We owe a lot to Greece, arguably the birthplace of modern European civilisation, this fascinating country keeps on giving. Modern visitors have astounding historical sites to explore, but also pristine beaches, hundreds of magical islands, misty mountains clothed in olive groves, exciting cities like the capital Athens, and resorts both laid-back and lively.
A Warm Welcome
Greece is a holiday destination that wants to treat its visitors well - Greek culture is big on hospitality. You’ll eat and drink like a god. Cheeses, grilled meat, and sea food are great favourites in Greece. Retsina, the pine-needle wine, has been around for 2,000 years, and raki, a clear aniseed spirit, will warm you up if the nights get a bit chilly.
Athens is an exciting city with everything you’d expect in a modern capital. It’s also got some of the best, biggest and most beautiful ancient sites in the world, from the Parthenon to many temples, stadia, theatres and much more. Chuck a pebble from a beach anywhere on the coast and you’ll probably hit another beautiful stretch of white sand. Greece’s coastline is long and varied, encompassing rocky coves, pretty fishing villages and wild-eyed party resorts. The same is true of the islands, from the green “Emerald Isle”, Corfu to the spectacular volcanic crater of Santorini. Greece is above all a mountainous country with wonderful walking and beautiful flora, fauna and geology to discover.
Wine and dine
Even the smallest, most isolated Greek fishing village will boast a taverna where the day starts with coffee and ends with grilled lamb in aromatic mountain herbs. The popular resorts will have even more choice, including lots of cuisines to suit both British and international tastes. Big cities like Athens, where you’ll find a good handful of Michelin-starred restaurants, will give you more sophisticated options and lots of familiar international favourites. Greek cuisine is very varied with lots of regional differences. Meze – a mix of appetisers – is a good way to sample the flavours on offer. Wherever you go look out for good quality cheese, olives, aubergine, courgettes, herbs, bread and yoghurt - the staple ingredients of Greek cooking.
Action and adventure
The water is the most obvious way to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping in Greece. The islands alone have 20,000 km of coastline, so that’s a lot of room for kayaking schools. The generally calm, clean waters are wonderful for divers, who have lots to discover off-shore. Around the resorts you’ll find everything from Jet-skiing to riding along on giant inflatables. Elsewhere, your adventures can be more vertical in Greece’s outstanding mountains. Mountain sports like climbing, canyoning and rafting are getting more popular. And explorers can take to their mountain bikes, horseback or walking shoes to discover Greece’s mountains, including some on the bigger islands. Although most of us go to Greece to warm up a little, the high altitude of some of the mountains means you can even ski this far south at 18 snow resorts.
Mediterranean cultures tend to be great with kids and well-behaved youngsters will be welcomed in most places, and may be made quite a fuss of. There’s lots to entertain, engage and even educate them in Greece too. Curious kids will love the museums and most of all the archaeological sites that’ll bring their history books to life. For a break from the books, water sports are generally safe, and warm waters are accessible for young kids. Resorts offer lots of entertainment, kids’ clubs and play areas. There are big theme parks too, and water parks are the gold standard in this climate; take a look at Aqualand in Corfu, and many hotels build a water park as their own central attraction with free entry for guests.
Turn around in Greece, and there’s a temple! That’s not quite true, but the country is often described as one vast archaeological theme park. Some of the best historical sites include: Athens, home of the Parthenon and much more; Olympia, an ancient temple complex; the Meteora monasteries in their spectacular mountain setting; the island of Rhodes, where a beautifully preserved medieval Old Town matches some good ancient sites; Corfu Town is a fantastic mix of Italian, British and French influences and one of the prettiest towns in Greece; Corinth has strong Christian significance thanks to St Paul’s stay, as does Patmos, where St John is supposed to have had his apocalyptic Revelation. Of the islands, Crete’s Minoan palaces at Knossos, probably the oldest city in the world, are not to be missed.
Festivals and Parties
The Greeks like to celebrate, and they’ll be very happy if you join in with them. A panigyria is a village festival, and they’re well worth looking out for. Greece is very religious, and Easter is the biggest national festival in the calendar, celebrated for a week at least and with lots of regional variations. In late winter to early spring, carnival season or Apokreas kicks off with another week of events leading to a big weekend blowout in the run-up to Lent. The Hellenic Festival is a top-of-the-range international arts gathering using ancient sites as its venues. Chania and Rockwave, in Malakasa, are just two of a decent number of rock festivals to enjoy in the sun. Clubbers will find lots to enjoy around the coast, especially in known party towns like Faliraki.
Thousands of beautiful years
The country’s ancient history is never far from the surface. The Acropolis in Athens is the grandest and most famous of more than 100 major archaeological sites, including the ancient city of Philippoi, and the temple of the oracle of Delphi in its truly magical mountain setting. You don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy Greece though. The coast is a natural and timeless wonder. White sands and deep-blue Aegean waters come together to form a perfect whole. Nature’s done her bit, and man has added all the extras a visitor might need. If you want to party after topping up your tan try Faliraki in Rhodes. If a waterfront taverna under the pines is all you need to complete the perfect beach resort, somewhere like Voutoumi on the little island of Antipaxos is the place for you.
From island to island
Islands are a part of most Greek holidays. There are so many - and definitions vary - that it’s hard to put a number on them, but it’s probably around 200 (some reckonings go as high as 6,000!). Backpacking on cheap ferries from beautiful island to beautiful island has long been a young traveller’s rite of passage. Luxury yachts also ply the sea lanes, mooring up at the likes of exclusive Mykonos. The islands are wonderfully varied. Corfu has a strong British influence, a stylish capital with city-break potential and lots of greenery. Fashionable Santorini’s blue-and-white colour palette almost looks too good to be true. Crete is the largest of the lot, with amazing Minoan ruins, crusader castles and rugged mountain scenery. Zakynthos is top of the tree for beaches, but wherever you are the beaches won’t disappoint.
Turning away from the coasts is also rewarding in Greece, which actually has more mountains than it does islands. The Pindus range is the biggest, and like the other uplands has a distinctive character and cuisine, and is wonderful hiking or cycling territory. Greece’s highest mountain, Mount Olympus doesn’t just have its height going for it, it’s also the mythical home of the gods. Isolated mountain monasteries like the spectacular Metéora complex show that the spiritual side of these beautiful landscapes persisted well beyond the ancient times. Many of the mountain ranges are protected national parks and are home to some fascinating wildlife. Did you know you can see bears and wolves in Greece, particularly in the northern mountains? Little mountain villages make trekking and hiking great fun and there are plenty of facilities, guides and breaks on offer for walkers. Crete’s mountains are especially spectacular and are a crucial part of the island’s identity. Its gorges are some of the most spectacular anywhere on earth.