Pauline Collins opened a lot of people?s eyes to the unique magic of Greece when she fell in love with island life in Shirley Valentine. It must be down to the simple appeal of bright blue sea, scorching sun, lively tavernas, ever flowing retsina, wandering goats and the strains of Zorba the Greek, all set in a landscape that in many areas has hardly changed since Aristotle was alive.
It?s the simplicity of a Greek holiday that appeals too many people ? millions of them every summer. But the nice thing is that away from the tourist hotspots the crowds are mostly spread fairly thin, and don?t come in cars to clog the often narrow roads, so you seldom feel the pressure of people. If your chosen beach is too crowded, there?s usually another one around the corner.
If its one of the smaller islands you?re heading for, you?ll be in for the Greek ferry experience. These have improved a lot in recent years, with frequent, reasonably priced services ? many by fast hydrofoils ? but you need to get timetable details in advance if you don?t want to risk possible long waits.
There are many different islands and mainland areas that you really need to carry out your own research to find the ideal destination. Many people head automatically for an island, but the Greek mainland can be just as beautiful and unspoilt. If you want to do more than just sit on the beaches and in tavernas, the Peloponnese ? the area south west of Athens, to the south of the Corinth Canal ? is particularly beautiful and historic, containing the ancient city of Sparta, and ancient sites like Mycenae, Olympia, Epidavros and Mystras.
The islands vary a lot. If sandy beaches are a must, Skiathos has around 60 of them, along with lively nightlife. Corfu is one of the most beautiful Greek Islands and also has good beached and interesting villages. Crete has lots of hotel accommodation especially on the favoured north coast.