For the quintessential Greek island experience, minus the glitz (and the English-speaking crowds) of Santorini, head to Milos.
MILOS, Greece – Mention a trip to the Greek Islands, and people nod knowingly. Mention Milos and people say, "Oh Mykonos?" Most people haven't heard of the place — and neither had I until I started doing the research for a two-island holiday in September. I was keen on Santorini because, well, it’s Santorini, and there’s a reason why it is so popular. But since my husband and I were restricted to two islands (we had just over a week and didn’t fancy unpacking and packing every five minutes), we wanted a destination that would be a contrast to the famous sunset-dominating isle. Somewhere that felt a bit more real, less trafficked, and just as beautiful.
Turns out that the mineral-rich volcanic Milos is just a two-hour ferry ride from Santorini and a 40-minute flight from Athens. For a long time, Milos was overlooked as a tourist destination due to its traditional mining industry. But in the last few years, people have discovered its beautiful beaches, charming towns, historic sites, and excellent food. (We need to talk about the chocolate pudding. We’ll get to it.)
After four days in Santorini, lying on our bottoms marveling at the view, Milos added the perfect touch of adventure. We hired an ATV and, with a quick rendition of Cool Rider, explored the beautiful gem of an island. It was while riding on the back of the ATV, during a quiet moment of contemplation with a warm breeze rustling my hair, that I concluded that Milos is to Santorini what Solange is to Beyonce. A little late to the scene, not so ubiquitous, but cool and beautiful AF.
After checking into the beautifully appointed Milos Breeze in Pollonia, on the northeastern corner of the island, we tucked into a breakfast of mini pastries (spinach pie, toast with homemade marmalade) and had a "consultation" with the owner, Dimitris, to get a sense of the best way to explore the place. We decided on a day in the south, a day in the north, and a boat trip around the whole island.
We headed first to the port town of Adamas to pick up our ATV (€45 a day) then drove along the coast, marveling at the brilliant blue and aquamarine sea as we rode, eventually stopping at Firiplaka. One of the most popular beaches on the island, it was easy to score a couple of comfortable sun beds under bamboo leaf parasols (€10 for the pair) and grab a beer and a bag of chips from the small, simple beach cafe. We could have easily stayed there all day, but we were in the adventurous mood so headed to the beach just next door, Tsigrado, which involved us lowering ourselves down via rope and ladder into a beautiful, serene cove.
All this frolicking on beaches made us hungry, and soon we were on the road again to Aghia Kiriaki, noted as an "organized beach" on our map, meaning there would be a place to eat (in this case, a simple Greek tavern with sub-par service but excellent tzatziki).
After washing up and relaxing at the hotel, we walked the short pedestrian street of Pollonia, lined with no more than ten restaurants and a cafe. For me, this was the perfect level of development. We ate delicious raw seafood at the recently opened Hanabi Seaside Sushi at a table right next to the water with the fishing boats bobbing in the gentle breeze.
Up and at ‘em. We grabbed a couple of hotel beach towels and set off to explore the northern coast, first stopping at Mitakas, a beach without any sort of "organization" — no beds or parasols, but a beautiful wide stretch of sand with barely more than three other groups on it. After a swim and a little lie down, we were off to Sarakiniko, a beach with a sort of hipster vibe marked by the food truck at the top of the path. Arriving on the beach felt like landing on a moon-like planet, with bright white horizontal rocks contrasting with brilliant blue sea. Cue the selfies.
And so to a dreamy lunch at Medousa, a popular tavern above the syrmata (colorful fisherman’s boat garages) in Mantrakia. Here we ate smoked sun-dried mackerel, saganaki (fried kefalotyri cheese), riganato (roasted bread topped with fresh tomatoes and feta), and roasted eggplant, and washed it all down with cool white wine. We watched a fresh delivery of octopus being hung out to dry in the sun and poked our heads into the kitchen on the way out to discover the two older ladies responsible for serving up some of the best food on our trip.
We then went to explore the catacombs, the second oldest after Rome, which were certainly worth the €4, fifteen-minute tour. The bean bags on the rocky beach of Firopotamos were the best place for a read in the late afternoon sun.
As sunset approached, we headed to the postcard-perfect village of Plaka, the island’s capital, more than 200 meters above sea level. We managed to grab a table at Utopia Cafe, a cocktail bar with the perfect view of the golden sunset, after which we wandered through the winding streets, picking up chic ceramic dishes at Ceramica Kymbe. We headed back to Pollonia for a late dinner at Jordan’s Meat...ing, a steakhouse where the live music added a real atmosphere (especially when the Greek dancing started). We thought we were full, but, walking back to the hotel, we had to pass Pollonia’s bakery, which emits a smell of honey, making it impossible to resist. The milk-chocolate pudding, served out of a warming drawer, was out of this world. If I had more time/stomachs, I would’ve gone for the giant baklava, too. Or maybe more pudding. Or maybe both. It's also a great place to pick up jarred honey for souvenirs.
We joined a group of 20 people aboard a sailing boat run by Excellent Yachting. A boat trip is a great way to see the varied makeup of the island. The multicolored cliffs alone would have geology enthusiasts wetting their pants. We did a daylong trip, taking in lovely swimming areas and the cliffs of Kleftiko, the famous hiding spot for pirates, unreachable on land unless you have an off-road vehicle. These were great to see, but I would recommend going for a half-day tour, as a boat without proper seating and that many people can get a little uncomfortable.
Back on land, we headed to bustling port of Adamas for our final dinner on the island, eating excellent gyros in the popular Flisvos, an experience made all the more entertaining by a perfectionist owner following his friendly and capable staff around, making various demands of them, like a Greek Basil Fawlty.
We had to get to the airport by lunchtime, so we decided to spend our last hours on Milos relaxing by the hotel's beautiful infinity pool overlooking the port of Pollonia. We were practically the only people there — all the guests were out exploring, taking in a hidden gem of an island and presumably falling in love with it, just like we did.