THE LAND OF THE GODS
With its rich history and mythology coupled with golden sunshine, lush scenery and many islands, Greece is a land of multiple contrasts. We highlight some of our favourite spots worthy of a summer visit.
Crete is so big that it hardly qualifies as an island, but it’s not attached the Greek mainland so, there we are. It has mountains, lakes, gorges and beaches, so there’s something for everyone whether you’re seeking hiking adventures, isolated scenic splendour or great nightlife.
Head to Chania with its lovely old town and harbour where you’ll find a selection of very chi-chi shops selling all manner of designer goods from beautifully blown glassware to unique jewellery pieces. There’re literally hundreds of restaurants in Chania town but we loved Koutourouki with its quaint décor and local cuisine with both vegetarian and vegan options available. And, if food’s your thing, you could also take a walking-tasting tour. Yum!
You can’t go to Crete without taking a trip to Elafonsi Beach. Situated on the remote southwest coast of the island, it’s known for its gorgeous pale pink sands and, if you catch it at the right time, is truly a sight to see.
The White Mountains National Park is the only national park in Crete and centres around Samaria Gorge. At 16km it is the longest gorge is Europe and, at its start it is 1,230m high. The 10km around the gorge is a stunning hiking area but make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen as it is very hot and dry in summer.
And, if you fly into the Cretan capital Heraklion, make sure you pay a visit to the Palace of Knossos, the ancient Minoan ruins that have been referred to as Europe’s oldest city. The palace is also where the mythological tale of Theseus and the Minotaur is said to have taken place. As with its scenery, Crete’s nightlife options are varied. If you’re looking for a classic holiday clubbing experience, Hersonissos and Malia are both very popular with younger tourists. While those looking for a more refined option should head to Agios Nikolaos.
Said to be one of the most precious gems of the Dodecanese, the island’s colourful villages provide a picturesque backdrop to a spot where relaxation is key. Ancient footpaths crisscross the island and hiking is a popular activity – prepare to discover tiny chapels, small villages and secluded beaches. There are also several museums where you can get acquainted with local history. And, oh the beaches – these are one of Symi’s claims to fame so make sure you are prepared for swimming, snorkelling and water sports. They are mostly coves, some equipped with sunbeds and beach bars but others more secluded and reached by water taxi. We highly recommend Marathounda Beach where there’s not only a lovely taverna serving great food but also the chance to get acquainted with the locals… in the form of the friendly goats who frequent the beach.
Though Symi is one of the quieter islands, over the summer months it is transformed with the Symi Festival taking place throughout July, August and September and offering a vast array of cultural activities from traditional, modern and classical music to theatre, cinema, painting exhibitions, poetry and literature evenings. There are also several Christian religious festivals which are celebrated with music, dancing and feasting.
The nearest airport is on neighbouring Rhodes and daytrips between the two islands are popular.
The hidden retreat of the arty ‘in’ crowd who’d rather not share it. But, hey, we found it and we’re telling you.
Less than three hours by boat from Athens, this Cycladic gem has not yet hit the mainstream consciousness, so it’s the ideal place if you want to experience a taste of the true Greece with very few tourists.
The landscape is rugged and, we must confess, the truck ride up the side of a very steep hill to the main town, Chora, is a little hair raising but definitely worth it to discover a cluster of sugar-cube houses, chapels and ancient windmills that’s considered one of the most picturesque capitals around. And, being high up, it also boasts fabulous views across the island and the glittering Aegean waters.
Being, relatively, undiscovered, Serifos is not bursting with entertainment options but, what it does have is a huge number of beaches along its 80-plus kilometres of coastline. From sandy to shingle and a mix of the two, all are blessed with crystal-clear blue waters. A few are organised with sunbeds etc but, if you’re willing to forgo this small comfort, you’ll find secluded bathing spots scattered across the island where you’re likely to be the only one around.
Head to Sikamia beach and Anna’s Taverna for seafood fresh from the local waters or try Livadakia beach, which is close to the port from which boats can be hired. If you’re feeling brave Lia, a celeb favourite, is said to be one of the island’s most beautiful beaches but make sure you take the factor 50 as beachwear is optional is some spots!
The island was once a mining outpost and you can trek the old mining trail to an abandoned bridge, which sits out over the sea at Megalo Livadi bay.
And, in Greek mythology, Serifos was home to the oneeyed Cyclops, among others, so take the chance to visit Cyclops Cape and climb up onto the Psraopyrgos or Cyclops throne – it will make for a great picture.
For a relatively quiet island, Serifos has no shortage of restaurants and cafes, mainly serving traditional food. We particularly like Stou Stratou in Chora, its blue and white exterior and colourful outdoor seating living up to every vision of Greek island dining. And, if you’re a grape fan, pay a visit to Chrysoloras where the focus is on organic, sustainable, bio grapes grown in a waterless, low-yield manner. Perfect to toast your holiday. ✤