Cyclades Islands - Attractions
Sultry Ios sizzles with sun, sea and sex. People stop by to party hard, but the island also offers plenty of quiet beauty to explore. Hora is a charming village filled with myriad laneways and cute houses and shops. By day you can dive, windsurf or water-ski; if you're of the teenage-to-twenties alcohol-swilling persuasion, night time will find you partying in Hora's tiny central square. But if it's not the drink that lures you to Ios, chances are it's the beaches. Manganari, on the south coast, is in the running for best beach; lodging and fresh fish are available nearby. On the northeast coast, Agia Theodoti, Psathi and Kalamos are more remote.
The undisputed gay capital of Greece, Mykonos attracts visitors of all persuasions who love the nightlife and the disco round. It's the most pretentious and pricy of the Greek islands, so don't come to Mykonos if you're looking for unspoilt island beauty or authentic cuisine. Mykonos has a couple of decent beaches, and is the jumping-off point for the sacred island of Delos, but the real reason people come here is to pose and party into the wee hours.
Even if you're disenchanted by the nightclubbing scene, you can't help but be a little impressed by the port town of Hora. It's a charming mix of chic boutiques and whiter-than-white houses decked with bougainvillea and geraniums. There's a handful of decent museums (windmill museum, anyone?), photographable churches and excursion boats running dive trips. The island's best beaches are on the south coast - try the nudity-friendly Paradise, Super Paradise, Agrari and Elia.
Naxos is the biggest island in the Cyclades, as well as the most fertile. Its rugged mountains and lush green valley are cloaked with olives, grapes, figs and citrus trees, making it also one of the most beautiful islands in the chain. Naxos was an important Byzantine centre, and the island is dotted with more than 500 churches and monasteries, many boasting notable frescoes. It's also a terrific island to explore on foot, as its villages and churches are linked by an ancient network of country pathways.
Naxos' major town is Hora, with its Venetian kastro (walled town) of winding alleyways, whitewashed houses and manicured gardens. Hora is also home to the island's most famous landmark, the unfinished Temple of Apollo. According to legend, the missing temple door will miraculously appear once Istanbul is returned to Greece. The beaches south of Hora become successively secluded, serviced by charming domatia (rooms) and tavernas, while the unspoilt, mountainous inland culminates in the isolated hamlets of Tragaea, populated by goats and tumble-down churches.
Pretty Paros' softly contoured hills are the source of the island's famously pure white marble, which brought it prosperity from the Early Cycladic period onwards; both the Venus de Milo and Napoleon's tomb were carved from Parian marble. Paros is now more famous as the main ferry hub for the Greek islands. The port town of Parikia is awash with ferry travellers, but it's well worth stepping back from the waterfront to visit the old town and its 13th-century Venetian kastro. If you're into splendid churches don't miss the Panagia Ekatontapyliani, which dates from 325. The island's other major settlement is Naoussa, a laid-back resort with a picturesque fishing village at its core.
Antiparos used to be the quieter alternative to Paros, but now it's a busy tourist spot in its own right. Its attractive main village, also called Antiparos, is gradually being overshadowed by the holiday crowd, but it's still a very pleasant spot. Families with young kids seem to gravitate here, and cars are not allowed in the village. Buses leave from here every half-hour to the Cave of Antiparos. The cave is awe-inspiring, even though it's been looted for its stalactites and stalagmites - treasures that don't grow back, unfortunately.
From the ferry Sifnos looks like an arid write-off, but explore just a little and you'll find an abundantly attractive landscape of terraced olive groves and almond trees, valleys filled with oleander and hills clad with wild juniper. The island is dotted with dovecotes, white-washed houses and chapels, and it's a magical place to go walking as there are plenty of old paths linking the villages. Sifnos is known for its olive oil and also happens to produce some of Greece's best chefs. Local treats to sample include revithia (baked chickpeas), revithokeftedes (falafel-like veggie balls) and almond sweets flavoured with orange flowers.
Apollonia, the capital, is 5km (3mi) inland from the modern port of Kamares. Take the pretty downhill walk along ancient paths from Apollonia to the walled cliff-top village of Kastro, the island's former capital and a magical place of buttressed alleys and whitewashed houses.
People who stop in at Syros just to change ferries are missing out: Ermoupolis, capital of both the island and the Cyclades group, is a beautiful city whose occupants are busy with things other than tourism, which adds immeasurable workaday charm to the place. It's an affluent, lively place, and its wealth is evident in the many restored neoclassical mansions, marble-paved streets and chic backstreet boutiques. The city's hub is Plateia Miaouli, flanked by palm trees and open-air cafes, and dominated by the magnificent neoclassical town hall. For terrific views of the area, head up to the church of Anastasis, on top of Vrodado Hill.
However, if, like many island-hoppers, you do just pass through Syros, you'll probably get a chance to sample some local treats such as nougat or Turkish delight, as vendors often race aboard ferries in the few minutes between arrival and departure. And if you do decide to stay for a while, you'll discover the island has some lovely tree-lined beaches to visit, including nudist Armeos near the west-coast resort of Galissas.