By Susie Holden
The Cyclades islands, located south of Greece in the Aegean Sea, are absolutely stunning. When most people think of the words “island paradise” it’s typically Hawaii and the South Pacific that spring to mind, but the Cyclades definitely deserve this accolade too. It isn’t just us that think that, Travel and Leisure recently voted Santorini as the best island in the world! You cannot get much better than that. There are plenty of things to see and do on the islands, and some truly memorable places to stay as well.
The Cyclades are part of the Aegean archipelago, which collectively comprises an astonishing number of islands – more than three thousand in total – in half a dozen clusters. The islands have been inhabited since before the Bronze Age, and archaeological evidence indicates that people first lived in the area around 5000 BCE. Ancient ruins still stand in many locations over the island group; one notable example is the amphitheatre and temple ruins on the island of Delos, an island that is of huge significance in terms of its role in Ancient Greek mythology and history – the island was both a holy sanctuary, and is known as the mythical birthplace of the twins Artemis and Apollo.
Getting to and Getting around in the Cyclades
The Cyclades might be slightly off the beaten path – most tourists tend to stick with mainland Greece rather than venturing offshore, or visit the better-known island of Naxos – but they’re well worth seeing. This island group is quite extensive, made up of approximately 220 separate islands of various sizes. Only a few of the largest, totaling two dozen or so, are inhabited, including Amorgos, Delos, Mykonos, Naxos, Sifnos, Santorini, and Syros, where Hermoupolis, the capital of the Aegean region, is located. Collectively, around 120,000 people live on the Cyclades islands. With their quiet and peaceful atmosphere and gorgeous scenery, the Cyclades are the perfect place to stop and spend some time while travelling around the Mediterranean. It’s easy to fly to most major cities in Greece, including Athens, Rhodes, Crete, and Corfu; the closest city to the Cyclades island group is Athens, and from there, a flight to the island of Mykonos or one of the other larger islands is the next stage of the journey. From the major islands, a hydrofoil or ferry trip will get you to the smaller inhabited islands in the Cyclades group.
For the most part, you can travel between the inhabited islands by boat; in some instances – as in the trip from Athens to Mykonos or Santorini – air travel is also available. When traveling between islands, it really is all about the journey just as much as it is the destination; traveling inter-island via ferry can be a trip of two or three hours. Every minute is well-spent, however, because this part of the world is simply beautiful. Car rentals and bus services can be found on most of the larger Cyclades islands, but without an advance booking it’s not easy to locate taxis during the busy tourist season. With most of the inhabited islands being quite small, it’s a great opportunity to travel via bicycle or motorbike and enjoy the unique opportunities afforded by this mode of travel – more time to enjoy the scenery, and a chance to benefit from a more relaxed pace, with the advantage of traveling faster than you would on foot.
Relaxing on Santorini Island
To many people who visit the Cyclades, Santorini is the ‘jewel in the crown.’ All of the islands in the Aegean have their own special brand of beauty, but there are some that are truly spectacular, and Santorini is definitely one of them. From the sandy beaches and crystal-clear turquoise colored waters, and the incredible gleaming white of the cityscape, to the wide blue sky, every second spent here is a feast for the eyes.
There’s so much to explore on Santorini, it’s easy to spend an entire vacation here and be completely satisfied without ever leaving the island. Beaches of smooth volcanic rock, and sands of red, black, or white, are perfect for relaxing and soaking up the sun. The larger cities and towns – Fira, Imerovigli, Firostefani, and Oia – are the places to go for tasting the best the Cyclades islands have to offer, including fresh local food, a distinctive goat cheese known as hloro tyri, and wine made from grapes grown in the island’s volcanic soil. There are several wineries on the island, many of which are open to visitors for tasting sessions, with vintages such as Assyrtiko, Aidana, and Mavrotragano ready and waiting for the connoisseur to sample. In the evenings, there are taverns to visit and perhaps enjoy another glass of local wine, or simply relax and enjoy the sunsets that are legendary all over the world for their incredible beauty.