Often, beaches are one of the top reasons to park up on a Greek island, but why not make the most of gorgeous natural locations, unique cultural sites, great restaurants and pretty villages when it’s still relatively quiet? Here we have selected five islands that are each bestowed with a whole host of multifaceted attributes beyond their lovely waters, though those are always there for you to enjoy on a hot May day too.
This increasingly popular but not yet touristy Cycladic gem, only one hour from Athens’ Rafina port, has chiefly become a top destination for hikers because of its long, picturesque footpaths. Breathe in fresh air thick with floral breezes, drink cold mountain water from gushing natural springs, look out to spanning views of seascapes, sprawling valleys and villages and explore antiquities and ruins.
As tempting as they may appear, Andros’ waters are icy until at least mid June, as in many areas currents flow into them from rivers and high altitude springs. It’s probably a better idea to stick to sipping coffee in the plateia of the Chora or have a seafood lunch in Korthi.
By foot or by car, also visit scenic villages like lush Menites, traditional Sineti, popular Batsi and quaint Apikia for a chat and lemonade with locals or a bite to eat, although keep in mind that in May only a few tavernas on Andros are open for the summer season.
Follow the scenic routes of the footpaths (kalderimia) independently by purchasing a map at the port – the paths have been cleaned and well-marked by Andros Routes and their many international volunteers in an ongoing project. Contact Andros Routes if you prefer a guided tour.
In May, windy Andros is also a popular getaway for windsurfers, who head to Kipri bay (you can rent equipment at the Wesurfin’ Club) on the western coast. Andros is home to several globally acclaimed windsurfers.
Anyone who has fallen in love with this island in the northern Sporades rejoices that it has managed to maintain much of its old-fashioned charm and unspoilt natural beauty.
The lush island that’s covered in pine forests and olive groves, with beautiful Old Town architecture and cobblestone streets and eco-friendly communities is home to the National Marine Park. Located on the northern side, the large and well cared for zone is where visitors of all ages can delight in seeing and learning about marine life such as dolphins, sea turtles and the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) and many more aquatic creatures.
With quaint and atmospheric villages such as the Old Town, Patitiri and the bay of Steni Valla, Alonissos is a great place to explore on foot. Avid hikers can get their fill of inspiring mountainous landscapes and panoramic views splashed with the blues of the sky and sea and the greens of varied landscapes studded with wildflowers.
For a good workout trek up to Mt Kouvouli, Alonissos’ highest mountain, or Mt Kalovoulos on the southern cape. ‘The Alonissos Guide’ by Bente Keller is by now a classic for visitors who want to get a local perspective of the island while exploring.
If you’re a fan of homeopathy it’s well worth visiting the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy (IACH) where medical doctors from around the world come to learn about homeopathic medicine from George Vithoulkas.
Cosmopolitan and aristocratic, with a rich history, picturesque architecture and in May covered with fragrant floral carpets, Spetses is just a short ferry trip from Athens and makes for an ideal weekend escape.
Beyond its pretty beaches, which may already be warm enough for a dip, Spetses is the kind of island where you can relish simply sipping a drink on the terrace of the glamorous seafront Grand Poseidon Hotel, going for a romantic horse carriage ride and strolling around Dapia Square and its narrow backstreets with cute shops.
In Greek history, the island is almost synonymous with the Greek War of Independence as it was where resistance heroine Laskarina Bouboulina lived. Spetses played a key role in the fight for freedom from Ottoman rule and was the first island to raise the Greek flag on April 3, 1821.
Apart from admiring the beautiful statue of Bouboulina, who led the struggle, on the seaside promenade in front of the Grand Poseidon Hotel, visit the House of Bouboulina, a museum in the heroine’s former home. To learn more about this era of history, also visit the Hatzigiannis-Mexis Museum.
For more active pursuits, rent a bicycle and explore the island relishing the spring sea breeze or buy the Anavasi map for several great hiking route suggestions. The Cave of Bekiris is a favourable option for a trek that combines cave exploration with walking.
A huge and multi-varied island, Crete in May is ideal for hiking mountains and gorges, getting a mouthful of flavoursome and pure world-famous local cuisine anywhere you go and exploring remarkable historical and natural sites.
Attention advanced hikers: Mt Ida (also known as Psiloritis), the island’s highest point at 2,456m altitude above sea level, awaits. Considered in Greek mythology to be the birthplace of master-god Zeus, the mountain is steep and challenging but will reward you with memorable panoramic views. Once you reach the top, ring the bell at Timios Stavros church.
Crete is also popular among adventure sports aficionados for its beautiful gorges, which include the gorge of Agia Irini and Imbros gorge in Chania, Kourtaliotiko gorge and Patsos gorge in Rethymno, the gorge of Agios Nikolaos in Ag. Nikolas and Agiofarago gorge In Heraklion, the capital city.
But most known – and demanding – of all is the 16km-long Samaria gorge, Europe’s second longest. Located in the White Mountain range, 70km from Chania, this is one place you wouldn’t want to trek through under the post-May sun. As it’s within the Samaria National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve declared as such in 1962, you’re also sure to enjoy several sightings of flora and fauna while getting a workout.
To immerse yourself in some of the most fascinating ancient history in the world, head to the Palace of Knossos. Once the political heart of Minoan inhabitants, whose sophisticated civilisation continues to astound historians today, this is a site you shouldn’t miss while on the island, especially when there are far fewer tourists around.
One of its most acclaimed features is by far the deeply seductive colour of its waters, which gives it the name of “the emerald island”. Yet Corfu’s vibrant cultural scene, historical wealth and array of springtime/early summer activities on offer make it an alluring destination in the cooler months too.
Walk in the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with neoclassical mansions built by the Venetians, and stop for a coffee in the French-built Liston Arcade. For more action in the town walk up to the Old Fortress and New Fortress. Culture vultures visiting Corfu also make sure to visit the modern, beautifully curated museums such as the Archaeological Museum, Byzantine Museum, Asian Art Museum, the Casa Parlante and the Public Art Gallery.
The island is also known for its wine culture and several tours are based around or include visits to vineyards and wine tastings, or combined gastronomy and wine experiences.
A top summer destination for visitors coming from across the planet, Corfu has developed sophisticated infrastructure to provide plenty of options for thrill-seekers too: from jeep safaris to parasailing, paragliding to horseback riding along beaches and mountains, there are plenty of ways to combine adventure with sight-seeing.