Cyclades Greek Islands - Holiday Destinations Greece

The Cyclades are the best known and most visited of all the Greek islands attracting hundreds of thousands of island-hoppers in the summer months. The archipelago is all things to all people - whatever you're looking for out of your holiday, chances are you'll find it here. There are remote herb-scented hillsides where farmers use donkeys to bring barley in from the fields. There are ancient sites and some of the most important centres of religious pilgrimage in the whole of Greece. And there's some of the wildest night life in the world with gay discos manned by gorgeous bronzed bouncers sporting pink sequinned singlets.

The group of islands is in the Aegean Sea south east of Athens. The Cyclades take their name from the Greek word kyklos meaning circle because they surround the tiny uninhabited island of Delos which is one of the western world's most important archaeological sites. According to legend this was the birthplace of the god of light Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. Today it's an island-wide open air museum which is fascinating even for those without the slightest interest in archaeology or mythology.

Somewhat incongruously this ancient place of worship is just a short hop from the island of Mykonos - the "anything goes" party playground of the Aegean Sea which can give San Francisco a run for its money when it comes to gay clubbing. Gays and straights alike party round-the-clock in Mykonos Town and gorgeous girls wearing nothing but the world's tiniest thongs gyrate on the tables at Paradise Beach.

Ios is a match for Mykonos when it comes to wild partying though the rampant night scene is considerably less sophisticated here as illustrated by the slogan splashed across the T-shirt of one visiting reveller: "Drink until you puke and puke until you die".

Santorini, at the southern end of the Cyclades, is also famous for its party scene but more so for its spectacular Caldera - the vast flooded volcanic basin caused by a cataclysmic eruption more than 3,000 years ago. Swim in the hot springs of the Caldera and climb to the top of a still active volcano on an islet at its centre. The view of the sun going down over the Caldera from the island's capital is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Small wonder this is one of the main contenders for the title of Lost City of Atlantis.

But if it's a taste of the "real Greece " you're after - a place where you can roam the hillsides or relax in a vine-shaded taverna without another tourist in sight - head for one of the many Cycladic islands which have resisted the onslaught of mass tourism. They include Folegandros, Amorgos, Sifnos, Serifos, Milos and Kythnos.

The crystal clear emerald-blue waters of Amorgos, the easternmost of the Cyclades, brought famous French film director Luc Besson here to shoot key scenes for his cult movie The Big Blue. Folegandros is an unspoilt island paradise without so much as a car hire firm or petrol station.

Visit Tinos and you'll probably see Greek pilgrims making their way on their hands and knees from the ferry port to the holy shrine of Panagia Evangelistria which houses a religious icon believed to have miraculous healing powers.

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