Where locals go: Greece

We decided to ask three residents to share their top picks for holidaying within their own country.

Where Locals Go features under-the-radar holiday destinations that are often overlooked by visitors but cherished by locals. Here, we ask three experts on Greece for their top picks.

For tourists, Greece delivers on all fronts. There are the blindingly beautiful islands that seem straight out of a postcard. A rich tapestry of history is woven into every landscape, while Greek cuisine is revered the world over. While there are countless reasons to visit this country, have you ever wondered where those lucky enough to live in Greece themselves choose to spend their vacations?

We decided to ask three residents to share their top picks for holidaying within their own country. From the sun-kissed, whitewashed beaches of southern Crete to the laid-back vibes of the western Cyclades, get ready to experience a Greek vacation like those who live there do.

Aerial view of Chora village on Serifos island in GreeceSerifos still feels a world away from more-visited Cycladic islands like Mykonos © Cavan Images RF / Getty Images

A serene retreat of sun-lounger-free beaches in the west Cyclades: Serifos

Based in Athens since 1996, Helen Iatrou’s preferred mode of island-hopping is sailing. 

When summer arrives, my thoughts turn to that remote Dodecanese islet I haven’t visited, or to my Northeastern Aegean ancestral home. But one island I can’t resist is Serifos, in the west Cyclades. It’s just a two-hour fast ferry ride from Piraeus and – while villas have been sprouting across its forbidding, caramel-colored hillsides in recent years – Serifos still feels a world away from regional sisters Mykonos and Santorini. 

This small, compact island surprises me every time. I usually stay in the port town of Livadi at a family-owned boutique hotel like Nōstos or Chill & Co. Restaurants and cafes are close by, as is the atmospheric, whitewashed hilltop capital Hora, a 12-minute drive (or 50-minute hike) away. Traditional kafenion Stou Stratou serves viscous Greek coffee, while newer arrival Seriani recreates classic dishes like pastitsio

But what I love most about this unperturbed isle is its 70-plus beaches, where high summer Meltemi winds temper the heat. With nary a sun lounger for hire in sight, I opt for the shade of a nap-friendly tamarisk tree. The deep waters of pebbled Ganema and wild Karavi invigorate me to the core, while Psili Ammos tempts with golden sands, aquamarine seas and fish taverna Manolis.

The picturesque old harbor of Rethymno town by night, Crete, GreeceHistoric Rethymno in southern Crete is blissfully free of crowds © Heracles Kritikos / Shutterstock

Escape the crowds in Crete: Rethymno’s southern coast

Vangelis Koronakis is a guidebook writer who can’t resist a Cretan escape.

I’m lucky enough to have Cretan roots, so I have spent most summers of my life in wonderful Crete.

The island’s southern shores, and particularly Rethymno, bathed by the crystalline Libyan Sea, are relatively untouched by mass tourism (unlike the ultra-touristy northern coast). The region boasts more than 15 top-class beaches, stretching from Frangokastello on the west to Agia Galini on the east.

Preveli, the “palm beach,” is one of the most photographed in the country and probably the busiest – but the rest range from quiet to outright deserted, even during the August high season. Small and secluded Amoudi and massive and wild Triopetra (avoid when windy) are my favorites.

A visit to the historic Preveli Monastery is a spiritual experience I highly recommend. My favorite place to dine is Merastri, a family taverna in the village of Sellia that offers superb local fare with a stunning view of Plakias Bay from its veranda.

A rental car is necessary to discover all the region’s beauty; an innovative and affordable choice as a base is Spili. This pretty mountainside small town, known for its freshwater lion fountains, is strategically located and offers access to most points of interest within 20–30 minutes.

People dive into the Devil’s Eye pool, Koufonissi Island, Small Cyclades, GreeceThe waters off the shores of Koufonisia are astonishingly clear © giovannifederzoni / Shutterstock

Alabaster beaches, deserted coves and fresh-caught seafood: Koufonisia

Alexis Averbuck is a writer and painter who lives on the Greek island of Hydra.

I love sailing the Cyclades on open-top ferries, where you can lounge on the deck taking in the view, breathing the fresh sea air. When I last cruised into Koufonisia, from the vantage of the ferry deck the clear, clear water with barely a hint of aquamarine made it appear as if the fishing caiques were floating in the air over the white sand. I disembarked in the main village, a warren of tiny streets lined nowadays with boutiques, small hotels and inviting restaurants and bars.

The vibe in Koufonisia is casual, though, with relaxed people in sarongs strolling back from the beach or out in summer-light linen, chatting over early evening drinks. I originally learned about tiny Koufonisia from a friend who started coming as a teenager, piling into a shared room with her friends.

You can walk the entire island on rugged trails along the jagged coast with that brilliant crystalline water splashing into rock-formed natural pools, deserted coves and lapping onto alabaster beaches. This time, we ourselves splashed out and stayed at Aeris Suites, overlooking the deep scoop of Pori Bay, then headed into town for dinner at Capetan Nikolas, where we dined on fresh-caught seafood while the sun set behind the cliff-top windmill across the harbor.

So close to the large Cycladic islands like Naxos and Paros, Koufonisia and the other islands that constitute the “Small Cyclades” seem to gloriously drop off the edge of the world.


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