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Within easy reach of Athens, the Cyclades islands are the Aegean’s most precious gems, so-called by ancient Greek geographers because they saw that they formed a circle of sorts around the sacred island of Delos.
Like the Greek flag, the colours of the Cyclades islands are blue and white and they come in all sizes. And though the ingredients are the same – incomparable light, translucent water, heavenly beaches, lustrous white buildings and bare rock – each has a distinct character. The group’s stars, Mykonos and Santorini, need no introduction but the lesser-known islands, big and small, are just as rewarding.
There’s aristocratic Syros, cosmopolitan Paros, the sculptors’ paradise of Tinos, bountiful Naxos, exotic Milos and historic Delos … not to mention the hidden gems of Tzia/Kea, Kythnos, Sifnos, Serifos, Amorgos, Sikinos, Anafi and Folegandros. So whether you’re travelling with family or friends, you’re bound to find your summer paradise in the sun among the Cyclades islands.
What’s your idea of the perfect beach? Green-blue water and white sand? Beach bars and water sports? Framed by rocks for snorkelling and scuba diving? A secret Aegean cove accessible only on foot or by boat? You’ll find it in the Cyclades islands. First stop… the legendary beaches of Mykonos, with their extra-golden sand, green-blue water and 5-star facilities: Paradise, Super Paradise, Psarou and Elia, all ranking amongst top beaches worldwide.
Next come the beaches of volcanic Milos, with their range of colours and rock formations, such as at Sarakiniko and Kleftiko, and Santorini’s black-and-red beaches like Kamari, Perissa and Perivolo, revealing the wild side of the Cyclades in Greece. Small Serifos is ringed with beaches, while rugged Amorgos can claim the ‘Big Blue’ at Agia Anna beach, where Luc Besson shot his seminal movie about testing the limits of man.
Andros’ ‘secret’ sandy beaches, like Ahla and Grias and Pidima, win rave reviews for being extra photogenic, as does Tinos for the round boulders at Livada and the enormous dune at Pachia Ammos (Fat Sand). For getting away from it all, tiny Polyegos (between Kimolos and Milos) and the Small Cyclades, near Naxos, offer unexplored destinations of raw beauty.
Thousands of years of civilisation evolved here in the Cyclades, much of it visible in local archaeological sites and museums. You’ll see its mystique encapsulated on the whole island of Delos and within Santorini’s Akrotiri, the Minoan Pompei. It is also present in the two colossal horizontal statues lying on Naxos and in Kea’s ancient Karthaia. Virtually every island of the Cyclades has at least one ancient ruin.
While beautiful, typically Cycladic churches exist on every island, the most visited are the 19th-century Panagia in Tinos, the early-Byzantine Ekatontapyliani on Paros, and the 11th-century Hozoviotissa Monastery on Amorgos. The best museums to visit are Santorini’s Prehistoric Thera Museum, Andros’ Contemporary Art and Archaeology Museum, the Industrial Museum in Syros’ Ermoupoli, Amorgos’ Archaeology Museum, Milos’ museums of Mining and Archaeology (with a copy of the famous Venus de Milo), Tinos’ Museum of Marble Crafts at Pyrgos and the Archaeology and Venetian museums on Naxos.
Known for the iconic blues and whites of their villages and beautiful beaches, the Cyclades islands also deserve worldwide fame for their crystalline waters and rugged shorelines. From the private coves of the Small Cyclades, to wind & kitesurfing on Paros, and fun-filled water sports, there are options for everyone. On land, discover the well-marked hiking trails of Tinos and other islands like Amorgos, Syros and Andros. They cross rugged landscapes made all the more enchanting by castles, chapels, ruined towers and temples shrouded in the mysteries of the ages.
Every island in the Cyclades specialises in a local treat with the distinctive flavour of the Aegean. Santorini’s volcanic soil produces exceptional wines and extra delicious small tomatoes, capers and white aubergines (grown without water). On the other Cyclades islands, look out for wonderful cheeses from the dairies and farms of Mykonos (like spicy kopanisti and xinotyro) or Naxos’ arseniko and San Michali on Tinos, Paros and Syros.
Culinary stars are also the rich omelette called froutalia on Tinos and Andros, sausages and cured pork fillet (louza) on Mykonos and Tinos, chickpeas cooked in a clay pot on Sifnos, and sweets like pasteli (sesame bars) and amygdalota (crushed almond shortbread) found through the island chain. All the islands distil their version of firewater, but Tinos’ raki is thought to be more refined and lighter, while on Amorgos they drink rakomelo, raki mixed with honey.
When the sun dives behind the tiny island of Thirassia, find your perfect spot on Santorini to experience the majesty of the caldera from Fira and Oia villages.
You’ll already have seen the most iconic sights of Mykonos before visiting, especially cosmopolitan Hora, with its cobbled alleys, iconic windmills and wave-lashed Little Venice.
Stately Ermoupoli is one of the most regal settlements in the Cyclades. Along with neoclassical buildings, it is famous for Syros’ Apollo Theatre, a miniature of La Scala in Milan.
Andros was the home of many of Greece’s best-known captains and ship-owners. Walk the main town to get a glimpse of the neoclassical buildings, which blend harmoniously with the medieval architecture.
The steep cubist Hora of Serifos, built amphitheatrically on the top of an arid hill, is one of Greece’s most beautiful island towns. Stroll through the alleys and discover the ruins of the Venetian castle.
Milos’ Plaka is a picturesque village of whitewashed houses with azure doors and pink bougainvillea. This is the perfect place to try a strong Greek coffee and chat with the locals.
The Volax plateau on Tinos, with its giant granite boulders, is a unique village that has stimulated the imagination of visitors thanks to its lunar scenery.
Humble but mesmerising, the unspoilt villages of Tholaria and Langada is the ideal place for those who seek serenity and inspiration. Try the local delicacies at a taverna and experience the hospitality of the locals.
In the heart of the Aegean, Paros is an island that combines the modern with the traditional. If you are a romantic soul, you should visit the little port of Naoussa, while adventurers should go hiking to the mountain villages of Lefkes, Marpissa and Prodromos.
The Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, southeast of mainland Greece. They are famous for their whitewashed houses and chapels with blue-coloured domes.
Cyclades derives from the Greek word for circle, referring to the distribution of the islands around the sacred island of Delos. According to Greek mythology, the god Apollo and the goddess Artemis were born on Delos.
A number of the Cyclades islands have airports, including Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Milos and Skyros. They can all be reached from Athens and some have international arrivals.
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