Greece’s Main Attractions
***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.
Halkidiki, Kavourotrypes 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.
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.
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 are dull.
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!
Feb-March: Carnival – regions vary, though most events will be colourful and bacchanalian. Patras is famed for its elaborate processions.
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.