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Greece will lead you on an epic odyssey where the water glistens three shades of crystal blue and iconic marble temples conjure images of gods and goddesses. Enjoy epicurean feasts in the birthplace of famed legends, renowned mythology, and notable influences to Western Civilization.
Greece is a country renowned for its fascinating history that brought about the beginnings of Western Civilization. Since the ancient Greek ages of war, drama, and art, the country has brought about modern getaways with enchanting perspectives found through unique island formations with whitewashed buildings or Venetian harbors, stunning mountain ranges and distinctive gorges. Medieval monasteries crown precipitous cliffs and Bronze Age frescoes decorate the preserved walls of magnificent palaces. Whether interested in exploring the ancient ruins and archeological sites aplenty or eager to bask in the flickering golden sands of sun-drenched beaches, Greece combines passions of ancient politics, cuisine, and culture with relaxation.
The official spoken language is Greek, with many people living in the larger cities or working in the service industry also speaking English. The minority population speaks languages from neighboring countries, such as Bulgaria and Turkey or languages more common around central Europe, like Russian. The Minoan civilization dates back thousands of years to the Island of Crete, flourishing around the mid-4th century BC. Visitors from around the world arrive ready to see the birthplace of Western philosophy, drama, literature, democracy, and the Olympic games.
The country’s historic legacy remains prominent in modern days and visitors are usually excited at the prospect of exploring signifcant buildings and monuments that reach far into the roots of Western society. Beyond the history stands the heritage associated with the magnificent islands and the picturesque beaches around the Aegean Sea. 200 of the 6,000 islands under Greek control are currently inhabited, and the whitewashed walls of the Cyclades, which includes Santorini and Mykonos, provide romantic getaways while the Dodecanese islands, of which Patmos and Samos are a part, retain traces of Byzantium, and the Crusades, along with Venetian and Ottoman rule.
The Ionian islands are known to draw yachters and swimmers with their sandy beaches, pebbled coves, and Italianate villages due to the proximity of the Southern Italian coastline. The culinary traditions of Greece are rich and exotic with flavors both deliciously familiar and remarkably distinct. The seafood around the islands and along the shoreline bring enticing fish, squid, and octopus dishes to the table. Fat and juicy olives are often used as snacks or garnishes while small plates known as meze, provide an array of tasty bites for visitors and locals alike to sink their teeth into, ranging from traditional hummus to tzatziki, dolmades to lamb meatballs.
Food is a part of life, and drinking accompanies the atmosphere and your meals. Ouzo, raki, and sweet wine add to the vibrant social ambiance of any lunch, dinner, and dessert. Whether sipping wine in a quiet café or drinking Greek coffee in one of the customary coffee houses, discovering the intricate friezes on the metopes of the Parthenon or lounging on the Red Sand Beach of Santorini, you can chat with locals, relax in luxury, and embrace the ancient history of the Western World.
Athens is often referred to as the “Cradle of Democracy” and history reigns supreme, ever-looming over contemporary life. Comtemporary society meets ancient landmarks near the majestic Acropolis, and reminds Greeks daily of their heritage and how their culture has transformed over the millennia. Art galleries have risen over the years promoting Athenian, greater Greek, and European artists. Political debates become lively discussions around the urban bustle of the historic streets inside one of Europe’s longest continuously inhabited city that dates back more than 3,000 years.
What began as a hilltop fortress eventually developed into a settlement surrounded by the Cephisian Plain towards the east to Mount Hymettus and west 12 miles to the Saronic Gulf. The ancient walled city encompassed approximately one mile east to west, and north to south with a commercial center established at 1,300 feet north of the Acropolis in view of the Temple of Athena. The Acropolis was inhabited in Neolithic times but became the center of the Mycenaean civilization by the 1,400s BC.
By the 8th century BC, Athens emerged as the center of the Greek world aided by the secure stronghold of the Acropolis and the city’s access to the sea. The free city-state reformed from kings to democracy by the 6th century BC, giving rise to Classical Athens, which fell to Alexander the Great 170 years later, Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, and the Roman empire by the 1st century BC.
Cafes, bars, and open-air restaurants provide the social scene with Athenians known to linger in the cool evening air for hours, sipping raki, an unsweetened anise-flavored alcohol, aged sweet wine, or rich coffee. The shores of the greater Athenian county maintain quality beaches and measures of antiquity embodied in the staggering Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, located atop soaring bluffs. The Parthenon crowns the central hill of the Acropolis alongside the Propylaia, Erechtheion, and Temple of the Athena Nike.
The Benaku Museum offers insight into the ancient lives of Athenians across three floors that showcase treasures from the Bronze Age to the Second World War, while the museum’s annex specializes in the contemporary art scene and musical performances. Images and insight into Christianity in the times of the Byzantine Empire fill the galleries of the Byzantine and Christian Museum. Nearby, the brilliance of architectural engineering during the 2nd century AD reflects in the bold amphitheater of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which continues to host performances during the Athens and Epidaurus Festival in summer, which draws in crowds of up to 5,000 people a night.
The Acropolis Museum dazzles visitors with artifacts from the neighboring summit and treasures remaining in Greek possession, and the Panathenaic Stadium held athletic games in the 4th century BC and the first of the modern Olympic games in the mid-1880s. Whether interested in the historical context of the beginnings of Western Civilization or intrigued by the artisan jewelry and antiques of the Monastiraki Flea Market on Sundays, Athens alone can provide a timeline on a grand scale of Greece’s evolution through the ages.
Santorini is what any dreams of a Greek island paradise are made of. Idyllic cliffs soar above the azure caldera filled with the shimmering waters of the Aegean Sea. The whitewashed walls of the iconic Cycladic architecture resemble snow drift along the rugged, mountainous edges of the island plateaus, which reach over 2,600 feet above sea level at the peak of Mount Profitis Ilias.
Blue domes mark the historical churches, and cobblestone lanes wind along the twisted, craggy slopes where donkeys continue to carry luggage from the small marinas. Cafes, restaurants, and bars provide elaborate views to the caldera while sailboats, yachts, and fishing boats populate the many marinas while adding to the ambiance. The Red Beach and the Black Beach offer unique perspectives on the colorful sands that are shaped by the island’s volcanic activity. Vineyards and farms utilized the rich minerals in the soil to create wines, fruits, and vegetables that are layered with strong flavors.
The quiet village of Oia provides a serene and romantic escape for unforgettable sunsets, while the island capital Fira stands at the top of nearly 600 steps and glistens with shops, jewelers, and charming architecture. Nearby, excavations began at the remarkable archeological site of Akrotiri in the 1960s to discover a city buried in rubble, pumice, and ash with a heritage that dates back more than 3.5 thousand years. The most popular excursions on Santorini are:
- Visiting the Wine Museum of Koutsogiannopoulos
- Hiking the trail between Fira and Oia
- Exploring the ruins at Akrotiri or Ancient Thera
- Taking a sunset cruise around the caldera, which includes a visit to the Red Sand and Black Sand beaches
- Trekking to the Akrotiri Lighthouse
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and feature over 620 miles of coastline. The dramatic mountains, deep gorges, and dazzling golden sand beaches accentuate the wealth of history hidden around the island. Crete has been one of Europe’s most southerly outposts for thousands of years, connecting the continent to traders and civilizations from Africa to Asia Minor. The Mediterranean climate promotes a sunny and welcoming atmosphere with an economy dominated by agriculture.
Harbor towns feature centuries-old architecture and glow with colorful facades, and usually with a stone lighthouse reminiscent of a storybook nearby. The Palace of Knossos embraces its mythology as the Bronze Age Minoan estate that housed the vast labyrinth in which the infamous minotaur lived. The ancient treasures give way to traditional villages known for their spirit of generosity within the secluded mountains. Canyon walls open to the craggy coves and cliffs along the southern coast while the valleys support farms and traditional taverns. Orchards create elegant tapestries near the cave in which the Greek god Zeus was born.
The sand glows pink in the sunlight around the eastern coastline and history imbues a sense of wonder into the mazelike coastal towns and fortresses crafted by the colonial Venetians. Renaissance mansions stand beside historic Turkish bathhouses, while frescoes decorate churches and monasteries with Byzantine influence. The unique customs of the island have blended the heritage of conquering seafarers, reveling in the sounds of the lyra with traditional dances and sharing folktales in the comfort of kafeneia, coffee houses. Any visit to Crete would be incomplete without:
- Exploring the winding lanes, art galleries, and waterside restaurants of Chania
- Taking a tour of traditional Cretan villages
- Visiting the archeological museum at Heraklion paired with a private tour of the Palace of Knossos
- Enjoying a 4x4 tour through the mountains to view the Roman aqueduct, mythological caves, and edges of Samaria Gorge National Park
- Viewing the Venetian palaces both on the mainland and on the nearby secluded islands of Spinalonga, Ágios, and Nikólaos
Vertical rock formations tower over the plains of Thessaly, reaching nearly 1,000 feet above sea level. The weathered and eroded rocks have created bizarre and dramatic cliffs upon which devout monks built their monasteries. The promontories featured 24 religious sites at its peak with only six of the monasteries still in use. Ladders and winches guided the monks to the top of the precipices before the construction of modern roads and stairways, and the earliest religious site in the area was a hermitage erected in the late 10th century.
The largest of the monasteries was erected in the latter half of the 14th century and contains the tombs of saints Athanasios and Ioasaph inside a gallery adorned with frescoes. 140 steps lead to the secluded Monastery of the Holy Trinity, which was featured in the 1981 James Bond Movie, For Your Eyes Only. The panoramic views over the plain are breathtaking.
The nearby town of Kastraki offers authentic, unspoiled culture nestled into the hillside beneath the rocky pinnacles, also worthy of a visit. 19th-century cottages with terracotta tile roofs contrast the surrounding lush trees while wooden window shutters open and close with the daylight near traditional taverns. The nearby cave chapel of Agios Andonios reflects the hallowed grounds once used as cave hermitages where hanging ladders continue to rest against the gentle sound of cooing from nesting doves. The caves were occupied as recently as the early 20th century by solitary monks eager to remind locals and other religious figures of the original spirit of the region. While in Meteora, you should not miss these celebrated activities:
- Watching the sunset at Kalambaka
- Hiking to the Meteora caves
- Walking to follow the footsteps of the monks who erected the monasteries on the precarious cliffs
Ancient Greeks considered Delphi the center of the earth due to the inspiring crags of Mount Parnassós, the colorful wildflowers that blanket the valley, and the divine presence felt around the rock chasms and the flowing waters of the Castalian Spring. Pilgrims to the ancient city had purified their bodies in the waters by washing their hair first with the most scandalous sinners taking the full plunge. The water continues to flow over the sloping cleft, and the marble quarry of Marmaria glints with protruding white stone. The museum contains rare and exquisite artifacts that represent the divine nature of the city between the Archaic to the Roman eras. The objects on display illustrate the traditions of art and scholarly pursuit inspired by the gods matched only by the discoveries found at the Acropolis in Athens. Pottery and bronze articles, along with elegant friezes from temple pediments adorn the galleries.
The contemporary village burrows into the cliff-side that leads to the remnants of the ancient city. In July, the ruins return to life during the Delphic Festival with performances that recreate the preserved elements of the ancient music and drama in the 4th century BC theater. The theater was dedicated to the goddess Dionysus, who ruled over the city in the winter when the oracle did not speak.
The Temple of Apollo contains six re-erected Doric columns to illustrate the dominant size of the sanctuary in comparison to the grand architecture of the surrounding city. The city’s prestige grew in the 6th century BC after a period of colonization, with word of the oracle spreading across the ancient world to benefactors in Egypt and King Croesus of Lydia, in what is modern-day western Turkey. A trip to Delphi would feel incomplete without partaking in at least one of the following activities:
- Taking the ancient path to Corician Cave and toward the village of Eptalofos on Mount Parnassós
- Listening for the lingering whispers of the Oracle of Delphi with a private guided tour through the city ruins
- Paragliding around the cliffs and over the valley around Delphi for an unforgettable aerial view of the ruins and landscape
Greece has gained a reputation as a summer getaway destination due to the islands and beaches scattered across the Mediterranean Sea. From late May to early October, little rain falls over the landscape, and the sea temperature warms to a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit around the islands. As tourism heavily influences Greece’s stressed economy, the islands open their doors to visitors mainly in summer, while the rest of Greece remains a year-round vacation destination with temperatures ranging from 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the northern mountains to 100 degrees Fahrenheit along the shimmering southern beaches. While summer is considered “peak season,” the months between June and September also offer the most challenging crowds.
Greece’s ideal Mediterranean climate provides a sun-drenched dream for beachgoers and refreshing atmosphere in which history lovers can explore. During the peak summer season, the temperature of Athens averages 91 degrees Fahrenheit but can feel hotter due to the humidity and reflection of the sunlight off the ancient marble architecture. The sea breeze and cooler temperatures on the mountainous terrain can create a respite from the intense heat. Near the sea, the weather averages a consistent 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather on Crete, one of Greece’s most southerly islands, reaches an average temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit in August and 50 degrees Fahrenheit in February.
In winter, Athens averages 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the resorts, beaches, and restaurants around the Greek islands close in mid-October and reopen by May but popular cities and towns on mainland Greece, from Athens to Thessaloniki, continue to welcome visitors throughout the year. If you wish to enjoy the better-known islands without the crowds, the best time to visit is between late May and early June or late September and early October after the wave of peak season has dissipated, but the weather still maintains.
The European tradition keeps locals vacationing between July and August, reducing the sunny beaches and warm surf to crowds of tourists, gouging hotel prices or resort fees, and making reservations to museums, restaurants, and archeological sites mandatory. Timing during any vacation is everything. While summer draws huge crowds across Greece, especially to the famous islands of Mykonos and Santorini, the summer also supports huge cultural events, including “The Day of Panagia” on August 15th, when thousands of pilgrims trek to pay homage to an icon in the mountain village of Agiassos. The festivity consists of several days of food, wine, dancing, and music. Summer also sees the Hellenic Festival, which lasts from June to September and incorporates the traditions of ancient theater and music with modern dance, opera, and contemporary theater practices.
Celebrations reach a climax during the holy week of the Orthodox Easter. Candlelit processions wind down the street and midnight fireworks light up the sky. The scent of roasted lamb drifts through the air, and a different event takes place daily between the Saturday of Lazarus and Easter Sunday. During Easter week, hotel rooms outside of Athens fill quickly with city-dwellers hoping to escape the madness of the city and bask in the serene countryside during the most important holiday of the year. Most museums, archeological sites, and shops close on the weekend between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Carefully planning your Greece vacation to avoid the stress, rush, and craziness of vying for a place to stay or finding an activity to enjoy outside of celebrating Easter during the holiday weekend is critical. Carnival also provides a unique Greek perspective on the festival before Lent.
While any time of year is great to visit Greece, certain holiday seasons are best avoided when attempting to explore the different regions of the antique country. Nearly every day in Greece is associated with one or more patron saint, with one tiny chapel or large basilica celebrating the saint’s day with a church service followed by wining and dining.
The festivities known as Apokreas bring costumed parades, vibrant floats, elegant feasts, and traditional dancing to the streets of towns, cities, and villages. The Hellenic Festival moves away from the Orthodoxy of the Greek church to the ancient marvels of Greek theater. The Summer festival captivates audiences with international music, dance, and drama for a celebration of the arts inside the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens with the shimmering marble pillars of the Acropolis as a backdrop.
Winter is a great time to visit Greece if you are not searching for the perfect beaches covered in golden sand and hoping to snorkel in the hidden coves. While the summer months receive endless tourist traffic due to the nice weather and pristine shorelines of the different islands, winter provides a completely different Greece experience. A long-held belief for visitors to Greece claims the islands “close” after summer as if the government place a large bubble over the landscape to keep newcomers out. People live on the islands year-round, allowing life to continue as usual, albeit much quieter than in summer.
Large resorts and hotels, or even seaside restaurants in secluded parts of the islands may shutter their doors for the season, but what remains are the intimate luxury accommodations and friendly local restaurants. While you can expect the beauty of the islands to persist in tandem with a more welcoming ambiance of shoreline, uncrowded streets, and friendly faces, the islands and mainland Greece can get cold and rainy in winter, but it can also be sunny and warm. The winter months are better for trekking and exploring, as opposed to snorkeling and sand-combing, with weather averaging 50 degrees Fahrenheit on Gavdos, Greece’s southernmost island.
Greece provides a plethora of accommodations for tourists that range from boutique hotels to sophisticated eco-lodges, five-star luxury resorts to hidden gems with private panoramas. Visitors have options and may opt for global hotel brands known for elegance, or turn to family-run bed and breakfasts in view of hanging antique monasteries. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Greece has developed an industry of accommodations to match the demand with everything from modern accommodations to small-scale family operations that total more than 11,000 four- and five-star hotels as of 2016.
The most popular hotels on the islands provide beautiful views to the Aegean Sean and secluded plunge pools in which to enjoy the vistas. The whitewashed houses with blue rooftops bring the elegance of lavish living with the traditional architecture of the iconic Cyclades islands. The pristine white walls have become a symbol of the Greek isles’ beauty and charm, adding extravagance and comfort for visitors from around the world.
Historic hotels across the Peloponnese, Western Greece, Thessaloniki, Kavala, and Santorini have renovated manor houses and antique buildings to offer refined and classic style able to accommodate contemporary luxuries. These hotels have breathed new life into the traditional architectural style of Greece’s various regions, along with renewing the myths and legends that have inspired local families for over two and a half millennia. Resorts and hotels have also brought new depth and vigor to former secluded monasteries, so there is truly something for everyone.
The cuisine of Greece has evolved for more than 3,000 years and embraces the fruits of the Mediterranean climate with influence taken from the types of ingredients used and dishes made across Western Europe. The age-old traditions of Greek cooking have taken the heritage from Eastern and Western cultures by way of a long history of interaction through trade. Fresh vegetables and seafood also play a significant role due to the country’s nearly 8,500 miles of coastline and over 225 inhabited islands of the approximately 6,000 islands scattered across the Aegean and Ionian seas. Remarkably, every corner of Greece stands no more than 90 miles away from the sea.
Scholars and historians have traced the history of Greece’s culinary fusion to 350 BC when Alexander the Great extended the empire from Europe east to India, absorbing the influences of the different cultures into the gastronomy. By the 2nd century BC, Greece fell to the Romans, which resulted in a blend of cooking styles and ingredients between Greece and what became the Italian peninsula. Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in the 4th century AD, which straddled the bridge between Europe and Asia.
After the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks, many of the classic dishes took on Turkish names, which often remain today. Greeks have influenced many cultures over the course of nearly three millennia, and in turn, have also absorbed the likes of the Romans, Venetians, Balkans, Turks, Slavs, and also the English. Dishes such as tzatziki and dolmades derive from the Turkish words cacik and dolma respectively and can be found in kitchens spanning Armenia to Egypt.
Common meats in Greece consist of pork, beef, goat, chicken, veal, and rabbit, with the most popular item being lamb. Throughout Greek history, meat was only an option for affluent members of society, with the less-prosperous members of the community eating meat just once or twice a week. Instead of meat, Greeks often utilized grains and pasta, of which they had in abundance. The names of foods, cooking methods, and basic ingredients have changed little over the course of history, with bread, olives, olive oil, and wine creating a large portion of the diet enjoyed for centuries.
Fun Fact: The first cookbook was written by a Greek food gourmet known as Archestratus in the 4th century BC, which suggests cooking has always held a significant role in Greek society.
Greece is a nation of small farmers that produce a wide array of mostly organically produced vegetables, fruits, and cheeses, oils and nuts, grains and legumes. A large selection of greens and herbs also grow in the wild in the fertile Mediterranean climate, which also provides perfect conditions in which olive and lemon trees thrive. Spices, such as garlic, along with herbs like oregano, basil, and mint, have an abundance of uses in Greek cooking to compliment common vegetables like eggplant and zucchini. However, many ingredients associated with Greece were not introduced to the country until the Middle Ages when European explorers began to trade with the Americas to discover potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, and bananas.
The Importance of a Taverna
Never underestimate the importance of a taverna experience in Greece, which offers a perfect space to thoroughly enjoy a traditional Greek meal. An authentic Greek dining experience is never rushed and instead encourages you to take your time, engage in discussion, and delight in the company that surrounds you. A taverna is a small Greek restaurant that will serve Greek cuisine and support the traditions of local flavor and culture. Residents across Greece make a distinction between a restaurant and a proper Greek Taverna. The former will often have an extensive menu and remain open for long hours while a taverna offers limited amounts of food and serves only what is available for the day, most notably in the evening when Greeks wish to dine and enjoy dancing, orzo, or wine.
The type of cuisine served in a taverna depends upon the region in which the eatery is located. Their limited menus often specialize in seafood but can also include grilled meats, stuffed grape leaves known as dolmades, Greek cheeses, dips, and spreads and the food is always fresh and delicious when eating at a proper taverna. Beware of the tourist traps located in heavily touristy areas as these restaurants label themselves tavernas and claim to offer an authentic Greek experience, but are often not authentic and often over-priced. In more crowded areas, you may need to search a little more to find an authentic tavern, and if you have trouble spotting the unexpected hub of activity away from the visiting hordes of people, you could always ask a local for the closest taverna or their personal favorite.
Cheese in Greece is as old as mythology itself, with the legend of the famous dish telling the story of Aristaios, the son of Apollo and Cyrene, who gave the Greeks the methods to make cheese as a gift from the gods. Cheese-making has since been labeled the “gift of everlasting value and Greek cheeses have only grown finer with age, rivaling some of the world’s best cheeses in variety, flavor, and technique. The most well-known Greek cheese is feta. However, the delights of cheese from the Mediterranean country go beyond the versatility of the soft to medium textured cheese that has graced dishes and spans the spectrum from breakfast to dessert.
Since 1996, Greece has received 19 PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) statuses for their cheeses, which protects the flavor and quality of the cheese by defining the areas of origin and methods of production. Feta cheese received its status in 2002, followed by Xigalo Sitias in 2008. Greek cheese predominantly uses fresh sheep or goat’s milk, as opposed to cow’s milk, which is more common in the United States, Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. One reason is that the highly mountainous terrain of Greece favors farming goats and sheep as opposed to the vast lands of grass needed to tend cows and produce cow’s milk. Many of the techniques used to make Greek cheese follow the age-old traditions and stem from antiquity. New methods of creating cheese have introduced Greece to a new personality of flavors and textures unique to Greece’s authentic sensibilities. Greece has one of the highest per capita rates of cheese consumption in the world with mainly local and family-owned companies producing 100 different varieties of cheese. The following list offers brief examples and explanations of Greece’s most popular cheese thanks to their flavorful traditions:
1. Feta – Feta tops the charts of famous Greek cheeses with exports to countries around the globe. The sheep’s cheese has a texture ranging from semi-soft to semi-hard with a flavor shifting from mild to sharp depending on the aging process. Only Feta made in Lesvos, Macedonia, Thessaly, Thrace, the Peloponnese, and central mainland Greece are truly Feta. Goat or sheep’s milk can make the cheese, but never cow’s milk. The white curd has a salty flavor from the brine used.
2. Kefalotyri and Graviera – The hard and salty cheese have similar consistencies and flavors. Greeks enjoy Kefalotyri and Graviera fried, grated and served as appetizers or with meze.
a. Kefalotyri is made from goat’s or sheep’s milk before aging for more than a year. This process accounts for the strong flavor, dry and hard texture, along with the yellowish color. It is compared to a saltier, sharper version of Gruyere cheese.
b. Graviera blends cow’s milk with goat or sheep’s milk for a sweeter flavor than the Kefalotyri that almost takes on a fruity taste. The subtle differences between the flavors of Graviera depend upon the region in which the cheese was produced.
3. Kasseri – The soft texture of one of Greece’s few yellow cheeses leads to a stringy consistency. Produces use sheep’s milk to craft the favorite table cheese of the country, which utilizes up to 20 percent of goat’s milk in the process. The cheese matures for at least four months before achieving its distinctive texture. The high fat content of the cheese gives a decadent buttery taste to every bite, making it a perfect accompaniment to omelets or a unique ingredient to use in baking.
4. Manouri and Myzithra – The two sweet cheeses help create some of Greece’s tastiest desserts for a creamy and indulgent texture complimenting a variety of texture and flavors due to the richness stemming from the high fat content.
a. Manouri has a semi-soft consistency and contains a combination of citrusy flavors due to the milk, cream, or why used in making the cheese. Authentic Manuori derives from Central and West Macedonia or Thessalia.
b. Myzithra is an unpasteurized cheese. Greeks often grate the cheese over pasta or onto bread. Due to its unpasteurized nature, it should be consumed within days of production.
5. Anthotryos – The fresh, soft cheese has a similar consistency and flavor to Sicily’s Ricotta. The creamy texture and mild flavor contain low salt and fat content. Greeks hoping to shed a few pounds or on strict health diets choose Anthotryos as a healthy alternative to other cheese. Sheep’s and goat’s milk produce the cheese, which is a popular ingredient used in savory pies or within desserts.
Greek Olives and Olive Oil
There is hardly a more iconic fruit associated with the Mediterranean than the olive, and with it comes a relationship with olive oil. The wild olive tree first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean, thought the Greeks were the first culture to cultivate it. The presence of the olive tree in the Greek region has continued uninterrupted since Minoans utilized the olives and olive oil in their daily life during the Bronze Age, between 2,600 and 1,100 BC. The Minoan Palace of Knossos had vast storage of olive oil in the West Magazines, with an estimated capacity of over 551,000 pounds. Olive oil discovered in volcanic rocks at Santorini have been dated to between 50,000 and 60,000 years old, as cultivated during the Stone Age.
During the Minoan period, olives and oil were stored in earthenware jars with inventory taken on recording tables. The jars were often exported to Aegean islands and mainland Greece for financial purposes. However, the olive tree was also worshiped as sacred with its oil used in the production of perfume, medicine, and as an ingredient of the daily diet. History has shown during the olive harvest of antiquity farmers would beat the tree with rods to gather the fruit from the branches. Greek settlers in Sicily and southern Italy brought the olive tree with them on their journeys as early as 800 BC, continuing onward to Spain and Southern France.
Olives have remained a part of the human diet for thousands of years and due to their versatile flavor and cooking uses, from tapenades to stews, sauces to pure snacking ability. They can have sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors with pungent or mild aromas. The trees thrive in warm, subtropical zones and absorb the flavors in the soil cast by the arid landscape, sea air, or rocky soil. Although the tree was native to Syria and Asia Minor, the Assyrians first discovered the flavor emitted from a freshly pressed olive.
The harvest process provides the key to determining the flavor and quality of the olive. For the purest taste, an olive must remain on the tree to ripen before falling to the ground without help. Traditionalists pick the olives by hand based upon ripeness, while larger producers choose to harvest all the olives at once to save time and money.
The large stone, or pit, at the center of the olive is full of oleuropein, which gives the fruit an intense bitterness and low sugar content, separating the fruit from its cousins, cherries, and peaches. However, it is this same ingredient that makes the olive deliciously savory, perfect for producing oil and for adding to a variety of dishes based on the fruit’s ripeness. The general rule to olive picking is the darker the olive, the riper the fruit when picked.
Olive harvesting can found throughout the year. Green olives should have a nutty flavor, and firm texture picked between September and October while black olives are picked between November and December, or as late as January for a softer, richer, and meatier flavor. Purple olives are picked during the months between the olive’s ripening from green to black, often between late October and early November.
Greek coffee has distinctive properties that separate it from the familiar flavors of espresso or its cousin in strength and vigor, Turkish coffee. Greek coffee is a potent brew served with foam atop the grounds that flavor the drink at the bottom of the cup. A traditional pot known as a birki provides the foam and adds to the unique taste of the coffee while producing enough foam to top two, four, or six cups. The coffee is brewed to taste with every Greek preferring theirs a particular way, varying between sweet and bitter. The four main styles of Greek coffee are, unsweetened, somewhat sweetened, sweet and very sweet.
Greeks utilize finely ground coffee boiled in the briki, beginning the first of the three steps to making Greek coffee. The other two steps include turning the liquid into thick, strong coffee and adding the foam. The coffee is meant to be sipped, which allows the grounds to settle to the bottom of the cup. A glass of cold water typically accompanies the coffee, or something sweet like a small cookie to help balance the bitter flavor. A recent study in Greece showed the typical Greek coffee break lasts over 90 minutes, giving workers time to chat, gossip, and enjoy a break from their schedule.
The traditional drink of Greece and Greek culture is unique and embodied in the flavor of anise found inside Greece’s national aperitif. The special tradition of Ouzo began in the 14th century with a group of monks at Mount Athos. Modern distillation began in the 19th century following the Greek independence movement with the first national distillery founded in Tyrnavos in the mid-19th century. By the 1930s, production moved to copper stills for a standard distillation method. Traditionally, you are to mix the alcohol with water until the drink reaches a cloudy white, often containing a faint blue tint that emanates from a small glass filled with ice or a shot glass.
At homes or in traditional tavernas, ouzo is served with mezes, small dishes of fresh fish, olives, or feta cheese to keep the stomach full and the alcohol at bay. Ouzo is typically over 37 percent ABV, or 75 proof and contains an herbaceous black licorice flavor. The famous drink evolved from the predecessor tsipouro, a type of Greek grappa. Producers use the base spirit from grapes before flavoring it with anise, the same herb that offers absinthe its distinctive aroma and taste.
In 2006, ouzo received an official Protected Designation of Origin from the EU, which is similar to the approval stamp Italian, Spanish, German, and French wines receive to protect the quality of their production. The drink is meant for social occasions, which include sharing with friends on any day of the week. However, during a meal, you will find Greeks more often sipping wine as opposed to ouzo and before, or after the meal, the ouzo will make an appearance.
Considerations before Traveling to Greece
Visiting Greece is the trip of a lifetime for most travelers aiming to take in the rich sense of history, the alluring beaches, the captivating mythology, or the secluded monasteries. The crystalline waters and preserved ancient sites propel Greece into the limelight and beyond your expectations. With an endless variety of distinctive islands and antiquities to act as a historical map of the development of Western Civilization, a visit to Greece may feel overwhelming and exciting throughout your journey. But whether you are in the mood for thrilling treks, smooth sailing, or luxurious views of ancient life, Greece will accommodate all your desires and turn your dream-trip into a reality.
Getting to Greece is a relatively relaxed and hassle-free process. At the time of this writing, visitors from the United States and Canada, along with members of the EU or UK, Australia, and New Zealand can enter Greece for up to 90 days without a visa. As a member of the EU, you can enter Greece or visit one of its many islands by ferry or plane, car or train. Cruise ships often make port around Athens, Santorini, Crete, Patmos, Mykonos, and Rhodes.
If you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you must submit a visa application at your local Greek consulate or embassy that will inquire about your reasons for an extended period of time, whether it be related to studies, work, or relocation. The easiest way to enter the country is by plane. However, ferries do reach Athens or the major islands departing from Cypress, Turkey, and Italy. You can arrange land transfers by train or car to cross the borders into Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, or Turkey. The airports into which it is most convenient to fly in and out of are:
- Athens International Airport
- Kazantzakis International Airport in Heraklion, Crete
- Thessaloniki International Airport
- Rhodes International Airport
Airfare is highest during the summer season, peaking between July and August. May, June, and September remain popular with travelers but provide a less crowded experience around the islands or in the historic northern cities. Fewer flights operate in winter making it less-likely to encounter airfare deals.
Throughout your stay, you must be careful not to remove any artifacts from the countless archeological sites across Greece. It is illegal to remove and export antiquities, which accounts for objects over 100 years old, without an export permit. Even the smallest articles can carry a maximum penalty.
Travelers from North America will need power converters or adaptors to account for the change to 220 volts and 50 hertz. The majority of the shops, restaurants, and accommodations in major tourist areas accept credit cards. ATM machines are prominent throughout the cities, but you can expect your bank to charge a foreign transaction fee on top of the fee for using a machine not associated with your bank. The best way to avoid these fees while in Greece is to use a credit card with no fees for foreign currency exchange or exchange cash at one of the many agencies located in the airports or in larger cities, or accessible through larger hotels.
The European Union no longer has duty-free restrictions, allowing visitors from outside of Greece and the UE to provide verbal declarations unless traveling with amounts of money or the equivalent of 10,000 euro. Custom agents continue to issue random searches to keep drug trafficking and money laundering at bay, and you should always carry your prescriptions with you when traveling through the European Union, including Greece, for the medicine your doctor prescribed you at home may be considered an illicit drug abroad due to the difference in medical regulation. Codeine is a perfect example; although medication with the ingredient is sold over the counter in the United States, the substance is considered illicit and illegal in Greece without a doctor’s note or prescription.
Do not attempt to steal, hide, or smuggle antiques out of Greece, which refers to any artifact over 100 years old, without an export permit. This rule also includes shards of pottery, plaster, or stone discovered while touring historic monuments. Not only does it negatively affect the historic sites, the somewhat innocuous act is, in fact, stealing from the cultural heritage of Greece and taking away from the public good by not allowing more people to view a piece or the whole of an artifact.
If every person visiting one of Greece’s historical sites took a shard of pottery, a piece of plaster or a semblance of an icon once used for religious, architectural, or artistic purposes, the country’s cultural archives would quickly run dry. It is also a serious offense to remove even the smallest article from an archeological site. If you choose to purchase and export an antique, you should do so from a professional dealer or collector and apply for an export permit from the Athens Archeological Service in the Antique Dealers and Private Collection section.
Most restaurants, hotels, and public areas in Greece have Western-style toilets, especially those connected to the tourism industry or in an area with heavy tourist traffic. Public toilets around Greece are rare, except in transport hubs such as airports, train stations, and bus stations. In a store or café, the staff will allow you to use the restroom in exchange for a purchase. Contemporary hotels and luxury resorts have fixed the issues with the old plumbing systems, some of which date back centuries. However, in many of the public areas, including cafes, shops, and some private homes, the antiquated pipes are too narrow to accommodate anything larger than a post-it note. In those instances, toilet paper and sanitary products should be disposed of in the small bin positioned beside the toilet.
No matter where you go in the world, it is important to take preventative care and measures to ensure your health and safety while traveling. Greece is considered a safe destination associated with the luxuries of Western Europe. Tap water is potable and acceptable in larger cities but could be questionable in rural areas and villages on small islands.
Tourist police work in connection with Greek police in larger cities and popular tourist destinations. The tourist police have at least one, if not many, staff members who speak English. Local businesses and people that fall under the jurisdiction of the tourist police are:
- Local travel agencies
- Tourist shops
- Local guides
- Taxi Drivers
- Tourist bus drivers
If for any reason you need to report an illegal act, such as theft, to the regular police, you should first meet with the tourist police who will act as interpreters in case the police officers do not speak English.
Always remember to keep hydrated and apply sunblock continuously from May to October. The intense heat of the Mediterranean Sun can cause heat stroke, extreme fatigue, and third-degree burns. Bug repellant is also recommended as you move out of the city and into the countryside regions.
While in large crowds close to tourist destinations, such as at the base of the Acropolis in Athens or wandering the labyrinthine streets of Mykonos Town, you should be mindful of your valuables. The struggling economy has led to an increase in pickpockets in the more crowded touristy pockets of the cities and towns across the country, encouraging you to be vigilant while in a bus station, a crowded street market, or wandering through the throngs of locals in the streets. Keep your passport and cash in a secure location, such as a safe in your hotel or on a money belt hidden from view. As a precaution, you should bring copies of credit card information and your passport. You do not have to be paranoid while traveling Greece, but you should be extremely aware of your surroundings and your belongings when in a crowd.
The unpredictability of travel can cause undue stress and anxiety about common misconceptions of countries you may visit while exploring Europe. However, Greece is a country known for its elaborate tourism industry, and you will experience a safe, comfortable, and healthy environment in which you can enjoy a unique expedition into history or a relaxing day on the beaches of the Mediterranean islands. Greece is a safe place to travel, with heat exhaustion amongst tourists more common than any sort of reported crime.
A number of tourists who enjoy the nightlight and take time to linger on the beaches have complained about bombes, adulterated drinks served in select bars and clubs around Athens and resorts famous for their partying atmosphere. The drinks contain diluted drugs illegally imported that leave the consumer worse for wear the remainder of the night and the following day. Reports of resorts catering to large tour groups and young solo-travelers using the bombes are much more common than restaurants, upscale nightclubs or bars, and luxury accommodations. When visiting a crowded bar, nightclub, or beach resort, remember to keep a hand over the top of your glass. More often than not, the perpetrators are not locals of Greece but visiting foreigners.
The CDC recommends staying up to date on vaccines before leaving your country of residence. You should check with your doctor or speak with a travel clinic before departing for Greece to learn about recommended vaccinations or medicines if staying in the country for longer than 90 days or pursuing work with animals. You are at a low risk of contracting hepatitis while abroad, but should always consider vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B before traveling.
Customs and Etiquette
Greeks are warm and friendly, welcoming and hospitable, and also proud of their culture and history with over 90 percent of traditional Greek descent. 98 percent of people identify as Greek Orthodox with less than two percent following Judeo-Christian or other religions. Whether on the mainland or visiting the islands, Greeks are known for their overflowing hospitality and a relaxed attitude that remains close to the perception of “western” values, manners, and etiquette. Locals shake hands firmly when first meeting and good friends give long embraces or kisses on both cheeks.
Punctuality is a guideline but not a rule unless working with guides and private transportation. Greek culture stresses family values and the community spirit, and grandparents and senior citizens are treated with respect and dignity. On the beaches, the dress code remains casual, and in some places, nonexistent. However, proper decorum on a nude beach remains necessary, which can mean no cameras or cell phones while on the sand. It is uncouth to sunbathe nude or topless when not on a designated beach or close to a family area or church.
When visiting a monastery or holy site, women are expected to cover their arms and legs past the knee. In restaurants, table manners remain casual. Discussions are social and friendly around the dinner table and refusing food is impolite. In smaller towns or less visited areas of the country, do not be surprised if a member of the family invites you to dinner. If dining at a private home, asking for a second helping will delight the host and hostess, as it will be seen as a compliment to their cooking skills. A traditional Greek meal consists of large portions and various side dishes placed on the table to accompany the main dish.
Bringing the host a small gift of flowers, wine, sweets, or pastries is considered good manners and food is a large part of the Greek culture, from olive oil to roasted lamb. For a unique experience, you could visit the town of Elassona, which hosts a biannual feta cheese festival. Thessaly in central Greece celebrates the myth and production of the cheese believed to be passed down from Greek gods. The artichoke festival in the Cyclades takes place in May when producers source more than 10,000 artichokes to create a variety of different dishes featuring the treasured earthy vegetable.
Try to avoid using hand gestures while in Greece as body language is an easy way to offend someone without intention when not realizing the cultural meaning of a simple gesture. Holding your hand up and palm out is considered rude, along with making the “OK” sign by forming a circle with your thumb and index finger. Greeks give a simple forward head nod when indicating yes, and a vigorous backward tilt when answering no, making the headshake and nod obsolete when speaking with locals.
When visiting a brick and mortar store, haggling is frowned upon. When scouring vendors along the streets near tourist destinations, bargaining is encouraged and expected. Tipping is not essential in Greece, but taxi drivers have learned to expect a tip from tourists. Restaurants provide a service charge already. If you enjoyed your meal and the service while dining out, rounding up the bill will tell your server you that you appreciated their professionalism and attention.
ATMs and Money Exchange
Greece uses the euro as its form of currency. As one of the original Eurozone members to start using the euro as legal tender in 2002, other currencies are not widely accepted. If a vendor or merchant is willing to take a form of currency, you will probably end up spending more money than if you had used euros, not including credit cards or debit cards. Euros are widely available across Greece with varying exchange rates depending on the accessibility of ATMs, banks, or the amount of exchange stations.
Most Greek airports have exchange stations at which you can exchange for euros, but the rates are often less favorable than those at stations in the city center. This is also true for larger hotels. Despite the convenience, the unfavorable rates make searching for a currency exchange a better option. In larger cities across Greece, it is easy to find a currency exchange or an ATM. If traveling to more secluded or smaller areas of Greece, it is essential to have euros on you before arriving, as small town does not always have currency exchanges, working ATMs, or allow visitors to pay with credit cards.
Make sure to note the times that currency exchanges open and close as the closing times tend to vary based on the day, with many shutting their doors by 2:30 pm between Monday and Thursday, 2 pm on Friday, and remain closed all weekend. Larger cities and general tourist areas across Greece accept the major card providers, while more remote areas might only take certain card providers if any at all. Cash is the best form of payment to use when traveling around the country, especially when considering accessibility and breaking down the currency into tips.
Travelers from the United States are accustomed to tipping, but when traveling abroad, the subject becomes an uncomfortable point of uncertainty. The amount differs from person to person but retains a customary base of what to offer to each person in regards to showing your appreciation for their work. A bellboy or porter averages 1 euro per bag. A housekeeper averages 1 euro per day for every day you stay in a hotel. A concierge generally receives a tip of between 2 to 3 euro after providing excellent service.
Restaurants become a different tipping scenario entirely. Tipping is expected after receiving excellent service, especially for tourists, though some restaurants in Greece will round up the bill and offer the extra money to the waiter. Other restaurants include a service charge, in which case a small tip is appreciated but not mandatory. If the restaurant does not round up to the bill or include a service charge, Greeks customarily leave between 10 to 20 percent for a tip, depending on the service. Taxis in Greece do not expect a tip but are always happy to receive one.
This often comes in the form of rounding up the fare to the nearest euro or adding an extra 5 percent to the overall amount. Taxis do charge for handling bags, which is not considered a tip but a handling fee. The important thing to remember when visiting Greece is that tipping refers to good to excellent service and shows your appreciation for the service you received. However, after years of Americans visiting Greece and knowingly or unknowingly providing outlandish tips, larger tips have become expected of American tourists.
99 percent of the population in Greece speaks Greek, with many speaking one of the country’s non-official or minority languages. Unfortunately for fans of Homer, Plato, and Socrates, ancient Greek is no longer the most widely spoken form of the language and instead would sound like an English speaker attempting to converse using English older than Elizabethan. Over 11 million people speak modern Greek alongside their regional spoken dialects. With the exception of Tsakonian, a language deriving from Doric Greek and spoken in the Peloponnese region, the majority of Greek dialects descend from the common supra-regional language spoken in late antiquity.
Residents of Greece also speak Albanian, Armenian, Russian, Macedonian, Romany, and Turkish. However, many Greeks, especially those working in the tourism industry, speak English, German, French, and Italian, with English and French taught in elementary schools. Even though you can easily find English speakers in the more popular destinations of Greece, including the resort islands, famous monuments, or museums, it is polite to learn a few words of Greece to show your appreciation to the country, the people, and the culture.
Traveling through and around mainland Greece and its surrounding islands has become better organized over the decades through the growth of small flights, train connections, bus stops, ferries, and well-tended highways. The variety of options that connect greater Greece to Athens has increased with both domestic and international tourism and has allowed the cultural divide between the regions to narrow. While taxis are an easy way to travel around Athens and other cities across Greece, they are only recommended as means of transport between nearby destinations, such as the airport and your hotel or a local restaurant. The fares are cheap compared to other European countries; however, they can add up if the taxi remains your only means of transport.
Car rentals provide the most freedom when traveling through Greece, allowing you to plan and follow the map you create on the mainland or along the islands. The main, modern road networks that crisscross Greece connect the southern edges of the country to the extreme north. The main roads remain in great shape, but regional roads often need attention due to their narrow, winding nature. If renting a car in Greece, make sure to check the gas gauge upon pick up. Car rental companies in Greece like to deliver the car as close to empty as possible, that way when you return the car, they can make a profit off the amount of gas you have left in the tank, which often amounts to a full tank. You are only requited to return the car with the same amount of gas with which it was given to you or just slightly above.
There is only one Metro in all of Greece, and it is located in Athens. The city has a large enough population with enough urban sprawl to necessitate the underground transportation. The 2004 Olympics brought a large and an expensive overhaul to the metro network, providing new and easy to navigate signs, along with an audio-system that recites the stops and highlights of those particular stops in different languages, including English. When visiting Greece, Greek student cards are only valid for Greek students when riding the metro.
Greek towns and cities have their own bus systems to provide transport to the local residents. Only a handful of cities, such as Athens, Patra, Kalamata, and Thessaloniki, are large enough to require the services of the bus system, with the majority of towns and villages small enough to walk through or ride in a taxi amounting to a low fare. The national roadway offers an easy way to travel between cities from south to north by bus when sightseen or transferring to a new region of Greece.
Trains remain a popular way to travel through mainland Greece, with the most popular route taking passengers from Athens in the south to Thessaloniki in the northeast. The Greek railway organization OSE operates the network with the northern line offering the most substantial lines. Standard services run between Athens and Dikea near the Turkish and Bulgarian borders. A network around the Peloponnese runs as far as Klato with bus services carrying passengers to Plata to reach ferry connections. Prices and schedules vary due to the financial instability of the country, so one should always double-check prices on the OSE website or by calling 1440 when in need of information pertaining to departures from Athens or Thessaloniki.
There are two types of class services when traveling by train. The regular train provides a slow transit stopping at all stations between destinations. It represents Greece’s cheapest form of public transportation with second-class rates promising an economical way to travel for Greeks needing a reliable, if not elongated way to travel through the country. Even first-class tickets on the slow train can be cheaper than a bus ticket. The modern trains, known as intercity or IC, links most major cities across Greece. The faster trains provide excellent and fast service between major cities with comfortable seats and an onboard café. Depending on the class and train-type, passengers could have their meal delivered to their seats. Overnight services offer a choice between couchettes, two-bed, and single bed compartments.
Ferries have become an important and reliable way to travel between the islands and the mainland of Greece. Even with the addition of more flights going to many of the Greek islands, the ferries are well regarded as comfortable, easy, and quick. Ferries from Athens can depart from the main port at Piraeus or the smaller ports of Rafina and Lavrion. The modern amenities offer comfortable seats and onboard cafes accompanied by breathtaking scenery between the islands. Due to the distance between the mainland and various islands, a ferry ride could take up to 10 hours, in which case flying offers a better choice. Ferries also connect Greece with international destinations, such as Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, and Venice in Italy along with select Turkish islands.
Unique Ruins and Historical Sites
As the setting of Western Europe’s classical civilizations, Greece brings ancient mythology to life with soaring fortresses set high on atop the hills to crumbing icons of ancient skylines. Greece offers romantic landmarks and family-friendly destinations, captivating activities and unforgettable experiences within renowned history ranging from prehistoric to medieval times. Whether interested in the natural beauty of the highlands and the islands or fascinated by the beaches and the cultural heritage, Greece offers your choice of endless destinations that will be sure to satiate the soul of culinary enthusiasts and amateur archeologists alike.
The most northerly of Greece’s Ionian Islands also boasts the title of the most important with its position lying near the coast of Albania and the Greek region of Epirus. The natural beauty is legendary due to the gentle green hills that roll through to the south and the rugged limestone peaks that punctuate the north. The mild Mediterranean climate provides lush vegetation and draws visitors from around the world interested in indulging in the charming beaches.
Tourism provides the bulk of the island’s revenue alongside nearly 230 square miles, followed closely by agriculture. Mycenaean Greeks first mentioned the word in the 1300s BC, with the earliest inhabitants consisting of Phaeacians. Settlers from Corinth arrived in the 8th century BC before gaining independence and quickly falling to the armies of the Roman Empire by the 1st century BC. The Eastern Roman Empire ruled until its division in the 4th century AD, leading to the rise of the Norman Kingdom in Sicily and the Italian naval powers.
After Byzantine forces left the island, the Republic of Venice took control between the 14th and 18th centuries, leaving when the French and eventually the British took over around the early to mid-19th century. The Venetians contributed to the gorgeous architecture of Corfu Town and an attention to restoring the antiques connected to the islands classical heritage. The coastline provides sheltering bays and lovely beaches decorated with sand and pebbles overlooking crystal clear blue water. The most popular activities to experience when on the island are:
- Exploring Corfu Town with a private driver to visit the fascinating architecture at Achillion Palace, Liston Promenade, and Angelokastro Castle
- Visiting an antique olive mill on a private excursion to participate in an olive oil workshop and tasting
- Spending time in the traditional fishing village of Kassiopi to bask in the charming character of the classical coastal cafes and tavernas, along with indulge in the sunlight on the pebbled beaches in front of the turquoise sea
Dramatic hiking paths crisscross the remarkable rugged hills and the mountains that span the remote northern region of Zagori, home to 48 stone villages that overlook the Vikos Gorge. The region remains popular among active travelers who enjoy the promises of mountain biking, paragliding, canyoning, and rafting through the fantastic scenery. Fans of archeology enjoy the connection to ancient Kassope, one of the best examples of a Hippodamian grid, an invention of the ancient architect Hippodamus of Miletus, considered the father of European urban planning. Inhabitants abandoned the city in 31 BC to establish the nearby settlement of Nikopolis, which hosts the Nikopolis Museum.
The traditional cottages decorated the landscape around the region that leads from the towns of Epirus to Timfi, Pindos, and Mitiskeli. The preserved village of Ano Pedina contains the fabulous Monastery of Evagelistria alongside homes located at an altitude of nearly 3,150 feet above sea level. Picturesque stone houses and charming cobbled roads fill the traditional settlement of Monodendri, which is located at over 3,470 feet above sea level. The village offers a cobbled trail to Misiou Bridge and the entrance to Vikos Gorge. Narrow passages, quaint stone bridges, and lush greenery connect the villages of Zabori, providing access to the secluded beauty and thrilling activities.
Majestic mountains provide access to lush gorges and gurgling rivers found when exploring the Arcadia Highlands and the nearly 50 miles of pathway on the Menalon Trail. The secluded path winds between the villages of Stemnitsa, Dimitsana, Zygovitsi, Elati, and Vytina. The trail is perfect in spring and autumn due to the shifting weather at altitudes shifting between 1,370 feet to over 5,000 feet above sea level. The ancient region takes its name from Greek mythology as the home of Pan.
The unspoiled wilderness continues to inspire artists in pop culture around the world, from Handel’s Semele opera to Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Iolanthe, to the film 300 when a group of Arcadians joins Leonidas to fight the oncoming Persian army. The stunning forests and gorgeous mountaintops hide boutique hotels and secluded ruins found around historic churches and picturesque alleys. There are several highlights worth exploring:
- Do not miss the captivating Monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodromos, a 12th century monastery etched into the hollow cliff hanging over a ravine
- Explore the 40 churches that are hidden in the narrow alleys of the deserted village of Karytena, where Byzantine architecture and frescoes continue to decorate the preserved streets leading to the tranquil arched bridge
- Discover the artisan culture of Stemnitsa located on the scenic slopes of Mount Menalos and home to the hand-crafted bells and fantastic metalwork associated with gold and silver; Stemnitsa was also the capital of Greece for a brief time after the War of independence
Antikythera Mechanism, Athens
With such a diverse and lavish history, Greece also features hidden ruins with fascinating functions apart from the preserved temples and homes situated amidst the famous Acropolis of Athens. The Antikythera Mechanism is over 2,000 years old and demonstrates the complexities of imagination and design in antiquity. The ancient computer remains a feat of engineering and astronomical precision, along with a hidden treasure of the Mediterranean. A shipwreck located off the coast of Greece’s island of Antikythera held the computer beneath the water until the 20th century when a sponge diver discovered the perplexing device. The mechanism sat in a museum for over 50 years before archeologists and historians could understand the structure, design, purpose, and function of the machine.
The mechanism was constructed in the 3rd century BC and contains over 30 gears hidden within the dials. Regarded as the first analog computer, the machine made calculations based on astronomical and mathematical principles. The small size of the mechanism suggests the engineer had portability in mind. Using the crank on the device to insert a date, the user would then find information on the position of the stars, sun, moon, planets, and lunar phases, along with a calendar of solar eclipses and the date of the next Olympic games. The instrument is housed inside the National Archeological Museum of Athens, inside the Bronze Collection.
Active travelers eager to pursue an adventurous tour of Greece have an incredible amount of escapades from which to choose, be it taking in the diverse land or the seascape through marvelous forests, staggering coastlines, and the central scenery with four-fifths consisting of mountainous terrain. The great-outdoors of Greece have an inviting ambiance where active pursuits are possible for the adventurous traveler You can try an exciting excursion or a unique form exploration that ranges from cycling and golfing to mountain biking and fishing, with even more excitement brought about by celebrated adventure sports.
- Sailing – the historic sport and active tour provides remarkable encounters through the Aegean and Ionian seas leading to deserted islands, emerald waters, and private beaches. Competitions, such as the Cyclades Regatta and Aegean Rally, draw international crowds eager to participate in the races or watch with the excitable crowds.
- Windsurfing and kitesurfing – the unique activities capture the natural breeze that sweeps across the coastlines of Crete, Karpathos, Rhodes, Limnos, Kos, Samos, and Lesvos, providing an elegant and heart-pounding way to catch waves and air simultaneously.
- Water skiing and wakeboarding – The calm waters and comfortable Mediterranean climate make the Athenian Riviera, as well as the islands of Paros, Mykonos, Rhodes, Lefkas, Santorini, Halkida, and Crete the perfect destinations to enjoy the thrills of water skiing and wakeboarding while also indulging in the enchanting scenery of your surroundings.
- Snorkeling and scuba – The crystal-clear waters around the islands and along the thousands of miles of coastline offer a pristine snorkeling environment. The simple equipment is available in most areas of the country, especially on the islands. Although scuba is more complicated than snorkel, there are many dive shops around mainland Greece and the islands offering PADI courses for certification or a number of dives into the open Mediterranean waters for those already certified. While snorkeling allows you to view the beautiful fish and mollusks along the shallows of the seafloor, scuba diving off the coast of Greece leads to an environment decorated with sunken antiquities.
Mountain and Land Activities
- Trekking – Mountain sports will take you to the opposite end of Greece’s captivating terrain, filling the horizon with panoramas of rugged cliffs, lofty peaks, and white-water gorges as seen from trails. Endless pathways crisscross the mostly mountainous terrain of the mainland and offer part of the European trail network while leading from Epirus along the roads to Ancient Rome or to pass through the forests on the former donkey trails of secluded islands. You can also hike up mountains once said to be the home of the gods at Olympus, or enjoy a high-altitude stroll around the pillars of Meteora. With over 400 wetlands and a deep connection to Agrotourism, Greece provides surprisingly authentic and pristine opportunities to hike, trek, and explore the scenery by foot.
- Mountain Biking – Many of the trails used for trekking through the mountainous terrain of Greece work well for mountain biking. The thrills of the landscape bring forests and granite boulders, limestone trailheads and precipitous cliffs that overlook the rushing waters of sunken gorges. Biking provides a different view of Greece’s natural beauty with the contrast of the paved roads used for cycling with the great trails scattered around Parnitha and the Tatoi Forest near Athens or within the Arcadia Mountains.
- Rock climbing – The impressive cliffs and mountains across mainland Greece and the islands offer spectacular terrain that you can climb on and over. Enthusiasts venture to Lagada in Laconia, Pikilo Mountain near Athens, and Varasova in Aetolia-Acarnania. You can test your skills while surrounded by the country’s natural beauty.
- Canyoning – The art of canyoning takes you through the wild gorges that span mainland Greece to blend rappelling down cliffs between 160 to 330 meters with scouring caves hidden by the mountainous terrain. While activities like mountain biking or trekking can be pursued on your own, you are advised to hire a guide or connect with a local canyonning group if you choose to participate in the adrenaline rush.
- Rafting and kayaking– In the spring, the rivers swell with water from the melting snowfall and the falling rain, allowing the whitewater to surge for unforgettable rafting excursions. The crystalline rivers of Louisos, Voidomatis, and Acheron provide the watery highway from which you can enjoy the views to masterfully constructed bridges, magnificent gorges, canyons, and forests, and beneath soaring mountains or cliffs.
- Birding – Too many people dismiss the idea of birding in Europe, however the Hellenic Ornithological Society would disagree. Alternatives to the heart-thumping adventure sports can allow you to bask in the thrilling landscape of the mudflats at the Evros delta in search of herons or scour the pine-scented slopes of the craggy mountains to find eagles and vultures, which count towards the country’s more than 446 different bird species. True birding enthusiasts know the value of the variety of avifauna protected by the fascinating landscape of Greece.
- Skiing – It comes as a surprise to many visitors to Greece that the country hosts a number of attractive resorts that feature intimate accommodations and lively activity, even in the winter months. The season begins after Christmas and, depending on the weather, lasts until late April. The most developed ski center is at Mount Parnassus. Chairlifts connect the resort to over 20 ski runs that offer slopes for novices, children, and experts. Other skiing locations around Greece include Helmos in the Peloponnese and Velouhi in Central Greece.
Greece Tours: The Zicasso Way
Zicasso offers a differs range of custom-tailored Greece tours. All tours are personalized to suit your preferences, requirements, desired destinations and activities to create your own perfect vacation to Greece. Travelers can experience the flexibility and convenience of self-planned, independent travel or a packaged group tour curated by a travel specialist. Both options will ensure a hassle-free experience with magnificent accommodations, authentic local guides, and unimaginable excursions.
Whether you wish to explore the Greek Islands or immerse yourself in the spirit of the ancient world, fill out a Trip Request to let us know about your dream Greece vacation. We will match you with two or three Greece specialists who will help you handcraft the best vacation experiences for you.