Greece’s second-largest island - which we've grouped with the Sporades islands as it sits near them - rivals Crete for natural beauty, yet is far less known. For Athenians, its proximity (2 hours' drive, via a bridge) is a big attraction, along with its rugged beauty: dense pine and fir woods, lofty mountains and - best of all - plenty of secluded Crusoe-esque beaches (sandy on the west, pebbly on the east). In many ways it's more reminiscent of the mainland than the islands. Agriculture and sheep farming are the main activities, along with some mining and fishing; many of the communities are of Albanian or Balkan descent and speak a strong dialect. We think Evia - or Euboea, as it's known to Hellenists - is a novel and fascinating way of way of having a Greek island holiday. So long as you don't expect white sugar-cube villages or seafront tavernas with English menus, you won't be disappointed.
Halfway along its 180km length is the workaday main town, Halkida (or Chalcis), which is also where a suspension bridge connects to the mainland; or you can hop across by ferry at various points if you prefer. North of Halkida, the road zigzags through lush forested landscapes, scored by rivers and seasonal waterfalls, to Mantoudi and Agia Anna. The northeast-facing beaches here are long and empty outside midsummer, but be prepared for meltemi winds and sea swell from time to time. There's an unexpectedly smart boutique hotel at Thalatta. The mainland-facing coast is more sheltered, with a picturesque little fishing town at Limni, and a spa resort of faded grandeur at Edipsos (or Loutra Edipsou).
South of Halkida, you'll find rockier, arid landscapes dotted with tiny fishing and farming hamlets, as well as spookily revolving wind turbines - all more reminiscent of the northern Cyclades islands, which are in fact just a short hop across the Cavo d'Oro straits. Above the popular holiday town of Karystos are the spiky peaks and Neolithic "Dragon Houses" of Mount Ochi; a beautiful river gorge runs east to an end-of-the-world beach at Kallianou. It's hard to believe you are only 40km from Athens as the crow flies.