The southwestern corner of the Peloponnese has many boons, from the peninsula's loveliest beaches to old Venetian towns, impressive castles and even an underwater park in the making. Messinia’s boundaries were established in 371 BC following the defeat of Sparta by the Thebans at the Battle of Leuctra.
Paros rests nonchalantly in the shadows of the limelight. Long tagged as primarily a ferry hub, its stylish capital, fashionable resort towns and sweet rural villages are all the more charming for their (relative) lack of crowds or tourist kudos. For holidaymakers looking for Mykonos without the hype and the price tag, this might just be the spot. And word is spreading.
The largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefallonia is a place where it's easy to lose yourself, surrounded by air thick with oleander and the bells of wandering goats. Lush, mountainous and blessed with wild meadows, vineyards and secret coves lapped by water bluer than a supermodel's iris, Kefallonia has it all.
The Argolis peninsula, which separates the Saronic and Argolic Gulfs, is steeped in legend and history. The town of Argos, from which the region takes its name, is thought to be the longest continually inhabited town in Greece. Argolis was the seat of power of the Mycenaean empire that ruled Greece from 1600 to 1100 BC.
Santorini’s main town of Fira is a vibrant, bustling place, its caldera edge layered with hotels, cave apartments, infinity pools and swish restaurants, all backed by a warren of narrow streets full of shops and even more bars and restaurants. A multitude of fellow admirers cannot diminish the impact of Fira’s stupendous landscape.
Rethymno’s southern coast is bookended by the resort towns of Plakias and Agia Galini, which are linked by a string of marvellously isolated beaches, including the famous palm beach at Preveli. Massive summertime winds have spared the area from the tourism excesses that typify the northern coast.
Hora has the colour and bustle you'd expect of the island's port and capital. Settled on the west coast, the old town is a tangle of steep footpaths and is divided into two historic Venetian neighbourhoods: Bourgos, where the Greeks lived, and the hilltop Kastro, where the Roman Catholics lived. Despite being fairly large, Hora can still be easily managed on foot.
The popular Halkidiki Peninsula has three tendrils stretching into the Aegean Sea. Kassandra and Sithonia draw crowds to their blissful beaches and growing adventure travel scene. Meanwhile Athos is the mysterious monks' republic. Being closest to Thessaloniki, Kassandra is more built up with better nightlife (though it has good beaches, too).
The Pelion Peninsula lies to the east and south of Volos. It's formed by a dramatic mountain range, where the highest peak is Mt Pliassidi (1651m). The largely inaccessible eastern flank consists of high cliffs that plunge into the sea. The gentler western flank coils around the Pagasitikos Gulf.
Skiathos is blessed with some of the Aegean’s most beautiful beaches, so it’s little wonder that in July and August the island can fill up with sun-starved northern Europeans, as prices soar and rooms dwindle. Skiathos Town, the island’s major settlement and port, lies on the southeast coast.
Celebrated for its wild mountains and gas-blue coves, this long craggy island is among the least commercialised in Greece. Legend has it Prometheus and his Titans were born here, and with its cloud-wrapped villages and rugged beauty, there’s still something undeniably primal in the air.