The Cyclades by Destination Greece

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The Cycladic Islands, properly termed The Cyclades, are a Greek island group in the Aegean Sea, south-east of the mainland of Greece. The Cyclades is where the native Greek breed of cat (the Aegean cat) first originated.

The Cyclades comprise about 220 islands, including the major ones of Mykonos and Santorini. Most of the smaller islands are uninhabited. The islands are simply the peaks of a giant underwater mountain range with the exception of Milos and Santorini which are volcanic. The climate is generally dry and mild and does not support too much in terms of agriculture. Wine, fruit, wheat, olive oil, and tobacco are about all these islands produce.

Sightseeing

On Mykanos, despite its intense commercialism and seething crowds in high season, Hora is still the quintessential Cycladic town and is worth a visit to the island in itself. The best way to see the town is to venture inland from the port and wander. Browse the window displays, go inside an art gallery, a store, or an old church that may be open but empty inside. Hora also has the remains of a small Venetian kastro and the island’s most famous church, Panagia Paraportiani (Our Lady of the Postern Gate), a thickly whitewashed asymmetrical edifice made up of four small chapels. Save time to visit the island’s clutch of pleasant small museums. The Archaeological Museum, near the harbor, displays finds from Delos. Nautical Museum of the Aegean has just what you’d expect, including handsome ship models.

On Santorini, enjoy a quintessential Greek beach vacation. Its perpendicular coastline is pure drama. Pebbly Red Beach, White Beach and Black Beach named for the color of the cliffs above them, lie in the southwest. The lively southeast trio of Perissa, Agios Georgios and Perivolos are best for nightlife and watersports like windsurfing and jet skiing. One of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history shook Santorini 3,500 years ago and created its showpiece caldera. The best way to appreciate the views from its vertiginous cliffs is by hiking along the rim from Fira to Oia. Take a boat trip to see the volcano in all its steaming glory, stopping for a therapeutic dip in sulphur hot springs. The vineyards of Megalohori and Pyrgos produce volcanic wines such as dry white Assyrtikos and sweet, amber-hued Vinsanto.

Dining

Delight your taste buds on Mykonos at Camares Cafe, which has light meals and a fine view of the harbor from its terrace. It’s open 24 hours and, for Mykonos, is very reasonably priced. Try the striftopita or crispy fried xinotiro (bitter cheese) and the thyme-scented grilled lamb chops (9am-2am; no credit cards). As is usual on the islands, most of the harborside tavernas are expensive and mediocre, although Kounelas on the harbor (no phone; no credit cards) is still a good value for fresh fish — as attested to by the presence of locals dining here.

If you want to dine by the sea on Santorini, head down to Ammoudi, Oia’s port, hundreds of feet below the village, huddled between the cliffs and the sea. We recommend Katina’s fish taverna there; Captain Dimitri’s, a long-time favorite, is now at the other end of the island at Akrotiri. If you don’t want to trek all the way down to the beach, stop along the way at Kastro, where you’ll still have a fine view and can enjoy Greek dishes, pasta, or fresh fish. To get there, follow the stepped path down from the vicinity of Lontza Castle, hire a donkey, or call a taxi. We recommend the walk down (to build an appetite) and a taxi or donkey up.

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Shopping

Mykonos has a lot of shops, many selling souvenirs, clothing, and jewelry to cruise-ship day-trippers. That said, there are also a number of serious shops here, selling serious wares — at serious prices. Soho-Soho is by far the most well-known clothing store on the island; pictures of its famous clientele (Tom Hanks, Sarah Jessica Parker, and so forth) carrying the store’s bags have been in gossip publications around the world.

There was a time when Mykonos was world famous for its vegetable-dyed hand-loomed weavings, especially those of the legendary Kuria Vienoula. Today, Nikoletta is one of the few shops where you can still see the island’s traditional loomed goods.

If you’re interested in fine jewelry, keep in mind that many prices in Fira (Santorini) are higher than in Athens, but the selection here is fantastic. Santorini’s best-known jeweler is probably Kostas Antoniou.

As signaled by its name, The Bead Shop (tel. 22860/25-176), by the Archaeological Museum, sells beads. What makes them special is that most are carved from island lava. And there are plenty of shops between the two. Generally, the farther north you go, the higher the prices and the less certain the quality.

The main street in Oia, facing the caldera, has many interesting stores, several with prints showing local scenes, in addition to the inevitable souvenir shops.

 

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