeveloped Alonissos to enjoy walking trails or kayaking in the marine park without hordes of tourists; prices start at £989 including flights.
Cosmos Holidays offers seven nights at Marilena Apartments in Corfu and a week at Glyfada Beach Villas in Paxos, from £545 including flights from Birmingham on May 5, self-catering accommodation, and airport transfers.
0843 227 1464
Planet Holidays offers 14 nights at the five-star Elounda Mare in Crete and Lindos Blu in Rhodes, on a B&B basis, all flights, and transfers, from £5,595.
0871 872 234
GIC The Villa Collection offers seven nights at Villa Aquilo on Alonissos with jeep hire, and seven at Thalassa Vista near Skopelos, both self-catering, from £1,363, with Gatwick flights, transfers and welcome pack.
020 8232 9780
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