Azure water, blue skies and picturesque villages; a holiday in Greece is a perfect way to soak up the Mediterranean sun, absorb some history and give a much-needed injection of wealth to this beautiful country.
It is no secret that Greece has had a turbulent few years, but despite its floundering economy and influx of refugees, the country has so much to offer. We look at the best way to explore Greece, and how to choose the right islands for your perfect Grecian escape.
The best way to really get to know a country is to use local, independent accommodation and restaurants as much as possible. Big resorts tend to dilute the culture and, although they are often cheap, very little of the money you spend will stay in the country. So, avoid the giant all-inclusive chains and book a villa or small hotel; many hoteliers and holiday home owners have dropped their prices in a bid to attract more custom, so there are bargains to be found! Aside from the joy of staying in traditional accommodation, you will have the freedom to choose where, and when, to eat. Stop for drinks and food at authentic tavernas, where you will be rewarded with delectable food and traditional Hellenic hospitality.
Time It Right
Ah, the age-old dilemma of when to go on holiday! The fact is, the best time to find cut-price accommodation and cheap flights to Greece is outside of the peak season. Aside from the fact that July and August are incredibly hot, most resorts become hugely crowded by Greek tourists, as well as holidaymakers from around the world. The Greek season starts to pick up in May and June, when the tavernas seem to wake from their winter slumbers. The weather is pleasantly warm, and the locals fresh-faced and raring to go after a few blissful months free of tourists! Similarly, September-October are still warm, but not packed with holidaymakers; there is an air of anticipation as the locals enjoy the last weeks of the season and start to wind down in the aftermath of the peak season chaos. If you do plan your trip to Greece off peak, be aware that some attractions, facilities and hotels may not be fully operational: a small hotel with a pool, for example, may offer cheap accommodation because the pool is not in use.
Don’t Dismiss The Mainland
When we think of Greece, many of us think immediately of the islands, and with such a proliferation of islands, it is no wonder. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that there is nothing to see and do on mainland Greece. The fact is, the mainland is packed with beautiful scenery, a wealth of archaeological sites and stunning beaches; from the Pindos Mountains to the Peloponnese coast, everything is crisp and beautiful, bathed in the Mediterranean sun. Travelling around mainland Greece is simple, too – hire a car, hop on the bus, or catch a train. After you have explored the mainland, you can always head to Piraeus, where you can hop on a ferry to one of Greece’s many islands.
Try A Little Island Hopping
Island hopping in Greece isn’t quite as simple as you may think, purely because every island that you visit will be so incredibly beautiful that you don’t want to leave. The first thing to do is pick your islands; of the 6,000 Greek islands, 227 are inhabited and each offers its own unique experience. Narrow down your choice by picking the island group that appeals to you most:
The Cyclades Islands
The Cyclades Islands include Santorini and Mykonos and are easily accessible from mainland Greece. Don’t ignore the smaller islands; if you are looking for deserted beaches, unspoilt scenery and real Greek culture, consider Paros, a tiny island just off the mainland that fulfils all expectations with its sleepy villages of whitewashed houses, blue shutters and cobbled streets. You can get great deals on flights to Athens, then head to the port at Piraeus and catch a ferry to any of the Cyclades Islands.
The Dodecanese Islands include Patmos, Rhodes and Kos. They are closer to Turkey than Greece and possess a unique culture honed over millennia of invasions and occupations. Laid-back towns, stunning harbours and staggering archaeological sites offer the perfect combination of culture and relaxation. You can find direct flights to Rhodes or Kos and hop from island to island.
The Ionian Islands
Featuring Corfu, Zakynthos and Kefalonia, the Ionian Islands are on the West Coast of Greece. The islands experience a shorter summer and more rain in the winter, which contribute to the lush, green countryside and flourishing olive groves. The Ionian Islands are not as “Greek” as other islands- they have their own distinct character, honed by 400 years of Venetian occupation and their relative isolation from the mainland. The best way to reach the Ionian Islands is by flying direct to Kefalonia, Corfu or Zakynthos.
The Saronic Islands
Accessible from the mainland by water taxi, the Saronic Islands, which include Hydra, Poros and Aegina, features lavish 18th and 19th Century mansions built by wealthy sea merchants. The combination of convenience, heat and tranquillity make the Saronic Isles the perfect location for a holiday home. Many owners let their homes privately so you can swim in quaint coves and relax in the sun as you get a taste of how the other half live. To reach the Saronic Islands, fly to Athens and get a hydrofoil from Piraeus or drive to the water taxi.
The Sporades Islands
The Sporades Islands epitomise Hellenic paradise, so they were the obvious location for the filming of “Mamma Mia”. Packed with contrasts, you can choose from hedonistic party islands such as Mykonos, buzzing tourist hotspots such as Skiathos, or sleepier, quieter islands such as Skopelos, with its quaint villages and tranquil forests. You can find cheap flights to Skiathos and hop from island to island from there.
The Northern Aegean Islands
Due to the distance between the islands of Thasos, Samos, Lesvos, Samothraki, Chios, Limnos and Ikaria, island hopping isn’t incredibly practical, unless you particularly love being on the water! However, the islands are big enough and beautiful enough that you will find more than enough to do on any of the Northern Aegean Islands, from the hot springs and sprawling landscapes of Ikaria to vibrancy of Lesvos. Direct flights to Samos, Chios, Limnos and Ikaria are available at great prices.
By far the biggest of the Greek Islands, Crete is pretty much a country of its own. Culturally, Crete is unique, the island packed with things that will delight visitors of all ages. Walk the Samarian Gorge, visit Knossos, discover secret beaches and wonderful harbours. Don’t try island hopping to Crete; it is unlikely that you will ever leave!. You can get a ferry to Crete from Athens but the easiest way is to fly direct to Chania or Heraklion.