Hidden gems in the land of sun.
At the most Southeastern part of Europe, where three continents unite, lies a land known for its mythology and ancient civilization. One that is known throughout the world for all its gifts to our way of life. Today though, visitors tend to look for something different in Greece. Obviously, one will take the time to visit the renowned ruins and bask in the glorious sun, but having the second largest coastline in Europe, bigger than that of France, Spain and Portugal combined, it offers some of the most magnificent beaches one can find throughout the world.
Greece has a unique geology that makes it home to over 6,000 islands. However, only 227 of them are inhabited. No other country in Europe has such features. Being a relatively small country too, the furthest point from the coast one can get to while in Greece is 137km away. That means that no matter where you are in the country, you can get to a beach within 1,5 hour of driving!
What more are you waiting for? Grab your swimsuits and flip flops and follow us for a look into some of Greece’s best beaches and hidden gems!
1. Fakistra, Mount Pelion.
That seems weird right? A beach located in a Mountain? Well, yes indeed. At 330km north of Athens one can find the glorious mountain of Pelion. Pelion is basically a hook-shaped peninsula that extends from the mainland into the Aegean Sea, thus creating beautiful coastlines on its north and south sides. It rises up to 1515m at its peak and is one of the few places in the world where you can ski with a view of the sea!
Mount Pelion includes vast dense forests and tiny picturesque villages. It is of such beauty, that the ancient Greeks used to believe that it was the Olympian Gods’ summer residence. A holiday resort for Gods should be pretty good right? At its south side lies a gulf, the Pagasetic where the ancient city of Iolkos was built, today named Volos. That is where the famous ship Argo with the Argonauts departed from in an expedition to retrieve the Golden Fleece, according to legend. Furthermore, Pelion was thought to be the residence of Centaurs. Creatures half-men, half-horses that were the trainers of mighty heroes such as Hercules or Achilles. But enough with the mythology of it.
Pelion’s northern side has some of the prettiest beaches one can find in the Greek mainland. Rocky, sandy or shingly, you name it, it’s there! One can try Mylopotamos, Potistika or Limnionas but by no means must miss Fakistra. Shaded by the enormous rocks and the mountain that ascends behind it, it creates a tiny gulf where the winds of the aegean break up and it becomes quite cozy to spend some time in. The combination of the trees hanging from the rocks with the endless blue of the sea makes for a breathtaking setting. A few metres behind the beach there is also a tiny waterfall that completes the magic. The beach is small so one should aim to get there as early as possible. The only negative thing about it is that you have to walk down a narrow steep footpath for about 10 minutes to get there and then obviously walk back up. Some people like the seclusion that this offers so if you are an adventurer pack some lunch with your water bottles and go! There are not any shops or taverns anywhere near the beach so you have get everything from the village of Tsagarada which 10 minutes away by car. All of the above make this beach favourite destination among younger people and adventurers. Even if you do not wish to walk all the way down for a swim, it is worth gazing from above and capture the brilliant view.
The only way to get there is by car. You can book a room in any of the villages that are situated nearby with Tsagarada being a really popular one in Mount Pelion and also very close to this specific beach. Mount Pelion itself is a 4 hour drive from the capital of Athens and a 3 hour drive from Thessaloniki. You can also try and book flights to the local airport which is open only for the summer months and does not have that many connections. The budget of this trip depends on the season and the place where you will decide to stay. Tsagarada is one of the most touristic villages but there are plenty of others if you are willing to drive a bit further. However mountains in Greece are not as popular as islands yet so you can spend a weekend there in an average budget of around 350€ for two people.
2. Nero, Kato Koufonisi.
In the centre of the world-known Cyclades lie a myriad of popular islands. Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Tinos and so many more. It is Greece’s largest island complex and it includes some of the world’s favourite holiday destinations. Between the bigger islands of Naxos and Amorgos lies a smaller complex that the Greeks call ‘The Little Cyclades’. They consist mainly of Iraklia, Koufonisia, Schoinoussa and Keros. Koufonisia is plural because there is two of them. Ano Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi which basically translates to North Koufonisi and South Koufonisi. The North one has really upped its touristic game these past few years. It has become a very popular destination mostly for Greeks and it also used to host its own music festival ‘Up!’. It is rather small but you can find some gorgeous beaches and paths and maybe even walk around the whole island easily.
But it is the Kato Koufonisi that hides the most beautiful gem of the region. The two islands are about 10-15 minutes away in a boat and they can be very easily distinguished as Kato Koufonisi is a bit bigger but interestingly it is uninhabited. The only buildings in the whole island are some little houses that work as storage or stables, an old church and a tavern. The only known residents of the isle are the tavern owner and a shepherd. On the southwest side of the island lies the wonderful Nero (literally means ‘water’) beach. It takes about 30-40 minutes to walk there from the tavern and you better be prepared for the blazing sun as the Cyclades are notorious for their lack of tall trees to protect you from it. Another option is to take the local boat, run by the old captain Prasinos, that goes to the tavern then to Nero beach and back to Ano Koufonisi where it departs from three times a day during the tourist season.
Nero beach expands on the southwest bit of the island. It is about 250 metres long with a small curve. At its end is where heaven itself is up for grabs. A sandy golden surface meets the crystal blue waters and the Armyrikia trees grow tall just enough to create perfect shades. It is the only small bit in the island where these trees grow. That is because there must have been some kind of stream there in the past that perhaps now moves underground. People put up their tents between the trees and some are known to spend months in that beach. It is a very popular destination among campers. That is the other trick with Kato Koufonisi and Nero. There is no accommodation besides the beachfront and the duvet of stars. The locals there are aware of the situation so they allow free campers to stay without bothering them. After all the law in Greece states that you are allowed to have a tent set up for the duration of the night and the authorities never bother to check unless there are official complaints. One can either set up tent at the tavern owner’s field where they can easily access fresh water and food. The other choice is set up tent at the wonderful Nero beach but you have to have some food and water or be keen to get the small boat to Ano Koufonisi daily to get supplies.
We recommend that you pay a visit to Ano Koufonisi if you have time and check its lovely bars, taverns and beaches. The ferry from Piraeus, Athens’ port, takes about 8 hours to drop you at Ano Koufonisi and then you can get the small boat to Kato Koufonisi and Nero beach. Another option is to fly to Naxos and get a local ferry from there but its is going to be more expensive and it may save you 2-3 hours in the best case. If you choose to camp the whole trip will be much cheaper obviously as rooms in Ano Koufonisi are becoming more popular every year. A weekend at Koufonisia, including the ferry tickets from Piraeus can cost up to 500€ for two people but it would be half that amount if you choose to camp instead.
3. Psili Ammos, Patmos.
On the southeast part of the Aegean Sea lies the Dodecanese complex of islands. its name literally means ‘twelve islands’ and that is where you can find some cosmopolitan and touristic destinations such as Rhodes and Ios but also tiny gems like Kasos and Symi. Patmos, the island where John remained when he was writing the Apocalypse, is located on the north part of the dodecanese. A gorgeous island that has risen in fame through the last decades and often reminds you of a smaller version of Mykonos in August. Patmos is very popular because of the cave of the Apocalypse where John is supposed to have found shelter when writing the Book of the Apocalypse. It was an island of interest for the christian world throughout history so the Byzantines built the Monastery of St John there in 1088. The castle-like building still stands on the top of a hill and the island’s capital is built around it. There is nothing like a walk among the narrow streets and the view of the sea from the Monastery gates.
The island has had Franks, Venetians and Ottomans occupy it throughout history and subsequently became a popular name among europeans. One can drive around it in a couple of hours and it is considered a perfect destination to combine calmness and natural beauty with a vibrant nightlife and parties. It has several beaches worth visiting with cool crystal waters and all kinds of surface but one of them stands out as the most favourite among locals.
‘Psili ammos’, which literally translates as ‘thin sand’ is located on the south part of the island but it faces the west. To get there one needs to be keen to walk 20 minutes on a lovely and easy footpath as cars cannot get near it. You can also get a boat from Skala that visits the beach from the water for a daily swim. It is far more easy and convenient to drive and then walk as you can choose when to leave and be way more relaxed and dry! The beach and the tavern of Diakofto are about a 10-minute drive from the Chora (the typical name for a Greek island’s capital) or a 20-minute drive from Skala, the port. You can leave your car parked there for free and walk up the hill. One of my favourite things about Patmos is the moment I reach the top of the hill and the heavenly beach reveals itself beneath me, glorious under the sunlight. A tiny stone-built tavern is built on one side and a large area of golden sand extends in a curve to the left. As you descend and reach the beach the soft waves that reach the shore invite you to play and explore the sea. The beach is big in the sense that it has lots of space in width as much as in length. At the side opposite to the tavern there rocks where one can snorkel and see the beautiful deep but also climb and dive into the sea -only if you know how to measure depth and height by sight!
The small tavern has a few dishes on each day but it seems like a wonderful idea after a long sunbathing session. It is built near some tall green armyrikia (remember them?) and you can enjoy a glass of ouzo while watching the horizon and listening to the waves. It is built in a very minimal and traditional way so it definitely does not ruin the relaxation that the beach offers. Finally, the whole beach has several large armyrikia growing at a good distance from the water so the earlier you get there the more likely you are to claim a spot in the shade. Remember: the sun is not forgiving in the Greek summer. You can buy water and food from the tavern or show up organized and have a picnic under a tree or even spend the night there if you carry a tent with you. Last but not least, try and stay there till the sun sets and enjoy the glorious sky colours while swimming.
Patmos is not very easy to access. The ferry from Piraeus takes about 10 hours to get there. Alternatively, you can grab a flight to Leros, a neighbouring island, and then spend one hour in a ferry to Patmos. Make sure to check the ferry times as they change throughout the year. Patmos has become quite the destination lately so if you visit in a touristic period it can cost around 600€ for two people to spend a weekend there, including your ferry or flight tickets.
4. Megalo Livadi, Serifos.
We are back in the amazing Cyclades. It reasonable to become confused as this island complex is very dense and includes too many islands. Serifos is one quite close to Athens and you can reach it by ferry in about 4 hours. Many people choose to combine it with a few days in Sifnos, Milos or Folegandros. All these isles are neighbouring and each of them has its own majestic beauty. Serifos is average sized and has a little bit of everything. It is nowhere near the like of Mykonos, Patmos or even Paros in terms of tourists but it is still reasonably popular. As many islands in Greece it has a town where the port is and another one in the top of a hill. In the ancient and middle ages islands would always have fortifications on hilltops to defend from pirates. These two places are quite close to each other. It takes about 5-7 minutes by car to reach the top of the hill from the port.
The Chora, which is the one on the top, is a typical cycladic town with these lovely white narrow paths and steps that lead you to wonderful views. At night, the streets fill with young people and the bars and cocktail roofs echo with music under the aegean starry sky. The nightlife in Serifos is not legendary yet but it is extremely well balanced and one can party hard or enjoy a relaxed cocktail depending on their mood. Like every other Greek island that respects itself, Serifos has some amazing beaches. The one I suggest you check out is Megalo Livadi. Do not confuse it with Livadi which is what people call the beach next to the port and sometimes the port itself.
The beach is about 20-25 minute drive from either the port or the top of the hill. It is the first beach on our list that requires no walk to get there so this is for everyone who was grinning with all the walking on our previous listings! In addition to that it is also the first beach I am suggesting you see that is completely part of the grid. The beach consists of a small bay that goes deep inland and has a small curvy surface with sand. Right behind the beachfront there many tall trees like palms and armyrikia and a couple of taverns right behind those. You can combine your swim with some meze or a proper dinner. The waters are crystal clear and the sun sets quite nicely almost opposite you. However here comes the main reason Megalo Livadi stands out.
Serifos was one of the islands that became notorious for its mines in the late 19th century. Greece had recently turned into a state and the leadership was trying to create infrastructure for businesses. In 1891 a French family took charge of the mining business in the island. The stories of cruel conditions and inhuman treatment still echo in the locals’ narrations. The island was rich in iron and it became a booming business through the times of industrialization and wars up until the 1960s.
Megalo Livadi is where the headquarters of the company were. If you face the seafront and look to your right you can see an old ruin of a massive building that seems haunted. Also at the back some other buildings affiliated with the business that are also decaying with time. But the most exhilarating and impressive sight you will lay eyes on are the rails. On both sides of the bay, as the land spreads toward the sea, you can see the iron made rails that extend to tiny pillars over the water and were used to load the products into boats. If you take a stroll around the bay you will see many old rusty wagons, more rails and even tunnels. The tunnels are left as they were and you can even walk in. The temperature gets extremely cold really quickly and it is pitch black so if you are up for exploration make sure you have a torch with you.
Some tunnels can actually lead you through the mountain and take you to other parts of the island. Make sure you ask the locals whether the ways are open and take all precautions before you go as a deserted mine can be a hazardous environment. Alternatively can just relax at the beach while sipping on your ouzo and marvel the view of the old rails hanging over the endless blue.
As already mentioned, Serifos is only a 4 hour ferry from Piraeus and next to many other glorious isles. The costs are average for Greek island holiday so expect a weekend there for two -with ferry tickets included- to cost up to €450.
5. Kafkalida, Kyllini.
The last part of our hidden gem list is a really well-hidden gem. It may not be as glorious or large as some of the beaches mentioned above but it has a spectacular setting and view and is quite easy to approach. We are back into mainland Greece at the very edge of its southwest part in Peloponnese. Kyllini is an ancient port with great history and a glorious Venetian castle built right over it. Nowadays it is the main port to get you to the Ionian islands of Kefallonia and Zante. It lies about 300km away from Athens but the road is brand new and large for the most part, so it is not a tricky drive.
The good part about getting there is that it is nothing like the islands in terms of tourists and prices. Many locals and a few tourists visit the area in the summer but is way more relaxed than the Cyclades or any other island complex really. That also makes for a cheaper holiday as well as for a more original local experience. Upon reaching Kyllini you will notice the Chlemoutsi (Clermont) castle on top of a hilland the islands of Ionian Sea far away into the ocean.
Kaukalida is located just a few hundred yards away from the ruins of the Fort of Glarentza (Clarence) and you can get there by car and park next to the fields of corn and water melons that the locals grow. You walk a big path down to the beach and then you have to keep walking until you get right across the tiny island with the old lighthouse. That is right. The best bit about this beach is the view of lighthouse that stands tall on a tiny island just 300 metres away from the beach. The surface is golden sandy and the water are as blue as anywhere in Greece. That part of the sea is usually much warmer than the Cyclades and Dodecanese too.
The beach has no buildings, tents or umbrellas but every no and then you can find a few campers that set up tent under the few bushes behind the sandhill. Not much walking is involved so it is easy for you to bring food, drinks and maybe even a tent. It can get quite windy but in a calm day you can easily swim all the way to the lighthouse. You will be assisted by underwater rocks and be able to walk at many points too. The island that hosts the lighthouse is small but has trees for some shade and a dock for boats. You might find that somebody sailed there for a picnic but there is room for people. However, as it is still an operating lighthouse the coastguard might ask you to leave they come by and you are not allowed to camp there for the night officially but people are known to have done it before. While swimming in the sea you can watch the sun set behind the island of Kefallonia and also some boats moving along the horizon. These make for a pretty great setting.
Kafkalida is part of one of the largest beaches of Greece. It starts in Kyllini and goes southeast for over 100 kilometres. Many villages, hotels resorts and bars are built on it. You can drive around and visit numerous palces like Ancient Olympia, the Neda gorge or the Kaiafas lake. Many parts of that beach are organised with lots of people but equally many are extremely empty and amazing for long walks if you fancy one. If you choose to stay near Kyllini and the beach of Kafkalida all distances are very easy but I encourage you to get a car as local transportation is non-existent. You can get one from Athens and drive all the way down or get the bust form Athens and rent a car locally. Another option for this part of Greece is to fly directly to Zante or Kefallonia and combine a trip in the area with some touring of one of the two isles which welcome many flights and tourists from all over the world. The ferry from Kefalonia and Zante to Kyllini is only 1 hour and a half. The local and agricultural economy of the area means you will enjoy a much cheaper holiday than that of the islands with you major cost being transportation, car rental and gasoline. A weekend trip for two will probably not exceed €300 if you book early.
A few more things…
These were some of our favourite beach selections for less popular destinations to avoid both congestion and stingy prices. Greece might be small but it offers countless options for holidays at relatively low costs. It is hard to choose between that many islands but they all bear unique beauties, traditions and local products. If you would rather enjoy a more relaxing and local atmosphere go for the mainland. Greece may be notorious for its islands but its mainland is 70% mountains so it includes a huge variety of natural beauty and destinations for any time of the year really. The thing you have to watch out most for is transportation. Its unique terrain does not allow for much rail service so most destinations in the mainland are reachable by bus. These buses are not extremely quick or dense in their service so make sure you learn the times early. Ideally you should rent a car though it can bring the budget up quite a bit. All islands are connected with ferry service and all have some form of vehicle rental. It is hard to rely on public transport in the islands though not impossible. Their buses have limited service and cannot reach all parts you may wish to see. You can opt to rent a scooter instead of car or even hitch a hike which is quite popular with young people and campers. Make sure you always keep yourselves safe regardless of your means of transport.
The greeks are a very welcoming people that are very expereinced in offering tourist services and the smaller the town or village you visit the more welcome you will be. As in all touristic destinations watch out for people who may seem to take advantage of you. This is quite common with people offering driving service (always opt for licensed taxis or public transport) but generally outside of Athens Greece has zero to extremely low criminality. Always remember that the greek summer is no joke. The temperatures very often reach or exceed 40 degrees celsius from June to September and the sun can be very harmful if you are not ready for it. Do not go anywhere without water and sunscreen. Make sure you have sunglasses and a cap in case you need to spend extended times outdoors and there is no option for shade. If you are not a confident and experienced swimmer stay close to the coast at all times because there are plenty of underwater streams if you get out at open sea and the weather can change quickly there too. Do not worry about sharks. People from other parts of the world find it hard to believe but Greece has had way more people struck by lightning than attacked by sharks.
We really hope this has made an interesting addition to your summer plans. If you choose to spend some time in Greece this year it will be one of the best decisions you ever made.
Soak in the sun, fill up in the marvellous food and treat your eyes to some of the best sceneries in the world.