Cyclades with Mykonos and Santorini

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The Cyclades islands compose a quintessential, pristine Mediterranean archipelago, with ancient sites, droves of vineyards and olive trees, and stark whitewashed cubist houses, all seemingly crystallized in a backdrop of lapis lazuli. The six major stars in this island constellation in the central Aegean Sea—Andros, Tinos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, and Santorini—are well visited but still lure with a magnificent fusion of sunlight, stone, and sparkling aqua sea. They also promise culture and flaunt hedonism: ancient sites, Byzantine castles and museums, lively , shops, restaurants, and beaches simple and sophisticated.

Cyclades with Mykonos and Santorini Sights

Each island in the Cyclades differs significantly from its neighbors, so how you approach your exploration of the islands will depend on what sort of experience you are seeking. The busiest and most popular islands are Santorini, with its fantastic volcanic scenery and dramatic cliff-side towns of Fira and Ia, and Mykonos, a barren island that insinuates a sexy jet-set lifestyle, flaunts some of ’s most famous beaches, and has a perfectly preserved main town. Santorini and Mykonos have the fanciest accommodations. Naxos has the best mountain scenery and the longest, least-developed beaches, and Andros, too, is rugged and mountainous, covered with forests and laced with waterfalls. Tinos, the least visited and most scenic of the Cyclades, is the place to explore mountain villages, hundreds of churches, and fanciful dovecotes.

All these islands are well connected by ferries and catamarans, with the most frequent service during the summer season. Schedules change frequently, and it can be difficult to plan island-hopping excursions in advance. So be flexible and the islands are yours.

Cyclades with Mykonos and Santorini Reviews

Eating is a lively social activity in the Cyclades, and the friendliness of most taverna owners compensates for the lack of formal service. In fact, you might be surprised to notice simple furnishings and friendly informality even at the most expensive restaurants on Mykonos and Santorini—these restaurant owners have borrowed what’s best from the local tradition. At just about any restaurant, from the simplest taverna to the most expensive place, dining is outdoors, on a terrace or sometimes simply at a table in the street.

Unless you order intermittently, at most restaurants the food comes all at once (this is not the case at some of the more expensive, international restaurants in the islands). In many tavernas you will not be given a menu but will be escorted into the kitchen and shown what’s being prepared fresh that day. Fish, ironically, is rather expensive in the islands; expect to pay about EUR 45 per kilo—that translates to about EUR 15 a serving, at least. You are welcome to eat as simply as you choose and will not be frowned on if you simply order a large Greek salad and another meze (small dish) or any other combination that appeals to you.

Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted, and casual dress is the rule. Restaurant schedules on the Cyclades vary; some places close for lunch, most close for siesta, and all are open late. Many, many restaurants close from late October into late March or mid-April or so. Those that remain open, though, are usually the traditional tavernas that serve excellent food to a local clientele.

Cyclades with Mykonos and Santorini Reviews

Island accommodations range from run-down pensions to bedrooms in private houses to luxury hotels. Overall, the quality of accommodations in the Cyclades is high. The best rooms and service (and noticeably higher prices) are on Mykonos and Santorini, where luxury resort hotels are mushrooming. Wherever you stay in the Cyclades, make a room with a view, and a balcony, a priority.

Unless you’re traveling at the very height of the season (July 15-August 30), you’re unlikely to need advance reservations; often the easiest—and most recommended—way to find something on the spot is to head for a tourist office and describe your needs and price range. Alternatively, walk around town and ask where you can rent a room, but take a good look first, and check the bathroom before you commit. If there are extra beds in the room, clarify in advance that the amount agreed on is for the entire room—owners occasionally try to put another person in the same room. When approached by one of the touts who meet the ferries, make sure he or she tells you the location of the rooms being pushed, and look before you commit. Avoid places on main roads or near all-night discos. Rates, which are regulated by the Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT), vary tremendously from month to month; in the off-season, rooms may cost half of what they do in August.

In August water pressure may be low, and only expensive hotels provide hot water 24 hours a day; in some hotels you must turn on a thermostat for a half hour to heat water for a shower (don’t forget to turn it off). Signs tell you that water is in short supply in the Cyclades, reminding you to conserve it.

Cyclades with Mykonos and Santorini Nightlife

Whether it’s bouzouki music, break beat, or techno, Mykonos’s nightlife beats to an obsessive rhythm until undetermined hours—little wonder Europe’s gilded youth comes here just to enjoy the night scene. After midnight, they often head to the techno bars along the Paradise and Super Paradise beaches. Some of Little Venice’s nightclubs become gay in more than one sense of the word, while in the Kastro, convivial bars welcome all for tequila-sambukas during sunset. What is “the” place of the moment? The scene is ever-changing—so you’ll need to track the buzz once you arrive.

Cyclades with Mykonos and Santorini

Mykonos, with Santorini taking a close second, is the best island in the Cyclades for shopping. You can buy anything from Greek folk items to Italian designer clothes, cowboy boots, and leather jackets from the United States. Although island prices are better than in the expensive shopping districts of Athens, there are many tourist traps in the resort towns, with high-pressure sales tactics and inflated prices for inferior goods. The Greeks have a word for naive American shoppers—Americanakia.

Among the standard shops there are still craftspeople who make at least some of their own items. Each island has a unique pottery style that reflects its individuality. Santorini potters like the bright shades of the setting sun, though the best pottery islands are Paros and Siphnos. Island specialties are icons hand-painted after Byzantine originals; weavings and embroideries; local wines; and gold worked in ancient and Byzantine designs.

Don’t be surprised when many stores close between 2 and 5:30 in the afternoon and reopen in the evening; even on the chic islands most everybody takes a siesta.

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