Return to Greece: 10 island holidays with the chill-out factor

Chris Leadbeater
Mykonos will have fewer crowds this summer - getty

Everyone loves a reunion. And that, it seems, is what we will have this summer after all – a chance to catch up with a destination so loved that it can feel like a family member. For British travellers, Greece and its islands are old friends; companions of special summers. And with this week’s news that the home of Zeus and Athena is back on the cards, the door is open for a get-together that seemed unlikely amid the dark headlines of April and May. 

Reunions can be troubled, of course. Greece put off plans to welcome British visitors until July 15, but flights have now restarted and the threat of their being off-limits this year has made those Aegean shores and Ionian bays more enticing than ever. Picture the scene – the taverna on the quay, the jug of wine from the vines on the hillside, the slab of feta cheese drizzled in olive oil, the slosh of waves on the harbour walls. Close your eyes. You can almost taste the grilled sea bass caught that very morning.

While every Greek island is subtly different, you will encounter the fantasy above on each one of them, including the 10 fine destinations below. 

The big beast: Crete

Size apparently isn’t everything, but there is no question that Crete is very big. It is the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean, and the largest in Greece, comprising 3,260 sq miles of mostly mountainous landscape. Consider it too much to absorb in one holiday? Not at all. Cox & Kings (020 3773 6246; coxandkings.co.uk) is offering an eight-day Wonders of Ancient Crete tour, which explores the home of the Minotaur in considerable depth. It costs from £1,595 per person, including flights.

Overly underrated: Corfu

Perhaps it is a legacy of fly-and-flop packages promoted on 1980s TV travel shows, but there can be a tendency to view Corfu as cheaply cheerful. In fact, it is an Avalon, shimmering in the Ionian beyond the Epirus shoreline – and home to villas, including the six-bedroom Nero Beach House at Kalamaki – available for £2,398 in the week of Sept 28 (flights cost extra), via CV Villas (020 3918 7811; cvvillas.com). 

The Old Town of Corfu - getty

Marvellously mythological: Kefalonia

There is a historical theory that the home of Odysseus detailed in the Odyssey is not the islet now called Ithaca, but its magnificent neighbour. Watch the sun plunge into Homer’s “wine-dark sea” from Kefalonia’s west coast, and you can believe it. A week at the Sea Path Apartments in Assos, flying from Gatwick on Aug 22 – costing from £1,405 per person via Ionian & Aegean Island Holidays (020 8459 0777; ionianislandholidays.com) – will do it.

Kefalonia's west coast is lined with glorious beaches - getty

Little and lovely: Meganisi

You cannot really see Meganisi from Kefalonia. It hides against the flank of Lefkada, all but indistinguishable from its big brother. But this is the point. Here is a pocket of eight sq miles and three villages. A place to doze. Maybe at Villa Alex, which is available in the week of Sept 13 from £899 per person (two sharing), including flights from Manchester, with James Villas (0808 302 4191; jamesvillas.co.uk). 

Meganisi - getty

Less discovered: Kythira

You might overlook Kythira too, lurking just off the Peloponnese peninsula but, unlike its Ionian colleagues, relatively unknown to tourists. Perhaps now is the moment to go there. A week at the Neromylos apartments – housed in a former watermill in Agia Pelagia – flying from Heathrow on Sept 5, costs from £832 per person with Sunvil (020 85684499; sunvil.co.uk). 

Musically minded: Hydra

This Saronic isle was something of an artists’ commune in the Sixties – home to Leonard Cohen, who penned some of his best work here. Spend a morning in a café on its harbour and you will be inspired, too. It features in the nine-day Athens and the Peloponnese holiday offered by Audley (01993 683446; audleytravel.com), from £3,645 per person, including flights.

Hydra - getty

Seriously chic: Mykonos

This celebrated segment of the Cyclades has long marketed itself as a Hellenic Ibiza, all fluttery-fabric fashion stores and chi-chi boutique hotels dreaming against a backdrop of slow-turning windmills. It is a seductive setting, but also an attainable one – perhaps via Scott Dunn (020 3811 4197; scottdunn.com), which marries Mykonos to Santorini in a seven-night Classic Greek Islands luxury holiday. From £3,200 per person, with flights.

Simply splendid: Sifnos

There are few bells and no whistles to this Cycladic sliver – just blue waters, rocky vistas, and the sight of the Church of the Seven Martyrs on its promontory below the hamlet of Kastro. The island doesn’t even have an airport – you have to fly to nearby Milos (Olympic Air via Athens; olympicair.com). Heaven. You can grab a week in September at a pretty house amid vines for £567 via HomeAway (0800 085 3815; homeaway.co.uk). 

Family fabulous: Rhodes

Even the grumpiest child will not fault the kingpin of the Dodecanese, with all its history to explore (the Kastello fortress), plus long coasts and fun resorts. These include La Marquise at Kalithea, where a week half-board in a family suite (for two adults and two children), flying from Manchester on Aug 21, costs £5,452 through Sovereign (01293 832394; sovereign.com).

Rhodes - getty

On the edge: Kos

You could call Kos a continental crossroads. It holds so easterly a position in the Aegean that you can see Turkey (and the Bodrum Peninsula) across the water – a view to cherry-top any day. A week’s stay at the four-star Atlantica Beach Resort, flying from Gatwick on Sept 19, costs from £1,020 per person via Tui (020 3636 1931; tui.co.uk).