Which Greek Island Are You?
Why your choice of Hellenic holiday hot spot reveals more than you think
Depending on which geographical survey you trust and which particular topographical measurement criteria you favour, Greece has somewhere between 1,200 and 6,000 islands, 227 of which are inhabited. They’re split up into groups: the Argo-Saronic Islands in the Saronic Gulf near Athens; the Cyclades in the central part of the Aegean Sea; the North Aegean islands, off the west coast of Turkey; the Dodecanese, between Crete and Turkey; the Sporades; and the Ionian Islands. Which means literally thousands of white sand beaches and turquoise seas, range after range of spectacular mountains and hundreds of cute tavernas and beach bars where you can luxuriate in ouzo, souvlakia and the peerless summer staple – Greek salad.
There is a Greek island for everyone: Naxos, Thasos and Kefalonia have beautiful beaches, Hydra and Symi are blessed with impossibly romantic harbours, Samos, Sifnos and Skopelos are great for hiking, Santorini is one of many perfect honeymoon islands. Fashionable Mykonos is, of course, a party island. “Happy is the man, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea,” wrote Nikos Kazantzakis in his novel Zorba The Greek.
Greece is back on the map, as we declared last month. The question is: which island are you?
Every summer, the well-heeled hedonism of Mykonos challenges the banging Balearic jewel of Ibiza for party bragging rights. And the most gilded, sun-kissed of superstar guest lists. It’s not really a fair fight – Mykonos is a more boutique experience than the super-clubbed, Mr David Guetta-fabulous Ibiza. More white jeans than the White Isle. David, the (un)happily single, Margiela-wearing Mykonos man, works in fashion and travels with his actress friend Demelza since his short-lived marriage to Brad the PR guru didn’t work out. He takes a sunlounger and sushi lunch at Nammos beach club on Psarou Beach. You’ll find him at sundown sipping a negroni at JackieO’ Bar as the drag show rages by the pool. In the evening, he puts on a Gucci palm-print shirt and Missoni sandals for a raucous, taverna style, table-top dancing dinner at Sea Satin Market with Athens’ elite. He says hi to Mr Mark Ronson. He knows Ms Naomi Campbell’s favourite tipple. And every August, he swears he’s found his Mr Right. He’s inevitably named Stavros.
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An Instagram-happy, honeymooners’ delight, the gorgeous spectacle of Santorini’s flooded caldera (volcanic crater) has been the million-dollar money-shot backdrop for many a newlyweds’ photo album. Young, loved-up couples come to this tiny 90sq km island because it’s a languorous South Aegean antidote to the endless party of Mykonos. On Santorini there is little in the way of hedonism and not much else for newly hitched personal-trainer-to-the-stars Greg and his Swedish model spouse to do except for stare at the view and gaze longingly into one another’s rainbow-mirrored Ray-Bans. So they avoid the snap-happy Japanese tourists and stay at the Grace Santorini, a swanky honeymoon hotel that clings to the cliffside and offers infinity views from the infinity pool, not to mention endless photo ops. Kaftans, big straw hats and oversized earrings for the bride; tailored shorts, linen trousers and pastel polo shirts for the groom. They wander the cobbled streets of Imerovigli village hoping to bump into Mr Gerard Piqué and his wife Shakira. They know they’d get on famously.
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Divorced, 45-year-old, Tod’s driving-shoe-sporting dad Martin avoids the temptations of Thassos’ rowdy bouzouki bars and charters a yacht instead. He takes his two young sons – both bored, both glued to their iPads – touring around the 24km-long island. They visit the Drakotrypa cave named after its dragon-shaped stalactites and stalagmites, and visit the cave with the ancient figure of Pan – the Greek goat god – carved out in stone. Seafaring papa starts off in sleek and cool sea-mode, all knitted polos and the latest upscale Italian windcheaters; but as the week wears on and his wind tan deepens, he is increasingly salty, unshaven and cavalier with his shirt buttons, à la Mr Ralph Fiennes in A Bigger Splash. Suddenly, the bars at lively Chrissi Ammoudia (Golden Beach) prove too tempting. He drops anchor and checks into a family room at the Four Seasons Hotel at Glikadi. Night kids.
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Digital media couple and their young family need to rent a 4x4 to get the best out of the largest of Greece’s Sporades islands. But there aren’t any on this speck of land with no airport. Tom’s at home in his shades (they’re the same brand and shape as his work specs) and the panama’s an original, from a gap year spent in Latin America 20 years ago. Ms Digital (she launched a kidswear brand on Instagram) is in her linen and poplin Toast summer dresses. Each day she suggests a visit to the Agios Ionnis chapel where they filmed the wedding in Mamma Mia! (she wants to shoot her latest designs there). But every day they wind up in an alfresco, harbour-side lunch in Skopelos town instead. They hire a villa and rent a motorboat from Panormos Beach and explore the otherwise inaccessible coves and bays at Hovolo, Ftelia and Neraki, where the children are thrilled to spot some German naturists. “Tomorrow, we have go to the Mamma Mia! chapel,” she says at dinner. Tomorrow, the boat leaves for Skiathos airport at 7.45am, he thinks.
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The small island of Symi is not an official “Blue Zone” – one of those mythical, National Geographic-endorsed world regions (eg, nearby Ikaria) where residents commonly enjoy active lives well into their nineties and beyond. With a life expectancy way above average, Symi is a bona fide “longevity hot spot”. Yoga teacher Tariq is only 28 and strictly vegan (when in London), but he is delighted to discover Symi’s laid-back, off-grid lifestyle and its youth elixir diet of bulgur wheat, caper leaves, olives and baked aubergines. He’ll even try the local Symi delicacy of flash-fried baby shrimps after a couple of ouzos. Better still, the pretty colours of the harbour match his sarong. Every morning Tariq rolls out his Nike training mat at The Old Markets, the island’s only boutique hotel, and takes taxi boats to the translucent water and white pebbles of secret beaches at Ayios Yorgos Disalonas and Marathounda. At the Tholos taverna on the harbourside, his Nike recovery roller bar trips up Mr Jeremy Irons. Mr Irons looks good for 68 – must be the Symi effect.
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Woo-hoo! The vertiginous cliffs and spectacular white-sand beaches of Ionian Zakynthos confirm its status as a flyboarding, subwinging and parachuting GoPro nirvana. Navagio on the north-western part of the island is a base-jumping destination par excellence. Aerial tourist Kris (think Mr Ashton Kutcher meets Mr Johnny Knoxville) is in drone heaven on Zakynthos. He has the latest GoPro Hero5 camera with the head strap, and has a profound suntan mark from the chest harness. Kris’s GoPro memory is full of shipwreck-spotting trips, Blue Cave excursions and turtle-spotting adventures. He prefers to call Zakynthos by its shorter, more hashtag-friendly “Zante” handle. Which doesn't exactly endear him to the owner of his favourite taverna.
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Equipped with Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX hiking boots and an impressively lush beard, ursine, outdoorsy Oliver likes to visit Crete in September when the excoriating heat and the beach-buffeting meltemi winds have passed over. He flies to Chania on the rugged north-west of the island – blue sea on one side of the Venetian-influenced town, snow-capped mountain peaks on the other. At Kissamos, Oliver takes on the tough 10-mile hike down the Samaria Gorge, soaring with Lammergeier vultures and golden eagles. But it’s the ascent of Mount Ida, the tallest of Crete’s White Mountains range and home to the Ideon Cave, birthplace of Zeus, where he’ll achieve his true holiday high.
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Actually, not Skorpios itself but a titchy islet next door, just about big enough (and deep enough) to anchor a megayacht and land a chopper. Silicon Valley-based tech entrepreneur Chad did originally want to buy Skorpios back in 2013, but he got gazumped by the then 24-year-old Ms Ekaterina Rybolovleva, daughter of business magnate Mr Dmitry Rybolovlev, who was willing to pay more than £100m. Why was there such a fierce bidding war? (Mr Giorgio Armani and Mr Bill Gates were also rumoured to be making offers.) This is the Greek island where shipping magnate Mr Aristotle Onassis married Ms Jackie Kennedy. Still, he is happy to accept an invite to any private island in the Ionian. His NBF and neighbour, former Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has already snapped up six of them, including Oxia, for €8.5m. Summer here is all about simple pleasures – fellow billionaires dropping in for dinner by helicopter; private performances by Mr Calvin Harris; black cod flown in from Alaska. He plans to farm his own. Just as soon as he bags that island.
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