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Discover islands that rest like a string of jewels in the southern Aegean Sea, with medieval castles, walled cities and exquisite beaches en route.

Karpathos: Best for activities
Take a 70-minute flight, or the rather more leisurely 16-hour ferry, from Athens on the Greek mainland.

Constructed centuries ago near the edge of the cliffs, Karpathos’s whitewashed windmills were built to last. The wind rushes along the footpath before them, muting the gentle snapping sound of their sails and of the waves crashing against the cliff face 200 metres below. The island’s western frontier, surrounded by the temperamental Aegean Sea, invokes a sense of awe that only nature can deliver.

Karpathos is small, stretching seven and a half miles in length and a mere two miles at its widest point, yet it manages to squeeze in a great variety of landscapes, making it perfect for outdoor pursuits: world-class surfing beaches, roads with soft hills ideal for cycling, and shimmering, glass-blue water for swimming and snorkelling.

Walkers are particularly enchanted with Karpathos, eager to explore the trails that seem to have unravelled across the island like unruly yarn. Manolis Panagiotou is the head of the island’s Friends of Nature group and leads walks at least once a week. ‘The map shows 155 miles of hiking paths, but there are at least another 155 miles of trails not on the map,’ he says.

Karpathos is well endowed with nature. Shaded olive groves, forested mountains, jagged cliffs and hidden coves make walking an endless treasure hunt. ‘The scenery changes all the time,’ Panagiotou remarks. ‘This is what makes Karpathos different. And it’s rare to meet other people on the trail. It’s a lonely kind of place.’

Despite being nestled between Crete and Rhodes, Karpathos feels far away from everywhere. Its isolated population live just as they have for centuries, seeming half-pleased and half-snubbed at being left out of the hubbub of the neighbouring islands.

Over the years, many of the islanders have flown the coop in search of greater opportunities elsewhere, but recently they’ve begun returning to Karpathos, recognising the beauty and potential of their tiny, windswept homeland.

Manolis moved to the island six years ago. ‘I hadn’t seen such an island before,’ he says. ‘My family have always been occupied with the sea – we’ve been sea captains as far back as my great-greatgrandfather – but when I first came to Karpathos, I was fascinated. The other islands don’t really make a difference to me. But this one, it’s beautiful.’

Where to eat
You won't get any more local than To Helliniko Restaurant, with its extended family atmosphere and menu of Karpathian cheese, stuffed artichokes and roasted goat (mains from £4.50; 00 30 22450 23932).

Where to stay
Perched on the cliffs with views over Kyra Panagia beach, Acropolis Studios has modern and spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the coast and red-domed church below. Delicious home-cooked food is served at the shady terrace restaurant, including seafood dishes and moussaka (doubles from £63, including breakfast; Kyra Panagia; 00 30 22450 23002).

Further information

Rhodes: Best for history
Take a 35-minute flight or a 5-hour ferry from Karpathos, heading northeast across the Aegean Sea. 

Alleyways twist and turn, leading deep into the labyrinth of the walled Old Town of Rhodes. Stone buttresses arch overhead as narrow passageways open on to leafy squares. Medieval mansions stand next to Byzantine chapels, Turkish baths and turreted palaces. All that’s missing are armoured knights galloping past and a Gothic princess crying out from a tower window. The museums are excellent, but the history of this place can be felt in the buildings, squares and streets themselves.

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