Elbow to elbow. Clowns in a car. Sardines in can. However you want to say it, that’s what a getaway to Greece has felt like post-pandemic. The country’s record-breaking tourist season meant sold-out hotels and weeks-long waiting lists for a beachside lounge chair. Worse still, the summer season is now bleeding well into fall.
But it’s possible to avoid the maddening crowds of Santorini’s sunsets and the EDM thump of Mykonos’s beach clubs for someplace a bit more serene. We’ve rounded up three Cycladic islands that those in the know go for a luxurious yet authentic slice of Greek life.
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You’ve probably never heard of Kea (or Tzia as the locals call it), but that’s the whole point. An afterthought on most Cycladic islands maps, Kea has long been a weekend jaunt for Athenians. Just a one-hour ferry ride from Lavrio Port (not the hectic main port of Piraeus) and sugar cube buildings with terra-cotta colored roofs and Tiffany-blue domes appear.
Kea is loved for its elaborate and impressive array of hiking trails traversing the shrub-dotted landscapes that personify the Cyclades. Trek to ancient archaeological sites like Karthea, only reachable by foot or boat, and along paths punctuated by tiny cliffside churches. As the sun sets, an occasional yacht or two anchors off the fishing village of Vourkari for fresh octopus at any number of Yaya-run tavernas.
Stays on this secluded island lean more toward palatial villas, like somewhere the Roys would hole up on Succession. Villa Meria and Vourkari Views are two stone-clad villa options with infinity pools, ocean views. and a super sleek concrete and timber design that never goes out of style. Nearby, at Kea Retreat, this traditional Greek farmhouse has been renovated to the nines with sleepy bay views and wellness retreat options.
Prices start from $18,470 per week at Villa Meria and $21,550 per week at Vourkari Views. Rooms at Kea Retreat start at $550, including breakfast.
There are just 10 taxis on Sifnos, so be sure to book transport before hopping off the 2.5-hour Seajets fast ferry from Athens or the 45-minute private helicopter ride. Known locally for its standout island cuisine, pottery workshops, and whitewashed villages, we’d almost rather keep this island a secret.
Hike down to small coves, like the one next to Chrisopigi Monastery, where you can spread your towel out on a boulder and dive into the Aegean. Wander the narrow patchwork streets of Artemonas to see the island’s most stately and historic mansions. Then, wait for a table at Margarita to try revithia, a savory Sifnos chickpea stew. In the island’s ancient capital of Kastro, spend sunsets at Loggia Wine Bar, a makeshift setup along the edge of the village that makes for an intoxicating evening.
For a private place to stay, head to the craggy cliffside. Verina Astra has 16 unique rustic suites with terraces, soft cotton linens, and sweeping ocean views. Its restaurant, Bostani, is also one of the best on the island.
Rates start at $198 per night.
Paros’s smaller, more laid-back sister island, Antiparos, has tranquil sandy beaches and Europe’s deepest vertical cave. Here, millions-year-old stalagmites hang from the ceiling and the signatures of famous visitors graffiti the walls. Speaking of famous visitors, in recent years, Antiparos has caught the attention of Hollywood A-listers who jet into Paros Airport and take a 30-minute boat ride to the island.
Forget the pebbly Med; Antiparos has postcard coves of soft sand and shimmering emerald waters. Camping Beach has been the island’s nude beach since the 70s, and tiny, remote Faneromeni Beach is worth traversing the goat track road.
Rates at $935 per night.
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