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Cycladic Islands

Cycladic Islands Travel Guide

Ios is the party capital of the Cycladics and also the alleged resting-place of the writer, Homer, although no one knows where his burial site actually is. At night, during the high season, the tiny central square of the ‘village’ (real name Hora) becomes an open-air party, filled with young tourists swilling alcohol. Around the square are several popular bars, clubs and discos and throughout the town there are bars and clubs catering for tourists of various nationalities. Of course not everyone who comes to Ios is a party animal and the beautiful beaches of Mylopotas or Koumbaras are an ideal place for soaking up the sun or sleeping off that hangover.

Mykonos is one of the most popular of the islands and its town one of the most beautiful in the Cyclades. Its capitol (also called Hora) is a Vibrant, vivacious labyrinth of winding alleys flanked by whitewashed, stepped walls and houses with wooden doors and brightly coloured balconies. As well as being amongst the most fashionable cities in all of Greece, Hora is filled with historic architecture and has several museums of note. The Paraportiani church with its five chapels in one is considered by many to be an architectural masterpiece. The Our Lady complex of churches on Kastor Hill is a recognised national cultural monument and in the same district you’ll find a row of curious medieval houses, which stand like a wall above the sea. Also of historic and cultural interest are the Archaeological Museum, Folklore Museum and Nautical Museum of the Aegean. Of course Mykonos also has its fair share of beautiful golden beaches including Agios, Stefanos, Psarou and Kalafatis but be warned nudism is widely accepted and on some beaches actually expected.

The largest island of the Cyclades is Naxos. It is a favourite among walkers due to its varied terrain filled with craggy peaks, lush valleys, abundant springs and streams and terraced vineyards. The west coastline is somewhat sheltered and has numerous inlets with sandy beaches and crystal clear water stretching from the capital, Hora, (again) to the south. Here the coastline becomes more abrupt and impressively cliff-lined. Hora is also the islands port and somehow manages successfully to combine tourism with tradition. A large town, it is divided into two historic neighbourhoods, Bourgos and the now largely derelict but still alluring Kastro. To the north of the port on the islet of Palatia, which can be reach by a causeway, stands the unfinished temple of Appollo, Naxos’ most famous landmark. The nightlife here is not as lively as Ios or Mykonos but there are plenty of discos, pubs and late night bars to keep ardent revellers happy until the early hours.

Famous for its white marble, Paros is at the hub of the islands ferry system and therefore makes an ideal central base for dedicated ‘island hoppers’. The third largest of the Cyclades it has recently developed into thriving tourist centre. The island’s capital and port, Parikia stands on the site of an ancient city and here you will find many of the islands most interesting historic buildings including the picturesque ruins of a Venetian castle and the legendary church of Ekatondapiliani - one of the most important Byzantine monuments in the whole of Greece. The island’s prettiest village is Naoussa, with its whitewashed houses, narrow paved alleys, arches and tiny chapels it also has a variety of excellent beaches. At nearby Kolimbithres you’ll find surreal rock formations resembling huge sculptures embedded in the sand.

Legend has it that the lost city of Atlantis is located on the island of Santorini. Widely regarded as the most beautiful of the Cyclades, it is actually what remains of the massive volcanic eruption that is thought to have wiped out the Minoan civilisation. The islands capital, Fira is a magical place. Built in an amphitheatric fashion it is a maze of twisting, narrow streets that lead to ancient marketplaces and picturesque churches. Shopping is a very popular pastime with an unparalleled choice of exquisite handcrafted gold jewellery and local artwork. Here too you can enjoy a truly perfect end to your day as you witness some the most breathtaking sunsets in the world from a Cliffside bar. Away from the bustle of the city on the very tip of the island is Oia. Home to artists and writers from around the world, there is much on offer for the adventurous of spirit, with excellent views to be enjoyed form the spectacular cliff-sides. But above all, Oia is favoured for its overriding air of peace and tranquillity.

One of the least developed of the commercialised Cyclades, but still embracing a reasonably buoyant tourist trade, is Folegandros. An absolute gem of a place, it has survived without becoming overtly touristy due to its thriving fishing and farming communities and as such offers a taste of unspoilt Cycladic experience with all the comforts of a resort island. One of the most alluring of the Cyclades, Folegandros has several good beaches with crystal clear water and a striking landscape. Throughout the island the accommodation is excellent. The main town, The Hora, (yet again) is genuinely enchanting, with windy streets and brilliant white houses perched high on precipitous cliffs overlooking the Aegean. As with many Cycladic towns, the outside walls of the houses in the older area form a fortifying wall. The newer area of The Hora is equally attractive filled with narrow little alleyways, low stonewalls, courtyards, wooden balconies and Aegean-style churches. Here you will also find the islands finest church, the Panagia, which was built on the ancient town wall.

The most southerly of the western Cycladics, Milos is also one of the most interesting historically speaking. It is thought that it was home to a civilization at least as old as that of Crete. A volcanic, horseshoe shaped island it is most famous for the statue of Venus, discovered there in the 19th century, that now stands in the Louvres Museum in Paris. Its capitol, Plaka, stands on a hillside overlooking the sea and is an attractive town filled with cycladic architecture. Here there are several beautiful churches and Archaeological Museum, Historical Museum and Folklore Museum. A mile or so from Plaka are the famous catacombs in the Tripti which are now open to the public and represent one of the most important Early Christian monuments. Also worth visiting is the archaeological site at Apollonia, where the remains of an important Minoan city have been uncovered. Milos is also famed for its caves in particularly the spectacular Papafranga cave near Philakopi and the Kleftiko at the south end of the island.

One of the most beautiful of the Cycladics, Tinos lies between Syros, Andros and Mykonos. A mountainous island covered in marvellous landscapes, superb beaches and distinctive architecture it has gradually become a popular destination and in accordance has developed some excellent tourist facilities. Like Folegrandos, Tinoa has managed to remain largely unspoilt and as such is a favourite with Greek holidaymakers. So if you don’t fancy sharing your holiday with the rest of Western Europe this is the destination you should consider. Its position also makes it ideal for ‘island hopping’ but there is plenty of interest to be found on the island. The islands long tradition for painting and sculpture and evidence of this can be found throughout the islands in the numerous museums and galleries. But by far the most perceptible characteristic of Tinos is its wonderful atmosphere, at once both dramatic and serene it has an otherworldly quality and gives one a feeling of stepping back in time.

People who have seen Luc Besson’s feature film, The Big Blue, will already be familiar with the dramatically rugged island of Amorgos. Originally a favourite destination for travellers who enjoyed its laid back atmosphere, it now draws crowds or tourists during the high season but still remains ideal place to get away from it all off season. This oblong island is barren and mountainous its coastline a mixture of steep rocky overhangs and quiet shady coves. Prehistoric ruins are scattered everywhere making the whole island a huge fascinating open air archaeological museum. To the north east of the capitol (you’ve guessed it), Hora is the Byzantine monastery of Our Lady ‘Panagia Hozoviotissa’, one of the most important monuments of its kind. The island’s second port, Egiala, a picturesque village is actually made up of three little hamlets and it is here that you will find the best beaches. Although facilities for visitors are limited, Amorgos has a special beauty all of its own making even a short trip worthwhile.

One of the least visited of all the Cyclades, at first glance Anafi looks like little more than than an isolated rock in the oceon. There is little in the way of tourist facilities but a trip to this beautiful little island can be a rewarding experience. It is certainly an ancient place and legend has it that the Argonauts once took refuge from a storm there. Places of historic interest include the 18th century monastery of Our Lady ‘Kalamiotssa’, the Venetian castle near Hora (honest) and the church of St Athanasius. But the main attractions on Anafi are the unspoilt, deserted beaches, which may be sandy or pebbly but are always lapped by warm, crystal-clear water.

The second largest of the islands, Andros is a favourite destination for rich Athenians on long vacations. Its landscape is unique amongst the Cyclades consisting of successive mountain ranges separated by gorges and ravines. There are also three large and fertile valleys filled with olive, fig and citrus groves along with vineyards that produce the islands famous local wine. The island’s namesake capital is a very attractive town filled with steep narrow alleys lined with arcades, fine churches and wonderful neoclassical mansions. Here you will find the islands most important monuments, the Catsle and Our Lady the Palatiana as well as several excellent museums and galleries the most important of which is the Archaeological Museum that contains finds from the Geometric, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. The island’s main resort is Batsi a small amphitheatrically shaped village with nice sandy beaches and good tourist facilities.

Tucked away between Naxos and Amorgos is the ‘lesser Cycladic’, Koufonissia, a popular spot with ‘island hoppers’. In reality it is two islands separated by a 200 metre strait. In spite of its size Koufonissia has quite a lively atmosphere with several good tavernas and cafes and some excellent food on sale. In fact during the high season it becomes one big open-air party with young visitors eating, drinking and carousing in the main village square until the early hours. The big attractions at Kuofonissia are its beaches a variety of great golden stretches of sand and glorious secluded coves.

Sifnos is a quiet, hilly island in the western Cyclades with plenty of quite beaches and unspoilt countryside. It has a variety of interesting vastly different inland villages and the excellent bus service makes practically the entire island accessible during your stay. The main port of Kamares is a fascinating, bustling village situated in a sheltered cove overlooked by hills. The busy waterfront is a pleasant location to while away a few hours eating and drinking at one of the friendly tavernas and makes a perfect antidote to big city life. Another lovely spot is the hilltop capitol of Apollonia. Actually comprised of six pretty whitewashed villages the town has an pleasant town centre with jewellery and clothes shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and an interesting Museum of Popular Art. A little over six miles south of Appollonia is the islands main resort Playts Gialos, which has long sandy beaches and a relaxing friendly atmosphere.

Sifnos’ nearest neighbour, Serifos is a barren rocky island, which, besides tomatoes and vine cultivation, remains virtually unspoilt. Its port Livaldi is at the top end of a long bay with the Island’s striking looking capital, Hora (really!), clinging to a crag above. Livaldi is a compact unpretentious town with simple tavernas selling tasty food that overlook the bustling port and tamerisk line beach. About a mile and a half to the east is the magnificent beach of Psilli Ammos with its wonderful stretch of soft white sand and 2 excellent tavernas it is a truly idyllic location.

Situated in the centre of the archipelago is its most heavily inhabited island, Syros. Its main town Ermoupolis is also the administrative capital of the whole of the Cyclades Not only is it one of the wealthiest towns in the Cycldes it is also one of the most interesting filled with grand neo-classical style buildings. Its main edifice is the massive town hall situated in the central square surrounded by busy cafes. Ermoupolis’ crowning glory is its waterfront, a breathtaking harbour surrounded by brilliant white buildings that seemingly rise from the sea into the distant hills of Ano Syros with its medieval town of Vrontado. The town has a thriving nightlife with abundant restaurants, music bars, buzukia clubs and discos. Syros also has its fair share of beautiful beaches amongst the very best are Bari, megas Gialos, Agathopes, Alchadi, Varvarousa and Azolimno. Because the island does not depend on tourism it retains much of its former grandeur and offers some of the very best facilites for visitors in the Cyclades.

Tucked between Ios and Milos is the remote island of Sikinos. It is one of the most secluded Greek islands you could wish to find. Its main village is the port of Alopronia a small pleasant place with two or three tavernas and an immaculate beach. The main places to visit are the monastery of Zoodochou Pigis an imposing castle built onto of a precipitous crag with truly incredible views to be enjoyed. The Church of Anagriri with its double bell tower is typical of cycladic architecture with its gleaming white exterior and simplicity of its decoration. Although entertainment is limited the island has a scattering of friendly bars and picturesque coffee shops. The locals are down to earth and warm-hearted. They like tourists and will strive to make sure that anyone who visits has a pleasing comfortable stay.

The small but mountainous island of Kythnos lies between Kea and Serifos and is an place of unexpected peacefulness. The interior is pretty much bare except for occasional burst of colour created by vines and fig trees. The island’s capitol Messaria is noted for the beautiful churches containing splendid wooden carvings and icons. At the village of Flambouria stands the Church of Panagia Flambouriani and according to local legend there are still traces of the Virgin’s steps all the way from the church to the beach. Another beautiful church is to be found at Kithnos. The dome shaped Agia Triada is built of basilica and is believed to be the oldest church on the island. The coastline of Kythnos is wonderful. Made up of countless small gulfs that keep the sea calm the best are to be found at Meriha, Loutra, Agios Stefanos, Skylou, Kolona and Pagnia Kanala. Anyone looking for nightlife should head for Mercha and Loutra where there are plenty of bars and taverns that stay open until the early hours.

The small, uninhabited island of Delos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. It is also the sacred island of the Cyclades as it is the mythical birthplace of the twin gods Apollo and Artemis and staying overnight there is forbidden. Of particular interest is the site around the Theatre Quarter, where the wealthy people of ancient Delos built their houses. The most lavish houses are House of Dionysos where the courtyard contains a magnificent mosaic of the god of wine riding a panther, and House of Cleopatra where headless statues of the owners were found. There are abundant remains of places of worship including the wonderfully named Sanctuaries of the Foreign Gods and Sanctuary of the Syrian Gods where you’ll find the remains of a theatre where audiences watched ritual orgies. The most impressive attraction is The Sanctuary of Apollo, which contains temples dedicated to the God. Here also is the site of the famous Terrace of Lions, magnificent marble carvings presented as offerings to Delos in the 7th century BC to guard the sacred area. Delos is a wonderful day out and a great way to discover the legends behind the magic of the Cyclades.

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