We’re all longing for our first great escape to a Mediterranean beach, and few destinations are as enduringly enticing as the Greek Islands. Some of the most glorious Greek retreats are to be found in the Cyclades Islands. Susie Marquis, founder of TLTB, shares her pick of six of the most magical islands, attractions, and experiences for luxury villa holidays in the Cyclades.
Escape to the Greek Cyclades Islands
Just thinking of the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea, immediately conjures up a vision of white and blue ‘sugar-cube' houses, blue-domed churches, and picturesque narrow streets with pots of geraniums and bougainvillea vines – and is surely a very tempting summer holiday destination after such a cold and restrictive winter. The more accessible Cyclades islands (in terms of direct flights) including Mykonos, Santorini, and Paros, where we have a large selection of beautiful villas, will always be very popular - but we are also focusing on some of the quieter islands, which might be most appealing for travellers this summer.
We are very encouraged by the recent announcement by the Greek Tourist Office that Greece will be welcoming visitors this summer, with proof of vaccination, or a negative PCR test result on arrival. We can’t imagine anything lovelier than relaxing on a beach on a Greek island and we hope the following examples of islands, villas, and local activities you can enjoy will whet your appetite!
The island of Naxos offers everything you could wish for on a Greek island, including miles of white sand beaches, pretty villages, and a fascinating history, dating back to 4000-1000 BC, witnessed by the many remains of ancient castles, temples, statues, and churches. Naxos is also known for its culinary delights, with its fresh food products, including fish, vegetables and fruit, honey, and a good selection of local cheeses. Visitors can also enjoy the fine local Naxos wine, and the island’s renowned citron liqueurs – after all, Naxos is the alleged birthplace of Dionysus, the ancient God of Wine! To get to Naxos from the UK, take a flight to Athens and then a domestic flight directly to Naxos or the ferry. Or, you can fly to Paros, Santorini, or Mykonos and then take a short ferry ride to Naxos.
The historic Old Town of Naxos, with its meandering alleys and stairways, and character-filled old mansions, is a delight to wander around and explore, as are the Venetian Castle and Archaeological Museum. To the front of the ancient Castle, the beautiful port and its promenade stretch along the seafront, lined with tempting local tavernas. A short walk from the promenade leads to the Portara, a huge ancient marble doorway (from the temple of Apollo) on the islet of Palatia, which is linked to the port by a causeway - and an awe-inspiring place to watch the sunset after dining on the seafront. A sunset walking tour with a guide is a also great way to learn more about the history of the island.
Villa Agios Prokopios
A lovely traditional-style property, Villa Agios Prokopios sits in a peaceful location, yet just 700m from the famous beach of Agios Prokopios, with its white sand and crystal clear waters. Guests at the villa can relax and admire the sea views from the furnished verandas, swim in the private pool, and enjoy meals on the outdoor dining terrace with a barbecue. Surrounding this peaceful oasis is a fabulous mature garden with vineyards, lemon trees, flowers, and a vegetable and herb garden.
Situated in an elevated position in a quiet area in the south-west of Naxos, Villa Orkos also benefits from sea views and is just 230m from Orkos beach, with its clear water, white sand, and cedar trees providing shade. Constructed in local stone, the villa is on three floors, with a large veranda on the ground floor overlooking the swimming pool terrace. On the first and second floors, there are also terraces overlooking the garden and sea, where guests can relax and admire the views - while enjoying a carefully selected bottle of wine from the villa’s cellar!
Magical experiences in Naxos
Recommended experiences we can book for villa guests, include a half-day cooking class at a local taverna in Potamia, a traditional village 10 km from Naxos town, where you can enjoy local wine, and the meals you have prepared. Or a choice of Cycladic island sailing cruises - to secluded bays, or full-day trips to Mykonos and Delos, Paros, or Santorini.
Situated at the heart of the Cyclades islands, Syros is accessed via a 35-minute flight, or 3.5-hour ferry trip, from Athens. Syros is also an ideal base for island hopping, with Mykonos, Tinos, Santorini, and Paros all an easy ferry ride away. Syros also has the advantage, for those looking for a quieter destination, of having fewer summer crowds. The island is divided by its natural topography into two parts, with the north offering a wild natural landscape, with hiking trails and pretty traditional country villages, while the south has charming coastal villages and beaches. The countryside of Syros is also great for cycling, and there are bicycle rentals available on the island.
Syros is a mix of Cycladic and Venetian architecture, witnessed on arrival at the island’s impressive capital and ferry port, Ermoupoli, with its pastel-coloured houses, seemingly cascading down Ermoupoli hill. With a fascinating history and culture, the lively main square of Ermoupoli is home to both the impressive neoclassical Town Hall and the famous Apollo Theatre, the latter built in the 19th century as a smaller version of the famed La Scala in Milan. Syros is also known for its cultural events, including the Aegean Festival, the Classical Festival, and the Jazz Festival, and Film and Animation Festivals, as well asa cinema showingfilms all year-round. Visitors will also want to explore the charming town of Ano Syros, also on a hillside overlooking the sea, just 3 km from Ermoupoli.
The island’s coastline is fringed with beautiful beaches, the most popular of which are located on the southern side of the island, also home to Villa Syros. Perfect for a summer escape, this beautiful villa is situated 20 minutes south of Ermoupoli, right on the coast, with direct access to a private beach and dock. It’s also just 6 minutes from Megos Gialos, 8 minutes from Poseidonia, and 15 minutes from Galissa – all offering sandy beaches, and tavernas. Sleeping up to 16 -18 guests in luxurious accommodation, the villa offers sensational sea views from its multi-level terraces.
Having spent many happy holidays on the larger island of Paros, it was relatively recently that we discovered the little gem of Antiparos. The main town here, with its quaint narrow streets, white-washed alleys, overhanging bougainvillea vines, houses with blue doors, and even a Venetian castle as its historic centre, epitomises all the beauty and charm you would expect to find on an idyllic small Greek island. Moreover, the island is so compact that you won’t need to hire a car, as you can get everywhere within the town, as well as to many nearby beaches, on foot, or by hiring a bicycle.
The island is popular for its sandy beaches, including Panagia beach near the town, Soros, about 8 km away from the town, and Sifneiko beach – the latter accessed via a path from the main town square, and a particularly beautiful place to enjoy the sunset. The southern part of the island also offers sea caves and secret coves, which can be enjoyed by taking a speedboat tour,which includes time to swim in the turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon, between Paros and Antiparos, and then to explore the sea caves. Lunch is also included at Agios Georgios bay on Antiparos.
Antiparos can be reached directly by regular car ferry (every 30 minutes from dawn until after midnight) in just 8 minutes from Pounta in the south of Paros, enabling visitors to dine out in Paros and return to Antiparos for the night, or vice versa. During the summer, there is also a ferry for foot passengers from the main port of Paros, which takes about 30 minutes, as well as a regular bus service between the main port and Pounta port.
One of our villas to rent here is Villa Antiparos, 3 km from Antiparos town, and just steps away from a sandy beach. Beautiful sea views can be enjoyed from both inside the villa, and on the large terrace with a swimming pool and sunny and shaded areas for relaxing outdoors.
It is also worth thinking of spending time on the larger island of Paros, if you have time for a longer two-centre holiday, to enjoy the benefits of both islands. One of our favourite spots on Paros is the beautiful and picturesque fishing village of Naoussa with its stone-paved streets, white-washed houses, and bougainvillea vines. There is also a very pretty port with colourful fishing boats and, a great choice of tavernas, bars, and restaurants – and we have a choice of over 30 villas to rent on Paros.
The island of Sifnos is relatively untouched by tourism, compared with other islands in the Cyclades. Its appeal is very much for those looking for a traditional island with white sand beaches, quiet villages, churches and monasteries, and excellent Greek cuisine. Travel to Sifnos is via a flight to Athens, and then a ferry from the port of Piraeus. However, there are also ferry connections between Sifnos and other Cyclades islands, including Folegandros, Ios, Syros, Santorini, Milos, and Paros. The island’s capital, Apollonia is a beautiful town with narrow streets, and white-washed houses built in the shape of an amphitheatre over three hills.
Sifnos has a well-deserved reputation for having some of the best food in the Cyclades, with excellent tavernas offering fresh fish and other local delicacies. The herbs that grow all over the island are used to flavour its dishes, and its Greek oregano is considered among the best in the world. The island also offers a unique local, spicy cheese made from sheep and goat milk. Delicious local wine and ouzo are also produced locally. If you’re interested in learning more about the cuisine on the island, you can visit Narlis Farm, a local farm producing organic vegetables, herbs, fruit, and cheese. They also have a small cooking school, where you can also partake in cooking lessons and a ceramic workshop in one of the farm buildings. Sifnos is very well known for its pottery, and there are a large number of pottery shops and workshops on the island producing both traditional style and modern pottery, which tourists are welcome to visit.
The island offers more than 100 km of professionally marked hiking trails, for those interested in exploring Sifnos on foot, which is a great way to see both the inland and the coast. Or if you prefer to explore by water, Sifnos Cruises will take you to uninhabited beaches and hidden bays inaccessible by land, with lunch prepared on board, included. During your stay on Sifnos, don’t miss these four beautiful highlights on the island, which we recommend doing by guided tour: the stunning Chrisοpigi Monastеry, dating back to the 17th Century, on a rocky peninsula in the south of the island, the medieval walled village of Kastro, with its archaeological museum, the picturesque traditional village of Artemonas and Apollonia, the island’s capital.
The 8-bedroom villa we feature, Villa Vathiis on the south-west of the island, just 300m from the beach and the picturesque fishing village of Vathi. The area is home to one of the most important archaeological sites of Sifnos. The accommodation at Villa Vathi is in three buildings, including access to a hamman and gym. The property also has a private seawater swimming pool, a tennis court, and a children’s playground. Sea sports equipment is available for guests.
The island of Kea is one of the easier Cyclades islands to access, as it can be reached via a 60-minute boat ride from Lavrio, a port on the mainland, about 30 minutes south of Athens airport. The island features a mix of mountainous terrain, valleys, picturesque coves and beaches, oak and almond trees, orchards, olive groves, and vineyards. Kea also has a fascinating history dating back to the prehistoric settlement of Kefala, on the northwest coast of the island, around the end of the 4th millennium.
With a system of walking trails connecting the island’s capital, Ioulis, to off-the-beaten-track beaches, beautiful terrain, spectacular views, and archaeological sites, the island is ideal for those who love hiking and trekking. Kea has a footpath network of a total length of 81 km, many of which are stone-paved and easy to walk. The footpaths were originally part of an ancient road network that, in the 7th - 6th century B.C. connected the various cities/states. Depending on how much time you have, walks can be planned to take in sea views, oak forests, fields of flowers, ancient churches and lovely beaches. Moreover, on every path, you will find wooden signs with practical information about each route.
The beautiful ancient town, and capital of Ioulis, sits inland on the slopes of two hills, with views to the Aegean Sea. Being pedestrianized, it’s a delight to walk around and enjoy the beautiful squares, cobbled streets, arched passageways, and traditional tavernas. The town is also home to the island’s Archaeological Museum, one of the most important museums in the Cyclades, with unique finds from excavations on the island, dating from the Neolithic period. Within the old Kastro (castle) of the town, are the remains of Venetian walls, and an Acropolis, as well as the monastery of Panagia Kastriani, which sits on a rock promontory with stunning views. A visit to Karthaia is another amazing experience, on the south-eastern part of the island, with its historic fortifications and beautiful sea views. Pisses village, 11km from Ioulis, is also known for its historic remains, and worth a visit for its beautiful sunsets.
Swimming, snorkelling and diving on Kea are popular activities, including the reef off Koundouraki, one of the island’s top diving spots. Dives can be made from here to view the HMHS Britannic, which was sunk in 1916, and discovered by Jacques Cousteau in 1975. Alternatively, hire a boat and explore the secluded coves and beaches of Kea.
On the south-west coast of the island, about 15 km south-west of Ioulis, is the village of Koundouros, and home to one of our villas, Villa Koundouros. Koundouros beach is just a 5-minute drive away, and the villa also benefits from direct access to the sandy beach of Varkakia. From its lovely position, appearing to be almost carved within the rocks of Koundouros, and with unobstructed sea views, the villa is minimalist in style, with details of natural rock, wood, and stone. Guests will enjoy the spacious indoor and outdoor areas and a huge infinity pool with chlorinated seawater. The villa accommodates up to 6-8 people, with accommodation in the main house and two separate guest houses. Watersports can be arranged at the beach.
We also offer many more beautiful villas to rent in our other Greek island locations:
Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Crete, Corfu, Paxos, Zakynthos