I first visited Greece in my early twenties and immediately fell in love with the country. Inspired by the beautiful scenery in the film, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, I headed to the stunning island of Kefalonia – where much of it was filmed – and spent 2 weeks exploring everything it had to offer in a tiny Fiat Seicento – with no air-conditioning – in August when the temperatures soar into the high 30′s. After I spent one week in Santorini. Book in advance and enquire where to stay in Santorini for the best sunset view.
2 weeks and one very good tan later, I was hooked on the Greek way of life and simple but delicious food to be found there (the Greeks make lunch and dinner a very relaxed and slow affair which takes a little getting used to in today’s fast food society). I’ve sadly not had the chance to revisit Kefalonia but would highly recommend it if you want a quieter holiday and fancy braving the roads (you’ll see what I mean when you see how the Greeks drive) to get out and see the sights.
I’ve since been to the livelier island of Mykonos and mainland Greece, but feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this country has to offer.
If you want to experience the best of Greece but don’t know where to start, here are my top 5 favourite islands and sights to see:
You’ve most probably seen the iconic pictures of the pretty pastel coloured buildings perched on the cliff in the city of Fira on Santorini, and it’s certainly worth taking a trip to the island just to experience the amazing views of the archipelago and volcanic caldera which was caused by the ancient explosion of the volcano that once occupied the middle of the circular lagoon which the island overlooks.
If you don’t fancy climbing up the steep streets to get to the top of the city, you can take a donkey ride which won’t cost you much but will save your legs the work.
This is the island where the young and beautiful Greek’s go to party and you’ll certainly find plenty of bars and clubs in the labyrinthine streets of the island’s principal town (also called Mykonos). There’s also a pretty area overlooking the bay called “Little Venice” and you’ll soon see why it’s called that.
If you want to spend a week or two partying the nights away, and relaxing by the pool in the daytime, then this is the perfect place to come to. If this is what you’re looking for then you’ll also find plenty of nightlife on the island of Zante which is a short ferry ride away from the quieter island of Kefalonia.
One thing to watch out for is the cruise ships which frequently drop anchor in the bay, tendering hundreds of passengers ashore to explore the town. You’ll find the narrow streets very difficult to navigate during this time so it’s best to avoid the area until late afternoon.
I can’t urge you strongly enough to visit this beautiful island, it’s not the largest island but at around 780km square there’s plenty to see if you hire a car. You’ll also find excellent snorkelling opportunities around the island and the water is a lovely turquoise colour in places which makes it feel like a much more tropical destination.
If you travel to the pretty town of Fiscardo, you’ll find excellent examples of the beautiful Venetian style architecture that once filled the island (before an earthquake in 1953 destroyed many of the buildings on the island).
It’s also worth visiting the caves of Melissani and Drogarati, you can take a boat trip around the blue lakes in the Melissani cave and get some spectacular photos in the process and you’ll be amazed by the stalagmites and stalactites in the Drogarati cave which has perfect acoustics for the performances which sometimes take place there.
If you love your ancient history and want to visit some of the wealth of archaeological wonders that Greece is home to, then Crete is the place to visit. The island still has many remnants of the ancient Minoan culture that once thrived there and you can visit the place where Theseus allegedly slew the infamous Minotaur of Greek Legend – The Palace of Knossos.
You’ll find plenty to keep you occupied at Europe’s southernmost island, whether you are looking for nightlife, beautiful sandy beaches or quiet mountain villages to explore.
What visit to mainland Greece could be complete without climbing to the summit of Mount Olympia, the mythical home of the gods. You can catch a train from Athens which will take you to the pretty town of Litohoro at the base of the mountain and from there it’s a trek up to the first peak and some pretty amazing views.
If you want to make it to the highest peak, it’s a good idea to stay at the mountain lodge and attempt it after a nights rest and on a full stomach. It’s also important to attempt the hike in summer or autumn as it becomes much more treacherous in winter.
Before you travel to Greece, it’s a good idea to get a free European Health Card (EHIC) which will entitle you to free or discounted emergency medical treatment should you have an accident. It’s important to remember that this will not cover the entire cost of your treatment and you will have to pay for emergency repatriation. To make sure you are fully covered, it’s vital that you purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy.