WE ARE TWO MARRIED COUPLES IN OUR 60S PLANNING TO EXPLORE THE GREEK ISLANDS FOR 2-3 WEEKS IN SEPTEMBER 2015, FIRST TIMERS. WHAT ISLANDS WOULD YOU SUGGEST? SHOULD WE FLY BETWEEN THE ISLANDS OR TAKE FAST FERRIES? WE COULD RENT A CAR AND DRIVE AROUND ANY ISLANDS YOU SUGGEST. CAN WE LEAVE THE BULK OF OUR LUGGAGE IN ATHENS AND TRAVEL LIGHT AROUND THE ISLANDS?
F. MCINTOSH, ROSEBERRY
The Cyclades are the attention grabbers and for first-time visitors they're a happy introduction to the Greek Islands, almost guaranteed to bring you back for more. You could fly from Athens to Santorini, the most southerly of the Cyclades, then take ferries through other islands in the group back to the mainland.
Santorini is a bucket-list destination, the most surreal, exhilarating, spectacular and perhaps the most un-Greek of all the Greek islands. It has no olive groves, no classical temples and no harbours with prancing fishing boats. What it does have is a wild, weird, supernatural landscape of stony fields, rearing red cliffs and black-sand beaches that testify to the violence of the volcanic explosion that wrenched the island apart in about 1450 B.C.
The other Cycladics set the tone for the Greek Islands, each another rearrangement of olive groves, whiskery men on donkeys and whitewashed houses curled around a glossy blue seafront.
Gorgeous little Mykonos is the Cinderella of the Aegean. In the main town sugar-cube houses are hung with tottering wooden balconies and photogenically overlooked by windmills. Throughout July and August Mykonos is party central but by September the fires should have cooled and there are plenty of less raucous options in the Cyclades.
Just off Mykonos, Delos is two square kilometres of outdoor museum piled with temples, altars and statues. To the south is Naxos, largest and greenest of the Cyclades. Rising from the harbour of the capital, another Naxos, a warren of streets seeps through the medieval town to a Venetian fortress. By local standards the terraced interior of the island is an oasis, lushly watered and quilted with olive groves, vineyards and giant fig trees so ancient that they have burst open, and provided the villagers with a convenient niche in which to install roadside shrines.
You certainly could hire a car and explore but see how you feel when you're there, there is no real need to make this decision in advance.
You should be able to arrange with your Athens hotel to leave some luggage and travel light around the islands.
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