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Cyclades islands (Mykonos, Santorini, etc.), Greece

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Did You Know…?

  • The name Cyclades, meaning Circular Islands, reflects the fact the archipelago encircles sacred Delos.
  • The island of Ios is said to be the burial place for the poet Homer.
  • Santorini’s caldera measures 12.3 square miles and up to 1,300 feet below sea level.
  • The ancient sculpture, “Venus de Milo,” was found in 1820 on the island of Milos.
  • The Aegean cat, the only cat breed native to Greece, originated from the Cycladic islands.

The Circular Islands

Greece’s Cycladic islands sit in the Aegean Sea southeast of mainland Greece and are accessible via ferries, cruise ships and scheduled air services. They are notable for barren and rugged landscapes, sandy beaches, white cube houses, windmills and countless churches.

Mykonos and Santorini are the best known among international travelers.

Mykonos is a party island that also boasts lots of churches, a wide scope for water sports and the most photographed windmills outside of Holland. Party central is an 18th century district called Alefkantra but dubbed Little Venice because of the way its houses and their balconies hang over the water.

Santorini won its star status by being blown half to bits 3,600 years ago. The eruption left a grand caldera filled with seawater — it’s where cruise ships drop anchor — and Santorini remains an active volcano.

One side of the caldera is a crescent-shaped cliff with Fira, Santorini’s capital, and other settlements at its top. Visitors ascend this forbidding wall on foot, by motorcoach or in a tram. In a disappointing instance of animal abuse, donkey rides are offered, too, but are best avoided.

Once on top, the views and landscape are just as dramatic. The village of Oia, with its houses and windmills wrapping one end of the cliff, is a stunner and a key reason Santorini is considered the most romantic of the Cyclades.

There are countless other Cycladic islands to consider, with only a sampling listed here.

  • Delos, considered sacred in antiquity. The entire, now-uninhabited island is the Archaeological Museum of Delos, where visitors see remains of houses, mosaics, temples and a theater. Delos is accessible by boat from Mykonos.
  • Milos, the other active volcano in the Cyclades, where a variety of landscapes provide potential for a wide range of activities. Attractions include a castle in Milos Town and Apollonia, a lovely fishing village.
  • Paros, site of nice beaches and a lively nightlife, but also a good base from which to take ferries to other islands. Attractions include a 13th century Venetian citadel, the Church of 100 Doors (a pilgrimage site dating from the fourth century) and the fishing village of Naoussa.

Things to do for Venturers

  • On windy Mykonos, choose a beach for windsurfing. Options include Ammos, Ftelia, Korfos and Meyali, plus Kalafatis, where surfing lessons are available.
  • Make Santorini’s Jazz Festival your excuse to visit the island.
  • Diving is a rewarding option on several islands (including dives into the Santorini caldera), but there are limits, too, because of a desire to protect underwater archaeological sites from theft.
  • Pursue a long night’s entertainment in Little Venice on Mykonos. The island’s nightlife is tops, but it can be outrageous, too. Alternatively, the island of Ios offers its own version of wild, with all-night spots that attract the young crowd.
  • Enjoy one of the nude beaches on Mykonos.
  • Charter a boat for a week’s sailing among the Cycladic islands. The area provides a challenging sail due to the Meltemi winds, northerly winds that channel between the Islands.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Do your bird-watching on Kea, an island with lots of variety: steep mountains, valleys, olive groves, vineyards, picturesque coves and beaches, as well as the largest oak forest in the Cyclades.
  • Devote some time to Delos, now uninhabited but sacred to the ancient Greeks. See the monuments and impressive mosaics at this archaeological site.
  • Hike the eight-mile clifftop path from Fira to Oia on Santorini. Then, watch the famed sunset in Oia.
  • Make Paros your base as it gives handy access to other islands. On Paros, there’s a good beach for sailboarding. On the nearby Antiparos, Paros’ other half, the snorkeling is good.
  • Bathe in hot springs and sulfurous mud on Palea Kameni, one of two volcanic islets most often visited on boat trips across Santorini’s caldera. At its sister islet, Nea Kameni, walk around the rim of its crater. At night, dine at a restaurant overlooking the caldera.
  • Make good use of the hiking trails and the beaches on Naxos, the largest Cycladic island and a former Venetian possession, as is obvious from the architecture.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Schedule museum time to avoid the midday sun. The islands boast archaeological, folklore and maritime museums, among others. Santorini’s Folklore Museum occupies a restored cave dwelling.
  • Order traditional foods associated with specific islands. On Santorini, these include white eggplant, plus a fresh goat cheese called hloro tyrí. On Mykonos, kopanisti, a soft cheese seasoned with pepper, is the trademark.
  • Try the local wines on any island that has vineyards.
  • Satisfy your inner archaeologist at Akrotiri, a Minoan city destroyed when Santorini erupted around 3,600 years ago. Also, visit Santorini’s Hellenistic ruins of Ancient Thira.
  • Be a serious tourist on Mykonos, wandering the narrow winding streets of Mykonos Town, visiting (however briefly) Little Venice for the high-energy vibes, exploring the Folklore Museum, photographing the island’s windmills and seeking out Panayia Paraportiani, the most-noted among hundreds of churches.
  • Carry big memory cards for photos of picturesque landscapes, villages and windmills throughout the archipelago.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Greek National Tourism Organization at www.visitgreece.gr