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  • Writer's pictureWill Lyons

Get Away! 3 Must Visit Greek Islands

First stop, Aegina. It'll drive you nuts!

Last time we were about to board a ferry from the port of Piraeus. With easy-to-follow signs and your ticket ready on the Ferryhopper app, you're good to go.

So drive on, grab a coffee, and let's get away to 3 must visit Greek islands

Ferry from Piraeus - Photo: Will Lyons

With the app, a whole new world of islands opens up before you. As exciting as being an 8-year-old in front of a Pick n Mix stand, the choice is eclectic. But let's not make it difficult; we'll head for the nearest, yet one of the most stunning islands, Aegina.

They say every Greek island is different, and it's true. But while delivering a familiar Greek aesthetic of blinding whitewash, blue doorways, intriguing alleyways, cats, kittens and wafts of freshly ground coffee and chargrills, Aegina provides all that and more.

Aegina sits in the Saronic Gulf; that name alone fills me with delight. You'll arrive at Souvala, so immediately pick your spot in one of the many tavernas and enjoy the view of the harbourfront, where you'll see a real mêlé of neo-classical buildings, fishing boats, and dazzling, sapphire blue waters.

Aegina Harbour - Photo Credit: Greeka

The thing about Greece is that when you try their authentic food, you begin to really understand why they've become world famous. So let's grab a bag of pistachio nuts from one of the tiny craft shops. Grown all over the island, their taste and texture in such a humble nut is a thing of awe. Magical.

And there's more magic to be found all over the island. Its compact size lets you explore rugged coasts, beachfront bars, tavernas and temples. But stroll around Souvala first. You can explore this picturesque paradise by walking or horse-drawn carriage - if you enjoy the smell of a hot horse.

Photo: Will Lyons

But walking will wind you through the alleyways where "real" shops for locals jumble with those who sell the knickknacks tourists crave. You'll know you're having a good time when you check your watch and say, "Is that the time!" as your serendipitous meanderings make you realise you should find your accommodation.

You don't need to hire a car, but its compact size makes exploring the back roads and gravel tracks that lead to hidden coves and someone's remote backyard easy! Yet you'll be treated with a laugh and a smile. This really is a friendly island.

Taverna Ostria - Photo Will Lyons

It's a seaward-facing island with a hilly, inactive, volcanic interior where the pistachios are grown - "green gold", as they're known. I was surprised by how many eateries were on the beach. The last time I saw that was in Thailand. So while the golden sands caress your toes, whispering tales of relaxation and rejuvenation, you can savour the delicate tang of freshly caught seafood, prepared with love and served with a side of Greek hospitality. Sounds as though they have a great Ethos!

Taverna Ostria - Photo: Will Lyons

Taverna Ostria is where to find this nucleus of food, diamond sparkling azure, and laughing hosts. When I was there as a boy, fishing in a sunny haze, watching splashes of swimmers and a motor yacht on the horizon was a perfect moment. I sat at a table under a swaying palm with my Mythos beer, sweet calamari and a vibrant salad as the ocean lapped my now-pink pedicurist's nightmare.

Best we move on!

Get Away to Samos

Samos is tiny. It sits facing the Turkish coast and is over 150 miles away from Athens. So why have I chosen it as one of my favourites? Apart from having a mooch around Pythagoras' cave! Pine-scented forests abound, fishermen huddle around the port and capital of Vathy, hauling in their daily catch from gin-clear waters, and you're spoilt for choice with dining options.

Vathy town - Photo Credit: TravelWithPedro

I'll be honest: I'm not really a beachy person. But throw in a beach surrounded by woodlands, rocky coves, and white powder sand, and I'm there.

The turquoise waters of Lemonakia Beach create an exotic scene, surrounded by high cliffs with vast vegetation, all in a sheltered bay that makes for perfect swimming. If you want them, it's partly organised with umbrellas and loungers. What you will undoubtedly want is the beach bar providing all the snacks and cold Mythos you could ever need for a relaxing afternoon.

Lemonakia Beach

Soft sand and crystal waters make this beach popular, but it's not bursting like others. It also lies close to Kokkari, an easy-going fishing village with a cluster of pretty terracotta-roofed villas stretching out along the peninsula. At its apex is a tiny harbour with a row of bars and restaurants lapped by the Aegean Sea, all overlooked by the tree-capped peaks of Mount Karvouni.

Kokkari - Photo Credit: Feel Greece

As I say, Samos is unusually green. In contrast to many other Greek islands, the streams in the mountains and valleys flow all year round. The easiest way to sample the verdant flora is to visit the Valley of the Nightingales. Now the word "hike" fills me with dread, so think of this as more of a mooch around the woods at Formby, only better. If you start at Agios Konstantinos, it's only about 1.5 hours. Still, you get sun-dappled paths, rustling leaves and birdsong that will accompany you with every step.

Valley of the Nightingales - Photo Credit: R.Polasek

I've mentioned the 4th-century philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras before. He worked out the earth was a sphere, discovered the planet Venus, and divided the world into the five climate zones we use today. He was also the first to call himself a philosopher ("lover of wisdom") and did all this around 530 BC while working from home. Which was a cave...

Pythagoras Cave - Photo Credit: Hotel Amfilisso

I can barely get out of bed in the morning, so visiting this trailblazer is a unique and enjoyable romp up the eastern side of Mount Kerkis, the highest mountain of the Aegean. Thankfully there's a path, and it's only about 300m long. While it gets a bit steep at the end, providing your knees can take it, you'll be rewarded with a cave, two cute chapels, and a natural spring, where Pythagoras topped up his water bottle!

So is Samos worth a visit? Absolutely. Travel isn't all about the destination, and just like a visit to Santorini, I implore you to do the inbound leg by sea. Take the ferry and treat this trip as a mini-cruise or a lost Shackleton on an 18-30.

Reaching Samoos takes eight hours of being at sea in the open ocean from Athens, but this is why I've shown you the two extremes in terms of distance, with Aegina at only 40 minutes. So while it's worth going all Captain Cook, you may prefer to fly and are in luck. Despite the cost of living crisis, you can fly to Samos with Tui in July with accommodation for just £479 at the time of writing.

There's also somewhere else you could fly to. Tourist hell or heaven? That'll be Zante...

Get Away! - It's called Zakynthos...

That's true, but the Venetians called it Zante and any Lunn Poly travel brochure will tell us it's Zante, so it must be true. But we'll use the Greek name, which only seems fair considering we've sent generations of drunk teenagers to its hotspots of Laganas and Kalamaki.

When I was there, we'd paid buttons to fly and stay in Laganas, which we used as a staging post to get to the mainland for a wedding. It was interesting from an anthropological point of view.

You may have been lucky enough and young enough to go off and enjoy a summer holiday with "the boys" or "the girls", but cheap flights weren't a thing back then. Less so cheap holidays, so when this two-week stay for £479 in Laganas came up, I wondered what it was about.

Zakynthos town - Photo Credit: Plum Guides

Is it wrong to deny these young people their summer break? Am I jealous because my holidays with the lads in my teens were camping in the Lakes and being chased by farmers in the rain? Later it was narrowboat pub crawls in my twenties. However, Zakynthos is big enough to absorb the liberated behaviours of our teenagers and still provide a sophisticated haven for those that want it.

So before transferring to the mainland by ferry, we had a few days to explore the island. And now I understand the reason why many keep coming back. It has a sophistication that I never anticipated and that Venetian influence, with quaint squares and cobbled streets, will make you gasp.

Zakynthos town - Photo Credit: Discover Greece

Bochali suburb - Photo Credit: Welcome to Greece

If you're arriving at the airport to be transferred to a resort, do NOT miss the old town, or its suburb of Bochali, the best spot for sunsets and cocktails.

Now let's head out of town.

Zakynthos is 25 x 12 miles, but its mountainous interior makes getting around take longer. Still, the delightful side effect is that the diverse geography nourishes you with a breathtaking blend of rugged cliffs, golden beaches, and vibrant turquoise waters.

While Aegina & Samos are about being close to sea level, Zakynthos gives you that Santorini vibe because of its hulking cliff topography. The cliffs overlooking the famous Shipwreck Beach (Navagio) are worth a visit, if only just. But definitely more so than visiting the wreck itself. Oversaturated with Instagrammers, I'm sure that tired shipwreck will be gone in a few years, its saving grace being the pristine white shore upon which it rests.

Kampi sunset - Photo Credit: Eurohire

What cannot be missed is the sunset and cliffs at the one-road village of Kampi. Like Santorini, you discover that as the sun begins its descent, it casts a golden glow across the cliff tops surrounding you. You'll see shades of crimson, tangerine, and lavender while a gentle breeze blows over sparkling waves. You will notice the invigorating scent of sea salt mingling with the delicate fragrance of flowers and the wild oregano that clings to the craggy, vertical cliff edges. So pop into Michali's Taverna for that dream sunset and wine experience that only Greece does so brilliantly.

Michali's Taverna

As mentioned, Zakynthos boasts lush green valleys and vineyards, which are well worth a visit, and your views will be framed by majestic mountains, such as Mount Skopos, that offer panoramic vistas and opportunities for hiking (that word again!) and secluded exploration.

Now if you really want wild seclusion, the islets of Strofades, only 70k away, are unknown to most tourists, Greek or foreign. But that's our secret...

Can't get away to the Greek Islands this Summer? Then get away to Ethos, your idyllic Greek Taverna in the heart of Liverpool.

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