Picture perfect Greece

By Mike Yardley

They may well be the islands of your most romantic imaginings.

A pocket of the world where the summer sun lingers deep into autumn, where vast expanses of beach intermingle with seductive azure waters, and where you can ramble through the twisting cobblestone lanes that lace lost-in-time villages of exceptional beauty.

It's the world of white-washed buildings, blue-domed churches, ouzo and olives, hilltop windmills, donkey trails and island-hopping ferries.

The Greek Islands total more than 2000 rocky outcrops loosely scattered across the Aegean, yet only 100 islands are permanently inhabited. If you are a first-timer to the region, the Cyclades group of islands should command your interest, with their two-star performers being Mykonos and Santorini.

More languid island retreats include Naxos, Paros, Tinos and Syros. But the twin tourist meccas, informally dubbed S&M;, must be seen to be believed. Mykonos is universally feted as the glamour-puss of the Aegean Sea. Its sandy beaches, swanky shopping and dynamic nightlife make this flesh-pot a perennial favourite with jet-setters and socialites. It is one of the world's great hot-spots for babe-watching and boy-gazing.

Mykonos town is one of the most-photographed settlements in the Med. The port town is a sublime example of a Cycladic village - a labyrinth of dazzling cube-shaped blue-shuttered houses, manicured lanes, pastel-coloured fishing boats bobbing on the water and a slew of waterside bars and restaurants serving up the finest seafood.

For a dollop of culture, check out the Folk Museum, which is housed in an elegant sea captain's mansion. It has a splendid collection of ancient ceramics, embroidery and textiles. One of the more unusual exhibits is a stuffed pelican. This was the original mascot of Mykonos, and "Petros" wooed the camera-toting crowds for 29 years.

The island now has several replacement pelicans schlepping around the cobblestones, ready and waiting to be feted by the tourist. Also part of the museum is the cluster of 16th-century windmills, emblematic of Mykonos. One has been restored to full working order and it was one of the 30 mills used by families all over the island to grind corn. Another essential photo stop is at Little Venice, a fairy-tale sweep of waterfront, festooned with idyllic bars and their front row seats on the booming surf. I highly recommend stopping by Babulas Taverna, on the waterfront. This husband-and-wife team has been serving up exceptional seafood dishes for years. There is no better place to sample fried octopus balls and stuffed calamari.

- Hamilton News

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