Cycladic Diaries of a Photographer: It all Began with Ios

Philhellene photographer Mark Wilman, creator of a successful six-year project and book ‘Discovering The Beauty of the Cyclades’ describes his first trip on Ios.

Mark’s project has been presented by the British Embassy in Greece, the Greek Embassies in Rome and Tel Aviv and the Aquarium of Milan. His evocative photography and writing transport you to the heart of the Cycladic culture, landscapes and colours. And if you want to experience it for yourself, he is available to offer photographic tours. As a child, the Londoner with Caribbean blood went to Ios on his first Cycladic island experience, described here. This personal story about Ios kicks off a narrative series created by him especially for IN+SIGHTS GREECE and will run over the next few weeks.

Discovering the Beauty of Ios

The journey from Piraeus was thirteen hours on the Elli, arriving at Ios in the middle of the night. It was July 1974, warm and windy. There was light from only a single lamppost but the small hotel was easy to see behind the quay. The owner’s daughter was there. Tanned with short blonde hair, about thirty, and athletic, she didn’t look European and spoke no English, but she could see we were dying of thirst and within minutes had brought up chilled water in unusually shaped jugs, like glass footballs with necks extra long.

Insights Greece - Cycladic Diaries of a Photographer: It all Began with Ios
Ios Port Bay

Next morning early, I left my mother and three younger sisters sleeping to explore the beach near the port. Within a few days, I’d deeply cut the exterior of my right knee on a broken bottle pointing upwards under the sand playing goalkeeper and had to be stitched up in the village hospital, though not by the island doctor who was in Naxos delivering his child. There was no anesthetic so my focus on the ceiling 5 metres above was rather intense, a grip between my teeth. Forty years later, waiting to speak to the mayor about my photography at his office on the rear side of the building, I looked upwards whilst sitting in the reception and gasped, finally.

Insights Greece - Cycladic Diaries of a Photographer: It all Began with Ios
Tris Klisies Bay

The taste of wild oregano on a pizza from a small place in a semi-dark alleyway behindthe port one evening is still memorable today, as it will be everyday. It was explosive and made me feel alive, very aware of my surroundings from that moment on. The stitches came out, Dad arrived and freediving began.

My father was a serious scuba diver involved in managing the British Sub Aqua Club in London. He liked to encourage me to keep going deeper, in my nice orange fins.We’d walk over rugged hillsides unavoidably scratching legs on sharp thorns for much of the way to get to rocky bays on the exposed western side with new Greek friends, one of Insights Greece - Cycladic Diaries of a Photographer: It all Began with Ioswhom was the doctor on holiday who’d kindly closed the wound, another was an able spear-fisherman.

My sisters and I learned to say: “Ena, thio, tria … ena, thio, tria …” as far as a hundred, over and over, especially on our trips up the steep ancient path to the Ios Club for sunsets with Haendel, Beethoven and Mozart, and back. The boat trips to Manganari were always memorable, so beautiful was this bay with its five beaches.

This is the origin of my experiences in the Cyclades. We were there the next year doing it again, and again two years later, and then lots of other times, though just me by then, mostly.


Mark Wilman

What it’s Like to Solo Travel in ‘Lover’s Island’ of Santorini

Santorini is one of the most romantic destinations in the world- a place where couples from all over the globe visit to celebrate weddings and honeymoons. But that didn’t stop 22-year-old journalism graduate and social influencer Ciara Rose from taking a trip to this breathtaking destination alone!

Ciara, who currently resides in California, spoke with IN+SIGHTS GREECE about what it was like exploring this famous Cycladic island solo and shares some great tips on what to do here on your own.  

What made you decide to travel solo to Santorini?

While I was studying abroad in Rome, I realised living in Europe was the perfect opportunity to travel to some of my dream destinations. I had always wanted to visit Santorini, so I seized the moment. I chose to travel solo partly so that I could create an itinerary completely to my liking, and also because I hadn’t met any other student at the time who had the same interests. I learned that you simply cannot wait for others to live your best life.

Insights Greece - What it's Like to Solo Travel in 'Lover's Island' of Santorini

Did you have any hesitation after booking?

To be honest, I didn’t realise how romantic Santorini was until I checked into my hotel as the only partner-less guest. To me, I was simply treating myself to a luxurious experience. I had travelled to Florence and Pisa alone weeks prior, so I felt empowered enough to enjoy my time on the island and gave myself enough activities to combat any feelings of loneliness.

How much did you research before you arrived?

I planned every aspect of my trip down to the hour- from my round-trip flight, my hotel, the shuttle to the hotel and back, restaurants, excursions, and more! While being spontaneous is nice, I find it vital to plan every trip so that you have a backup plan in place.

What was your first impression?

I was immediately in awe! Everything was beautiful – the whitewashed houses carved into the cliffs, the endless Aegean Sea, it was simply breathtaking. I loved the feeling of being there, it was remote and almost empty to the point where I felt as if I had the whole island to myself, as I travelled in the off-peak month of March and I couldn’t wait to explore!

What did you love most about this famous Cycladic island?

I loved the contrast- it felt both large and small, intimate and adventurous, welcoming, and distant. I loved the strong winds, the stray animals, and the incredible views of the sea.

Your favourite experiences?

Even during the off-season, I found many things to do. My favorite experience was booking a photoshoot with Greek photographer, Panos. He took me to the best locations on the island and in the end, I had over 100 amazing shots. I also highly enjoyed horseback riding. It was just me and the instructors, and I got to learn more about their business and Greek history while riding off into the sunset. Finally, I got a fish “pedicure” at a salon that was interesting, to say the least – definitely a must-try.

Insights Greece - What it's Like to Solo Travel in 'Lover's Island' of Santorini

Did you find the locals friendly and welcoming?

They are gregarious and understand when tourists need assistance. I got lost during a hike to Oia, had no cell reception, and desperately needed a taxi back to my hotel. I knocked on the door of a few locals who were having a gathering, and the ones that spoke English gave me accurate directions for the way to the taxi station. I’m so thankful for that.

Was there a time when you felt alone or unsafe?

The nights in Santorini were the most difficult – it was chilly and quiet, and being so close to the sea alone felt strangely isolating. Also, given that most of the cell reception was spotty and unstable, my anxiety increased, especially during my four-hour hike to Oia and back. During that hike, I was truly alone because I didn’t even have the security of the hotel staff to account for me if anything were to happen. I was also briefly lost there for a moment and had to rely on my instincts to guide me back to safety. However, when I was in the main areas and actually around other people, I felt much better.

Would you recommend Santorini for solo travellers?

I would not let the stigma around Santorini being a “couples only” destination deter any solo travellers from visiting. It is entirely possible to plan an enjoyable trip here completely alone.

Insights Greece - What it's Like to Solo Travel in 'Lover's Island' of Santorini

If you did it again, what would you do differently?

Initially, I thought, “yes, I would take someone with me on this trip,” but then I changed my answer. I believe that being solo on this trip forced me outside my comfort zone, which allowed me to further grow and mature as a person, I also gained a lot of inspiration. This is essentially one of the most important benefits of solo travel – it teaches you to rely only on yourself. The only thing is I would maybe visit closer to April or May when more shops are open and before the chaos of the summer months.

Will you be heading back to Greece? 

I would love to take my mother to Greece to see her experience the massive beauty and culture the country has to offer. If I ever get married, I would also bring my partner here to explore.

Your tips for travelling to Santorini alone?

Plan at least a month in advance of where you wish to stay, how long for, and have an idea of what to do. Also, get your money converted and bring enough cash – many vendors did not take cards and the ATMs charge fees. I would advise setting up an international cellular plan with your mobile so you remain connected to home and can make calls in case of any emergencies. Lastly, I would say to have fun! Enjoy it to the fullest because travelling solo is a luxury, not many have the flexibility, time, or confidence to do so, so take pride in your freedom and find a way to document your time. I recommend journaling, creating a website/portfolio, or starting a blog like I did so that you can reflect on the day and read it back years later.

You can read more about Ciara Rose’s travels here

Our Ultimate Travel Guide to Mykonos

Mykonos is a playground for the rich and famous. From luxurious yachts to inevitable star-spotting, this is the Greek isle to see and be seen. Whatever your style and taste, our ultimate guide to Mykonos reveals the best places where you can eat, swim and play!  

Having visited for the first time in my early 20s, I was captured by the island’s 24-hour party vibe. Stunning beaches, international DJs, late-night outings, great food, sunrises. I just felt alive. Having visited many more times since then, I can say it has now become a super cosmopolitan island, even more luxurious and in line with renowned European party locations such as St Tropez and Ibiza. There are always new places popping up, so here’s my current must-see and do list when visiting this ultra-chic Cycladic isle.

Getting there

From Athens, it’s a 35-minute flight. The quick ferry (Rafina to Mykonos) takes 2.5 hours and roughly 5 hours with the slow ferry.

Where to stay

The main town has many hotels to suit a range of budgets- staying here allows you to walk around the centre day and night. Agios Ioannis/ Ornos is also a great spot as it’s close to town- only a 2-minute drive but not as crowded. Platis Gialos is a gorgeous spot and close proximity to the beach clubs. Ftelia Beach is on the other side of the island and allows for more privacy and a chilled vibe.

Getting around

If you are staying in town it’s completely walkable. Buses take you to all the main beaches and depart regularly. Of course, hiring a car allows you to really discover the island and you can drive to remote beaches that aren’t so crowded. There is valet and free parking available all over the island. A Vespa is another great way to zip your way around the tight and winding Mykonian roads.

To sleep 

Located in Ornos, Cactus is a charming boutique hotel that is perfect for singles and families, or you can try Hippie Chic in Agios Ioannis which is another mid-range priced hotel that’s central and stylish. If you would like to stay close to the shops and nightlife Harmony is set on the Old Port and offers complete sea views. If money isn’t an issue check out Bill & Coo, Rocabella, Branco, and Cavo Tagoo, which offer a super luxurious stay.

To eat

Starting off casual, grab yourself a gelato from Bon Bon Fait Maison or a souvlaki from Sakis Grill House. For some great dining experiences try Kikis Tavern at Agios Sostis Beach but get there early, as there is always a wait. For amazing Asian food try Ling Ling. Super fresh seafood is served at Hippie Fish and at Spilia you will enjoy oysters shucked right in front of you. For fresh, handmade pasta and pizza head to Fresca Barkia Pasta. If you are after a range of Mediterranean dishes, Kastros in Little Venice is great. And for one of the best meals in town (that won’t blow the budget), try M-eating– don’t leave until you taste the homemade Myconian Honey Pie. For amazing outdoor dining try Bakalo- they serve traditional tavern-style dishes, Mr Pug restaurant for great Asian, La Maison De Katrin has a fusion of traditional Greek and French elements, and at I Frati you will have a delightful Italian culinary experience, located just a bit out of town.

To drink

This list is truly endless but I love Semeli Bar right on the water in Little Venice and Cosi is also a great place for a casual drink. Remezzo, established in 1967 is world-renowned for its parties that go until sunrise (incredible views). Astra in the heart of town is always buzzing, while Bonbonierrie is perfect for people watching, star-spotting, and some shisha. Queens of Mykonos is cozy, fun, and the crowd spills out onto the streets. Baos Bar is ideal for afternoon drinks on the water- followed by a late-night dance. For an exclusive Myconian nightclub experience head to Moni, and for Greek music make your way to Rhapsody and 4711, where the party kicks off after 2 am!

To swim

Try to get to all of these beaches (in no particular order)- Ornos, Panormos, Ftelia, Agia Anna, and Kalatafi. I also recommend a boat ride around the island, where you can visit secluded beaches.

Beach bars

If you want to rub shoulders with global celebrities and socialites just head straight for Nammos, Mykonos’ famous spot to swim and play (just make sure there’s plenty of money on your credit card.) For a more artistic and holistic experience, Scorpios is an all-day bar/restaurant that offers a real Myconian beach feel. At Panormos beach, you will discover Principote where you can also wine, dine, and dance the afternoon away. For a more chilled vibe head to Alemagou at Ftelia Beach where you can enjoy great food, cocktails, and music in a bohemian setting. And for families who are after some sports activities, Ornos is a great place for people of all ages.

Where to shop

Mostly in town, as many international designers including LV and Balenciaga have set up shop here. At Nammos Village you will find Dior, Burberry, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Louboutin, and Luisa boutique. Another stylish store that stocks international and local designers is Bazaar at Scorpios. Bollicine is a great concept store with exclusive brands and a rooftop bar, so you can enjoy a cocktail while you shop. Chora Mykonos has amazing Cycladic home décor and Yasemi features stunning sandals. While Soho Soho boutique is home to numerous leading European and International fashion brands.


Minima Gallery showcases a range of contemporary artworks by both upcoming Greek and foreign artists. At Skoufa Gallery you can view historically significant contemporary art of the 1930s. For modern art head to Rarity Gallery and for a gallery/auction house that promotes local artists definitely check out Kapopoulos Fine Arts.  

Spiritual sites

Mykonos has over 800 churches on the island, I highly suggest you see a few such as Panagia Paraportiani, Panagia Tourliani, Agios Giorgos, and the Virgin of Saint Rosary which is the only Catholic church on the island.


You must get close to the iconic Kato Mili Windmills, Armenistis Lighthouse, and also head to Ano Mera the second largest village on the island where you can visit the 13th-century Gyzi Castle.

Do as locals do…

Go to isolated beaches such as Agios Sotis and Fokas beach, head to a Panigiri (festival) by the beach, have a drink at Bakoyias near the Old Port, and catch an outdoor film under the stars at Cine Manto.

Take a day trip to…

The ancient island of Delos, where Apollo was born, or take a ferry across to Tinos and visit Panagia Evangelistria, where the Virgin Mary appeared.

Can’t leave until…

You find Peter the famous Pelican, have a dance at Jackie O and watch the sunset at 180 Degrees Sunset Bar.

Experiencing Santorini Like a Local

Santorini is one of the world’s most popular islands- known for its crisp white cliffside homes, romantic walkways, mesmerising sunsets and the world’s only inhabited Caldera.

Over the last few years (pre-COVID) Santorini played host to two million visitors and although this popular Cycladic island is filled with tourists, you can actually avoid the massive crowds and enjoy a more authentic experience when guided by a local. 

IN+SIGHTS GREECE spoke with hotel owner George Sigalas, who was born and raised in Santorini, and along with his siblings, George warmly welcomes thousands of guests each year to Above Blue Suites and Amber Light Villas.

Here he shares tips about his beloved island and also takes us through his beautiful hotels, which were built by his grandfather.  

What do you love most about your island home?

I really love a lot of things about our island- the fresh air, the sea, our enchanting Caldera but mainly the people- my family and friends. 

Insights Greece - Experiencing Santorini Like a Local

What makes your hotels stand out? 

There are many hotels with similar facilities but what makes ours unique is the personal touch and the love we have for our guests. Above Blue Suites consists of ten suites and one villa- offering a unique combination of privacy, luxury, unique interior design, and breathtaking views of the endless blue sea and the famous sunset. Amber Light Villas is curved in the mountain and provides comfortable villas opening up to private terraces and balconies with stunning views out to the Aegean Sea. We want everyone to have a unique experience that will create lasting memories. We do it with love, passion, and a smile because that’s how we feel.

What changes have you made to your hotels since you took over from your grandfather?

We have definitely given a lot of emphasis on the upgrade of our facilities and services, including the heating of the pool. We also expanded our menu to include gluten-free and vegan dishes. Of course, we try to improve day by day.

Where are your favourite places to eat out?

There are many good spots but I would recommend Kira Katina in Ammoudi for seafood, Agogi in Imerovigli for traditional delicacies, and also Metaxi Mas in Pyrgos, for the famous Rakomelo. For brunch head to TERA NERA in Perivolos as well Galini restaurant. The places for ice cream- Chill Box in Fira and Lolita’s Gelato in Oia.

Must-try local delicacies or dishes?

Santorini Fava, Tomatokeftedes, Santorini salad, and Fried White Eggplant. Also don’t leave the island without drinking a glass of Ouzo, while enjoying local seafood by the sea.

For a drink?

In Fira, you will find the famous Enigma and Mamounia bars, where you can enjoy a drink and music, as well as PK and Tango Bar.

Best places to swim?

The best beaches in Santorini are located in the southern part of the island and are none other than Perissa and Perivolos, which features black sand due to the volcanic eruption- definitely a unique experience.

Archeological must-see sites?

Akrotiri is definitely worth a visit. The settlement was one of the most important urban centres and ports of the Aegean during the Middle and Late Bronze Age. Also, for hiking lovers, I would unreservedly recommend a visit to Ancient Thira. It is an ancient city located at the top of Mesa Vouno, the city was founded in the 8th century BC. Access to the city is on foot, with stairs to the mountain slope.

What are some of the most authentic experiences you can have on the island?

Start with a visit to Kastelli village in Pyrgos and admire its wonderful view. Then head to the traditional village of Megalochori and try a Greek coffee from a traditional coffee maker. The architecture of the village in combination with the Greek aromas will make you sense the true heartbeat of the island. Akrotiri is also a beautiful village worth visiting. Entering the archeological site you will feel the aura of the settlement and its inhabitants who were so suddenly lost by the eruption of the volcano. There are many traditional taverns such as Delfinia that serve delicious Tomatokeftedes and other Greek delicacies.

To capture the spectacular sunset?

To enjoy the famous sunset you have to head to Imergovigli as it’s the highest point of the Caldera and the view here is magical.

Insights Greece - Experiencing Santorini Like a Local
Oia Sunset- Image by IN+SIGHTS GREECE © (Copyright)  

Top activities?

Hike from Fira to Oia. Being a local and having done this route many times, I can tell you that for a few minutes, you will feel as though you are walking in paradise. The view is magical and unique. I’m sure the experience will reward you. Also, a catamaran trip to the volcano and the hot springs is a must!

And you must visit one of the wineries on the island to taste local wines. Ideally, you should visit at least three wineries to browse the vineyards of the island and taste some of the most delicious and famous wines in the world.

Best places to shop?

Insights Greece - Experiencing Santorini Like a Local

In Fira, there are many boutique stores, and souvenir shops. In Oia, you will also find amazing galleries, jewellery shops, and concept stores. Also in Oia, you will find the leading Atlantis bookstore, which has been named one of the best in the world.

Must-see museums and monasteries? 

Any museums or monasteries that shouldn’t be missed? Definitely the prehistoric settlement in Akrotiri but also Ancient Thira in Kamari. In Fira, you will find the Archaeological and the Folklore Museum of Thira. Do not miss a visit to the Wine Museum of Mr. Koutsogiannopoulos, it’s amazing. Also, the Monastery of the Prophet Elias in Pyrgos is located at the top of the mountain and so you can admire its architecture as well as the panoramic view of Santorini from its highest point.