It goes without saying that the sun-kissed Greek islands offer some of the world’s most idyllic holiday destinations. But if there’s one drawback, it would have to be the sheer volume of tourists. Trying to find a secluded corner of a beach somewhere, or a quiet table at a traditional taverna can be tricky, especially in high summer.
For those in search of that perfect Greek island vacation without the crowds, luxury travel magazine Travel + Leisure has published an article featuring its very own “Greek Trilogy” of under-the-radar islands.
The online article, showcasing three enchanting hotels on Antiparos, Symi and Syros, offers insight into some the traditional lifeways on islands where tourism has only ever been a sideline.
All three islands are blessed with luxury hotels, delicious local cuisine and gorgeous beaches, but, most importantly, none of them attract the overwhelming numbers of visitors compared to their neighbors.
The article starts on the “idiosyncratic island” of Syros, at the Aristide hotel in the historic harbor town of Ermoupoli. In an interview with one of the hotel’s owners, Oana Aristide, who is of Romanian-Yemeni heritage, we learn that Cycladic Syros is home to a cosmopolitan mix of people – an extension of its fascinating past as the “Switzerland of the Aegean.”
During the Greek Revolution of 1821, neighboring Aegean islands that opposed Ottoman rule were often subject to brutal reprisals; settlements were destroyed, supply routes severed, and the islanders stripped of their wealth. Syros, on the other hand, remained neutral, enabling wealthy merchants and bankers to continue trading.
“During the 1800s, Syros was the wealthiest place in Greece, and the architecture shows it,” Oana muses. “It’s not a beach or party island. It’s an island of culture.”
The island was once a regional powerhouse for textiles, home to as many as 24 factories in the 19th and 20th centuries. The non-profit Hermoupolis Heritage offers fascinating tours of Syros’ industrial past.
The architecture of Syros is very different to the iconic whitewashed buildings of other Cycladic islands. Stately 19th century neoclassical mansions, the color of bird’s eggs – pale pinks, blues, and greens – line the seafront, giving the island an air of eclectic grandeur.
The island, only 2 hours from Athens by high-speed ferry, is also home to some amazing cuisine, including local cheeses and sausages, and its famous loukoumia (sweets). For our foodie’s guide to Syros, click here.
Another wealthy trading post at the eastern gateway of the Aegean lies Symi, in the Dodecanese. An island with a proud nautical tradition, Symi was once home to a large community of sponge divers, known locally as skafandra. Until the mid-20th century, its economy was based around sponge fishing and shipbuilding.
At the small harbor town of Gialos, beautiful 19th century neoclassical houses with colorful facades rise amphitheatrically up from the seafront. Here, the article takes us to the quayside guest house 1900, owned by local architect Dimitris Zographos.
Zographos bought the old mansion as a derelict property, transforming it into a “glamorous yet informal guesthouse — one with no reception, no restaurant, and no room service.”
Gialos was declared a historic monument by the Greek Ministry of Culture in 1971. As such, the town and its environs are protected from over-development – “So what you see today is hopefully not very different from what you might see a hundred years from now,” Zographos tells us.
Symi is a favorite stop for yachts in the summertime, where secluded coves offer shelter from the strong meltemi winds. Parts of the island are totally undeveloped, evoking a bygone era.
Check out our own quick guide to Symi here.
People sometimes forget that Paros, the wildly popular party island in the heart of the Cyclades, has a little sibling to its southwest, a mere 10 minutes away by ferry. The diminutive Antiparos, home to one of the most beautiful and mysterious caves in the world, is a place where you can quite literally disappear.
The third and final offering in the Travel + Leisure article takes us to the luxury Rooster Antiparos, a complex of 16 villas built on the hills overlooking the magically unspoilt Livadia Bay. Owned by Athanasia Comninos, the Rooster operates as a lifestyle and wellness retreat, offering yoga, bespoke massage treatments, and “sound-healing sessions in an open-air pavilion.”
Tourism came mercifully late to Antiparos’ low-slung yet rugged landscape, attracting only the hardiest of travelers. A popular haunt for hippies in the 1980s, the island’s quiet beaches, protected from the winds, make for an idyllic summer retreat, discreetly nestled away from the crowds.