Cyclades. Two islands, not that far apart. But what a study in contrasts.
Our first stop in the island cluster of Cyclades was at Milos. The Cyclades, by virtue of being gorgeous, and just a short flight from Athens, are extremely popular with tourists. Milos, however, has managed to stay a bit under the radar.
I appreciated the calm of Milos. The lack of crowds. And most of all, the astounding beaches. Milos, although small, has almost fifty different beaches. The most famous is the Saraniko beach. This is on the north side of the island, and one very fun way to get there is to rent a scooter. We tend to rent scooters on most small islands — so much better than cars, don’t you think? The wind in your face and all that. But I digress.
Saraniko beach has smooth white rock, instead of sand. The rock has been carved into fantastical shapes by wind and water, and you could spend hours exploring both above and under water.
There are several other beautiful beaches along the north coast, pretty perfect for a day of beach hopping.
We stayed in the village of Pollonia, in the northeast corner of Milos, away from the two main towns of Adamas and Plaka. Milos started as a mining island, not a tourist island — unlike most of the other islands around. It still has a fair number of people not involved in the tourist trade.
Our stay at Pollonia was one of the most pleasant I’ve had. Our host was friendly and helpful, and we had a large, clean, airy, light-filled room which escaped being pretentious. Plus we had this amazing view from our huge balcony.
There are some beaches in Milos that can only be accessed by boat, including the popular Kleftiko beach. You can take a day long boat trip that takes you there (stopping at a few other pretty places on the way). Kleftiko’s main attractions are the many caves and grottos — you can wander through these in a little boat, or go snorkeling among them.
The people of the Cyclades are very proud of their sunsets — they say these are the most beautiful in the world. You might argue that this claim is exaggerated, but you have to admit they are way up there.
The second island we visited was Santorini. Unlike Milos, Santorini was overrun by tourists. At times, I was reminded of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, or Calcutta during Durga Puja. Apparently, it’s been this way ever since it was declared the number 2 destination in the whole world. (Who makes these declarations anyway?)
On the days that we were visiting, there were two or three large cruise ships in the harbor. Apparently, at the height of summer, there can be over fifteen present on a single day! I shudder to think what those days must be like.
Of course, there’s a very good reason for Santorini’s popularity. You know those glossy photos of white houses clustered over blue seas that you see in travel magazines the world over? That’s Santorini. It is ridiculously photogenic.
Our hotel room (in Thira) was a cave dug into the face of the cliff. It was huge, so huge that it made us uncomfortable — bigger than our NYC apartment, featuring a king-size circular bed.
If you rent a car, scooter or ATV, you can pretty much see all of Santorini in a day. The ideal way to end the day, they say, is by viewing the sunset from Oia. We tried, but were frightened away as the crowds became ever denser.
In fact, my favorite place in all of Oia (actually, all of Santorini) was the Atlantis bookstore.
If you would like to see Santorini, I’d strongly suggest visiting in the off season. Maybe in the middle of January. But Milos? Go see Milos in summer. In fact, consider lingering there the whole year.