Shoulder to shoulder. Clowns packed in a car. Sardines in a tin can. No matter how you describe it, a post-pandemic getaway to Greece has often felt like a chaotic crush of tourists. The country’s tourist season has broken records, resulting in sold-out hotels and weeks-long waiting lists for a beachside lounge chair. To make matters worse, the summer season now extends well into the fall.
Fortunately, there are ways to escape the frenetic crowds of Santorini’s sunsets and the thumping EDM beats of Mykonos’s beach clubs in favor of a more serene experience. We’ve curated a selection of three Cycladic islands that offer a luxurious yet authentic taste of Greek life for those in the know.
You might not have heard of Kea (or Tzia, as the locals affectionately call it), but that’s precisely the allure. Overlooked on most Cycladic island maps, Kea has been a hidden gem for Athenians seeking a weekend escape. A mere one-hour ferry ride from Lavrio Port (not the bustling main port of Piraeus), Kea welcomes visitors with its sugar cube buildings adorned with terra-cotta roofs and Tiffany-blue domes.
Kea is beloved for its intricate network of hiking trails that wind through the shrub-dotted landscapes typical of the Cyclades. These trails lead to ancient archaeological sites like Karthea, accessible only by foot or boat, and pass by quaint cliffside churches along the way. As the sun sets, the occasional yacht anchors off the fishing village of Vourkari, where you can savor fresh octopus at one of the charming Yaya-run tavernas.
Accommodations on this secluded island lean towards palatial villas, akin to where the Roys from Succession might hide away. Options like Villa Meria and Vourkari Views boast stone-clad villas with infinity pools, ocean vistas, and a timelessly sleek design crafted from concrete and timber. Nearby, Kea Retreat is a traditional Greek farmhouse meticulously renovated to offer stunning bay views and wellness retreat opportunities.
Sifnos boasts just ten taxis, so be sure to arrange transportation before disembarking from the 2.5-hour Seajets fast ferry from Athens or the 45-minute private helicopter ride. Known locally for its outstanding island cuisine, pottery workshops, and picturesque whitewashed villages, Sifnos is a place you might wish to keep a secret.
Explore hidden coves, such as the one near Chrisopigi Monastery, where you can lay your towel on a boulder and dive into the crystalline Aegean waters. Meander through the narrow, maze-like streets of Artemonas to admire the island’s most grand and historic mansions. Then, anticipate a table at Margarita, where you can savor revithia, a savory Sifnos chickpea stew. In the island’s ancient capital of Kastro, enjoy sunsets at Loggia Wine Bar, a charming spot set up along the village’s edge that promises an enchanting evening.
For a private and luxurious stay, head to the rugged cliffsides of the island. Verina Astra boasts 16 rustic suites, each with its own terrace, plush cotton linens, and sweeping ocean vistas. The resort’s restaurant, Bostani, is also renowned as one of the island’s finest dining establishments.
Antiparos, the smaller and more laid-back sister island of Paros, offers tranquil sandy beaches and Europe’s deepest vertical cave. Here, ancient stalagmites hang from the cave ceiling, adorned with graffiti signatures of famous visitors. Speaking of famous visitors, in recent years, Antiparos has captured the attention of Hollywood A-listers who fly into Paros Airport and embark on a 30-minute boat ride to reach the island.
Forget the pebbly Mediterranean shores; Antiparos features idyllic coves with soft sandy beaches and shimmering emerald waters. Camping Beach has held the title of the island’s nude beach since the 1970s, and the tiny, remote Faneromeni Beach is worth the journey along the goat track road.
The island’s premier resort, the Rooster, made its debut in 2021 to rave reviews. Its ultra-stylish interiors pay homage to nature and sustainability, while its House of Healing offers a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation amidst the island’s tranquil beauty.