travel in Greece?
Get there in the right season at the
right place and it is a marvel of blue skies, white beaches, ancient
monuments and history up to your eyeballs, particularly Athens.
The people are mostly agreeable and many speak English, while the summer weather just about guarantees blue skies and sunshine for Greece holidays.
Transport systems - whether metro, bus, plane or inter-island ferry
- are excellent, though overground trains are still questionable.
One of the faster Greek catamaran ferries
The variety of sights is huge, from Athens or Crete's classic ruins
to Meteora's pinnacle monasteries, to the lost city of Atlantis
(Santorini island, and the apex of pretty Greek islands, Mykonos).
These must be on any serious traveller's 'do before I die' list,
but they don't require a huge amount of time or expenditure.
The biggest bargains in the country are ferry fares. Most boats
are new, well stabilised and fast e.g. getting from Santorini to
Mykonos in about 1.5 hours for around €10, depending on sea
is no longer a cheap destination.
- Seafood supplies are sadly stunted. See 'Cuisine'.
- Outside the chunk around the Acropolis, Athens is not a pretty
Best season: April - June, September - mid October for sightseeing,
though the Mediterranean will be chilly for swimming till June.
The very, very best month for visiting the islands is September,
with warm seas, fewer tourists and most ferry services still operating.
OK: mid July - August. But...the country is over heated, overcrowded and suffers the random Meltemi wind, making sea voyages
wobbly and beach use uncomfortable.
Worst: Mid October-February is the cold, wet season so apart from a cool shuffle around Athens winter is to be avoided.
Current Athens temperature and time.
Panormos beach, Mykonos island
Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: Athens and a little
elsewhere - 1 week
Recommended: 3 weeks for a cursory look at one or two Greek regions,
at least 2 months for a thorough Greece tour.
***Athens, you don't need much time
there as the main sights are in a compact, easily walkable area, but you should give it at least a couple of days. See Athens
Athens' Parthenon, on Acropolis Hill
***Delphi is not only the striking
World Heritage home of Apollo, Dionysos, the oracle and varied stone
treasures, but also a spectacular clifftop village. Tour buses take the shine off but it's still worth the
180km/ 112m from Athens.
***Meteora. You could do this James
Bond-pinnacle-monastery location in an afternoon with your own wheels,
but that would be rushed. It's a great place for grabbing some Ouzo and ice from a vendor and sitting on a very high rock, or having
a strenuous walk.
*Thessaloniki is a sophisticated port
city with a few ancient monuments and a good selection of bars,
restaurants and clubs, but it's hardly a must see.
Halkidiki, Karydi beach, Sithonia peninsula
***Halkidiki. The Halkidiki peninsula,
near Thessaloniki has three smaller peninsulas, the good (Sithonia), the god (Athos),
and the ugly (Kassandra). The first is the one with excellent beaches, stunning roads
and a non-touristy feel.
*** Zagoria. Not easy to get around
without a car, this area boasts superb views as well as a collection
of incredibly organic, traditional villages - known as Zagorohoria
- built mainly out of slate. Popular tourist targets are: Papingo,
Monodendri and Tsepelovo.
There are also two hiker's delights, well-forested Vikos-Aoos National
Park and the 10km/6m Vikos Gorge.
*** The Peloponnese. This
delightful island/peninsula is another area that deserves time and
your own wheels, offering the essence of Greece in
one package. Mountains tower, valleys are full of trees and remnants
of lost civilizations - Olympia, Epidaurus and Mycenae for example
- superb beaches (especially along the south Messinian Gulf) see
few foreigners, and towns are attractive, particularly Nafplio,
Greece's first capital. It's full of fortresses and fancy mansions
and makes a good base for exploration.
Hikers, on the other hand, prefer pretty little Kardamyli village
as a base to enjoy the Vyros Gorge and Taygetos Mountains.
*** The Greek Islands: Get
the season right and they're perfect. See Greece beach pictures and information
Skiathos island town at night
Hiking: Spectacular scenery and fairly
reliable weather encourage this activity, but poorly marked paths
are a problem. Around Meteora and in the Zagoria and Peloponnese
regions (see 'Where to go') are stunning walks, while Naxos island
is favoured by German legs.
The islands are a safe choice since you can't accidentally get too far from
humanity. May and June are prime hiking months generally as hills
are scattered with wild flowers and temperatures are comfortable.
Climbing: The mainland offers the biggest,
baddest climbs, with the amazing vertical pinnacles of Meteora proving
Skiing: Northern Greece has mountains
and snow in excess, though few foreigners visit so ski resorts are
good value and pleasant but fairly basic. Mt Parnassos, NW
of Athens, and Mt Vermio, west of Thessaloniki are the best known.
Windsurfing: One of Europe's best
windsurfing destinations due to consistent sun, wind and protected
bays on a myriad islands, boards are widely available to rent.
Schools are established in some of the best locations on Lefkadha,
Kos, Paros, Samos, Crete and Corfu's west coast.
Sailing: endless hospitable islands,
sheltered bays, good winds and sun and a huge rental selection at
the right price make Greece a major sailing haven. Skiathos
has a particularly large fleet.
Snorkelling/Scuba: Snorkelling is fair,
with interesting rocks and fishies particularly in evidence around
Paros (Monastiri), Skopelos (Velanio) and Corfu (Paleokastritsa).
Scuba is prohibited outside recognised dive schools due to government
fears of theft of underwater antiquities. Some islands that have
schools are: Corfu, Skiathos, Crete, Mykonos, Paros, Rhodes, and
Transport on Greek islands is easiest by scooter. They are good value,
easy to park and OK off-road, BUT, most rental agents demand a full
motorcycle licence, not just a car licence, even for 49cc wheels.
So get a licence!
And look out for sand/dirt on bends if you prefer not to go home
with a gravel rash.
Rental transport tips and advice
Feb-March: Carnival - regions vary, though most events will
be colourful and bacchanalian. Patras is famed for its elaborate
25 March : Independence Day - the usual parades, but also dancing.
March-April: Easter - Greece has a strongly religious bent so
Easter celebrations are often striking. Good Friday eve candle processions
all over the country are moving. Especially dramatic is Athens'
on Lykavittos Hill. Also Saturday night candle Mass and more processions.
June-Sept: Athens Festival - music and drama in evocative Athenian
settings. It'll be all Greek to you.
Europe citizens and nationals of USA, Canada, Australia and New
Zealand do not need visas for visits up to 90 days.
Electric sockets are 220v and take 2 round pin plugs.
Crime is rare, though Athens gets a fair share of pickpockets and
low-class hotel thievery.
Plato, as seen by a Paros sculptor
Many Greeks, especially the young, speak English, so a few basic
words will suffice.
For reading street signs, however, a grasp of the Greek alphabet
is VERY useful, and not too difficult since many characters are
the same or similar.
couple of words:
'Hora' means old town or main town and is used when the island name
is identical to the town name.
'Domatio' (domatia pl.) means apartment to rent. Domatia are usually
newish, very comfortable and good value.
The bad news: Four legs good, two fins bad, so don't go thinking
great seafood at reasonable prices. Totally contrary to expectations
it is generally:
- ridiculously expensive
- unimaginatively prepared
- limited in variety
And the taramasalata...8 out of 10 times it appears as pink, slightly
fishy mashed potato. Is the Med/Aegean overfished?
The good news: Lamb and pork, pizzas, crepes, pasta, aubergine dishes
and kebabs are commonplace and well prepared.
Fruit and pastries are good, though traditional salads in Greece
If you're in a hurry or on a budget you'll easily find a streetside
kebab counter (Gyro) serving pitta bread with delicious pork and/or
mixed salad, with a cold Amstel beer, for a couple of €/$.
Always check a few prices before ordering food and drinks to avoid rip-off experiences. Generally the simple tavernas with uncomfortable chairs have the warmest welcome, best local food and cheapest prices – but not always.
Drink carafe wine not bottled. Clear, bright and quaffable, it is much cheaper and a world away from the awful home-made oxidised plonk they often served years ago – although occasionally it is still offered, so maybe best to order just a miso (half litre) or even tetarto (250ml) until you know if you like it.
When eating out, order the Greek way – a few dishes on the table to share. Maybe just two appetisers, one meat or fish plate for two people. You can order more after if still hungry. Don't expect food to come in sequence, or all together. Each dish will come when it's ready!
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