The perfect trip: The Dodecanese Islands
Where to eat
Using produce from its own land, Harry's Paradise has an eclectic, ever-changing menu featuring wine and garlic-marinated pork, and delicate edible flowers (mains from £5.50; harrys-paradise.gr).
Where to stay
Set amid a flower garden in laid-back village Myrties, Villa Myrtia has spacious apartments and studios – nothing flashy, just traditional comforts that refuse to compete with amazing views from shaded verandas. The hotel is right next to the sea, looking out to moored fishing boats and the Teledos islet beyond (doubles from £36; villamyrtia.gr).
- NS Papachatzis (00 30 22430 28501)
Leros: Best for slowing down and relaxing
Kalymnos’s chilled-out northeastern neighbour is just 50 minutes away by high-speed ferry.
Time goes slower on Leros. As the ferry sidles up into Agia Marina, next to faded fishing boats and dozing taxi drivers, it’s almost possible to feel the mellowness in the warm air. There are no big-hitters – only a couple of museums, a few ruins and a bit of diving. The draw isn’t in the doing; Leros is the ideal location to just ‘be’. Sitting on the edge of the dock is the perfect way to be embraced by the warm sunshine, while the breeze carries the smells of fresh baking, burnt almonds and coffee. Cats stretch and locals wander by, but no-one’s going anywhere fast.
Thanasis Argyroudis runs the Hotel Nefeli on Leros and has lived here for over a decade. He believes the main attraction of the island is its tranquillity. ‘The island is a unique place that gives people a certain serenity. It reminds many people of the way islands used to be in the ’60s and ’70s because Leros didn’t have a lot of tourism growth over the years. The traditional architecture has been preserved, which gives people a feeling that they’re staying in a place that hasn’t been touched by time.’
Narrow roads wind their way between beautiful pastel-hued buildings. Traditional bakeries display temptingly sticky sweets. The 10th-century Pandeli Castle fortress is perched like a sandcastle at the top of town, catching the sunset on its stone walls and promising 360-degree views to those who can bring themselves to leave their patio chair and climb to the top. Beyond the castle, a row of creaking, old-fashioned windmills catch the sea breeze.
By the waterfront, hours can be easily whiled away doing little more than sipping coffee and watching the colourful fishing boats – a prime occupation on Leros. When asked to recommend activities on the island, Thanasis considers for a moment. ‘There are hundreds of walking paths leading to magnificent and beautiful places,’ he says. ‘But really, why do that when you can just walk down a short path and watch a beautiful sunset?’
Where to eat
An artsy little restaurant serving calamari with pesto, Milos is easy to find – it's by the famous watermill of Agia Marina (mains from £5; Agias Marina; 00 30 22470 24894).
Where to stay
Whitewashed and spacious, there is something entirely comforting about the rooms at Hotel Nefeli. Maybe it’s the villagestyle architecture or the elegant bohemian touches of local art and textiles? Grab yourself a top-floor room and contemplate the answer on the peaceful balcony with views over the flower-filled garden to the sea (doubles from £71; nefelihotels.com).
Patmos: Best for culture
This Dodecanese spiritual centre is 45 minutes by speedboat from Leros, northwest across the Aegean.
The air is filled with heady plumes of incense, bells are tolling and the gathered devotees begin a chant that echoes under a lavishly decorated ceiling. This is the Monastery of St John, a fortified Orthodox priory perched high on a hill in the Old Town of Hora. Nearby, the nuns at the Holy Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi light hundreds of candles to reveal walls covered in intricate frescoes.
For centuries, Patmos has lured religious travellers, and countless Christian pilgrims still come from all across the world to see the island, considered one of the most sacred sites outside of Jerusalem.