By MATTHEW NUNN
With over a thousand islands and in excess of 200 inhabited, it’s a small wonder there’s any Mediterranean Sea left. Despite what may be happening in Greece today (economically), nothing can take away what happened in Greece in the past. This history as well as the outstanding natural beauty has Greece tipped as one of the most popular travel destinations of 2012.
Despite being bound by a strong cultural and historical heritage, many people repeatedly return to Greece because of the variety offered by the different Greek Islands. This variety can range from traditional local dishes, ancient monuments, stunning cliffs and white sandy beaches. The Greek islands are clumped into various groups which span across several seas of the Mediterranean. Here’s a roundup of some of her islands and what they have to offer.
The Dodecanese Islands
Rhodes is the largest out of the Dodecanese Islands and is a great option if you want a one-stop holiday to a Greek island. You can get a real taster of all the best aspects to the Mediterranean here, so pack an appetite for the busy restaurant scene, swimsuit for the many bays and inquisitive mind for the historic architecture in the Old Town and the Palace of the Grand Master. For the daring there’s the Casino Rodas to gamble the night away.
Kos is one for the history fans. Archaeological wonders are scattered over the island that date all the way back to the 4thcentury, and this is also where Hippocrates operated. Kos provides some great urban days out, as it is famed for Kos city with its large squares and beautiful architecture.
The Ionian Islands
Corfu is another island known for its urban settings; Corfu town with a UNESCO World Heritage status is immensely popular and is an example of the parts of Greece influenced by the West. The city is extensive for an island and provides many opportunities for strolling down narrow cobbled lanes and checking out palaces and fine estates, or even the Venetian Citadel.
Zakynthos is primarily famous for Navagio Bay and its half buried ship wreck. This makes for a simply stunning photograph, but is also typical of the jagged cliffs that run along parts of the islands coastline. Zante (as much of the world calls this island) is also known for the various traditional festivals on the island as well as its wildlife, both flora and fauna, including the loggerhead turtle).
The Corinth Isthmus Canal now separates this Peninsula from the mainland of Greece, therefore making it technically an island. It is considerably larger than a traditional island holiday, so taking it all in will be virtually impossible. Ancient history runs deep here, with choices from Olympia, Mycenae and Argos in the North down to the south where many of the beaches are. This is a holiday for those who will also appreciate a strong fishing and agricultural heritage.
Mykonos…if a volcano and black sands can’t tempt you here, perhaps the romantic reputation might. The bare hills, sandy beaches and white-washed houses create what for many is the typical scene of an amazing and picturesque Mediterranean holiday, explaining much of its popularity — especially as a honeymoon destination. This has all built up a reputation of tranquility, with a traditional fishing industry but also a sophisticated nightlife.
Santorini is actually a small group of islands which carries on the romantic reputation of Mykonos and is the supposed location of the lost city of Atlantis. It is formed on an active volcano and typifies much of the cliff lined coastlines of the Greek islands. The capital, Fira, occupies a commanding high spot on the island, and it’s not just the white buildings but the blue domed churches that steal the attention here.
If you’re the sort of person who feels island holidays can be limiting for the adventurous, Crete will happily prove you wrong. The island contains many secluded villages as well as ancient Minoan Palaces such as Knossas, however the natural scenery also steps up to the plate. Crete is full of bold landscapes, hitting peaks and troughs with mountains and gorges respectively. For expert hikers, there is the challenging E4 long distance walking path that offers little help in the way of signs or terrain.
This is not to say it is all action-packed. There are many luxury hotels on the island as well as numerous harbors for those looking for a relaxing holiday.
All in all, the islands of Greece create a myriad of opportunities for holidays, and can cater to a variety of tourists and travellers. Lone adventurists, beach dwellers and families will all find something for themselves here, and that’s all without even considering mainland Greece.
Matthew Nunn is a lifelong travelling enthusiast and blogger for http://www.sovereign.com/families Matthew spent much of 2011 exploring Europe and completing his first RTW trip.