Island hopping in unexplored Greece
Greece is getting set to welcome back tourists. While that means the likes of Crete, Corfu and Rhodes will likely see thousands of excited visitors return to its shores, for more adventurous travelers it offers the chance to check out some of the country's best unexplored islands.
Thanks to the success of a plan to vaccinate the populations of its smallest islands, Greece has made these often overlooked destinations the perfect alternative for an off-the-beaten track break. With quarantine-free travel available to EU citizens who have been vaccinated or can show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, now is the time to start planning your trip. Here’s our pick of the five best unexplored Greek islands.
Just 2km from the coast of Turkey, but some 125km east of Rhodes, Kastellorizo is Greece’s most remote island. What’s more, its 500 residents have all been vaccinated, meaning it’s grabbed headlines as Europe’s first ‘Covid free’ destination. All arrivals must undergo a rapid test, but once complete there’s a chance to see one of Greece’s most unspoilt islands up close. The main town’s picturesque harbor is worth lingering over, before checking out its impressive Archaeological Museum and the Castello Rosso, which gave the island its name. Best of all, the quiet beaches and azure waters are perfect for snorkeling, with fascinating shipwrecks beneath the lapping waves.
Just a few hundred meters off the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, Elafonisos’s emerald seas and spectacular beaches have made it the go to for tourists looking for some Greek summer sun without the crowds. Connecting the Fragko and Sarakiniko peninsulas, Simos beach is the best on the island, a sweep of sand that’s perfect for a long day spent sunbathing, swimming and eating local seafood. The vaccine program here has been rapid, meaning that it’s one of the safest places for a holiday in Greece this year. The island has a long history and was at the heart of the wars between the Athenians and Spartans. If you want to feel steeped in Greece’s past while enjoying its renowned hospitality, then Elafonisos is the place to be.
In the northern Dodecanese, Patmos has long been a stop off for smaller cruise liners, its passengers drawn in by the Cave of the Apocalypse, where St John is believed to have written the Book of Revelation. The towering, fortress-like 11th century monastery is also a big attraction, its high walls overlooking the main town of Hora. The pretty backstreets of the town are perfect for a quiet stroll, while the nearby beaches make Patmos the perfect destination for a laidback break. The main stretch of sand in the town of Skala is backed with small tavernas serving up squid and other local delicacies, perfect after a long swim in the warm waters of the bay.
Lipsi, just a short boat ride east of Patmos, has not had a single case of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Its entire population has had a first dose of vaccine too, meaning it’s primed to attract the tourists it needs to thrive. Criss crossed by hiking trails and blessed with beautiful, unspoilt beaches, it’s an island full of rustic charm. For a chance to experience Greek island life like it used to be, Lipsi should be top of your list. With a 17th century monastery and spectacular churches, it will also satisfy any history buffs looking to head to this corner of the Mediterranean.
Close to Rhodes, Symi is known for the neoclassical buildings which seem to tumble down the hill of Gialos harbor, greeting arriving ferry passengers. Once ruled by the Italians, Symi has a very different look to other classically Greek islands. A visit here is all about exploring the streets of Gialos, sailing between beaches, swimming in the Aegean Sea and eating some of the best food in Greece. The island has been at the forefront of the country’s vaccination program, making it a great stop off this summer.