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The Cyclades are the picture-perfect Greek islands where whitewashed villages tumble down to azure bays. But, Mykonos and Santorini - the bucket list Greek islands - are not the only islands with sugar-cubed white houses, bougainvilleas and churches on hilltops. The Cyclades island complex is the perfect venue for island hopping and to explore very differing cultures and landscapes.
Escape the crowds and visit the most sough-after islands during off-season or spend more time on the lesser-known Cyclades where social distancing has been practiced before it was cool and where you will have the chance to immerse yourself in white and blue backgrounds without the hordes of Instagrammers posing next to you.
Lesser is better: more time to contemplate the surroundings, better, locally sourced food, the best shaded spots at your favourite beach, authenticity and laid-back friendly atmosphere are the top reasons to visit the under-the-radar Cyclades islands beloved by locals .
THE GEMS OF CYCLADES
Friends of the island meet every year either at Margarita's restaurant after their swim, under a tree in the golden beach of Roukounas, getting cheerfully drunk with rakomelo at Markos' Armenaki or in one of the bars with views equal if not more breath-taking than Oia's.
A genuine retreat thanks to the overwhelming tranquility that surrounds you, it attracts few but very adapting tourists. Start your day with a ladenia in hand on your day trip to Skiados, and finish at Frangouli's bar at the centre of Chorio, drinking a homemade liqueur of prickly pear and pomengrenates.
Book a sail trip and beach wine tastings in Myconos, horse riding to Eros beach in Santorini, hike & sail in Milos to the most secluded beaches, bird-watching and surfing in Tinos, walk to Ano Syros to experience rembetiko music session where Markos Vamvakaris was born.
Considered a secret among visitors, Schinoussa is so quiet that the highlight is a local religious feast where there is fish with skordalia and dance. A local delicacy is their renowned fava, a proud export. Bring your walking shoes and make sure to drink with locals at Hara kafenio on your way back.
Home to 72 - mostly unspoilt and free of sun umbrellas - beaches, Serifos with its beautiful Chora, is a rugged off-the-beaten-path island once known for its mines. Only a few places in Greece give you the opportunity to go deep inside the earth and walk through the tunnels that had been built for the mines.
The epicenter of quality wine production in the Cyclades is the volcanic island of Santorini, reborn out of the ashes of a major volcanic eruption. The star variety product is Assyrtiko that you can enjoy chilled while watching the most amazing sunset from Oia. But, don't go back without taking with you a bottle of Vinsanto, the local excellent dessert wine. However, there is new emerging wine scene in small Anafi where local organic wines are produced at a small scale and celebrated each year at the best local restaurant of the island.
Sifnos - the birthplace of Tselementes cook and byname for cookbooks in Greece, continues his legacy with amazing food and the annual culinary festival of Tinos Food Paths is the equivalent of Pride festivals for food in the "hand-made" island of Tinos. There are local specialties in every island of the Cyclades so don't go back unless you have savoured matsata pasta in fresh tomato sauce in Folegandros, succulent pork rosto with the best potatoes in the country in Naxos, fava and local tomato fritters in Santorini and revythada in Sifnos.
Want to add a little activity or boost your adrenaline while in Greece? Cyclades have beautiful paths to hike and avoid crowds and in most of the islands you can combine sailing with hiking. Take advantage of meltemia, the steady wind from May to September and ride the waves in Tinos. Or try sea kayaking in Shinoussa where you will be probably alone and surrounded by tranquility. If you are a bike lover, just imagine island hopping onboard your own sail boat, at a new destination each day and discovering each island by bike.
Indeed the Cyclades is this picture perfect image of pure Greece and amazing beach life, but they are also home to ancient Greek legends and a playground to the 12 gods of Olympus. Visit the Lions terrace in Delos, the impressive cave of Antiparos with stalagmites and stalactites, the Temple of Apollo in Naxos, the Hozoviotissa monastery in Amorgos or the Archaeological museum of Andros. Finally, make sure to visit Akrotiri to admire the minoan architecture and climb to the lighthouse for the least crowded yet breathtaking sunset view.