Santorini, Greece (Dreamstime)

5 Greek islands to avoid the crowds

20th March 2013

Morwenna Evans takes a look at some of Greece's quieter island escapes

Morwenna Evans

Dazzling-white buildings, creeping bougainvillea and sun draped beaches: the Greek islands are undeniably alluring, however, during peak season they can be marred by a dizzying overload of visitors. If you've grown weary of the pounding music on Mykonos or the beaches of Kavos packed with party-goers, try the simple beauty and charm of these Cycladic getaways.

1. Paros and Antiparos

Paros is the main hub for ferries departing further into the Cyclades or the Aegean Sea, and is often overlooked by island hoppers. However, once past the port of Parikia, you'll find a generous scattering of charming settlements proving this island should not just serve as a stop-over. The idyllic fishing village of Naoussa, provides mouth-wateringly fresh sea-food amid a variety of enticing cafés and restaurants. Visitors should try Mediterraneo Taverna Ouzerie, opposite the new marina.

Nestled further inland, among olive trees and pines, is the slower-paced, rural village of Lefkes. Wander around the Venetian architecture, before taking a peek at the glittering white marble of the village's Byzantine church.

Those looking for a little more solitude should hop on a ferry to neighbouring Antiparos. Take a boat ride around the island and explore untouched beaches.

2. Folegandros

This tiny craggy island is a paradisal retreat perfect for ramblers. Meander through the island's traffic-free capital, Hora, a medieval village tucked away amid the island's impervious looking cliffs. Walk the route beginning at the village's cemetery and ending at the hilltop church of Panagia. The church marks a stunning vantage point from which to take in the smouldering sunset. 

Set sail and take a local boat to the cave of Chrysopilia. This stalagmite and stalactite laden cavern is said to be scarred with ancient inscriptions and previous traveller's scribbles – all
well worth a look. Once you get peckish, head to Nicolas' Place for proper Greek coffee and freshly prepared traditional dishes.

3. Syros

Those wanting to avoid tourist traps but are craving some bustle should spend a bit of time on the vibrant island of Syros. One of the only islands whose economy is not dependent on tourism, it offers a revealing slice of modern Greek culture (as well as an equally eye-opening slice of halva pie).

Ermoúpoli is a handsome capital, home to the august St George's cathedral which stands tall atop St George's hill. Conserve your energy during the day, perhaps sunning yourself on the beaches of Foínikas or Kini. As the sun's heat retreats, make your way up the narrow whitewashed streets to soak up some of the cathedral's majestic atmosphere, not to mention its superlative sunset views.

4. Sikinos

Just a short way across from Folegandros, the island of Sikinos is often overshadowed by glitzier nearby destinations. However, this isle boasts many more understated, yet equally alluring merits. The island's main port is Alopronoia, a crescent-shaped bay of white sand, few tourists, and fishing boats heavy with their catch. Here you can find organised kayaking trips to the stunning beach of Agios Nikolaos.

Venture to the endearing village of Hora – buses regularly brave the winding uphill road. The main square is lined with a handful of tavernas and the calm, un-hassled streets are captivating. As the sun goes down, continue westward from the village on foot until you come across an eerily beautiful ruined monastery. Its resplendent remains are believed to be those of a Roman Mausoleum from AD 3 that was converted into a Christian church during AD 7.

5. Santorini

OK, so there's no real way to lose the crowds here. But this island is well worth the crush. The sunset is awe-inspiring, and the unique volcanic landscape is unrivalled in its powerful beauty. Santorini's popularity has bumped up prices as well as the number of luxury resorts – there are some spectacular hotels along the main drag, in the island's cliff-hugging capital Fira. Alternatively, staying just a 20 minute walk further from the centre will dramatically reduce costs and you're more likely to be able to haggle a cheaper rate.

To take a look at the landscape inland, rent a couple of scooters (wear the helmets –
 the roads are very windy) and meander across the island's steep, zig-zagging roads. A particularly heavenly oasis after a hot morning's scoot comes in the form of Megalochori, one of the less visited and quainter of Santorini's villages. Tucked away in the shade is the bare-walled Feggera taverna, where you can quench your thirst and indulge in an extremely satisfying traditional spread. Head back to Fira when evening descends, grab a cold beer and watch the red sun set over the stunningly silhouetted volcano.

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