Evia (eh-vih-ah), Greece’s second-largest island after Crete, offers glorious mountain roads, challenging treks, major archaeological finds and many uncrowded beaches. A north–south mountainous spine divides the island’s eastern cliffs from the gentler and resort-friendly west coast. Ferries link the island to the mainland, along with two bridges at Halkida.
Ios’ image has long been linked to holiday sun, sea and sex, with a reputation for nonstop booze-fuelled partying. It’s partly true: there’s no denying that from June to August the island is the much-loved stomping ground of youth and hedonism. But it’s so much more – if you want it to be – and be assured, the partying doesn’t infiltrate every village, or every beach.
For its small size, Parikia packs a punch. Its labyrinthine old town is pristine and filled with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. You’ll also find a handful of impressive archaeological sites, a waterfront crammed with tavernas and bars, first-class midrange accommodation, and sandy stretches of beach – particularly popular is Livadia, a short walk north of town.
Volcanic Milos arches around a central caldera and is ringed with dramatic coastal landscapes of colourful and surreal rock formations. The island’s most celebrated export, the iconic Venus de Milo, is far away in the Louvre, but dozens of beaches (the most of any Cycladic island) and a series of picturesque villages contribute to its current, compelling, attractions.
Ever since the national road along the northern coast opened in 1972, the coast between Iraklio and Malia has seen a frenzy of unbridled development, particularly in the seaside towns of Hersonisos and Malia. Hotels deal almost exclusively with package-tour operators who block-book hotel rooms months in advance.
Lefkada (or Lefkas) is ringed by electric-blue water, and shimmers with wild olive groves and the spear-shaped forms of cypress trees. Despite being connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway it feels in places distinctly untamed by the tourism footprint, whose developed enclaves tend to be on the east coast.
Alonnisos rises from the sea in a mountain of greenery, with thick stands of aleppo pine and kermes oak, mastic and arbutus bushes, vineyards, olive and fruit trees, all threaded with perfumy patches of wild oregano, sage and thyme. The west and north coasts are steep and rocky, but the east coast is speckled with small bays and pebble-and-sand beaches.
Hora, Ormos and Mylopotas
Ios’ four main centres sit nearly on top of one another on the west coast. The port, Ormos, is lined with tavernas and cafes and stretches out into sandy Gialos Beach, backed by beach bars. Just 2km uphill (or 1.2km up a stone staircase) sits the capital of Hora, a stunning traditional village and the nightlife hub.
Zakynthos, also known by its Italian name, Zante, battles against heavy package tourism along its eastern and southeast coasts. Beneath the kiss-me-quick types zipping around on quad bikes it's a beautiful island – you just have to make a determined beeline to western and central regions of forested mountains dropping off to unreal turquoise waters to leave them behind.
Skopelos is a handsome island of pine forests, vineyards, olive groves, and orchards of plums and almonds, which find their way into many local dishes. Like neighbouring island Skiathos, the high cliffs of the northwest coast are exposed, while the sheltered southeast coast harbours several sand-and-pebble beaches.
Once you clear the resort strip, the coastline east of Rethymno is indented and pockmarked with watery caves and isolated coves that are accessible only by boat. The chief resorts along the northern coast are Bali and Panormo, both good bases for exploring the villages in the Mt Psiloritis foothills, such as Axos and Anogia.
Heading north to Naoussa takes you through lush farmland; Naoussa itself has been transformed from a quiet fishing village into an increasingly stylish resort. Perched on the shores of the large Plastira Bay, there are good beaches nearby, excellent restaurants and an ever-expanding number of stylish beachside hotels, cafes and bars.