Surrounded by mint-green sea, the Cyclades are home to amazing natural sites, mountainous areas, huge rugged coastlines, the sights and sounds of ancient harbours and timeless sunsets, meaning you can enjoy this gentle, soothing lifestyle to your heart's content.
The Cyclades have a totally unique charm. This string of 56 differently-sized islands (and many islets) forms a circle on the Aegean Sea, dotted along the water from the east coast of the main Greek peninsula towards Crete. Although the Cyclades may look only a short hop away from each other on a map, they each have their own distinct identity. The 24 inhabited Cyclades around Delos, the sacred island whose mythology gave birth to Artemis and Apollo, form a kaleidoscope of landscapes.
It's easy to choose your personal Pantheon and your own little paradise. Choose between romantic Santorini, exclusive Sifnos, hedonistic Mykonos or the wild beauty of Amorgos. Wonder at the way the light plays on the silvery surface of the waves, creating a link between the islands. Follow winding paths with wandering goats to iconic white windmills framed against blue sky. Watch sirtaki dancers performing arabesques, drink cool ouzo at sunset and indulge in fresh Mediterranean food while soaking up the euphoric atmosphere and carefree energy of Greek island life. Time to start the Cyclades island hopping adventure.
Most mornings the sea is as smooth as a silver mirror. Head out from Aliki for a stroll in the island's most beautiful coves, coloured in shades of lapis lazuli. At Piso Beach, enjoy an aperitif on the sofas at Thalassamou before dining under the trees overlooking the sea.
Located in the heart of the Paros archipelago, the centre of Cycladic civilisation, the island is known for its marble and beaches. Bounded by golden sand and crystal-clear waters, there's a beach for everyone here, whether you want wild or kitted out with everything you need for a day in the sunshine; trendy or intimate; clothed or nudist; sporty or laidback. The island is particularly loved by windsurfers who worship the Etesian winds (dry north winds) during the summer months, but also by night owls who meet at the Fortis Art Café in Naoussa, while early risers prefer the terrace of the Taverna Karina. On Paros, everyone does what they like.
Watch as a ferry enters the port of Kamares like in a scene from a film. It's moving in slow motion, slower than the walkers alongside it, giving passengers time to take in the sight before them, as residents lean out from their windows. At barely 45 square miles in size, Sifnos is among the most authentic of the possible destinations on any Cycladic island hopping holiday, with miles of walls criss-crossing the interior. It's also one of the most popular among the Athenian middle classes, who go there to get back to nature. In the villages of Vathi, Artemonas or Kastro, the small square houses with clay chimneys have been restored, and a few nice hotels have sprung up. However, there are just enough of them without it becoming overcrowded. In short, Sifnos is the height of casual chic.
The statue of the Venus de Milo, sitting in the Louvre in Paris, seems to be looking longingly towards her home island. Created sometime around 100 BC on Milos and discovered there in the 1820s, the Venus (or more correctly, given her Greek provenance, Aphrodite) would still today recognise her Hellenic hideaway of mountain villages and picturesque little harbours. Klima, the best place to go for dazzling sunset views, owes its beauty to the fishing houses which have been carved into the rock there, and decorated with colourful wooden doors, known as syrmata. At the top of the hill, the village of Kastro features the ruins of 18th century houses and stunning views. But above all, Milos' reputation is built on its beaches, some of which are perfectly crescent-shaped, with fine sand that varies in colour from gold to grey, red and white, thanks to the island's volcanic beginnings.
The largest island in the archipelago, Naxos is like a piece of Greek countryside floating in the sea. With its charming harbours, sunny hamlets, dazzling and almost deserted beaches, this is the most mainland Greek of all the Cyclades, and imbued with myth (Dionysos taught the art of winemaking here). It's a total treat to drive or walk through this fertile mountainous land, with its impressive rock formations and beautiful green valleys planted with olive trees, vineyards and lemon trees. In the inland villages, narrow streets spiral, flying ribbons hang from the doors of shaded shops, men chat amongst themselves, sitting on straw chairs on the pavements while children run and play.
Lying to the south-east of the Cyclades archipelago, like a shield protecting it from invaders, Amorgos delights in its splendid isolation. With its chalky cliffs contrasting against the deep colour of the sea surrounding it, Amorgos feels very private and attracts nature lovers to its beautiful trails punctuated by ruins, dry stone walls and dizzying panoramas across the hills. Picturesque villages like Chora, Katapola, Vroutsi, Tholaria sit alongside Venetian castles and tiny Byzantine chapels. The island, which was where the free-diving film The Big Blue was filmed has become a favourite for yoga lovers.
Nonchalantly sitting on deep sofas on the terraces of trendy bars at eight o'clock in the evening, the island's young crowd sip on iced coffees, a prerequisite for the long night ahead. The DJs are starting to warm up their turntables, and Mykonos is waking up. Whether on Paradise Beach, where everyone parties in their swimsuits, at Jackie O’ in town, at Astra, one of the island's famous spots, at Interni, where you start off eating a meal and end up dancing on the tables, or on Nammos Beach in Psarou, where the hardcore clubbers and the night owls converge, the whole of Mykonos goes out dancing. However, this paradise full of sun, sea, parties and glamour is not just for jet setters. Mykonos may come alive at night, but visitors can spend their days making memories too, admiring the ruins on Delos, swimming at Aghios Stefanos beach, touring the Tourliani monastery and diving at Psarou Beach.
Take the ferry the night before from Piraeus, and in the morning the island appears on the horizon like some sort of surreal vision. Formed by the collapse of a volcano in the Aegean Sea, Santorini is the ultimate Cycladic dream, with its steep black cliffs and white houses breaking up the azure sky like foam on the crest of a wave. Wrapped around a crater, Santorini offers stunning panoramic views of the horizon, providing the perfect setting for infinity pools and candlelit dinners at the island's charming hotels. The views over the caldera are mesmerising, with an endless zig zag of boats and ferries of all shapes and sizes serenely navigating the waters. In the evening, the whole island meets on balconies and terraces to marvel at the sunset. At twilight, the sea is becalmed, becoming a lake of bronze. One by one, the pools light up, turquoise confetti illuminating the shadows. After a day's stroll through the caves or fertile vineyards dusted with a fine pumice (which gives Santorini wines their special taste), the night begins. One of the most beautiful settings in the world, each of the Cyclades offers its own special kind of magic.