The Best Last-Minute Destinations in Greece: Volume I

2017 will likely be a record year for tourism in Greece, but even if you haven't booked yet, you can still find places to stay in these great destinations.


Samothraki - Nature Lover's Delight

Located in the northeastern Aegean, Samothraki (also known as Samothrace) has some truly fairytale landscapes not normally associated with Greek islands – most notably the Fonias Gorge with its waterfalls and plunge pools that you can swim in all summer long. Walk along the gorge under lush trees accompanied by colorful dragonflies flitting about. Higher up the mountain the Springs of Fonias are a bit harder to get to but also offer magical swims under waterfalls surrounded by rocks so smooth they form natural waterslides. Boats take visitors to the more remote (and beautiful) beaches and it is not uncommon to spot dolphins along the way. Devotees to the island (many of whom eschew rooms for the natural delights of camping) say it has a unique energy apparent not only in its unique landscape, but in the incredible food as well (the local goat is said to be unparalleled).

Pilio – where the mountain meets the sea

Roughly a four-hour drive from Athens and located near the city of Volos (which has an international airport), Pilio combines much of the best of Greece has to offer (forested mountains, fantastic beaches, stone-built villages, stories of centaurs). While it is a popular destination among Greeks and foreign visitors, the accommodation options are many in and around the numerous villages, so even in the height of summer you should be able to find a little slice of paradise. Combine nature hikes with visits to the beach easily and effortlessly – and for even more variety a gorgeous train route takes you through forested slopes to a mountain village. Great for couples, groups or families where the sheer variety on offer is sure to keep everyone happy.

Alonissos

Compared to its more famous siblings in the Sporades group – Skiathos and Skopelos, Alonissos is a little harder to get to. But this relative remoteness is perhaps the island's greatest asset as it has helped keep the crowds at bay. Here you will see aspects of local life from a time before Mamma Mia-generated fame began to draw ever larger numbers to this small group of islands in the Aegean. Densely forested and in the heart of a large marine park that is home to breeding populations of rare seals, Alonissos is proud of its green credentials having banned the use of plastic bags. Popular among divers, nature lovers or just people looking to get away from it all.

Northern Evia - Camper's Paradise

Greece's second largest island is connected by road to Athens, so one would expect that the dense, lush forests and great beaches at its northern end would be one of the most popular destinations in the country. But there is still plenty of legroom here. The beach of Aghia Anna was once occupied exclusively by free campers, but now the area boasts a number of organized camping options including campsites with more sophisticated facilities such as yurts and cabanas. Many also offer a wealth of activities to keep kids (and adults) occupied and happy. Kitesurfing and horseback riding are among the many sporting activities one can try in the area.

Southern Evia

Drier than the northern part of the island, southern Evia has natural landscapes more typical of the Aegean islands and superb beaches. Megali Ammos alone makes your visit here worthwhile: a strip of white sand that meets the sea and is sculpted into new shapes each year by the currents. French and German windsurfers have been going to Marmari since the 1980s to exploit the meltemi winds (today of course they have been joined by kitesurfers). Meanwhile canyons and gorges offer fantastic hikes, while divers are drawn to the Archampoli, an underwater cave with a unique kaleidoscope of colors.

SKYROS - Well Kept Secret

Off the western coast of Evia, in the heart of the Aegean is Skyros, an island whose lack of fame relative to other Aegean islands belies its charms. Understated and laid-back, it has the feel of being an undiscovered gem even while offering a wealth of activities. Aside from swimming off a wide selection of beaches, diving lessons and hiking tours are also available. The island is also home to the Skyrian horse, a rare ancient breed that has survived since antiquity. At Ktima Mouries, Skyrian horses are bred to help prevent them from going extinct, and rides can be organized for children. Diving lessons and hiking tours across the island's landscapes are among the many other activities available.

Parnassos

When everyone heads to the beach, there is plenty to be said for going in the opposite direction and heading into the mountains. Parnassos is generally considered a winter destination thanks to its ski resort, but in the summer it offers glorious hikes through thick fir forests. While beach goers swelter at lower altitudes, here the temperature is perfect for reconnecting with nature. Located less than three hours by car from Athens, the mountain is also the site of the archaeological site of Delphi – one of the richest in the country. For the bold, paragliding tours are also on offer. And if you ultimately decide that you do want to take a dip, the charming seaside village of Galaxidi is less than an hour's drive away.

Syvota

Another mainland destination that has little to envy from the Greek islands is the western coast of Epirus. In Syvota, a convoluted coastline with numerous coves and islets features some tremendous beaches. Many of the more accessible ones get quite busy during high season, but if you rent a boat you will find an incredible array of swimming spots to choose from. When in the area, you can also visit the charming coastal town of Parga with its colorful buildings built around a small bay and the islet of Panaghia (as well as long sandy beaches lapped by the Ionian). Also worth visiting are the springs of the River Acheron where cold crystal water streams under towering plane trees.

Lefkada

It's an island in the Ionian but one that you can drive to, accessible via a floating bridge. It also features a wealth of assets that are sure to please everyone. Windsurfers and kitesurfers have long flocked to the island, and specifically the bay of Vasiliki with its reliable afternoon thermal breeze and the beach of Milos. Some of its swimming spots are sheltered and cosmopolitan, with beach bars and sun loungers, while others are wild and dramatic formed by cliff faces slowly crumbling into the sea, such as Egremni.