Guide to Greece 2021

Guide to Greece 2021
Feature

On the wine trail in Greece

Greece’s climate and terroir result in the production of some outstanding wines. Sharing a carafe of house wine over homestyle food is very much a part of holidaying in Greece. And visiting vineyards and sampling wine in the winery where it was crafted is a great way to explore this idyllic land. 

Wine in the Cyclades
This Aegean island’s volcanic soil, low rainfall and sunshine are factors in producing quality wines. They include minerally white wines and bottles proudly referencing the island’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). 

Santorini’s soil is too acidic for phylloxera, tiny pests that destroy vines, meaning you can see vines of prodigious age while touring vineyards. The long-established Estate Argyros and modern Vassaltis Winery count among those that welcome visitors. Look carefully and you’ll see vines trained into shade-casting basket shapes.  

Assyrtiko grapes produce crisp, full-bodied white wine. Relax while sipping a glass accompanied by a plate of fava dip and freshly baked bread. Afterwards try pairing a glass of the island’s Vinsanto dessert wine with baklava or a chocolate-based dish.

In Paros, visit the Moraitis Winery, near Naousa, to see a vineyard set in sandy soil typical of the region. The island’s PDO was established in 1981. It’s unique as Greece’s only appellation permitting use of a white grape varietal in red wine production. The red Mandilaria varietal is balanced with Monemvassia grapes also used to produce notable dry white wines.

Revithia, a chickpea stew finished with lemon and olive oil, pairs well with Paros’s white wines. So too does gouna, a traditional dish of sun-dried fish grilled with herbs and lemon juice. Karavoloi, snails in a garlicky sauce, are ideal with the island’s red wine. Wherever you visit, experiencing Greece means good food and wine.

Wine from Epirus
Epirus, in Greece’s northwest, is known for its undulating mountains and verdant green landscapes. The region’s winemaking is concentrated around Metsovo (and the Katogi Averoff winery) and Zitsa (which has the Zoinos Winery and Estate Glinavos), with PDO Zitsa being the only wine in Epirus to have the highly-valued PDO badge – and the only one in the whole of Greece to be given to a white sparkling wine. 

Once visitors have had their fill of the local drop, they can visit some of the region’s fascinating sites, including the Monastery Agios Ilias in Zitsa, which Lord Byron visited in 1809. While there he sampled the wine and declared it among the best in Europe. He even included the monastery in his epic poem, Child Harold’s Pilgrimage.

Halkidiki’s wine
Northern Greece’s Halkidiki region is famed for organic, vegetable-rich cuisine. Locally landed seafood also features. The region’s traditional diet, of which an occasional glass of wine is part, is reputedly a factor in locals living lengthy lives. The Tzikas Family Winery near Kassendria welcomes visitors to its organic vineyard to taste wines.

The region encompasses the autonomous Mount Athos region. Monk Epifanios of Mylopotamus, a renowned chef, reintroduced winemaking to the peninsula after phylloxera devasted vines during World War Two. Vines in the Mylopotamus vineyard grow on the lower slopes of Mount Athos. Limnio grapes provide the eponymous Epifanios red wine with body and minerality.

Peloponnesian wines
Driving or cycling the Peloponnese’s wine routes enables visitors to admire landscapes in a region that produces nearly a third of all Greek wine. With seven PDO appellations it presents wine-loving visitors with variety and quality. 

The Mercouri Estate – 40 minutes’ drive from Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympics – was established during the 1860s and is a reason to visit the western Peloponnese. The Monemvasia Winery reproduces a version of Malvasia, a wine that was popular during the Middle Ages.

The region’s succulent goat stew pairs well with red wines made with Agiorgitiko grapes. Grilled octopus is lifted by aromatic white wines crafted from the Moschofilero varietal. 

Wine in Crete
Crete is home to four wine-producing PDO appellations: Archanes, Dafnes, Peza and Sitia. Look for vintages produced using indigenous grapes. Sip white wines made using the Vidiano or Thrapsathiri varietals with roasted rooster. Red wine crafted from Mandilari grapes pairs well with rabbit stifado, a stew slow-cooked with onions and garlic.

Crete’s rugged interior commonly receives a covering of winter snow. Touring vineyards is a reason to head inland through villages with palpable rustic traditions. The Idaia Vineyard at Venerato is in a region dotted with the remains of ancient winepresses: evidence of Greece’s lengthy winemaking heritage. Visiting the Diamantakis Winery highlights the adoption of modern equipment and practices.

 

Feature

Beyond Athens: 6 other must-visit Greek cities

A wealth of enticing towns and cities await those who venture beyond the Greek capital


Greece’s ancient capital may steal the limelight in the city break stakes but it’s far from being the only game in town. While some historic Greek centres such as Sparta may have paled in importance over the years, and others such as Kalamata and Prevezia function primarily as regional air gateways, many others remain ripe for exploration, awash with charming old towns, unique cultures and vibrant local cuisines. Here are six of the best. 

Thessaloniki
Notwithstanding the excellent Archaeological, Byzantine and Olympic museums, Greece’s second city, on the northeastern coast, cries out to be explored with your feet and taste buds, its unique energy, cuisine and architecture borne of a fascinating fusion of historic influences, from Greek and Roman to Ottoman and Byzantine.

Revitalised areas such as Ladadika and Ano Poli throng with inviting bars, restaurants and fancy buildings while walking tours curate grand gestures such as the Rotunda of Galerius, Aristotelous Square and Heptapyrgion fortress, offering sweeping views over the city. Scenic strolls along the coastal promenade meanwhile are watched over by the city’s emblematic White Tower. 

Halkidiki’s sun-soaked resorts are within easy reach too, as are the epic landscapes and trails spilling out from Mt. Olympus. Alternatively, conjure a beach-backed twin centre by adding time in Kavala, 100 miles east. 

Volos
Located halfway between Athens and Thessaloniki on the Greek mainland, Volos is a mythical destination where tourists can walk along Argonauts Avenue and bask in the region that the centaurs called home.

The city of Volos has a rich history. Grand mansions and government buildings tell their own tale, while walking along the seafront you can eat in small restaurants that look over fishing boats and yachts – and even a replica of the ancient ship Argo.

Sightseers can visit Volos Castle, in Palia, towards the west of the city, or head to Agios Konstantinos, a pretty corner of the city that that is perfect for wandering around.

The region stretching out around Volos is beautiful. Visitors can tour archaeological sites, explore nature, get to know Pelion or set sail for the lush-green Sporades islands.

Ioannina
This northwestern charmer owes much of its allure to the idyllic lakeside setting, ringed by mountains.

Cosy cafés dot the shady, tree-lined promenades edging Pamvotis Lake, offering a great place to kick back over a drink or a bite. More attractions await those who venture out to its island, not least the Ali Pasha Museum and fresco-filled Byzantine monasteries.

Another of Ioannina’s draws is the 6th century Byzantine castle area, which remains inhabited. It’s a fascinating place, the Byzantine Museum and Acropolis of Its Kale featuring among its highlights. 

The town also makes a great base for touring the wider area, from the mystical monastic landscapes of Meteora, so beloved of hikers and photographers, to the national parks of Pindus and Vikos-Aoos, with its famous gorge and natural springs. 

Heraklion
Gastronomes find much to savour in the airport-backed Cretan capital. Plani, Thigaterra and Erganos offer a mere taste of the city’s foodie credentials, with operators such as Tasting Crete serving up all manner of culinary experiences. Fresh local produce and snacks also flavour the Central Market on 1866 Street, vying with souvenirs for visitors’ attention. 

Beautifully floodlit by night, Koules fortress, by the old Venetian port, adds an air of romance to pre- or post-prandial harbourside strolls while the impressive archaeological museum helps school visitors ahead of a visit to Knossos. The major Minoan site is but a short bus or taxi ride away, as are some lovely elevated inland villages such as Archanes. Exploring the latter makes for a pleasant diversion, powered by tasty pastries from the local bakeries, or extended stops at welcoming tavernas. 

Chania
Not for nothing has Chania been prized as a settlement since Neolithic times. Served by an international airport, the city offers a more compact and characterful alternative to Heraklion, some 90 miles east along the northern coast. 

Despite its clear Ottoman and Byzantine influences, and Minoan and Roman roots, much of its prized architecture hails from the Venetian era, including the remnants of the fortified walls and harbour. The latter help define the Old Town where myriad bars and restaurants grace the narrow stone alleyways, and squares such as Eleftherios Venizelos. Bargains await at the central market while the inviting harbourside eateries make worthy outcomes for evening strolls along the promenade. 

Outside of town the pink-sanded beaches of Balos and Elafonissi await, with Samaria Gorge National Park catering to active types. 

 

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5 reasons why autumn is the perfect time to visit Greece

Greece’s sun, sandy beaches and warm seas are factors in the country being a leading summer holiday destination. Yet even after the holiday season peaks and autumn arrives long hours of sunshine result in warm days and evenings, helping the mainland and Greek islands remain pleasant places to spend time. Here are five reasons why autumn is the perfect time to visit Greece.

1. Enjoy Athens without the crowds
Travelling during Greece’s shoulder season, from mid-September into October, means being able to enjoy sunshine without experiencing fierce heat. Cooler than in summer, the footpath corkscrewing around the rocky hillside towards the Lindos Acropolis makes for a leisurely walk on autumn days. Climbing it brings opportunities to view the ancient temple dedicated to Athena Lindia and medieval buildings constructed by the Knights of St John. From the acropolis’s walls you can view Lindos’s white houses and sunbathers on the beach in St George’s Bay.

Being in Greece on 28 October, the national holiday known as Ohi Day, means you have an opportunity to view parades commemorating the country’s entry into World War Two. Flags are waved while student, military and community groups parade and bands play in cities including Athens and Thessaloniki.

2. Walking trails in Naxos and Andros
The biggest island in the Cyclades, Naxos has plenty to offer, but its hiking trails are among the best in the world.

Discover the varied landscape of the island by following numerous routes (Chora–Melane-Halki, Halki–Danakos-Apeiranthos, Skado-Apollonas.). There are incredible views from the top of Zas Mountain – where en route you will pass a cave that was dedicated to Zeus in ancient times.

Andros, the northernmost island in the Cyclades, is a totally different landscape to its neighbours. Here you will find lush vegetation and rocky coastlines – and amazing cobblestone paths that run along the island through meadows – where you can smell the thyme, saffron and sage growing nearby.

3. Big islands that are not so busy
Autumn also means fewer people at popular attractions, including the ancient city of Knossos on Crete. The hub of Minoan civilization thrived more than 3,500 years ago. The Palace of Knossos with the labyrinth of King Minos is ideal for exploring early in the day, leaving the afternoon free to view artefacts at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

Popular beaches draw fewer bathers after the summer peak. Travelling in autumn brings opportunities to photograph beautiful coastal landscapes such as Navagio Beach on Zakynthos. A rusting wreck sits on the golden sand of what’s nicknamed Smuggler’s Cove. Limestone cliffs hem the beach, and the water temperature remains pleasantly inviting until late in the year.

The shoulder season means opportunities to find late deals and optimal value on room rates. That brings chances to stay at resorts renowned for their luxury and outstanding cuisine. The Lindian Village (lindianvillage.gr) on Rhodes is an upscale resort styled like of a traditional village. With stylish private villas it provides access to Lardos Beach and is a 15-minute taxi ride west of Lindos.

4. See some surprising wildlife
When the crowds start to dissipate, the wildlife becomes far more abundant in Greece, and there is plenty of it to be found in Greece.

Whether you’d prefer to see the majestic water buffalo at Lake Kerkini or the incredible bird life in Prespes National Park – including 1400 pairs of Dalmatian pelicans – there is something for everyone. Not to mention the dolphins in Alonissos Marine Park. At Arcturos Sanctuary you can learn more about the brown bears and wolves that have been saved from captivity.

While it might not be the first reason for visiting the region, there is plenty to go wild about.

5. See the grape and olive harvests
Grapes tend to be harvested during September in northern Greece. Being present means that you can – if you want to – participate in the harvest. A time of celebration, picking and crushing grapes brings people together. Thessaloniki’s Kechris winery offers visitors an introduction to the winemaking process during a tour that includes tastings.

Olives are harvested on Crete from October onwards. Being present late in the season gives you opportunities to view gnarled trees being shaken so the fruit falls into nets below. Cretan olive oil is sold throughout the year from the Chania’s historic market hall, an easy stroll from the Venetian harbour.

The harvests don’t just stop there, either. There are crocuses in Kozani, chestnuts in Pelion and of course olives in Kalamata.

Autumn is a rewarding time to visit Greece.

 

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5 under-the-radar Greek islands you need to discover now

Blessed with more than 6,000 islands – of which only some 200 are inhabited – glorious Greece has plenty of gorgeous sun-dazzled atolls where you can laze on golden sand beaches, lap up succulent food and enjoy spectacular cultural attractions – without the crowds. 

Here are the five under-the-radar Greek islands you need to discover now.

Alonissos
Sister atoll to Skopelos – the Sporades Island where feel-good movie Mamma Mia! was filmed – Alonissos’ pristine waters attract divers who come here to explore Greece’s first underwater museum near the uninhabited isle of Peristera.

Renowned since ancient times for its health-giving herbs, Alonissos is also a paradise for hikers who can explore a web of walking trails leading to mediaeval castles, ancient churches and highflung mountain villages.

Folegandros
Tucked between Paros and Santorini, this charming Cycladic Island has a timeless quality which is best discovered in the spectacular cliff top capital Chora, where sugar cube houses linked by winding alleys lead to the island’s centuries-old Panagia church, home to a silver icon that’s said to work miracles.

This unsung atoll surrounded by mirror-clear waters is also famed for fabulous food: must-try dishes here include matsata, handmade pasta served with rooster or rabbit in a rich tomato sauce.

Kalymnos

One of the largest islands in the Dodecanese Group, Kalymnos is known for its sponge harvesting trade – the only Greek island to be involved with it after the Second World War. However, it’s the water sports that the island is arguably better known for now with people flocking to Kalymnos for its scuba diving, rock climbing, mountain hiking and spelunking.

Walk around Pothia, the island’s capital, and you’ll soon be seduced by the cobbled streets and colourful buildings. Many of the grander mansions were owned by the sea sponge merchants of years gone by.

Serifos

One of the lesser known Cycladic islands, Serifos has much of the charm of its more popular neighbours, without the crowds. White and blue buildings dot the landscape and sit beautifully against the azure waters of the Aegean. There are some incredible beaches, too.

The capital of Serifos, Chora, is split into an upper neighbourhood (Pano) and a lower one (Kato) with the town seemingly  cascading down the side of the island.

Kythera

The birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, Kythera has inspired artists, poets and filmmakers for centuries. The southernmost of the Ionian Islands, Kythera boasts valleys that end on the seashore; mountainsides that can be green or rocky and barren; spring waters cascading down the slopes; wonderful beaches; picturesque little villages; and an architecture that blends the apparent Venetian influences with the style found in the south Peloponnese.

 

 

 

 

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The 8 most Instagram-worthy beaches in Greece

From spectacular volcanic seascapes to pink sand beaches lapped by crystal waters and hidden coves where monk seals love to frolic, Greece has some of the world’s most photogenic beaches.


Whether you’re seeking dazzling strips of sand where you can photograph that perfect sunset or tropical-style beaches that provide a picturesque backdrop for your selfies, here are eight Greek beaches that are guaranteed to set your feed on fire. 

The lunar look-alike – Sarakiniko, Milos
Santorini might be the Greek poster child when it comes to calderas, but Milos’ moon-like Sarakiniko a short drive from the island’s capital Plaka is definitely a strong contender for the title of the country’s most picturesque volcanic beach. 

Insider’s tip: Set against a backdrop of perfect azure sea, this photogenic beach also has a half submerged shipwreck, which is guaranteed to add drama to your photos – get here at sunset when the colours reflected on the white rocks are stunning.

The romantic hideaway – Canal d’Amour, Corfu
With its azure waters cutting a narrow canal through high sandstone cliffs, Corfu’s ‘Channel of Love’ – which earned its name from the legend that says couples who swim here will stay in love forever – is one of this lush and lovely island’s most striking beaches.

Insider’s tip: Get up high – or use a drone – to get the best photos of this unique natural formation on Corfu’s northern coastline.

The pale pink beauty – Elafonissi, Crete
An hour and a half’s drive from Chania’s Venetian harbour and warren of shopping lanes, Elafonissi’s rose-pink sands separated from a sand-dune-studded peninsula by a shallow lagoon will have photographers in a frenzy.

Insider’s tip: The western side of the beach where you’ll find sunbeds and snack bars tends to get crowded. For best photos explore quiet coves further along the peninsula, but make sure not to disturb endangered loggerhead turtles that come here to nest here in summer. 

The celebrity-loved  hangout – Shipwreck beach, Zante
Featured on IG feeds around the globe, this scenic sand-lined beach hemmed in by high cliffs on Zante’s northwest coast earned its name from the MV Panagiotis, a shipwreck that was washed up here after a violent storm in the 1980’s. 

Insiders tip: Skinari is the starting point for half day boat excursions to Shipwreck beach, but you’ll get best photos from the clifftop Navagio viewpoint near Volimes village.

The local-known gem – Simos beach, Elafonissos
Reached via ferry from Pounta port near the Peloponnese town of Neapolis, this scenic strip of sand on the local-loved island of Elafonissos is actually two beaches – megalos (large) and mikros (small) – linked by a narrow band of grass-studded dunes. 

Insiders tip: Stay in Simos campsite which is right on the waterfront, and then get up early to take sumptuous sunrise photos when there’s no one else about. 

The scarlet stunner – Red beach, Santorini
Known for those spectacular caldera views, sultry Santorini also has one of the most photogenic beaches in Greece. Close to the ancient archaeological site of Akrotiri this striking beach, framed by rust-red cliffs and strewn with brick-red pebbles, is a rainbow of colour which contrasts vividly with the sparkling waters below. 

Insiders tip: Your feed will fly if you fill it with photos taken just before sunset, when colours are most vivid. 

The flamingo’s hangout – Agios Prokopios, Naxos
Backed by a small lagoon where pretty pink flamingos strut their stuff in spring, this strikingly lovely four-kilometre-long strip of golden sand lapped by mirror-clear waters was named Naxos’ most popular nightlife resort, which is within easy strolling distance. 

Insider’s tip: For the best shots make a beeline for the chapel of Agia Anna overlooking the kokkini limni (red lake) salt pans.

The exotic haven – Vai beach, Crete
A tropical paradise surrounded by Europe’s largest palm forest, this picture-perfect beach which featured in the 1970’s Bounty bar adverts lies 25 kilometres east of Sitia, a Venetian-castle-topped town renowned for its traditional tavernas serving local specialities.

Insider’s tip: Once you’ve filled your feed with tropical beach pics head over to photograph Toplou, a stunningly picturesque 17th century monastery close by.