Best for nature lovers: Ikaria
Their diet, strong community and daily exercise mean Ikarian men are four times as likely as American men to reach the age of 90, according to a study by the University of Athens Medical School. This rugged, wing-shaped island on the cusp of the Cyclades and named for Icarus — the son of Daedalus who fled from Crete, got too close to the sun and tumbled into the sea just offshore — has gained fame for the longevity of its residents. The 99-square mile island is basically one large mountain, peaking in the central Pramnos-Atheras range. For such a small area, the geographic variation is astounding — Ikaria has rivers and tiny lakes, high forests of pine and oak, and hills at every turn that combine to make Ikaria an Elysian Field for outdoor buffs. Ikaria’s network of mountain paths known as monopatia is an informal web of routes that connects villages.
Best Robinson Crusoe destination: Koufonisia
Actually two islands, Kato and Ano (meaning lower and upper) Koufonisia, with the former almost uninhabited, are like a land that tourism forgot, mainly because the quickest ferry from Athens takes six hours. Home to only a few hundred residents, Ano Koufonisi is tiny, just 2.2 square miles, so walking or cycling round the island are the most efficient modes of getting about. The main industry, apart from the creeping reach of tourism, is fishing, and the main town of Chora retains the feel of an untouched fishing village, with small boats bobbing in the harbor.
Best couples getaway: Folegandros
The mountainous, mostly treeless Folegandros doesn’t get the crowds of the islands around it thanks to sparser ferry service, a boon for twosomes in search of some solitude with their sun and sand. Santorini is often the go-to island for couples in these parts, but another Cycladian island where houses perch on clifftops is an even better escape for lovebirds. The main village of the island, Chora, set on a cliff plateau 650 feet up, embodies the archetypal image of Cycladic buildings of small white houses with blue doors lining cobblestoned street. Donkeys remain a widely used means of transportation and goats scramble up and down the sun-baked hills. Painters and writers from Europe come to Folegandros for quiet inspiration and the most enduring memories of a visit here are the silence and the bays with crystal clear water.
Best food: Crete
A 90-minute high-speed catamaran ride from Santorini, Crete is Greece’s Wild West, where the locals are fiercely independent and have a fondness for guns (used, I’m assured, only to shoot at street signs or into the air during festivities). Its 3,200 square miles are blessed with scores of microclimates, fertile soil and crops that haven’t succumbed to the scourge of industrial farming. Which means that the tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, strawberries, watermelon and other fruits and vegetables that grow here taste as nature intended. The topography of central mountains ringed by shimmering coastline allows two growing seasons — lower elevations in the winter, higher elevations in the summer — and Crete is a hub for olive oil, cheese and wine production. Eat at a traditional taverna (even a touristy one) or kafenio (Greek café) and you’d be hard pushed to have a bad meal because the raw ingredients are so darned good. Elounda, on the island’s northeast coast, is surrounded by some of the island’s great agricultural areas, like the Lasithi plateau, has a selection of hotels for all budgets, and some excellent examples of what makes Greek mainlanders sigh when they think of the divine freshness of Crete’s cuisine.