The Greek Islands have a charm directly connected to the Mediterranean and its ebbs and flows. The moods of the sea reign supreme, shaping the coastlines and characters of its people, and lending to an ease to life, to a slower pace of living, to rooted traditions and enormous hospitality. Muse Maria Portalo (@mariaportalo) visited the islands off-season and shared with us all the insights of a long-dreamed trip.

What To See

First on the list is Milos. Quieter than some of her sisters, this island has some of the most breathtaking landscapes and beaches in Greece. There’s Sarakiniko, with its white, moon-like rocks and sand, and Tsigrado, one of Maria’s favorites. ‘It has a slightly challenging access, you have to do a bit of climbing, and the last stretch is a wooden ladder that shakes every time you step on it. But it's worth it, crystal-clear water and an incredible scenery’.  

Watching the sun set on the sea horizon from Oia’s castle, in Santorini, is another must. It’s probably one for the busiest places on the island, and gets very crowded in the afternoon, right before the sun sets. But the views from the top at that time are magical, as the sun melts into the sea.  

Maria also recommends visiting the town of Noussa, in Paros: a smaller, very picturesque village right next to the sea, with quaint streets and a port filled with tiny fishermen’s boats, tied up next to terraces and restaurants. During the off-season, most restaurants in smaller towns like this one are closed, something to bear in mind. ‘I had fewer options because I went off-season, I missed out on things since I didn't get to experience the typical villages with open restaurants and tables by the sea because everything was closed. But I gained in tranquility and had the beaches almost to myself.’  

‘I've been able to rest and relax because the atmosphere facilitated it, doing things calmly and without any rush, and enjoying every little moment. I've also felt very grateful to be able to visit all the places on my list and learn about the culture, and at times, overwhelmed by having so much beauty around’.  

When visiting Paros, it’s worth staying where the locals stay, and enjoy their hospitality. Maria lodged in houses and hostels, one of them run by an older woman. ‘She didn't speak English and we had no idea of Greek, but we understood each other perfectly. Every morning she would leave a plate outside our room with freshly made Greek pastries for breakfast.’ 

What and Where To Eat

Probably one of the most renowned cuisines in the world, Greek food is the quintessence of Mediterranean cuisine, and one that can be easily switched to vegan according to Maria, who has been vegan for many years. ‘When I travel I choose to have a kitchen in the accommodation so that I can prepare my own food in case I don't find many options. As on several islands most of the restaurants were closed, we cooked a lot ourselves and took the opportunity to buy local products and make some of the traditional Greek recipes adapted to our diet.’  

For the classical greek salad, she recommends only swithcing the feta cheese for its vegan version, which can be found in many supermarkets in the islands. The same for ‘tzatziki’, the famous yogurt sauce, which can be made vegan by replacing the yogurt with natural soy yogurt. When eating out, a dish she recommends trying is ‘fava’, which it’s vegan in itself and on the menu in many restaurants. It’s made of yellow split pea puree, and is similar to hummus.  

One of the most famous dishes in the islands is ‘gyros’, traditionally prepared with meat cooked on a vertical spit (similar to kebab), and served with pita bread, vegetables and tzatziki. ‘In many places they have vegan options and substitute the meat for soy or similar.’ 

What To Pack 

‘Without a doubt, sturdy shoes to walk and reach the most difficult beaches’ is the first thing Maria would include again on her packing list. ‘And obviously a swimsuit!’ She’s from Mallorca, and coming from an island, she’s used to spending hours at the beach. ‘I always bring two swimsuits, so I can change after a swim, when I want to put on dry clothes and go for a walk. It's also a great idea to carry a sarong, you can use it as a skirt but also as a towel if yours is wet, as shade to avoid the sun, as a headscarf... Never fails.’