Greece’s Hidden Beaches
There’s nothing so dispiriting than getting all psyched up for an idyllic beach holiday only to find the place a smorgasbord of domestic debris. From bottle tops to fizzy drink cans and take-away junk food peppering the soft sands, it can be a depressing sight and ruin a much needed holiday. Hopefully these beautiful and relaxing beaches in the Greek islands should restore sun seekers’ faith in discovering sunbathing havens, unscathed by Benidorm style developments. With unpredictable weather in the UK always threatening rain clouds, these are also destinations not too far away or taxing on the pocket.
Elafonisi, Chania, Crete
Elafonisi Beach has the hallmarks of a fantasy Rom-Com movie. It revels in its pristine, unspoilt condition mainly due to two factors; it’s classed as a nature reserve and the authorities are determined to keep commercial and recreational ventures at low level.
Situated at the southeast tip of Crete, this beautiful long stretch of pure white sandbar beach, surrounded by varying shades of turquoise waters, has to be one of the best Greek beaches I have visited. What gives it distinction apart from its quietness (no water sports or blaring music here) is the fact the long beach faces an islet which can be reached by wading through the shallow waters.
If places can invoke an emotional response due to their natural beauty then Elafonisi, with its golden-pink soft sands and blue sky sea, brings a lump to the throat. Ironically this peaceful idyllic setting was once a terrifying scene of brutality when in 1824 some nine hundred Greek women and children were massacred by Ottoman Turk soldiers. A memorial plaque now stands at the highest point of the islet.
Elafonisi is not an easy beauty spot to reach (no sprinting from a hotel bedroom in flip flops to the beach) as it requires either a bus or car drive, plus an extensive walking trek on a tough trail. Wear good walking shoes and take plenty of water and refreshments for your journey by bus, car and definitely a long trek on a dusty, stony trail. Chania International Airport is the nearest to holiday bases for Elafonisi. The airport hosts domestic flights to and from Athens.
For those wanting to keep returning to Elafonisi during your stay on Crete it is best to pitch up at one of two bases. Paleochora (50km to Elafonisi) or Chania Town (76 Kim).
Paleochora is a big, buzzing, somewhat commercial village with good accessible beaches. Catch a ferry (10am) from the town for the 1hr trip to the beach. Return ferry at 4pm. Stay at the Oreia (studio apartments) 30 metres from Palaichora beach; these are clean, reasonably spacious and unfussy studios with kitchenette and balcony views and free parking on site.
Chania is by far the prettiest alternative with its Venetian harbour and some accessible local beaches. Catch the bus to Elafonisi (9am – return 4pm) but be warned there is still a long trail walk from bus to the beach. Harbour hotels (although some of the priciest) offer the most beautiful balcony views of the town. Casa Delfino Luxury Suites have 24 suites.
Chania International Airport is the nearest to holiday bases for Elafonisi. The airport hosts domestic flights to and from Athens.
Known as the island of the poets this accessible paradise, still untouched by brassy package tourism, presents a diverse mix of turquoise waters, golden beaches, dramatic landscapes and historical culture to stimulate the grey cells. Also known as Lefkas, it is the fourth largest of the Ionian Islands with a population of twenty two thousand inhabitants and is situated in the Ionian Sea just on the western mainland of Greece.
Greek islands can be notorious for wind and here as in many of those in the Cyclades certain parts of Lefkada (mainly in the north and south west) can feel like you’re facing a wind machine due to the thermal winds, which have also made the island a Mecca for windsurfers.
What makes Lefkada geologically distinctive (as well as handy) is its link to the mainland via a natural causeway which saves weary travellers from having to take a ferry to get there. The western coasts of the Ionian archipelago are unbeatable for feet sinking into soft sand and there’s a plethora of sunspots around Lefkada’s coastline to choose from. Try these…
Gialos: Close to Athani village. As this is one of the least busy beaches on the west side of the island and ideal for those who savour sand, warm waters and a relaxing ambience.
Yialos: Has to be the Shangri La of hidden beaches; with its white carpet of soft sand and clear waters it is largely deserted except in high season. Typical of the long, unspoilt golden stretches made all the more picturesque by rugged mountainous terrain and cliff top scenery.
Pefkoulia (north of fishing village Agios Nikitas): Without doubt the Queen beach of turquoise colouring, as if the Gods had poured bleach into the sea.
Nikiana (9 kilometres from the capital): Although more of a tourist resort is also home to a small harbour and bay surrounded by Cypress trees. It offers accommodation, several taverns, cafes and bars. The beautiful but thin pebble beach is close to the coastal road.
Lefkada Town’s accommodation is varied in price and quality. The Panorama Taverna in Athani (nearest to Yialos beach) has a reputation for being one of the friendliest on the island. Offers simple rooms and home cooking served on a patio looking over the village.
Lindos’ Saint Paul’s Beach: Rhodes Island
This beautiful small town beach might not be exactly ‘hidden’ but it still has a secluded, laid back atmosphere unlike most town beaches. The medieval, white washed village with its narrow cobbled streets inhabits a couple of attractive beaches due to their close proximity to the Crusader town. It is mainly those ‘in the know’ who head for the Saint Paul’s Beach with its crescent shaped lagoon nestled at the bottom tip of the village. This is the only place I have ever tried snorkelling, tempted by the bay’s warm turquoise waters which remain shallow some way out. The beach is a mix of sand and pebbles.
Other nearby beaches are Pallas and Megalos Gialos which tend to get crowded in high season.
Lindos is a fierce sun trap, in fact the hottest area on Rhodes island due to its south East position on the Karpathian Sea. It is known for consistently recording the highest temperatures on the island. Saint Paul’s beach itself is near a chapel where weddings take place and like Pallas can be reached by foot from the village or by car/taxi as there is an unobtrusive car park behind the beach front.
Due to the high temperatures in Lindos (particularly in July/August) and at nearby beaches it is wise to take along high factor sun creams; also wear a hat!
When looking for somewhere to stay Lindos Mare is a boutique four star hotel 1.8 miles from Lindos village (6mins taxi ride) and the bay. It offers high quality accommodation with modern air conditioned bedrooms all with sea views of the east coast. A quirky rail lift takes patrons from the lobby down to the main restaurants, pools, spa and bedrooms that cover four floors.
Any island small enough to explore by motorbike has to be a bonus, particularly when exploring the beautiful beaches in the southern and eastern parts of this Northeast Aegean Island. Despite its modest size Thasos became the seat of a sea faring empire helped by revenues from gold deposits and latterly more famous for white marble.
Thasos isn’t the most convenient of destinations due to a lack of airport services but the trip via ferry from the mainland is worth the effort to experience the island’s rich mix mix of ancient sites, diverse landscape and famously clean sandy beaches.
The best beaches are in the south and east of Thasos town and conveniently close to each other. Although many such as Potos and Skala Sotiras offer shops, bars and restaurants you can still find quiet, secluded gems around the island, including a rather unremarkable stretch for naturists!
Alyki Beach: This popular cove beach is based in one of the most scenic spots on the island with mountainous terrain in the background and the hamlet of Alyki close by. Soft sands and a sprinkling of tavernas make this an idyllic place to bask in the sun and enjoy the clear waters. Alyki is really two small beaches separated by a headland so you can pop over to the quieter side which is stony and has stronger winds creating dramatic surf.
Trypiti: Has a laid back atmosphere unspoilt by commercial tourism. Here a beautiful stretch of sandy beach winds through a cliff face conjuring a mythical scene from Jason and the Argonauts particularly with its intriguing sea cave. It is serenely peaceful with cliffs offering shade from the sun.
Giola: For something truly different don’t miss having a dip in the warm lagoon at Giola. This is like a natural swimming pool but carved into the rocks. Access isn’t easy and involves car or scooter ride to the destination in the south east near the village of Astris.
When looking for accommodation The Golden Beach on the east coast offers a range of hotels close to shopping amenities. If you prefer staying amongst fauna and flora try Hotel Coral in the Skala Rachoni area. This inland children friendly hotel is some distance from the beach but has sports facilities and a large pool. Limenaria, the second largest town on the island is a tad shabby but an excellent base to stay to explore the many distinctive beaches around the south-western part of Thasos.
Napoleon’s Place (Skala Sotiras) is a cosy establishment near Sotiras village and beach with a family run vibe which has been running since 1965. It offers seclusion in bright but basic studio rooms with balconies. Go self-catering or tuck into home cooked grub at Napoleon’s restaurant, popular with locals and tourists alike.
There are no direct flights to Thasos but ferries and hydrofoil services are available from the mainland at Kavala or from neighbouring island Samothraki. The most convenient is to fly to Kavala International Airport from Athens (approx 50mins) or direct to Kavala from Gatwick.
Vatera Beach, Lesvos Island
One of my favourite islands for its variety of beaches, colourful history and traditional villages, it’s not surprising that the Romans also loved vacationing at this volcanic gem in the Aegean Sea. They no doubt enjoyed the island’s olives (grown in abundance) and the Ouzo, famously strong at 48 percent alcohol content. Lesvos has an international airport at Mytilini, the capital which is a modern town fused with ancient history, architecture and a strong Turkish flavour.
Vatera Beach: One of the best beaches on the island in the south and just 50km from Mytilini, there are no pebbles and stones here to hurt the feet but pure fine sand to sink your toes in. Although a romantic spot it is also ideal for families as the sea is calm and clear.
The nearby picturesque hill town of Agiasos is regarded as the most beautiful of the island with a church that features an icon painted by St Luke. Hot springs and some spas at Poliknitos make the stay here adventurous and varied.
The capital Mytilini offers a range of hotels, studios, and B&B’s but for something a little more intimate near Vatera beach try Aphrodite Beach, a family run establishment offering single, double and triple rooms in a complex of smart, unfussy rooms. The very blue and white hotel also hosts a roomy pool, restaurant and car hire rental.
One of the most magical islands in Greece because of its world renowned town Fira (Thira) perched like an exotic bird with glistening white buildings and blue domes on the top of red volcanic cliffs. Also famous for equally pretty Oia, a honeymooners’ paradise and photo shoot location, situated at the northern tip end of the island. As distinctive as Venice, the town faces the caldera, the remains of the island volcano that erupted millions of years ago and is itself a tour destination.
Kamari Beach (east side of Santorini Island): Kamari beach is basically an attractive yet lively strip resort fronting a parasol filled sandy beach. Here, as in many beaches on the east side, you’ll find modest hotels and a multitude of busy bars and restaurants ranging from traditional ‘blue and white’ tourist haunts to cool designer bars. The stretch of beach is long so there are quiet areas at either end and the west side is curtained off by an imposing rugged cliff face. Kamari is handy for its accessibility to the beach and shopping. There’s also a cinema complex and a comfortable outdoor cinema (with bar) which is a real treat to watch English language movies out in the cool night air.
Stay on the east coast of the island for holidaying while then visiting Fira and Oia by taxi or self transport in the evening. You will be able to enjoy the beautiful, narrow winding streets that descend down the steep red cliffs to the island’s stony shores. Settle in a cliff bar around 7pm and watch the most magnificent sunsets disappearing behind the Caldera, accompanied by classical music piped around the town on speakers.
When staying on the island I recommend Hotel Zephyros a modest family run 40-room hotel with one of the most attractive pools, surrounded by thick palm trees. Ask George for a ‘club sandwich’ served at the pool—heaven.