Greece has so many idyllic beaches, bays and coves, it’s almost impossible to choose between them – but we’ve given it our very best shot…
Akrotiri, Santorini: For Unforgettable Sunsets
Santorini has become world famous for its dramatic sunsets – but with this notoriety has come the inevitable deluge of selfie-snapping tourists. Oia is probably the most beautiful place on the island to watch the sunset, but you’ll need to secure a spot a few hours before the main event. Our hot tip is head to the lighthouse near Akrotiri (known simply as “Faros”), where you might be lucky enough not to encounter anyone else. There are no cruise ships cluttering the skyline, and the views are to die for.
Skafi Beach, Tilos: For Bird Watchers
The diminutive, unspoilt island of Tilos (a short ferry ride from Rhodes) has started to make a name for itself with eco-tourists and ornithologists in recent years. In 1993 a ban was introduced to stop bird-hunting here, and numbers have since flourished – so much so that, in 2009, the island was awarded a EuroNatur prize for its exemplary protection of migratory birds. There are some 155 species on the island, and those to watch out for include the red-backed shrike, the marsh warbler and Eleonora’s falcons. There are 650 pairs of the latter here – which is 10 per cent of the world’s population – and the best time to visit is from July to October during breeding season.
Pylos, Kalamata: For Surfers
Known for its sheltered coves, turquoise waters and perfect beaches, Greece is not usually regarded as a surfers’ paradise. But the little port town of Pylos, just west of Kalamata, is emerging as an unlikely surf hotspot. Sure, it doesn’t offer the rip-roaring barrels of Hawaii or California, but it does have decent breaks and a growing boho surf vibe that’s making waves with the locals. Head to Voidokilia bay for some of the best breaks.
Navagio Beach, Zante: For Instagram Addicts
“Shipwreck beach” is without doubt one of Greece’s most iconic – a pleasing slick of white sand surrounded by dramatic silver cliffs and lapping blue sea. But what really ensures its Instagram-worthy status is the gigantic shipwreck in the middle of the sand. In 1980 a freighter suspected to be carrying smuggled goods was pursued by the Greek navy into the Ionian Sea. The chase came to an abrupt end when the ship hit stormy weather to the north of the island, then ran aground here. No contraband goods were ever found (so don’t bother looking!), but the story of the boat will make your trip to this gorgeous beach memorable indeed.
Massouri and Armeos, Kalymnos: For Adrenaline Junkies
Craggy Kalymnos, near Kos, has never really made a name for itself as a fly-and-flop destination. But over the past few years it’s used its lack of pristine sandy beaches and abundance of dramatic topography to reinvent itself as a destination for thrill-seeking travellers. Diving, caving, hiking and spelunking are all big here, but the real draw is the island’s limestone cliffs. Climbing options are available for all ages/abilities (see climbkalymnos.com), and the prime areas are Massouri and Armeos on the northwest coast, with hundreds of routes to choose from. The best times to go are spring and autumn, and there’s a climbing festival held every here October.
Kastri Beach, Skopelos: For Lovers
When feel-good musical Mamma Mia! was conceived, the production team spent ages working out where to set the story. After considering London, Sweden and Italy, they settled upon the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi: a place with endless summer days, a laidback lifestyle, and a hint of romance. Skiathos and neighbouring Skopelos were chosen as the main filming locations. The small chapel of Agios Ioannis Prodromos, perched 100m above Skopelos’ Kastri beach, was where Amanda Seyfried’s wedding was shot – it’s also where Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan had a teary showdown to the strains of The Winner Takes It All. It’s the perfect spot for that special moment for two.
Platys Gialos, Sifnos: For Foodies
If you’ve never heard of Nikolaos Tselementes (1878-1958), think of him as a Greek Delia Smith; the country’s original master chef and author of its first modern cookbook. Tselementes was born on the tiny island of Sifnos in the Cyclades (near Mykonos), where inquisitive gourmands should travel if they want to try some of the delicacies in his book. And for such a small island (population 900, give or take), there are plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from. Our suggestion is to head to Platys Gialos, where you can pull up a stool at bright and breezy Omega3 (apparently a favourite of Tom Hanks) and tuck into squid tempura or octopus carpaccio. Or a few doors down you could order Greek salad with mizithra (a local cheese) and chickpea fritters (one of Nikolaos’ favourites) at Nero & Alati. And for fresh, healthy Greek flavours with a modern twist, try the fried cauliflower with date syrup and smoked aubergine with tahini at Maiolica.
Scorpios, Mykonos: For Late-night Parties
Pinch yourself: a night at Scorpios may feel like a surreal combination of Made In Chelsea and Californian hippy festival Burning Man, but trust us, it’s all real. Less flashy and more laidback than nearby Nammos (see below), this hedonistic beach bar/club/luxury lifestyle commune is situated on a rocky peninsula on the south of the island. The nightly rituals commence at sundown with feathery head-dressed drummers performing around campfires, followed by DJs spinning all kinds of tunes. Kick off your shoes, grab a mescal cocktail and show your best moves on the sandy dancefloor. scorpiosmykonos.com
Nammos, Psarou Beach, Mykonos: For All-out Luxury
Nammos is where wealthy Athenians come to flash the cash (Cristal at £100,000 a pop, anyone?), and since opening in 2003, it has become one of the most famous beach clubs in Europe. Put on your slinkiest bikini (or pick up a Missoni kaftan at the on-site boutique) and shimmy your way in – although you don’t have to be a squillionaire to come here. There are some affordable dishes on the menu (tip: it’s easier to bag a table at lunch than dinner), and it’s cheaper still to order snacks direct to your sunloungers. Loungers cost around £35 per day, but it’s worth it for chill-out tunes and the best people-watching on the island – which says a lot on Mykonos. nammos.gr
Oasis Beach Bar, Kallithea Beach, Rhodes: For Secret Daytime Parties
Mykonos doesn’t have the monopoly on all the cool bars and clubs. Rhodes has shaken up its image since the 1990s, and there are plenty of alternative party spots here. Oasis Beach Bar, about 5 km from Kallithea in the north, is neatly tucked away in an old stone quarry. When the temperatures rise you can lounge about on brightly coloured Moroccan cushions in the shade, sipping ice-cold beer, and then dance with abandon on the sand to funky Latin music as the sun goes down. You won’t see ads for the bar in town, so just follow the signs for Oasis beach.
Almyros Beach, Agios Nikolaos, Crete: For Families
Looking for a resort that will satisfy everyone’s needs? Agios Nikolaos (or Ag Nik as it’s affectionately known), with its bottle-green lake and pastel-coloured houses overlooking the glittering sea, has it all – whether you’ve got teens or toddlers in tow. Charming waterfront tavernas, winding cobbled streets with upscale boutiques, and chic bars are definite highlights, but the very best bit? There are five fantastic beaches to choose from, all just a stroll away. If you’re travelling with a young family, sheltered Almyros is our pick of the bunch. Stretching for 7 km along the coast, it’s a short walk from town, and easily accessible from the buggy-friendly waterfront path. Wonderfully sheltered with a gently sloping beach, it boasts shallow waters that are perfect for little ones to splash around in. Almyros also has all the conveniences a travelling family needs: kiosks selling ice creams and drinks; sunloungers and umbrellas (it’s £7 for two loungers and a brolly); toilet and shower blocks; watersports and a small playpark with swings and slides.
Trapezaki Beach, Kefalonia: For Water Babies
Stand-up paddleboarding has arrived in Kefalonia, but if your balance (like ours) is squiffy to say the least, you’d be better off sticking with kayaking. Not that it’s the lesser option, mind – with almost 300 miles of coastline and hundreds of beaches, there’s no better way to explore than by boat. For around £55, Sea Kayaking Kefalonia offers a day trip from Agia Pelagia to Trapezaki over crystal-clear Ionian waters, paddling through the sea caves, past colourful villages, stopping off at the tiny islet of Dias (with a hike to the chapel at the top) and enjoying ample time lazing about at picturesque Trapezaki beach. seakayakingkefalonia-greece.com
Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia: For Movie Lovers
If Louis de Bernières 1994 novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin put Kefalonia on the map, the £45 million blockbuster movie starring Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz released in 2001 elevated it to one of Greece’s must-visit destinations. Much of the filming took place in the northeastern corner, and two of the most memorable scenes were shot at Myrtos beach with its 2.5 km-long arc of white pebbles that cuts into a sheer cliff. One features Corelli (Cage) leading his comrades in a chorus of O Dolci Mani from Puccini’s Tosca; the other, filmed from the cliff-top, sees Corelli getting to grips with an unexploded mine.
Sarakiniko, Milos: For Underwater Adventures
The island of Milos, just north of Crete, offers phenomenal snorkelling and diving opportunities, with a chance to come face to face with a whole host of fish, dolphins – even monk seals. Sarakiniko is probably the best spot for snorkelling on the whole island, thanks to its smooth white rocks, which form a long, narrow inlet – the perfect place for the family to safely put on their flippers. For the more adventurous, 100m out to sea there’s a half-submerged shipwreck that teems with marine life.
Myrtiotissa, Corfu: For Literary Buffs
British novelist Lawrence Durrell fell for Corfu’s “delectable landscape” back in the 1930s, describing cliff-backed Myrtiotissa as “perhaps the loveliest beach in the world”. It certainly deserves the detour to Corfu’s northwest coast. There are actually three small but perfectly formed beaches tucked beneath steep cliffs here. On the far left, this diamond-shaped lozenge of golden sand might be the prettiest, but it’s also the island’s most famous nudist beach.
Source: Thomas Cook Travel. Words: Claire Bennie. Illustrations: Sarah Dennis