INDEBTED TO GREECE! Forget Its Economic Troubles. the Real Treasures of This Seductive, Magical Country Are Hidden amid Its Unexplored Aegean Islands, Says Fiona Barton

Article excerpt

Byline: Fiona Barton

Alonissos (pop: 2,700)

THIS sliver of an island in the Sporades is just 21km long and 5km wide, with no airport. It doesn't possess the film star looks of its neighbour (and star of Mamma Mia!), Skopelos, but it does radiate a wild, natural beauty. It sits in a National Maritime Marine Park with unblemished waters, but you will need to hire a car to explore the many deserted coves.

GETTING THERE: Fly to neighbouring Skiathos and then it's 45 minutes by Flying Dolphin hydrofoil.

WHERE TO STAY: Katia's House, Kalamakia sleeps two to six with pool. Prices per person (with four adults sharing) start at [euro]770 per week, including flights, transfers and car hire (0044 20 8232 9780, gicthevillacollection.com. Excludes flights from Ireland.

Lemnos (pop: 18,000)

IN the north-east Aegean, is the eighth-largest Greek island but tourists are scarce.

It has a 265km coastline of excellent sandy beaches and the pace of life is gentle, with siesta observed at 2pm. There are day-trips to ancient Troy and the site of the World War I Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.

GETTING THERE: Fly to Athens and an hour's flight to Lemnos.

WHERE TO STAY: Sotiris Apartments sleep two to five. Prices per person (with four adults sharing) start at [euro]825 per week, including travel from the UK and transfers (0044 20 8568 4499, sunvil.co.uk).

Ikaria (pop: 3,000)

NAMED after Icarus, the boy who reputedly flew too near the sun and plunged into the sea, Ikaria is considered one of the most beautiful and unusual of the Greek islands combining mountains, forests and beaches.

It lies just off Samos in the North Aegean. Car hire is a must to reach the white sandy beaches and the therapeutic waters at Therma. Your visit may help you live longer: Ikarians are apparently three times more likely to live to 90 than Americans.

GETTING THERE: Flight to Samos (some via Lemnos)

WHERE TO STAY: Kalithea Villa sleeps four and prices per week (exclusive of flights and transfers) start at [euro]420 (HomeAway.co.uk).

Meganissi (pop: 1,000)

THE largest satellite of Lefkas, in the Ionian Islands. It is reached by a ferry that passes Aristotle Onassis's private island, Skorpios. The latter was the scene of the shipping magnate's wedding to Jackie Kennedy and had a population of two at the last census.

Meganissi is just 19 sq km in area. Its two ports offer a handful of tavernas between them, and there are a number of flower-filled villages.

GETTING THERE: Flights to Lefkas then one-hour transfer to the port of Nidri and 30 to 40 minutes on the ferry.

WHERE TO STAY: Limonari Villa sleeps two to five and prices per person (based on four adults WEB sharing) start at [euro]700 per week, including flights from Britain, transfers and car hire (0044 20 8232 9780, gicthevillacollection.com).

Ithaca (pop: 3,000)

ACCORDING to Homeric legend, the Ionian island of Ithaca was the home of Odysseus.

Strict regulations mean there are no large hotel complexes or unsightly architecture. It's a green island with large olive groves and vineyards, orange and lemon, pear and fig trees. Byron is said to have thought it so beautiful he wanted to buy the whole island, while Homer thought it was 'good for goats'.

GETTING THERE: Flights to Kefalonia, then 45 minutes by boat.

WHERE TO STAY: Melissa's House sleeps two to four and prices per person (with four adults sharing) start at [euro]400 per week, including flights from Britain, transfers (0044 20 8459 0777, ionianislandholidays.com).

Amorgos (pop: 2,000)

ONE of the Cyclades, Amorgos was chosen by director Luc Besson as the location for his film, The Big Blue. …