This small island at the mouth of the Argolic Gulf was called Pityoussa, the ancient Greek word for “pine.” The Venetians dubbed it, Isola di Spezzie, or “aromatic island.” Both monikers are fair – sprawling pine groves coexist harmoniously with copious herbs, such as thyme and rosemary. Much like Hydra, Spetses is an island of maritime glory. The local inhabitants took active part in the war for Greek independence. One of the more pivotal moments in that campaign was the Battle of Spetses, and today, the island celebrates the annual Armata festival dedicated to the victory over the Ottoman fleet. To commemorate the event, the locals gather in the harbour to build, and then ceremonially burn, a model of a Turkish ship. Today, Spetses’ glory rests entirely in its tourist and cultural aspects. In 1965, the English writer John Fowles published his novel, The Magnus, the events of which unfold on the Island of Fraksos, inspired by Spetses. The book’s debut began drawing affluent tourists to the island; this traffic shows no signs of slowing. Even so many years later, Spetses is still viewed as a vacation spot for the elite – the last Greek monarch, Constantine II himself, visited in 2013.
The tiny island of Kastos can’t give you hundreds of sightseeing spots or tourist infrastructure, but it can still bring you joy. Its most frequent visitors are yachtsmen. In the high season, from May to September, the population of Kastos grows dramatically. The recreational options are pretty standard: strolling through the olive groves, touring ancient ruins, fishing and swimming at the local beaches.
Rhodes is rightly considered one of the most beautiful islands in all of Greece. Here, almost year-round the sun shines, a fresh breeze blows, pine-dotted cliffs rise up from the shores of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, and the beaches are sprinkled with soft sand. According to ancient myth, Helios, the Sun God himself took a shine to the island, and its name derives from that of his wife, the nymph Rhodes. Day after day, yachts come to call in the old port of Mandraki, where a magnificent Colossus once stood. To the southeast lies the fabulous and very modern Rhodes marina. Yacht schools, restaurants, and a customs office are all in the vicinity. From here, it’s convenient to start exploring Rhodes – one of the most magnificent gems in all of the Mediterranean. The capital’s old town has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. Here, you’ll find splendidly preserved buildings and landmarks from different eras, from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Visit the Palace of the Great Masters, Knights’ Row, the Olympic stadium, and the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. What’s more, the island itself boasts a whole smattering of enchanting ancient towns and popular resorts: Lindos, Kameiros, Faliraki, Ialysos, and Ixia. There are also beaches to suit any taste – pebbly in the west and sandy in the east. The miniature isthmus between Rhodes and the little island of Prasonisi is considered the most romantic and picturesque. Why? It enchants visitors with the tranquil, warm Mediterranean waters, and the bright and blustery Aegean converging in a blue wonderland. The list of unique locales definitely includes Petaludes Valley, where thousands of butterflies flock beginning in late May, as well as the Seven Sources wilderness park.
Though it shares the same mountainous terrain and cove-dotted coastline as its northern neighbours in the Dodecanese Islands, the island if Kalymnos is unique in its own special way. Kalymnos, situated between Kos and Leros, is also a whole chain of islands of the same name. It has plenty of churches, a few museums, and dozens of fantastic beaches. The population is sparse and in the past, the local residents crafted handmade sponges. The history of Kalymnos has the same history of governing bodies as the nearby Southern Sporades: from the Byzantines to the Venetians, the Knights of Malta, the Turks and the Italians. Yet, it does have one standout feature that sharply distinguishes the island from its counterparts, and that’s mountain climbing. The terrain of Kalymnos is so mountainous and yet so varied that it manages to pack in more than 1,500 climbing routes of varying difficulty. Once every two years, it’s the scene of the Kalymnos International Mountain Climbing Festival. Aside from alpinists, the island also draws diving enthusiasts. Kalymnos boasts Greece’s only state-run scuba diving school.
Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands. According to one theory, its name derives from that of the mythological hero Kephala, a fearless hunter captured by the Goddess of the Dawn, Eos. Nature and history have been equally generous to the island resulting in magnificent beaches, lush green valleys, colorful villages with their centuries-long traditions, and splendid churches, temples, and castles. Kefalonia’s main attractions are as follows: the lake at Melissani Cave, the archaeological museum in Argostoli, the Monastery of St. Gerasimus of Kefalonia near Valsamati, the beautifully-preserved Venetian settlement in the village of Fiskardo, and the Manzavinos winery near Lixouri. The island’s most famous and popular beach is Myrtos; it’s earned the Blue Flag, an article in Forbes, and has dazzling seawater that swirls all shades of blue. No less popular is Xi beach with its strikingly deep orange sand and brilliant white cliffs.
The village of Nydri, located on the eastern coast of the island of Lefkada, is a large and sought-after tourist center of Greece. The village earned its popularity thanks to its entrancing view of the nearby islands Skorpios and Madouri, as well as its local waterfalls – the most popular of which is Dimossari. Nydri is also the sailing center for the whole island; its shoreline is always dotted with numerous mooring yachts, and it’s the scene of the Ionian regatta at the end of September.
Blue caves (Zakynthos)
Spoiled with the attention of tourists and a wealth of natural beauty, Zakynthos boasts yet another special attraction. On the island’s northern coast, 35 kilometers from capital-city Zakynthos, lie the Blue Caves – a unique natural grotto that’s partially filled with water and only accessible by sea. The penetrating rays of the sun are refracted and illuminate the cave in myriads of stunning flecks. The water here is startlingly clear, and the depth to the bottom reaches four meters. The Greeks recommend visiting the Blue Caves early in the morning or closer to sunset, when the interplay of light and water is particularly enchanting.
Navagio Cove is the record-holder for top rankings as one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole world. Tall cliffs surround the thin strip of shoreline dressed with fine sand and the shipwrecked MV Panagiotis. There’s no footpath down, and the Greeks organize lots of sea excursions here, so coming by yacht is the best way to visit the famous cove in solitude.
Alykes is a popular resort village on the northeastern coast of the island of Zakynthos. It doesn’t boast a rich history, since its early inhabitants preferred to settle further inland, fearful of pirate invasions. Now that this danger has passed, the village has started to develop in the tourist direction. The local beach may not be as picturesque as the one in Navagio bay, but it still has its popularity. The environs of Alykes even have a few sights of their own: the 16th-century monastery of St. John the Baptist, the Vertzagio ethnographic museum, and the church of St. Pantaleon.
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