The eyes of the world may be focused on Athens this summer, but the best of Greece lies away from the bustling capital city. Every day dozens of flights and hundreds of ferries connect travellers from Athens with the Greek islands, which are as varied as they are plentiful. There are also daily direct flights to islands such as Corfu, Crete, Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini from Britain and other European countries throughout the high season. Homer, the great Greek poet of antiquity, described Corfu as a 'beautiful and rich land', and little has changed in 3,000 years. Tucked into the folds of the coastline of mainland Greece and neighbouring Albania, the capital of the Ionian islands has been fought over, occupied and prettified by Romans, Normans, Venetians, Turks, even the British. The result is a mixture of influences that has left Corfu town looking like a cross between Naples and Nice. North of Corfu town, the coastal road that winds around the top of the island passes picturesque villages that tumble down to waterfront tavernas and hundreds of exclusive holiday villas. Boat is the favoured mode of transport and there's no better way to spend a summer afternoon than chugging along in your dinghy, finding a deserted cove and unloading your picnic. Beyond the lush interior, the west coast boasts prehistoric monuments, spectacular clifftop views and, in Paleokastritsa, one of Greece's prettiest seaside towns, set around a couple of sandy bays and backed by pine forests. Naxos (pictured) may be best known as the crossroads for ferry traffic in the Cyclades islands, but it's worth a few days of exploration. The west coast beaches are irresistible - a string of them stretches 20 kilometres and, protected by sand dunes, they're perfect for setting up camp for the day. On the other side of the island, through groves of citrus and olive trees, the tiny tracks that link Lionas and Moutsounas with the port village of Apollon offer a glimpse of Greece before the tourist boom, with farmers and their donkeys, herds of goats and atmospheric roadside bars. You can find traces of an older Greece in the ruined temples and classical statues dotted around the island. The busy main town, also known as Naxos, is a succession of winding whitewashed streets wrapped around an old Venetian castle. There are bistros, cool bars, traditional tavernas and coffee shops at every turn and the fish in the quayside restaurants is as fresh as you can get. Crescent-shaped Santorini is all that's left of a huge volcano that erupted 3,500 years ago, and the sight of the sun setting across the white and blue clifftop towns of Fira and Oia is beyond compare. This is one of the most popular and expensive Greek islands, as evidenced by its outstanding restaurants, boutique hotels and classy apartments. The classical palace of Thira is worth exploring but most visitors spend their time marvelling at the views or riding up and down the switchback roads from the ports to the main towns. Olive oil and ouzo have made Lesbos self-sufficient, so the third-largest Greek island makes less of an effort to woo tourists. Most of those who visit are hardened island hoppers and women seeking their feminist roots (after all, this was the home island of the poet Sappho). This is a captivating island with a lively main port (Mytilini), an ancient capital in Molivos, which is one of the Mediterranean's loveliest towns, and a clutch of other settlements perfect for a relaxed beach holiday. Throw in a petrified forest, thermal springs, Ottoman Empire fortresses and a modern art museum that includes works by Picasso, Chagall and Miro and you have something for everyone. Sailing into Gialos harbour is magical. Symi's main town is built around a deep, U-shaped bay and the terraces are lined with pastel-coloured neo-classical villas and mansions. The town is a maze of tiered streets and stairways but it's a pleasure to lose yourself and stumble upon a taverna or a terrace with views across to Turkey. The rest of Symi is quiet and friendly, with cliffs and sandy bays dotted around the coastline and a few farming villages. Folegandros is the perfect romantic hideaway. It has one road, a handful of beaches accessible only on foot or on the back of a donkey, a picture-perfect harbour and, above all, an enchanting clifftop main town. That town, Chora (really an extended village), is like something out of a movie, trailing along a ridge hundreds of metres above the sparkling sea. A series of small squares shaded by pepper and eucalyptus trees is connected by tiny whitewashed streets where every door and window is painted blue and every wall has a couple of cats snoozing in the sunshine. There are plenty of good tavernas, a dramatically situated hotel and well-equipped, modern apartments with terraces just perfect for sitting with a cold drink to hand, watching the sun go down.