The Greek Isles are a truly paradisiacal destination: warm white sands, hidden coves, villages clinging to craggy hillsides.
Many travelers know to head for Kefalonia in search of a quietly beautiful beach, or Crete if they need a history fix, but out of the 200-odd choices, which are the best Greek islands to sample local food?
Gastronomic trends flow between clusters such as the Ionian Islands and the Cyclades, south of Athens. Grilled fish, herby stews from the mountain villages and even a marinated goat or two certainly characterize the Greek islands, but there are some key regional differences to look out for.
As the largest isle, Crete has some unique offerings, coupled with stunning mountainous terrain, particularly around Samaria Gorge in the west. Food fans should try outlying villages like Rethymno for some local sweet cheeses like a myzithra (with a glass of raki, of course!) to go with the gorgeous harbor views.
If you fancy something a little different, try some fasolakia, which is a bean dish cooked with crushed tomato and local olive oil.
Or, try some dakos, which is dry bread that is often baked many times, kept for months and then moistened with water and served with cheese, tomato, oregano and, of course, some olive oil.
With around 1.5 million olive trees on the island, it’s unsurprising that most dishes on Crete will contain a drop or two of the local oil.
Nearby Naxos, the largest island of the Cyclades, is another one of the best Greek islands for a foodie, especially if you love cheese; the selection of locally-produced cheeses is almost bewildering! Try the legendary graviera. Although it’s produced elsewhere in the country, including on Crete, the Naxos version uses cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk. It’s incredibly versatile and can be used in salads or pies, or as an accompaniment to the likes of local spirits, ouzo or raki.
Or it can be fried to produce the appetizer saganaki.
As well as producing around 14% of the country’s dairy, the island of Naxos also produces some fine cattle and you’ll generally find a good steak in any one of the island’s many restaurants.
Picture-perfect Santorini also gets its fair share of visitors, but the island also has a deserved reputation for food. Fava beans and white aubergine (eggplant) are among the highlights which you can eat in the presence of one of the famous Fira sunsets (the capital of Santorini), overlooking a volcano, no less!
The island also boasts some of the finest cherry tomatoes you’ll find anywhere. Here they use them to make tomato balls, a Santorini local delicacy.
Hop across to Rhodes (Rhodos) in the Dodecanese, and try fresh octopus or the catch of the day in Kamiros Skala, before taking in the famous hilltop necropolis. On Rhodes you’ll also find a more Eastern influence on the cuisine and certainly more spicing and seasoning.
Into the Aegean Sea, wine connoisseurs will find much to engage them among the vines of Icaria (Ikaria), where some of the best red varietals are produced. Further north, Lesvos (Lesbos) is admired for its ouzeries, restaurants which serve the native ouzo spirit with their appetizers or ‘mezedes’.
The distinct Turkish slant on seafood in Mytilini is also worth sampling. Check out the olive groves to the south, where the island’s top-class olive oil is produced.
Each Greek isle boast its own personality in terms of flavor and produce, and nearly every option is going to be a delight. If you’re something of a foodie (and, you know, don’t mind a few “visual distractions” along the way), you’re definitely going to want to consider the Greek Isles.