The Greek islands are having a moment – but how do you choose from the 6,000 scattered across the Aegean and Ionian seas (albeit only 227 are inhabited)?
Are you looking for an active family holiday or a romantic break? Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of a town or panoramic vistas and secluded coves?
Scroll down to find the best island to suit you.
Crete for history lovers
Historic: Spinalonga, above, was made famous in Victoria Hislop’s book The Island and is a short hop from Crete
On every visit to the largest Greek isle, I discover something new (or rather old) – not surprising given that Crete has been occupied by invaders such as the Romans, Ottomans and Venetians. Vestiges of the past can be seen everywhere, from Castello a Mare, which squats at the entrance of the old port of Heraklion, to the Fortezza, the Venetian fortress at Rethymnon. Thanks to its southerly position, Crete has the longest summer in Greece and is a winter resort too. Blazing sunshine in December? Absolutely.
Don’t miss: The magnificent ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos and other Minoan sites such as Phaistos and Ayia. The Venetian port of Chania with its lighthouse is a charming town to explore too.
Fans of Victoria Hislop’s bestselling historical novel The Island must head to nearby Spinalonga (ten minutes by boat from the village of Plaka), which was famously a leper colony for much of the 20th Century.
Top tip: You need at least seven days to do Crete justice. Two weeks? Even better.
Take me there: Many airlines fly direct to the island in high season, including Thomas Cook, Tui and easyJet.
Check in: We pulled up outside what appeared to be a traditional, whitewashed Greek house. Although it’s a five-star resort, the St Nicolas Bay Hotel has no desire to showcase glitzy bling or contemporary chic. It’s a Cretan hotel and it wants guests to feel it’s just that. From reception, we made our way down flower-strewn cobbled paths, olive groves and lemon trees. It felt like an unspoiled stone-built Cretan village, not least because the resort has its own pretty chapel.
Simple chic continued in our suite, complete with its own pool and framed by a picture-perfect sea view. In the resort, guests can dip into two outdoor pools, and there’s a private cove which tames the sea to become nature’s bathing spot.
The Poseidon spa looms high above the water, and an Elemis facial made for wonderful respite from soaking up the brilliant sun and swimming in the sea.
Foodies will fall in love with the hotel’s three restaurants. Who could tire of the decadent fish buffet with hunks of fresh tuna and smoked salmon tangled with the home-grown herbs that sprout all over the grounds?
The bars, boutiques and tavernas of Agios Nikolaos are a 20-minute stroll minute away. It’s easily manageable thanks to the breeze that blows in on this side of the island. But when you’re lying in the arms of Greek luxury – traditional, hospitable and so keen to please – it seems rude to wander elsewhere.
Olympic Holidays (olympicholidays.com) offers seven nights at St Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel from £1,674pp, based on two adults sharing on a B&B basis and departing Gatwick on August 26.
Kefalonia for first timers
Hidden treasure: Kefalonia’s Lake Melissani with its magical light formations and cool slabs of rock
Immortalised in the Hollywood film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the largest Ionian island lures a huge crowd. That said, you can still feel at one with nature in the parks, fir tree forests, and the endless beaches. It’s a perfect entree to the Greek islands.
Don’t miss: The tiny port of Fiskardo, known for its charming 18th Century buildings and fish restaurants, such as Apagio and Panormos, which flank the water’s edge.
If you fancy escaping the heat for a while, head to the subterranean Lake Melissani, with its magical light formations and cool slabs of rock. And the nearby cave of Drogarati, which is 200ft underground, is so renowned for its acoustics that orchestras are known to hold concerts there.
Fans of Constantine Cavafy’s poem Ithaka, or Homer-lovers like me, will want to take a 40-minute ferry trip to the rugged island of Ithaka, the mythical home of Odysseus.
Top tip: Hire a car so that you can enjoy the sheer freedom of cresting mountainous coastal roads – but watch out for stray goats.
Take me there: Fly direct from regional airports with carriers including Thomas Cook, Ryanair and easyJet.
Check in: The Petani Bay, near Lixouri, is an adults-only (over-16s) luxury hotel. It’s small and perfectly formed, with fantastic service and home-cooked food including tiny cheese-filled pies – a local speciality. Set high on a cliff, it has an infinity pool with breathtaking views of the wonderful Petani beach and bay. Prices range from £180 to £330 a night, depending on season and room size (petanibayhotel.gr).
Santorini for romantics
Sitting pretty: The picture-perfect clifftop village of Oia in Santorini, above
On the southern side of the Aegean Sea, this volcanic island is possibly one of the most photographed, with its whitewashed buildings and blue paintwork framed by the cobalt-blue sea. An abundance of adults-only hotels makes this a grown-up place and a magnet for honeymooners of all ages.
Don’t miss: The glorious sunsets or ancient remains at Thira. Boat tours allow you to admire Santorini from afar and drop anchor at bays that are inaccessible by foot. Locals recommend taking the ten-minute ferry ride to the tiny islet of Thirassia, where there is one hotel, 300 residents and not a lot to do except swimming in the clear, shallow waters. It merely adds to the romance.
Top tip: Black-sand, pebbly beaches (pack flip-flops) are not as pretty as clifftop villages such as Oia. In high summer, the beaches become crowded with adults rather than noisy toddlers.
Take me there: There are many direct flights in high season. In low season, you can fly via Athens with Aegean Airlines.
Check in: Opt for a super-luxury hotel to complement the opulent feel of Santorini. The new Andronis Arcadia takes some beating. All rooms are suites and – a first for the island – every suite has sunset views. It is also home to the largest spa on the island. Suites cost from £575 per night on a B&B basis (andronisarcadia.com).
Zakynthos For families of all sizes
The famous shipwreck on the beach at Navagio Bay in Zakynthos – this huge cove can only be reached by boat
Teenagers may enjoy the hedonistic pleasures of Zakynthos town but this island caters for all ages, be it sandy beaches for toddlers or foodie trips for adults. And thanks to its relatively small size, nothing is far away.
Don’t miss: Navagio is one of the most famous beaches in Greece. With the remains of a rusting shipwreck for shade, this huge cove can only be reached by boat. The sea is glassy and the limestone cliffs awesome. Combine a trip to Navagio with a visit to the nearby Blue Caves during an organised three-hour boat tour (getyourguide.com).
Top tip: To get away from it all, the drive up to the Keri Lighthouse works a treat. Here you’ll find the largest Greek flag in the world and views of the fabulous sea.
Take me there: There are regular flights during high season from most UK airports with British Airways and easyJet.
Check in: If you have children aged 12 or over, it’s hard to beat the Olea Suite Contemporary Hellenic on the north-east coast. The hillside location offers splendid isolation, yet it’s only a ten-minute walk to Tsilivi resort. Rooms cost from £393 per night in high season (oleaallsuitehotel.com).
Hydra for authenticity seekers
Known in Greek as Ydhra, this island 50 miles south of Athens feels like an original rather than a printed copy of what a Greek island should be. The harbour and Yhdra town are preserved as a national monument, and this island is traffic-free. Cycling? That’s also against the law. As such, it feels safe and homely for solo travellers.
Don’t miss: The Lazaros Koundouriotis museum, not least because the climb up steep alleyways to this ochre-coloured stone mansion is worth it for the knockout views. Otherwise, roam the town and harbour and marvel at the tiers of grey-stone mansions built mostly by 18th Century merchant families.
Top tip: You’ll need to like walking, so it is not great for young families. Pack good shoes and be prepared to carry your luggage from the harbour (though donkeys can be hired).
Take me there: Fly to Athens and catch the hydrofoil from Piraeus – it takes between one and two hours and runs five times a day.
Check in: The five-star Hydrea Hotel in the port of Idra blends the traditional with the modern. Double rooms cost from £322 in high season (hydrea.gr).
Alonissos for nature lovers
Alonissos is a beautiful and rugged island surrounded by some of the cleanest waters in Greece and one of the most popular hiking destinations in the northern Aegean
A beautiful and rugged island surrounded by some of the cleanest waters in Greece – it is the only permanently inhabited member of a mini-archipelago that has been designated a marine park.
Don’t miss: The island is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the northern Aegean. There are countless routes that have been surveyed, numbered and signposted. If you are ready for a tough climb, take on the Megalo Chorafi Mountain in the middle of the island. And wildlife enthusiasts will love the pine forests.
Top tip: Almost the entire population resides in the port town of Patitiri, so it gets a little crowded in summer.
Take me there: Fly to Skiathos, then take a two-hour ferry ride.
Check in: The Marpunta Resort is the perfect base – it has a range of sports and activities and a beachfront restaurant.
Seven days cost from £1,282pp based on two adults sharing on a B&B basis, departing Gatwick on September 10 (olympicholidays.com).
Naxos for the active
Naxos, above, is a place for the energetic – be it windsurfing or hiking around old farms and villages
This is a place for the energetic – be it windsurfing or hiking around old farms and villages.
Don’t miss: Hora (Naxos town) is a must for its network of alleyways, Venetian mansions and an idiosyncratic Catholic cathedral.
Top tip: The island starts to close down by mid-September.
Take me there: Fly to Mykonos and then take a 40-minute ferry ride.
Check in: The Naxian Collection in Stelida is a mix of minimalist villas and an elegant hotel. A grand pool suite is from £380 a night (naxiancollection.com).