With its blue-domed churches, turquoise waters and sun-baked skylines, it’s no wonder more than 30 million visitors are set to roll out their beach towels in Greece during 2019.
But how to avoid the crowds? The ferry is the best ally because beyond the flight map lie dozens of lesser-known islands — all within easy reach of the crowded old favourites. So here’s our pick of Greece’s irresistible island understudies …
IF YOU LOVE: KEFALONIA
SWAP FOR: PAXOS
Paxos stretches just three miles wide and seven miles long and is a ‘serene substitute’ to Kefalonia
Ionian idyll Kefalonia is still Greece’s top draw for many, even a quarter of a century after a certain captain and his mandolin first set tourism figures alight. Divert to Paxos, the archipelago’s tiniest flick of land, and a serene substitute stretching just three miles wide and seven miles long awaits.
DON’T MISS: A jaunt to largely untouched isle Antipaxos — home to just 30 people.
BOOK IT: A week’s self-catering stay in August in a one-bedroom villa in the village of Loggos costs £1,049pp, based on two sharing. Includes flights from Gatwick and ferries, call GIC The Villa Collection on 020 8232 9780, gicthevillacollection.com.
IF YOU LOVE: SANTORINI
SWAP FOR: FOLEGANDROS
‘Rocky Folegandros delivers on whitewashed houses, sparkling Aegean waters and deep sunsets’, writes Joanna Tweedy
Santorini’s sugar-cube coastal villages, fringed by cobalt-blue ocean, have been wooing British tourists for decades.
As numbers swell, though, one might be better to jet in and boat straight out. For an hour of breaking waves puts you on possibly the most charming Greek Island you’ve never heard of. Rocky Folegandros delivers on whitewashed houses, sparkling Aegean waters and deep sunsets.
DON’T MISS: A bowl of matsata — hand-made pasta served with rabbit — in medieval Chora.
BOOK IT: Seven nights in a family-run hotel on Folegandros costs £555 pp including flights, departing September 1. Return ferry crossings from £18. Call Hidden Greece on 020 8004 9095, hidden-greece.co.uk.
IF YOU LOVE: CRETE
SWAP FOR: MANI
No ferry required here; a four-hour drive south from the ancient chaos of Athens lands you on the Mani peninsula, a prong of terrain that does rather a good impression of Crete 40 years ago.
There’s history in spades — with stone villages and Byzantine chapels — plus dramatic gorges, deserted coves and the spectacular Diros caves.
DON’T MISS: An awesome view of the Peloponnese, from the lighthouse at Cape Tenaro, Eastern Europe’s southernmost tip.
BOOK IT: Family rooms at the Petra and Fos spa hotel, at the foot of Mount Taygetos, cost from £249 per night in August, petrafoshotel.com. Ryanair flies to Athens from £182, ryanair.com.
IF YOU LOVE: MYKONOS
SWAP FOR: NAXOS
Once a Grecian playground for avant garde party people, Mykonos’s shimmer has been blunted by the arrival of the masses. Pretender to the throne is Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, which is ramping up the cool-o-meter with chic bars, an open-air cinema and Venetian mansions. Santorini — two hours away by boat — is the best route in.
DON’T MISS: Sipping Kitron — Naxos’s lemon liqueur — at the Ocean Beach Club in Chora.
BOOK IT: A family can stay at Villa Paradise resort from £2,760 per week, based on four sharing, villa-paradise.gr. Flights to Santorini with British Airways in August cost from £350, ba.com. Return ferries from Santorini from £40.
IF YOU LOVE: ZANTE
SWAP FOR: SAMOS
Samos is located off the Turkish coast in the north-eastern Aegean. It is known for its Muscat
Zante, also known as Zakynthos, has largely gifted its southern coast to the package holiday market. An understudy to delight? Step forward Samos, off the Turkish coast in the north-eastern Aegean.
DON’T MISS: Nursing a sweet amber wine — Samos is known for its delicious Muscat.
BOOK IT: Stay for a week during peak summer on Samos from £907 pp, based on a family of four sharing a two-bedroom apartment at Vigla Apartments in Ormos. Price includes flights from Gatwick and ferry transfer, call Cachet Travel on 020 8847 8700, cachet-travel.co.uk.
IF YOU LOVE: CORFU
SWAP FOR: SKOPELOS
Smitten by Corfu’s Venetian beauty, but turned off by tacky resort towns? Try making eyes at Skopelos, in the northern Sporades. Just a 15-minute pootle from neighbouring Skiathos docks you on a roomy island with genuine big-screen credentials.
Skopelos served up the backdrop to the Mamma Mia! movie. Somehow, it’s survived Hollywood and remains low-key, with islanders genuinely pleased to see you.
DON’T MISS: Armenopetra, a perfect sweep of beach, spliced by a chink of land, in the north-west.
BOOK IT: Ionian and Aegean Island Holidays offer a week at Villa Aetoma from £2,988 for a family of four during the summer break. Price includes flights and car hire, call 020 8459 0777, ionianislandholidays.com. Return ferries from Skiathos from £22.
IF YOU LOVE: LEFKADA
SWAP FOR: MEGANISSI
Sleepy: Meganissi, above, is 20 minutes away by boat from popular Lefkada
Connected to the mainland via road, Lefkada is now a big hitter. Just 20 minutes away by boat, and not yet weary of visitors bearing suitcases, is sleepy Meganissi. Yachters, weaving in to its harbours, discovered it long ago, but tourism on this three-village island remains a fledgling affair.
DON’T MISS: Northerly Spartochori, a beautiful union of terracotta-roofed houses and cerise bougainvillea.
BOOK IT: Simpson Travel offers seven-night August stays in Villa Taphian on Meganissi from £2,841pp, based on six sharing, and including flights and car hire. Call 020 8003 6557, simpsontravel.com. Return ferries from £15.
IF YOU LOVE: RHODES
SWAP FOR: PAROS
Culture vultures who’ve devoured Rhodes’s sights might enjoy the island of Paros, dubbed the ‘quiet heart of the Cyclades’. Two hours from Santorini by boat, many visitors come just to see 4th-century Byzantine church, Panagia Ekatontapiliani. There’s good kite-surfing, diving and sailing, too.
DON’T MISS: A feast of soupia (cuttlefish) with Ballos, the local ouzo.
BOOK IT: Five nights at five-star Minois Village on Paros cost £1,520 for a family of four, based on August 26 departures. Prices include breakfast and port transfers, visit minois-village.gr. Flights to Santorini with easyJet cost from £339, easyjet.com. Return ferries cost from £43.