Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands, with its emerald mountains, secluded bays and subterranean lakes, was inspired by which? crowned best Greek island.
Abundant sandy beaches, landscapes unpunctuated by high-rise buildings and access to coveted solitude sealed the deal for the island off the west coast of mainland Greece in the Consumers Association’s annual survey. Which? asked more than 1,000 visitors to rank the 10 main Greek islands on factors such as beaches, attractions, scenery and value for money.
Kefalonia, the setting of Louis de Bernières’ novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and a key filming location for the 2001 film starring Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz, was the only island to earn five stars in the Peace and Quiet category, and 85 overall % received.
Visitors were particularly taken with the island’s scenery, which they described as “breathtaking”, with one in particular praising the “beautiful and secluded” beach of Erisos at Fiskardo, which can be reached on foot through a forest.
Jo Rhodes, Associate Editor of which? Travel, said: “When planning a short break to a Greek island, you are spoiled for choice. While they all have an abundance of sun, sea and sand, each island has its own unique character and hidden gems to be discovered. This year, the top rated islands all offered an opportunity to escape the crowds – with Kefalonia, Skiathos and Lefkada standing out from the crowd with high scores for peace and quiet.
“Party-loving Mykonos meanwhile ended up being the last seat on our table, with visitors branding it overcrowded and overpriced. Whatever you choose, a rental car will help you get off the beaten path – whether it’s exploring Crete’s tranquil south-west coast or the hilltop villages of Kos,” she said.
Kefalonia stole the top spot from last year’s winner Lefkada, which took second place this year thanks to its lush countryside, pristine beaches, rugged coastline and mighty 14th-century castle.
“Renting a boat and spending the day sailing around the island, stopping at pretty little villages and seaside tavernas,” is the best way to explore Lefkada, according to one visitor. Another described it as “ideal for windsurfing, mountain biking and hiking” and “largely untouched by overdeveloped tourism”.
Skiathos came second with 84%. Lefkada fared slightly better for food and drink, but Skiathos made up for it with its 62 beautiful beaches. Up to 70% of visitors to this island return after their first visit.
Skiathos has been described as “uniquely charming”, with great hospitality and a good balance between energetic nightlife and tranquil seascapes. It has also been cited as a perfect base for exploring other islands such as Skopelos and Alonissos. There are also boat trips from Skiathos Town to Lalaria Beach with its natural rock arch: according to local legend, swimming through the arch is the key to eternal youth.
Fourth place went to the better-known destination of Crete. Although the largest Greek island attracts more than 5 million tourists every year, the survey has revealed that the largest Greek island still has plenty of space: one visitor said that Frangokastello on the south coast has miles of empty beaches even in high season. Most of the island’s tourists stay on the north coast, leaving the olive groves, vineyards, mountains and valleys of the interior relatively quiet.
A historical highlight of Crete is a hike along the rocky Imbros Gorge, following the path taken by the Allies when they evacuated Crete in 1941 after the defeat in the Battle of Crete. The lesser-known Amari Valley was named a highlight for “its scenery, wildflowers, villages, churches and the Arkadi Monastery”.
Fifth place went to Corfu with 82%, with the recommendation to visit “untouched bays” with clear, warm, shallow water for snorkeling.
Corfu Old Town is on the Unesco list, with ancient forts designed by renowned Venetian engineers and unique architecture that give a glimpse of its history. However, one visitor warned against avoiding the resort of Cavos in the south of the island, calling it “shabby”.
Kos finished sixth with 80%. In addition to a lively nightlife, Kos also offered archaeological sites, including ancient Greek and Roman ruins and two medieval castles built by the Knights Templar, according to visitors. It was also recommended by cyclists who liked the car-free route along the main town’s seafront. Zakynthos and Rhodes ranked seventh and eighth with attendance figures of 79% and 78%, respectively, while the Cycladic island of Santorini came second from bottom. While the island scenery and photo-ready cubic homes earned five stars, visitors only gave it two for peace and quiet and three for beaches.
At the bottom of the list was the glamorous party island of Mykonos. With an overall score of 55%, the A-lister destination was not a hit on Which? Reader. “Passenger traffic on cruise ships is extreme and makes it almost impossible to get around Mykonos,” said one.
With beach clubs charging £138 a day for two sun loungers and a parasol, visitors gave the island two stars for value for money. “Restaurants will generally try (and be successful) to rip you off,” said one reader. “The ones by the port are so expensive for very average food. Occasionally there’s one that’s good and cheap, but they’re usually tucked away down the back streets.”
Visitors said that in the summer the beaches are crowded and lined with speakers playing loud dance music, so there was only one star for peace and quiet. However, visitors were impressed by the “superb” wildflower meadows on the nearby uninhabited island of Delos, one of Greece’s most important archaeological sites, but recommended visiting both islands off-season.