So-called because of the circle they form around sacred Dilos, the 20 or so Cycladic islands are the original and best place for island-hopping. With their white-washed villages, blue-domed churches, sandy beaches and rocky hills, they present the classic image of Greece. Life is slow and friendly, and still revolves around the sea. Best of all, the islands are close enough that you can visit 2 or 3 in a week, using ferries or hydrofoils.
Despite their proximity, each has retained its own character. Some (Santorini, Mykonos) thrive on tourism, boasting picture-perfect villages and beaches in summer, but barely a soul in winter. Others (Naxos, Andros) are more 'authentic', with year-round farming and fishing villages, and rugged interiors with lush valleys and 1000m mountains. The smallest ones (Folegandros) are little more than outsized rocks, just a few miles long with a handful of tiny hamlets. Many of them have strong Franco-Venetian influences: medieval castles, Italianate architecture. Others have sizeable Catholic communities; Syros' capital town Ermoupolis has two hills, one Catholic, the other Orthodox, both linked by an elegant lower town (and a love of rembetiko music!).