What does a nation do that has already given the world Socrates, Plato, The Odyssey, Sparta, Corinthian columns, kalamata olives, the Medusa, Hercules, Aphrodite, Zeus, philosophical thought, the foundations for democracy, law, and civilisation itself? It celebrates and makes merry. “Until further notice, celebrate everything!” If it wasn’t a Greek who coined this phrase, it certainly should have been. The Greeks celebrate life on a daily basis.
The Greeks enjoy a balance between work and play; a balance that seems wonderfully weighted in favour of the latter. They like nothing more than time with their family and friends: singing, dancing, laughing, eating, drinking - a glass of Retsina in one hand and a dolmades in the other. Life is celebrated here on a daily basis, so it’s little wonder that travellers the world over are so attracted to these proud shores.
The Hellenic Republic – to give its official name – is made up of a peninsular mainland, plus a second peninsular separated only by the canal of the Corinth Isthmus, plus an estimated 6000 islands and islets. This unique archipelago includes the island paradises of Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades. Although Greece has 16,000 kilometres of coastline, eighty percent of the country rises into mountains or hills, making it one of the most mountainous countries in Europe.
In Greece you can find yourself amidst snow covered peaks, lush pine forests, golden shores, sheer cliffs, or warm waters of every blue hue. These days you can also find yourself within, as the new paradigms for living – yoga, meditation, mindfulness – all find a natural home at this geographical intersection between Europe, Asia and Africa.

People

“Yia Yia”, which is the affectionate name for “Grandmother”, is arguably the queen-pin in Greek life today. Often clad in black mourning dress, these women are formidable purveyors of all things ‘Greek’. The Greek people are 98% ethnically Greek and of Christian Orthodox religion, so they share a common religious practice for daily life and strong family traditions that Yia Yia, in particular, ensures remains firmly intact. If it doesn’t get Yia Yia’s approval, it's not happening! Striking a very different pose from the austere Grandmother, and as the birthplace of Adonis and Aphrodite, beautiful bronzed personalities are abundant. Whether Mainlander or Islander, the Greek people are famously passionate, loud, emotional and proud. It’s a joie de vivre exhibited in their speech, their wild gesticulations, their love of food, wine, music and dance. Even amidst the current economic difficulties, it’s clear Bacchus is alive and well.

Places

With the mainland plus 6000 islands and islets to explore, you may be wondering where to begin? As Homer tells us: “The Gods would guide you” so here are a few places to offer up.
  
Athens.
Athens is Greece’s largest city with a population of 3 million, and a subtropical Mediterranean climate. Summer temperatures reach the mid 30s (°C) and Winter settles upon a mild, if rainy, 9°C.
The capital of Greece and one of the world’s oldest cities with records dating back 3,400 years, Athens sprawls out across the Attica Basin cradled by four large mountains, with the south side eventually giving way to the Athens Gold Coast or Athenian Riviera. Watching over the city is one of the great wonders of the ancient world, and surely the best reason to visit Athens; the magnificent Acropolis. This archaeological treasure also houses the Parthenon, the Theatre of Herod Atticus, the Theatre of Dionysius, the Ancient Agora and the temple of Athena Nike amongst many others. One ticket admits you to many sites so rise early and take it all in. Museums are also plentiful in Athens and the National Archaeological Museum houses perhaps the finest collection of ancient Greek sculpture, jewellery, pottery, plus ‘the Antikythera Device’ – a 2000 year-old computer rescued from a shipwreck off the island of Antikithera.
Then, a trip up Mount Lycabettus will remind you that you really are in the land of the Gods. Take the cable train up to enjoy breathtaking views, a coffee and perhaps even a rock concert at the jaw-dropping amphitheatre. If you want to get a good feel for the hustle and bustle of everyday Athenian life, grab a frappe and park yourself at one of the coffee shops alongside the Monastiraki Flea market.
  
The Mainland.
Work your way through this rising landscape where you’ll find ancient monasteries perched miraculously atop rugged pinnacles, breathtaking cliffs and deep river gorges, giving way to wooded valleys where bears and wolves still roam. The mainland offers it all from sun-splashed beaches through to pine-fringed ski resorts.
• Consult the Oracle of Delphi at this centre of the ancient world.
• Marvel at The Metéora’s towering rock formations often precariously capped with ancient monasteries.
• Take to the slopes at any number of Greece’s great ski resorts: Mount Parnassos (central area), Falakro (North), Vasilitsa (West).
• From here, venture to Litóhoro to visit the Gods themselves at Mount Olympus.
  
The Peloponnese – Explore Greece’s second peninsular:
• Discover the origins of the word “laconic” at Lakonia, the home of Spárti the modern successor to ancient Sparta.
• Don’t miss Messen’s biggest excavated stadium in all of Greece, plus extensive colonnades and an intact tomb.
• Relax at Cape Akritas’s fine beaches and balmy climate.
• See the birthplace of the Olympic Games at Olympia - for two millennia the religious and athletic centre of the Ancient World.
The Islands – Set sail and explore till your heart’s content. Which could be a very long time.
The Saronic Gulf. Notably: Salamina - low key and good for cycling. Angístri - lapped by the cleanest, aquamarine waters, popular with Athenians for its trendy nightlife. Hydra - a picturesque harbour town made famous by Sophie Loren’s 1957 film “Boy on a Dolphin.”
  
The Cyclades: quiet Andros, glamorous Mykonos, Páros, like Mykonos but a little less boisterous, Náxos, the largest and most splendid, with long beaches, windswept ridges, ancient ruins and remote villages. Finally sail through the broken pieces of a volcano’s rim, above a cerulean lagoon towards the open arms of Santorini.

Crete: Greece’s largest and southernmost island, characterised by Venetian townscapes and soaring mountains, capped in snow four months of the year. Perfect for both sightseeing and beaching.

Corfu: just off the Greek mainland to the northwest, it is perhaps the most exploited of all the islands for tourism, but there is still much to seek out on this beautiful green island.
  
The Dodecanese: closer to Turkey than Greece, these islands are enormously diverse and include Kálymnos, Kós, Tílos and Symi, culminating at the southeast corner in the large island of Rhodes.

Ionian Islands: include Kefaloniá, brought to the page and screen by Louis de Bernière’s “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” and Zákynthos, which harbours some of the area’s best beaches, including Navágio beach - the most photographed of all the Ionian beaches.
  

Pleasures

There are few things better in life than finding your favourite taverna, watching the sunset, ordering some food, some wine, then sitting back and waiting for the music and dancing to begin.
Sitting at the crossroads between east and west, Greek cuisine enjoys the best of both worlds. Succulent meats slow cooked until they literally melt in your mouth, and fresh seafood lightly cooked to release its natural flavours. Greek food is salty, spicy, tangy, with liberal use of lemon juice, pepper, oregano, garlic, yoghurt and tomatoes.
Greeks eat communally like many eastern cultures, choosing plates of dishes for sharing. Try a mezze (sharing) plate of: babaghanoush (mashed eggplant), hummus (mashed chickpeas), felafel (deep-fried patty made from ground chickpeas), tzatziki (yoghurt, garlic, cucumber dip), taramasalata (pink egg roe dip), souvlaki (grilled, skewered, meat cubes), dolma (peppers or aubergines stuffed with rice, mint, lemon and minced meat), olives and flat breads.
Follow this with calamari, moussaka (pastry-free lasagne), spanakopita, lamb kebabs, a Greek salad (feta cheese and crunchy cucumber), fried halloumi (salty Greek cheese) and some fresh seafood. Unbeatable. All washed down with a glass of Retsina or Ouzo.
Then dance off your dinner with the Kalamatiano – the circular steps will soon have you dizzy for more - and see if you can keep pace to Zorba the Greek.
  

Do

Cover up when entering Greek Orthodox Churches or monasteries. Women – wear long skirts and cover your shoulders. Men – wear long trousers.
Presume that people around you can understand English, so speak as if you can be overheard and understood.
Remember that the Greek word for yes is “nai” and the Greek word for no is “okhi”. So nai is yes and okay is no.
Bring a small gift if going to someone’s house for dinner.
Turn up half an hour later to dinner invites – this is considered normal. Join in the dancing! It’s fun.
  

Don’t

Worry if someone touches you on your arm whilst talking to you. Greeks are quite touchy-feely people. It’s meant to make you feel included and welcome.
Drink the local water. You may be OK, but best to buy bottled water rather than risk ruining your appetite.
Feel obliged to drink a drink that is bought for you in a bar or taverna. Do say thank you or cheers; perhaps have a sip, but it is not considered rude if you don’t drink it.
Thrust the palm of your hand in front of someone’s face. This is extremely rude.
Stare at people for too long – particularly children – as you may pass on the ‘Evil Eye’.
Get into taxis without asking “how much?” first. Refuse to let Greek friends pick up the bill or ‘treat you’. This can be considered an insult to their hospitality.
Mention the ‘Greek crisis’ or politics unless you want to get involved in a heated debate!
  

Best time to go.

If you want to avoid standing room only on the beaches, the highest temperatures and the highest prices, then avoid Greece’s Summer season. Mid April to mid June, then September to mid October is best.
Easter is another busy time for home-grown holiday-makers as they celebrate their most important religious holiday, so many hotels will be full and many sites and museums will also be closed over this period.
The winter months are great for skiing in Greece.
Since global weather patterns are becoming less predictable every year, do check local forecasts before you travel.
  

Best way to go.

The easiest way is to fly into Athens and take a couple of days to absorb the beauty and ancient history of the ‘City of the Violet Crown’. Then, no other experience will beat chartering your own boat and cruising around, taking your time and taking in different adventures. You can sail wherever you want, then make your way overland to wherever you want - and your boat will pick you up anywhere along the coast and drop you off wherever you decide. Choose from a timeless wooden sailing yacht, an elegant catamaran, a magnificent schooner or any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
Tags
Greece