The Cyclades: a circle dance of Greek islands

Amazing delicacies, dancing till dawn, architectural minimalism, the azure of the sea and world’s best sunset views – it’s all about the legendary Greek Cycladic Islands. The name of this archipelago comes from the Greek word ‘Κυκλάδες’, which means ‘lying in a circle’.
Dec 22 2023 • by Alexander Shumskiy 15 minutes to read
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We have chosen the most exciting and unusual eight out of two hundred for you not to get dizzy from their beauty. Now it’s your turn to choose your favourites or enjoy them all, as they are located so compactly that you can do it in just ten days. However, it is a good idea to budget a few extra days, in case of meltemia (local northern wind). It starts unexpectedly, lasts for about three days and can be so strong that yachts are simply not allowed to leave the port. It is not comfortable at sea at this time anyway. 

Folegandros

What for: peace and quiet 

Folegandros
Folegandros

Perhaps no other placename in our mini-guide sounds as beautiful as this. In Greek the name of Folegandros means something like ‘hard as iron’. And this name suits this island perfectly. Few people have heard of Folegandros, which is not surprising, because almost all tourists’ attention is drawn to its star neighbour, Santorini. However, our shadow hero is ideal for incurable romantics.

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The main and, in fact, the only village with three squares is located on a hill and amazes with its views. The houses that are whitewashed by the wind, the salt and the sun just beg to be photographed. The main sight here is the church, but it takes about half an hour to walk there up the serpentine from the central square. The view from an almost sheer cliff is breathtaking. And of course, there are luxurious bays with purest blue water! The most outstanding ones are Livadaki in the west of the island and Karavostasis in the east.

Sifnos

What for: food, food and food again 

Sifnos
Sifnos

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that almost each of two hundred of Cycladic islands claims to be the culinary capital of the archipelago, of Greece, of Europe and even the world. Modesty is not their deal. But Sifnos lays special claims for this high status, as Nikolas Tselementes, who is the Greek Heston Blumental of the last century, comes from this island. He is famous for writing the first cook book in modern Greek history and making a huge contribution to the development of the whole gastronomical industry in the country. Sifnos cuisine is not Greek in the traditional way, and it is mainly famous for baked dishes.

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It takes really long to cook them in special ovens at low temperature and they have amazingly creamy texture, be it meat or vegetables. Specialty chickpeas and mastelo, lamb in red wine with dill are all made in earthenware. The pots are made locally, too – in the old workshop of Atsonios, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The island is also famous for its old café of Theodorou, where they make various sweet things with almond.

Milos

What for: to see the moonscape without going to space

Milos
Milos

It’s probably the most beautiful participant of our impromptu hit parade. Believe it or not, but few people know about it, although something that had been found here is known to almost everyone – the statue of the Venus de Milo. There are over 70 beaches and bays on Milos, and the locals are sure that their island should be looked at and appreciated from the water. No wonder impressive superyachts have been coming here a lot recently. Despite the modest size the island is extremely diverse and you just never get tired of it. We definitely recommend coming to Sarakiniko at sunrise or at sunset. Quaint snow-white hills, columns and figures of windblown limestone are like no other place on Earth and remind you of a moonscape.

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Another outstanding area is Kleftiko, where you can get here only by a yacht and admire the glare game on the sheer cliffs from the water. One more special feature of Milos is syrmatas: cute, but practical two-storeyed fishermen’s houses built just a couple of meters from the water. There’s a garage for a boat on the ground floor, and housing on the top one. The brightest examples can be found in the villages of Klima and Mandrakia.  

Polyaigos

What for: a real desert island in the centre of Europe

Milos satellite islands are definitely worth visiting, too. Quatar emir has a residence on the slightly bigger one, Kimolos, where there is also a wonderful national park. But the smaller one, Polyaigos, is just stunning - with its purest water that can beat even Costa Smeralda and Corsica. There are dozens of beaches and bays, the best of which are in the south-east. 

There’s not much more that Polyaigos is famous for, but in fact it is one of the largest desert islands in the Aegean Sea, and probably in Europe, too. Its name can be translated as ‘lots of goats’, and there are a lot of animals there, indeed. There are also Eleonora’s falcons, different reptiles and dozens of different kinds of fish. In the caves you can see rare Mediterranean monk seals. For its diverse fauna and flora Polyaigos has been included into a special European network of protected areas Natura 2000.

Serifos

What for: relax, take it ee-ea-sy! 

Serifos
Serifos

A couple of hours at leisurely speed away from Milos there is another pearl of the Cyclades. Serifos, which is empty even in high season, let alone in spring. However, Athenian bohemia simply adores the place. There is almost no night entertainment, everything is quiet, calm and steady. No worries, complete zen.

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The best beaches are far from being crowded. The coolest ones – Kalo Ampeli and Vagia – are hard to get to, it takes some exhausting hiking. But you can easily anchor nearby and enjoy the serene scenery from the water. In the north of the island pay attention to the seaside tavern on Sikamia beach, next to the tiny church of Archangel Gabriel.

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Serifos port with its traditional white houses that go up the hills in ledges is considered to be one of the most photogenic in the country. There is a beautiful castle on the mountain above the town, and a church of St. Constantine. The view onto the bay full of yachts, ferry boats and clouds is just stunning. And don’t forget to check out Kerameio ceramics studio, when you are in town.

Mykonos

What for: best parties 

Mykonos
Mykonos

This is the best known and most lively island on our list. It’s most discussed and controversial, too, but it's impossible to deny that there’s a really special atmosphere on Mykonos. Like nowhere else. It’s a hot mix of Los Angeles, London, Ibiza and Berlin, seasoned with some Greek spices. Statistically, they drink more champagne on Mykonos alone than in all of Europe (excluding France). Louis Vuitton and Dior value their local regular customers so much, that they create special collections for Mykonos.

The main specialty of the island is its beach clubs. They are scattered all around in almost every bay. And they are all unique, with their own cuisine and ‘features, playlists and Djs’. On the leeward north side there is Principote and Alemagou. From July to September, when Mykonos is in the power of meltemia, even in 40-degree heat it doesn’t feel comfortable due to almost hurricane gusts of wind. However, windsurfing and kiting are great almost every day.

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Make sure you check out the beach and restaurant Agrari in the south-east, with its famous seafood risotto and chandeliers swaying with the wind, as well as Kalafatis bay. However, it is best in the south, where there’s less wind, as it is protected by the rocks, and the concentration of fun is just off the charts. There’s a legendary Scorpios club with its hot parties and impressive sunsets on one side, and an equally famous Nammos club on Psarou beach on the other, which is regularly rated among the most expensive clubs of the world and boasts customers like Russel Crow and Flavio Briatore, top models, etc.

Agrari restaurant
Agrari restaurant

Another remarkable feature of the island is its amazing diversity. People who have been going to Mykonos for years can assure you that even in August you can easily find half-empty bays and beaches, whereas there are crowds and no room to swing a cat in other places. Ordinary taverns are next door to luxurious conceptual boutiques, art galleries and top restaurants. Even the great Japanese, Nobu Matsuhisa, has an outpost of his among them.

Tinos

What for: love and pigeons 

Tinos
Tinos

Another impressive candidate for the position of a culinary capital is Tinos. It gets slightly lost against the background of his noisy neighbour, Mykonos, but is definitely worth the attention.  Apart from wonderful tiny taverns and cosy beaches, winemaking is flourishing here. The key ‘exporter’ of white, rose and red wines from the island is T-Oinos winery. This Alexandros Avatangelos’s project is famous far beyond Greece.

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There are over 40 villages here, and they all compete for the status of the most beautiful and most romantic. For example, look at Agapi, which means ‘love’ in Greek. Not many foreigners have heard of Tinos, but it is a sacred island for Greeks. Every year thousands of pilgrims come to see the miraculous icon of Mother of God and go up to the monastery (which is 753 meters above sea level) from the port on their knees! They also love pigeons here: over 600 most beautiful dovecots are scattered around the island.

Coming ashore

If you make up your mind to stay the night ashore, take a closer look at boutique hotels. These are the editors’ favourites, the true jewels of the Cyclades and the embodiment of modern Greek minimalistic design.

Trinity, Mykonos

http://www.trinitymykonos.com/

Trinity Hotel
Trinity Hotel

It would be an understatement to say that the location of this hotel is ideal. It is located on a hill above the best Mykonos beach, Platis Gialos, not far from Scorpios, which is the most central beach club. But at the same time, it is really quiet and calm here. Trinity has three owners (which explains its name) and just a dozen of rooms, but all of them are with sea view. One just can’t help mentioning the manager and part-time Dj here, Simon Baring. First of all, this British know everyone on the island and can take his guests even to the most secret parties. Secondly, together with his colleagues he cooks breakfasts in the morning, which seem to leave some of his well-known fellow-countrymen like Gordon Rumsay in the dust.

Skinopi Lodge, Milos

https://skinopi.com/

Skinopi Lodge
Skinopi Lodge

This coplex of several compact villas is the embodiment of barefoot luxury – that very luxury that you feel like enjoying in your swimsuit and with no hassles. Athenian Nausika Georgiadu, owner of the lodge, has been gradually buying land in the villages of Trypiti and Skinopi since late 80s. She fell in love with Milos at first sight, and believes there’s ‘the best sea in Greece’ there. The project was designed by her friends from Kokkinou Kourkoulas studio, whose portfolio includes such an impressive work as Benaki Museum in Athens. Skinopi villas are maximum minimalistic. These are spacious one-storeyed houses with huge windows from floor to ceiling, terraces, own exit to the mini beach and a view onto the bay. Nausika is also a sailor and can take her guests for a ride on her 9-meter Cobra RIB.

Xinara, Tinos

https://www.xinarahouse.com/

Xinara House
Xinara House

Another boutique hotel is located on Mykonos’s neighbour. It used to be a classical Cycladian house of 17-18th centuries. A bishop used to live here in the past. Londoners Peter and Susan Marston saw it in 2016 for the first time, and a year later they bought it from its 17 co-owners and had it renovated. Tinos boasts its own marble, which was used in its decoration – for the floor, tabletops and bathrooms. On the outside the villa of over 300 square meters (all of it can be rented) and it is painted traditional bright white colour. Xinara is located in the centre of an amazing private garden with mulberry, hazel, almond and fruit trees, and the owners grow organic tomatoes, oranges, figs and a lot more in their garden for their guests.

Heavenly cuisine

Hellenes do know how to cook deliciously. There are hundreds of superb restaurants on the islands for every taste. Here are our favourites that can serve as starting points for your own gastronomical explorations

Omega 3, Sifnos

It is probably the most noticeable seafood restaurant of the Cyclades. There is everything you can imagine: from battered mini squid to octopus and absolutely any local fish and lobsters in creative interpretation.

Medousa, Milos

A very kind and incredibly Greek restaurant on the rocks of Mandrakia not far from fishermen’s huts.

To maereio, Mykonos

A small restaurant with traditional Greek cuisine (mainly meat, and not fish or seafood) in the very centre of the main city of the island. It’s modest and heart-warming, despite the fact it is located next door to Off-White boutique.

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Alexander Shumskiy
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