The Best Island in Europe Has Stunning White Stone Beaches and Some of the Most Turquoise Water in the World
For a brief moment, I forgot where I was.
Suddenly stirred awake by a balmy breeze, I slowly became aware of my surroundings: The warm sand below my belly cooling off as I slept, the shade from the boulder I was tucked under moving ever so slightly away from me as the sun went down, and the sound of the Mediterranean waves crashing along the rock and coral-filled shore. Then I realized it; I just woke up from a drool-inducing midday nap in paradise, otherwise known as Milos.
Milos, located in the midst of the Cyclades about 110 miles off the coast of mainland Greece, is a place that felt at once completely foreign and like home during my June visit just as its shoulder season came to an end. After all, my family emigrated from Greece to the United States just two generations ago, so this country runs in my blood. But, the diminutive isle of Milos — most well-known as the site where the Venus de Milo was discovered in 1820 — is something different from the mainland. It's even unique from its more well-known and larger island counterparts like Mykonos and Santorini. It's a place all its own and one that has remained a closely guarded utopia. Until now, because this tiny island that is no more than a pixel on the radar was just voted the Best Island in the World by Travel + Leisure readers for the 2021 World's Best Awards.
Upon landing in Milos either by ferry or by plane (pro tip: take the flight, it's a smooth 20 minutes vs. an hours-long ferry), it's easy to see why previous travelers and locals alike would want to keep this place under wraps.
Its rocky shoreline gives way to some of the most pristine crystal-blue waters I have ever laid eyes on. Its landscape is one sweeping hillside after another, dotted only by sparse vegetation, white-washed homes, blue-roofed churches, and a rogue goat or two. And its food is divine.
It's also an island I knew I had to see during my sojourn to my family's homeland as Travel + Leisure readers often rave about it.
Walking out of the tiny plane, my travel partner and I stopped for a moment to marvel at our surroundings. The airport is no more than a single-room building that sounds more like a bird sanctuary thanks to what must be hundreds of skylarks living inside the roof. And that's just the beginning.
Related: How to Travel to the Greek Islands
We took a short cab ride into the first port of Adamantas, which means "diamond" in Greek. It's perhaps one of the most tourist-centric areas on the island, but one worth visiting all the same. In the marina you could even hop on a sailboat for a quick cruise around the island.
But we were there for only a short visit and to pick up our vehicle rental for the week, which meant little time for dockside adventures. We quickly learned, however, that on Milos, it's best to forgo the traditional car. Hop on a four-wheeler for more fun — and more access — instead.
You see, past Adamantas the streets narrow in every direction. Toward the sea and along the south side of the island the road quickly turns to dirt. Toward the town of Plaka, the roads narrow to only allow passage by foot. So, while a bulky car will get you nowhere, a four-wheeler will bring you just a bit closer to where you want to be. (Try Rent-A-Car Milos, they'll not only give you a great deal but are friendly and will tell you all their favorite places on the island too.)
After procuring our wheels, we made our way to our Airbnb, located in Plaka, a town tailor-made for Mediterranean dreams and the place I couldn't recommend more for your Milos home base.
If you closed your eyes for a minute and allowed yourself to imagine what a Greek town should look like, it's Plaka. The streets are small and narrow, but the town's people have taken painstaking care to make sure every detail is in place. All of the buildings are perfectly white-washed, the shutters the ideal shade of blue, and the bougainvillea seem to always be in full bloom. Even the rocks along the roads are all individually painted with white borders just so they appear to pop off the pavement.
We were met at the entrance to town by our Airbnb host, Eleni, who gave us the grand tour — which takes about five minutes — of all her favorite shops, restaurants, and viewpoints. (For those looking for hotels rather than a home rental, try Villa Notos or Lithos Luxury Rooms, but be warned they book up quickly.)
That night, we stopped in to dine at one of her recommended restaurants, Barriello.We thought we didn't order enough with our grilled octopus, vegetables, dolmas, and hummus. But we forgot these are the Greeks and they will feed you until you explode.
After dinner we made our way to the church up on the hillside of Plaka for the ultimate Milos service — sunset. Visitors and locals sat lining the wall shoulder-to-shoulder until the show began. And once it did there was utter silence because this was a presentation worth dropping everything for.
The next morning we awoke at dawn and made our way to Kilma Village, about a 10-minute drive away. It seemed as though no one but us, the cats, and a few fishermen were awake.
Kilma is still a working fishing port surrounded by what are known as syrmata, which are the fishermen's actual homes. Each home comes with its own colorful decor and is carved directly into the rockside surrounding the water. If you wait long enough, you'll see the owners open their gates, brew their espresso, and if you're lucky, invite you in for a taste.
Next, my travel partner and I made our way to perhaps the most famous of Milos' 70-plus beaches: Sarakiniko Beach. Though not a traditional sand-filled beach, Sarakiniko is just as stunning. Upon arrival you'll feel as though you landed on the sunny side of the moon thanks to its white rocks contrasting with the bright blue water below. Walk a bit away from the main entrance and you'll truly feel like you're alone in your own little world. And, to make it all the more relaxing, jump in the clear ocean water for a sensory deprivation experience as its high salt content floats you to the surface.
After a dip we got back on our four-wheeler again, this time to head to a hideout that seemed too good to be true — Papafragas. According to historians, the sea caves that make up Papafragas were used by pirates to hide their booty. Inside, there's a small beach where one can easily imagine an eye patch-wearing swashbuckler going over his plunder.
After a long day we once again made our way back to Plaka to stuff our bellies and joyously go over every delightful detail of the day.
And that was all just a single day on one of Greece's smallest islands.
Throughout our 72-hour stay we paid a visit to the catacombs, four-wheeled our way to the south side to have a beach entirely to ourselves (yes, there was skinny dipping involved), ate to our hearts' content in the port known as Kilma, and stayed up late watching an outdoor silent film with the residents of Plaka.
It's a place I now think about regularly as I sit in my home thousands of miles away. It's as easy to get lost in a daydream about its wild past as home to artists, pirates, and priests as it is to dream about your next trip. If you're thinking of a Greek getaway, take T+L readers' advice and go to Milos. Just make sure to be prepared to return as Milos, like her famous statue, is a siren that will call on you again and again.