Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands, with its emerald-coloured mountains, secluded coves and underground lakes, has been crowned the best Greek island by Which?.
Abundant sandy beaches, scenery uninterrupted by high-rise buildings and access to much-sought-after solitude sealed the deal for the island, off the west coast of mainland Greece, in the consumer body’s annual survey. Which? asked more than 1,000 visitors to rate the 10 main Greek islands on factors including beaches, attractions, scenery and value for money.
Kefalonia, setting for Louis de Bernières’ novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and a major location for the 2001 film starring Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz, was the only island to score five stars in the peace and quiet category, gaining an overall 85%.
Visitors were particularly taken with the island’s scenery, describing it as “stunning”, with one praising in particular the “beautiful and secluded” beach at Erisos, near Fiskardo, which is reached on foot through a forest.
Jo Rhodes, deputy editor of Which? Travel, said: “If you’re planning a Greek island getaway, you’re spoiled for choice. While they all have a wealth of sun, sea and sand, each island has its own distinct character and hidden gems to discover. This year, the top-rated islands all offered a chance to escape the crowds – with Kefalonia, Skiathos and Lefkada separating themselves from the pack with high scores for peace and quiet.
“Party-loving Mykonos meanwhile came bottom of our table, with visitors branding it overcrowded and overpriced. Wherever you opt for, a hire car will help you get off the beaten track – whether that’s exploring the quiet south-western coast of Crete or the hillside villages of Kos,” she said.
Kefalonia stole the top spot from last year’s winner Lefkada, which came in joint second place this year, thanks to its lush landscape, unspoiled beaches, craggy coastline and mighty 14th-century castle.
“Hiring a boat and spending the day sailing around the island, stopping off at lovely little villages and seafront tavernas” is the best way to explore Lefkada according to one visitor. Another described it as “ideal for windsurfing, mountain-biking and walking”, and “largely unspoilt by overdeveloped tourism”.
Tying for second place, on 84%, is Skiathos. Lefkada scored slightly higher on food and drink, but Skiathos made up for it with its 62 beautiful beaches. Up to 70% of that island’s visitors return after their first visit.
Skiathos was described as “uniquely charming”, with great hospitality and a good balance between an energetic nightlife scene and serene seascapes. It was also noted as being the perfect base for exploring other islands, such as Skopelos and Alonnisos. There are also with 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 best-known destination of Crete. Despite attracting more than 5 million tourists every year, the survey found that the biggest Greek island still has plenty of room: one visitor said Frangokastello on the south coast has miles of empty beaches, even in high season. Most tourists to the island stick to the north coast, leaving the interior’s olive groves, vineyards, mountains and valleys relatively quiet.
A historic highlight of Crete is a hike along the rocky Imbros Gorge, following the path that allied forces took when evacuating Crete in 1941 after losing the Battle of Crete. The lesser-known Amari valley was noted as a highlight, for “its scenery, wildflowers, villages, churches and Arkadi monastery”.
Fifth place, with a score of 82%, went to Corfu, with recommendations to seek out “unspoilt bays” with clear, warm shallow water for snorkelling.
Corfu’s old town is Unesco-listed, with ancient forts designed by renowned Venetian engineers and unique architecture giving an insight into its history. However, one visitor warned to avoid the resort of Cavos in the south of the island, describing it as “sleazy”.
Kos came sixth with an 80% score. As well as a lively nightlife, Kos also offered, according to visitors, archeological sites including ancient Greek and Roman ruins, and two medieval castles built by the Knights Templar. It was also recommended by cyclists, who liked the car-free path along the waterfront of its main town.Zakynthos and Rhodes came seventh and eighth, with visitor scores of 79% and 78%, while the Cyclades island of Santorini came second from last . While the island’s scenery and photo-ready cubiform houses were given five stars, visitors gave it just two for peace and quiet and three for beaches.
Bottom of the list was glamorous party island Mykonos. Scoring a total of 55%, the A-lister destination was not a hit with Which? readers. “The volume of cruise liner passengers is extreme, and makes Mykonos almost impossible to get around,” one said.
With beach clubs charging £138 a day for two sunbeds and an umbrella, visitors gave the island two stars for value for money. “Restaurants will generally try (and succeed) to rip you off,” said one reader. “The harbour-ront ones are so expensive for very average food. Occasionally, there is one that is good and reasonably priced, but they’re generally hidden in the backstreets.”
Visitors said the beaches are packed in summer and lined with speakers playing loud dance music, so gave it just one star for peace and quiet. Visitors were however impressed by the “superb” wildflower meadows on the nearby uninhabited island of Delos, one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, but recommended visiting both islands off season.