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Hellas or Greece, Grecia, Griechenland, Yunanistan, is a Group about Hellas (Greece) and the Greek way.
A hymn to the Hellenic Heritage, Tradition and Beauty!
For all lovers of this island, we share videos of our holiday and other in Crete.
Dedicated to all Vimeo users making films of all kinds in Greece. Add your videos here first, this space is yours. Love and creative collaboration to all.
A Guide to Tinos
Travelers on their way from Athens to Mykonos by ferry all stop at the island of Tinos. The only people who get off the boat are the pilgrims visiting one of the holiest shrines
Hellas or Greece, Grecia, Griechenland, Yunanistan, is a Group about Hellas (Greece) and the Greek way.
A hymn to the Hellenic Heritage, Tradition and Beauty!
For all lovers of this island, we share videos of our holiday and other in Crete.
Dedicated to all Vimeo users making films of all kinds in Greece. Add your videos here first, this space is yours. Love and creative collaboration to all.
A Guide to Tinos
Travelers on their way from Athens to Mykonos by ferry all stop at the island of Tinos. The only people who get off the boat are the pilgrims visiting one of the holiest shrines in Greece. The tourists stay on the ship and admire the shore as they sail on to their Mykonos holiday. But those few adventurous travelers who do get off discover one of the most beautiful islands in Greece. Some find themselves cured of their desire to go to Mykonos ever again.
Kythnos in the Western Cyclades is a surprising island of beautiful beaches, traditional villages, hot springs, agriculture, and with a feeling that it much futher than the short ferry journey from Pireaus. Kythnos is no secret to those who stay for the night on sailboats cruising the Aegean since the small port of Loutra is usually their first stop. But to really see the island you need time and a car.
Greek Islands: Alonissos
Ferryboats connect the island with Volos and Agios Konstantinos (4hrs.and 30min). During the summer it has also connections with Thessaloniki and Kymi. At this moment two ferry companies are coming to Alonissos, GA Ferries & Hellas Ferries.
Hydrofoils connect the island with Volos and Agios Konstantinos(2hrs and 30min).These connections link also Alonissos to nearby Skopelos, Skiathos, Skyros, Evia, and to the Peninsula of Halkidiki.
For help with ferries, hotels and travel to and from Alonissos contact Aegean Thesaurus Travel
For transfers to and from Agios Konstantinos or Volos from Athens contact George the Famous Taxi Driver
You can also take the bus from Terminal B at At 260, Liossion St in Athens. They run just about every hour. To get to the bus terminal from the airport take the 93
Spetses is both cursed and blessed by its assets; being too pretty and too accessible have made it too popular. The last of the Argo-Saronic islands that include Aigina, Poros and Hydra off the northeast coast of the Peloponnesos, Spetses was so green in antiquity that it was called Pityoussa – covered with pines. Cruel winds rarely buffet it, yet every midday in summer a delicious breeze springs up to cool it. Although it has to import water, bougainvillea, hibiscus, plumbago, jasmine and trumpet vines thrive in the mild climate, spangling white walls with pink, mauve, red, baby blue and orange petals. Handsome mansions dominate the seafront between the Old Harbor (Paliolimani) and ∏-shaped Dapia, where sea taxis and kaikis huddle under cannons left from the War of Independence. Adjoining the modern jetty, where the hydrofoils dock, stands an ochre elephant of a hotel – the grand Posidonion, where Athenian gentry holidayed a century ago.
The Lakonikos Kolpos or the Bay of Laconia is between the two eastern tips of the Peloponessos, just north of the island of Kythira. To get to Elafonissos you drive to the town of Neapolis, then go back a few kilometers to the village of Vingliafa where there are two small ferries which go back and forth continuously to the island. The island was a peninsula in ancient times and the sandy isthmus which separates it from the Peloponessos is only a few feet underwater which is why the sea has the remarkably alluring color that makes you want to leap off the ferry boat on the 10 minute journey there.
Elafonissos island does not have the spectacular beauty of its island cousins in the Cyclades chain. But it is surrounded by the most beautiful turquoise seas and has some of the finest and longest sandy beaches in Greece. The port town may remind you of a smaller more Spartan version of Aegina, with a line of seafood tavernas and a few rooms to rent and summer houses. Many Athenians who have yachts and cabin cruisers come here on weekends for barbounia and because of that prices are a little higher than what you will pay in a beach taverna somewhere in the Peloponessos.
Simos beach may be the best beach in Greece with soft white sand and clean blue water. One of the few beaches in Greece where camping is allowed. Well maybe it is not allowed but people do it anyway, pitching their tents among the dunes and trees and giving the area a sort of hippy or gypsy feeling to it. All the beaches on Elefonissos have a tropical look and feel to them and the cantinas play as much latin as Greek music. Besides the beaches there is not much to see on the island and besides being on the beach there is not much to do besides eat and drink. But the snorkeling is terrific, the barbounia at Psarotaverna Ntagiantas were delicious and I even allowed myself a glass of ouzo before our drive to Gythion.
You can find rooms in the town though in my opinion it is also the kind of place that is nice to visit as a day trip from Gythion or Monemvasia with your rental car. Unless of course you are a budget-conscious back-packer looking for somewhere to hopefully pitch your tent for free. (You didn't hear it from me). If you are driving around the Peloponessos this is certainly worth the time to visit for a day, especially if you have kids. For an economical hotel in a quiet but central location see the inexpensive Estella Studios
The town of Neapolis to the south is not spectacular and you won't even find it in the guidebooks with the exception of David Willet's Peloponessos Guide, and he had nothing nice to say about it. But I thought it was a place that I would return to and get more familiar with. It had a lively port area, where most people catch the ferry to Kythira, a number of non-touristy and inexpensive ouzeries and fish restaurants and an unspoiled atmosphere. It is not quaint nor is it charming or photogenic. It is the kind of place where after a few ouzos everybody is your friend.
Elafonissos and Neapolis are around 5 hours drive from Athens, an hour from Monemvasia and a little over an hour from Gythion. Elafonissos or Elafonissis should not be confused with the island of the same name off the southwest coast of Crete.
Go for a walk
"The Round of Rahes On Foot", an eco-tourist project supported by the Rahes Municipality, has created a great official "Guide Map", of the major hiking, trekking and walking routes. You can find the map for sale throughout Ikaria (around 3 euro). Info: Anghelos Kalokairinos, tel.30-275-41308. Glaros Tours and Dolihi Travel organize walking and trekking trips by experienced hikers.
Dine at Platanos Taverna in Aghios Dimitrios.
Sit under the plain tree in the pretty square and dine on seasonal, organic products freshly picked from the owner’s garden.
Go to the Icarus Festival
In its 5th year in 2011, the music festival gathers musicians and singers from around the world at the end of July / beginning of August..
Hot spring healing
Visit Therma (near the main port Agios Kirikas) for some hot spring therapy. Ancient Therma was destroyed by an earthquake in 205 BC when the city slid into the sea. Swimmers can see the underwater remains just offshore from the Roman baths.
Follow the path further and you will find the place on the coast (marked by some concrete boulders) where the hot water spring flows into the sea.
Panygiri the night away.
Walk around Akamatra village, south of Evdilos, to soak up the quaint architecture and visit the 500 year-old oak tree, once used as a gallows. In the picturesque Arethousa village go see the much-photographed Theokepasti chapel, which has been carved inside a giant rock.
See the Other Side
The northwest coast will show you a completely different aspect of Ikaria; barren, rocky and dusty with stunning contrasts of blue skies and sea. Visit the village of Karkinagri for a break.
Try the wine
The Ikarian Wine Club, in Pigi, Evdilos is an agrotourism unit with an organic farm and winery where small groups of guests stay in two stone houses. The unit was set up by George Karimalis and his wife Eleni.
The best surviving walk on Sámos is from Potámi to Dhrakéï. If you’ve got a car or a scooter, drive west of Potámi on the wide track for about 2km until you see the true trailhead – if the wood sign is down there’s usually a cairn. In under half an hour you’ll be at Mikró Seïtáni, an idyllic little pebble cove with no dress code. If it’s full up, keep on another half hour through the half-tended olive groves to giant, sandy Megálo Seïtáni, at the mouth of the Kakopérato ravine, with Kerkís mountain soaring overhead. Again you should be able to skinny-dip except when the illegal cottages at the far end of the bay are occupied. They’re illegal because the entire coast here is a protected reserve for the sake of the handful of Mediterranean monk seals who still live nearby. One drizzly May afternoon not long ago I was lucky to spot two young ones swimming along the coast between Megálo and Mikró. I didn’t have my camera on me and by the time my ladyfriend fished hers out they didn’t show up too well from high up on the path where we were, so you’ll have to believe me. Beyond Seïtáni the trail climbs manageably to Dhrakéï, an absolutely back-of-beyond village looking across to Ikaría. There are several vociferously competing snack bar/tavernas here to have lunch at before starting back to Potámi (and probably another swim en route).
Vathý is very much the provincial capital and, lacking any beaches, an unlikely resort – most hotels which opened in the boom years have closed down or become apartments. One of King Otto’s Bavarian architects advised the Samians in the 1840s to arrange their drainage in a grid plan, not radially to a single outfall which would be vulnerable to prevailing winds and currents. No prizes for guessing what the locals did – so when the wind is wrong the bay stinks. Some of the older neighbourhoods with their fine Neoclassical mansions clambering up the steep flanks of the bay remind me a bit of Sýros, at a stretch. The 18th-century hillside suburb of Áno Vathý is worth the hike up for its dwindling number of old houses, and an excellent evening mezedopoleío at the central junction – Angelos. There’s no real reason to stay unless you’re on the morning boat to Turkey, but the one must is the Archeological Museum, with most of the finds from the Heraion archeological site spread over two wings: the small objects collection, with unbeatable Archaic art such as the famous griffin heads for adorning cauldrons, and the statue gallery, its star exhibit a huge kouros, the tallest ever unearthed, nearly complete with his Archaic smile. Before an afternoon ferry, have lunch at Artemis (aka Katrakazos) right by the jetty – very good seafood and mezedes, and where the locals eat after shopping.
Kokkári is the first substantial spot west of Vathý, and the island’s second busiest resort. Even though I don’t think I’d ever stay here again, I have a sentimental attachment to it as the first place I ended up on Sámos back in 1980 – in an old house overlooking the fishing-port bay, closed off by one of two mirror-image headlands. Despite changes in three decades since, it’s still stereotypically postcard-perfect seen from the right angle, and has always been windy (a windsurf school off the west pebble beach takes full advantage). For a romantic meal out on the fishing port, newcomer Vasiliko’s salads and thin crust pizzas can’t be beat, though Tarsanas in a breezy lane back from the sea has been there since the 1970s, with time-warped prices, traditional pizzas, a magirefta of the day and bulk wine that’s great or lousy depending on the year.
The west beach is too exposed unless you’re a board-surfer – everyone else heads for Lemonákia and Tsamadoú, where headlands nicely break the swell on all but the most boisterous meltémi days. I prefer Tsamadoú because the pebbles are better-shaped, the snorkelling is rewarding, and there’s an established naturist section to the right – also the island’s biggest gay hangout – that catches late afternoon sun.
Tiny Avlákia, just around the corner, is built with its toes in the water and for me is the best spot for a waterside meal on the north coast. There are two tavernas: traditional To Delfini (aka Alexandra’s), with big portions of fish and horta, and Doña Rosa, named for the wife of Calabrian owner Claudio who injects a welcome bit of class into the Samian dining scene (you can spend 300 euro on a bottle of fine Italian wine but there are also perfectly good ones for 16). At the far end of Avlákia a steep path leads down from a road curve to a secluded nudie cove, next to bigger, vehicle-access Tzaboú. Both are very scenic with clean water offshore, but I don’t like the degree to which the Tzaboú snack bar controls all access to the beach (which by law is public from the winter tide-mark down) and locks the car park at dusk. Don’t bother showing up in the meltémi – it’s the most exposed beach on the island.
From the “pottery village” of Koumaradéï, with lots of typical, self-emptying koúpes tou Pythagóra (Pythagora cups) on sale, there’s an eyeful of the great sweep of bay fringing Pythagório, the airport runway, and the Heraion, Sámos’ ancient Hera sanctuary – though there ain’t much left standing, just a single column that medieval masonry thieves kept intact as a navigation aid. Still, the precinct – especially the exposed Sacred Way pavement – is impressive. Modern Iréon village just next door, with a direct road down from Koumaradéï, started out as a fishermen’s hamlet – you can still see their original wonky cottages on the water’s edge – but is now a busy, friendly if rather non-descript grid-plan resort which because it faces east is a prime place to watch moonrise over the sea – summer nights around the full moon, you won’t get a taverna table for love or money. My favourite spot, especially for lunch straight off the plane, is O Glaros, with just a faded sign out. The family is from Agathonísi, just on the horizon, and Mama cooks up a storm. The food’s cheap and very abundant – go hungry.
Pythagório, across the fertile plain around the airport, was the first Samian resort to be developed. It covers the ancient city built by the Archaic tyrant Polykrates – archeological bits poke up here and there, including a Byzantine basilica by the castle (really a 19th-century fortified manor). The harbour is still as good as it was in years BC, full of excursion kaïkia and (though most have been banished to a purpose-built marina around the corner) a few yachts. If you’re coming from the northern Dodecanese by hydrofoil or the milk-run ferry Nisos Kalymnos, this is where you’ll dock. Accommodation touts meet all arrivals and you may as well follow them to see what they have – often remarkably cheap (if basic). The inner quay is solid with café bars and not much else; most restaurants are tucked away inland. One of the best is Iy Souda 100 yards back from the water on a little lane, run by Odysseas – it doesn’t look like much more than a kafeneio but he cranks out amazing mezedes from the tiny kitchen area. The other goodie is Dolihi, which off-season weekends hosts Pythagório’s very own, accomplished resident rebétika musician, Ioannis Loulourgas. In summer he’s got a souvenir and musical-instrument shop in the backstreets where you can buy some of his own produced CDs (the rebetika ones, not the ‘tourist soundtrack’ ones).
Pythagório has an archeological museum nearly as good as Vathy’s. Although completed at great expense (and its exhibits prepared) in 2005, owing to one of those great Greek politico-bureaucratic mysteries, it only opened in early 2010. Along with the usual pottery from all eras and grave finds, there’s a monumental statue of Emperor Trajan on the top floor, and a hoard of 300 Byzantine gold coins found in a brass jug by a Dutch archeologist in 1983 at a remote nearby bay.
Katápola has functional nearby beaches and most of the accommodation in the southwest, but little beauty to lose – especially as it’s the one area where second-home real estate is beginning to proliferate. Proximity to Hóra and several marked paths (read on for more on that) are the main strong points.
Hóra, 7km uphill by road (or a more enjoyable hour’s walk along marked trail #2, “Photodotis”) is another kettle of fish: an exquisite Cycladic village of arched passageways, bulbous church domes, ancient stelae worked into modern housefronts, a serpentining high street, stepped platíes with trendy cafés, and the constant moan of the wind in fanned-out power cables. Everything is wrapped around a strategic rock plug, fortified by the Venetians and doubtless by earlier occupiers. The best of several taverna/ouzeris here is To Hyma, on the agorá street, with tasty, abundant and cheap mezédes dished up by owner-chef Theodoros, working out of a two-burner kitchen in a converted bakáliko (general store). He’s open all year but best ring off-season beforehand (697 4786376).
hozoviotissa monastery, amorgos, greeceSome 20 minutes’ walk beyond is the island’s top attraction: the cliffside monastery of Hozoviótissa (8am–1pm & 5–7pm), clinging to the palisade 300m above the Aegean like a “chest of drawers” (so said French explorer Pitton de Tournefort) since establishment under Emperor Alexios Komnenos in 1088. Le Corbusier was also much impressed on his early-20th-century visit, no doubt by the enormously long entrance stairway hewn through the rock, and the tiny katholikón constrained by the same formation. Although built for 30 monks, the monastery is today home to just 3 – including the friendly abbot Spyridon; one of them (or a lay worker) greets pilgrims with the customary loukoúmi and shot of rakí psiméni (Amorgian hootch heated with honey and spices). From the terraces you can easily glimpse Astpálea and Anáfi to the southeast and southwest respectively. The ground-floor cellar has a worthwhile, 2008-inaugurated ecclesiastical museum, but opening hours are erratic. The main annual festival is 21 November (Isódia tis Theotókou/Presentation of the Virgin), which people from across the Cyclades (and the large Amorgian community in Athens) make an effort to attend despite often threatening weather.
Agios Georgios Valsamitses frescoes, amorgos The only other Orthodox monument in the southwest with remotely comparable prestige is the little oasis-monastery of Ágios Geórgios Valsamítis (usually open), about 3km southwest of Hóra; a prominent but un-waymarked trail beginning south of the village allows you to avoid most of the road there (but beware en route grazing cows belonging to Hóra’s butcher – they are unpredictable, and one attempted to gore me). The monastery itself is built on the site of a water-oracle, used since ancient times; James Theodore Bent, after an 1884 visit, noted that water was collected in a tumbler and the petitioner’s fortunes interpreted according to the behaviour of the “floaters” visible therein. The ever-tolerant Orthodox Church cemented over the collecting basin in the 1960s to stop such “pagan” practices. Fortunately you can still see the water of the agíasma in the narthex, as well as some fine frescoes – both in the baldachin over the ex-oracle, and the masonry piers before the ierón.
From Ágios Yeórgios, marked trail #6 –“Valsamítis” – heads down to Katápola within an hour via ancient Minoa, which despite the suggestively Cretan name today offers mostly Hellenistic ruins excavated by the indefatigable Lila Marangou of the University of Ioannina.
Minoa also marks the start of trail #3, “Itónia”, an ambitious, 3-hour undertaking via ancient Arkesini on Kastrí headland, and more rewardingly the Classical fortress at Agía Triáda, also restored under the supervision of Professor Marangou and winner of the Europa Nostra award for such work, in April 2010. The route ends at modern Arkesíni hamlet, with accommodation if needed and a summer-only taverna where you will likely also phone, and wait, for a taxi to take you back – buses out here are rare.
With an early enough start back, you can detour from Kamári hamlet down an access track to Moúros beach, typical of the sheltered coves on the southeast-facing coast. Another, more popular beach is Agía Ánna, below Hóra and Hozoviótissa, where scenes from The Big Blue were filmed.
levrosos beach, Egiali, AmorgosEgiáli has a long beach, great sunsets and good tavernas; my picks among these are To Limani tis Kyra Katinas, one lane in from the jetty, an excellent all-rounder with fish, good bulk wine and several dishes of the day, and Hondros behind mid-beach, with heartier fare, a lively music bar and all-year operation, with an open fire in the winter.
If the main beach doesn’t suit, a trail leads north, then west, 10 minutes to superior Levrosós (with rooms to rent behind), continuing another 10 minutes to Psilí Ámmos, which catches late afternoon sun and seems to be clothing-optional. Still not enough solitude? A rougher path carries on to definitely naturist Hókhlakás, 45 minutes in total from the port.
Plenty of walks start from Egiáli; the one everbody seems to do, trail #4 “Melanía”, makes an easy, 2.5-hour loop from Egiáli via Langáda village, the tiny pastoral hamlet of Stroúmbos, Astrátios chapel built amidst the ruins of Classical fortifications, and Tholária village.
Langáda, with 220 inhabitants, is the “capital” of the northeast – but with no particular sights other than Iamata, the essential-oil distillery and herbal-infusions centre run by Vangelis Vassalos. The better of two tavernas is Nikos, with popular terrace seating under the wisteria, though it’s on the expensive side.
Stroúmbos’ eight houses have been completely bought up and restored by foreigners; its signature is the little chapel of Aï-Nikítas at the outskirts, almost hidden by a pine tree. The marked trail takes a longer course via Drý oasis, with its remnant of island forest that the goats haven’t eaten, and fairly unintersting Epanohorianí monastery; the shortcut via Patéla passes one of Amorgós’ many springs, this one issuing from a deep man-made grotto, possibly Roman-era judging from the masonry.
Tholária is even more atmospheric than Langáda, though rather windy owing to its setting atop a pass. In the undercroft of Ágii Anárgyri church is an excellent ecclesiastical museum (open on demand) of unusual icons and icon-screen pieces rescued from country chapels; the long arcade beyond Ágii Anárgyri, roofed with fídes (cured juniper trunks), is much photographed. Tholária is lucky to have three serviceable tavernas: Iy Kali Kardia; To Santouraki; and To Panorama, run by the inimitable Niko Theologitis, acknowledged as the island’s best composer of mantinádes (rhyming couplets).
From Tholária a clear, signposted cobble-path heads steeply down to Mikrí Vlyhádha inlet – go for the scenery as much as for the swim. Trail #4 returns to the north end of Egiáli bay, passing another elaborate fountain at Léfkes.
Tougher hikers can return to Langáda the next day and embark on trail #5, “Pan”, which climbs sharply through the maquis for 45 minutes to Theológos monastery (usually open), a 15th-century architectural gem with an arcaded, whitewashed interior, carved marble icon screen, ancient colum-capitals supported the altar, and a fine apsidal fresco of St Paul. It’s as much time again, largely along a spectacular corniche route skirting the base of Mt Kríkellos (821m), the island’s summit, to somewhat anticlimactic Stavrós chapel. Probably not a walk to do alone or in high summer, as there’s no water or shade en route and nobody but goats for help. PERÍFORA ALONG THE PALIÁ STRÁTA
Procession of the Icon, AmorgosThe week after Easter is an excellent time to visit Amorgós, not least to observe the custom of the periforá tis ikómas – the procession of the holy icon of the Virgin from Hozoviótissa (plus several less valuable substitutes), which are taken walkabout to various village churches and rural xoklísia to confer blessings. Lay people – not just priests – take it in turns to have the honour of carrying the icon for some distance.
Among the most renowned, and impressive, processions is the one returning an icon from the church of Potamós, just above Egiáli, to Hozoviótissa along the “Paliá Stráta”, the millennial longitudinal trail dubbed, unsuprisingly, as #1 on maps and descriptions. Nominally this can be done in 3hr 30min maximum with a daypack – a long, but not really difficult, hike – but the periforá takes its time: 4hr 30min in 2010. There are stops for various reasons: at Ágios Mámas chapel for a brief chant, at a cheese mándra for a gift of myzíthra from the proprietors, at another isolated farm that’s requested a blessing, and longest halt of all at the abandoned pastoral hamlet of Asfondilítis, with its little monastery of Ágios Nikólaos and strange white petroglyphs of musicians and dancing figures – not Neolithic, but executed during the 1890s, apparently by a cripple who was poignantly excluded from the scenes he depicted. Demeanour and decorum en route varies. On the one hand there are women penintents, who do the entire route in bare (okay, stocking-ed) feet; on the other delinquent teenagers who rush ahead despite the priests’ admonitions, hurling firecrackers and rocks at the hillside goats; and somewhere in between the photojournalist-guests from the Yperia event, lately perhaps 30% of the walking contingent, snapping away at anything and everything. At the end they all pour river-like down the final descent to Hozoviótissa, just before the main, most prestigious icon appears from Hóra, with Abbot Spyridon standing in greeting.
RECOMMENDED WALKING MAPS AND GUIDES
hiking trails in amorgosTwo commercial topographic maps are available for Amorgós, both at 1:35,000 scale: one issued by Anavasi (anavasi.gr), the other by Terrain (terrainmaps.gr). Better than either if you can snag a copy – and proving the old adage that an accurate sketch map will be more usable than an overly busy topo map with extraneous detail – is the 1:10,000 “Amorgos, Footpaths of Historical and Cultural Interest” set of 4 sheets prepared by the municipality about 5 years ago and possibly still obtainable locally for free or a notional cost.
If you’ll be around for a while, score a copy of locally resident Paul and Henrietta Delahunt-Rimmer’s Amorgos – A Walker’s and Visitor’s Guide (available through the usual UK outlets or on the island).
GETTING TO AND AROUND AMORGÓS
With its knife-edge topography, Amorgós has no airport and never will have one. From Piraeus, Blue Star Ferries call year round several evenings weekly (leaving at 5.30pm), via Páros, Náxos, usually Sýros, and a selection from among the little “Back Islands” between Náxos and Amorgós. Arrival is typically 1.30am in either Katápola or Egiáli – have your room prebooked and they will fetch you. The same boat continues to Astypálea before turning around immediately, so that’s the Dodecanese connection (albeit at 4am). You can find ferry schedules at athensguide.com/greek-island-ferry-schedules
Departure back towards Piraeus is typically 6am; if you just can’t face that, the alternative is the little Skopelitis Express, which heads off at 7am from Egiáli or Katápola alternate days via all the “Back Islands” before reaching Náxos at about 11.30am. Then it sets off at 3pm in reverse itinerary, reaching Amorgós at about 7.30pm, where it overnights.
There are also a few weekly random sailings on conventional ferries based on Sýros, and in peak season only, a high-speed ferry or catamaran from Piraeus or Rafína in the morning, arriving early afternoon at Katápola and returning immediately.
There are a few car- and scooter-hire places in Egiáli and Katápola, but remember Amorgós is a walkers’ island. The only semi-useful bus service links Katápola, Hóra and Hozoviótissa. Taxis are few, much in demand and as expensive as anywhere in Greece – eg 20 euro from Hóra to Egiáli.
For booking hotels, ferries and holidays in Amorgos and other Greek Islands contact a recommended travel agency at athensguide.com/agency.html
The island of Corfu, also known as Kerkyra, in the northwestern corner of Greece is the greenest and in the eyes of many, the most beautiful island in the country, if not the world. With more rainfall than any other island there is a variety and abundance of plant life like few other places in Greece. The island is a few hours by ferry from Brindisi Italy and for many tourists is the only part of Greece they see. Well, if you are only going to see one place in Greece, Corfu (also called Kerkyra) is not a bad choice. Some of the most amazing beaches in the world are in Corfu and though tourism has completely taken over most of the coastal areas, the mountain villages are as unspoiled as the most remote in Greece.
On the Eastern side of the island, facing Albania, the land slopes gently to the sea and there are long beaches and bays. But the western side is much more dramatic, steep and rocky with deep coves and beaches. Corfu has many small islands around it like satellites around a planet. The land to the north is mountainous and gradually descends until you come to Lake Korission, separated from the sea by a narrow piece of land. Cooler than most islands in the summer and with mild winters, Corfu is a nice choice for people who are afraid they may not be able to handle the heat of southern Greece. It is also one of the most popular islands in Greece and if you want to experience its natural beauty without the people you need to come between October and May. But if you like people then you will find them in some of the most beautiful resorts and hotels in Greece. Corfu's six-month olive season is the longest of any island in Greece and lush vineyards cover the island. They also grow many other fruits and vegetables because of its climate and extremely fertile soil. Those of you who have read Homer will remember that this was his last stop before getting back to Ithaka a couple hundred miles south, and he could not wait to get home.
But for some people Corfu is heaven.
Is Kea an undiscovered paradise for hikers and travelers searching for 'the real Greece' or is it an over-saturated haven for Greek yuppies and an out-of-control laboratory for real estate developers to practice the art of building summer houses? Well, it's all of the above.
The Greek island of Milos in the Cyclades is a surprise for the traveler adventurous enough to take a detour from Santorini, Mykonos and the other popular islands. Milos, like Santorini is an island that is not only rich in minerals but also in the things that travelers come to Greece looking for: beautiful beaches, history, white-washed Cycladic villages, excellent food and good-hearted people. Combined with Sifnos, one hour away, Milos makes a perfect holiday destination for those who want to experience Greece in all its beauty, without the crowds that are found in the more popular Cyclades Islands.
Hydra in the Saronic Gulf is one of the closest islands to Athens and is perhaps the most beautiful harbor in the Greek Islands. It was home to Leonard Cohen and its waterfront cafes have hosted celebrities from all over the world including Henry Miller who sang its praises in The Collossus of Marousi. Famous for its nightlife, fine restaurants, B&B style hotels, villas, shops and traditional architecture, Hydra is a favorite weekend destination for Athenians because it takes little over an hour to get there from Pireaus.
Looking for a quiet Greek Island where you can get away from package tours and holiday-makers? Folegandros may be just the place but you better hurry. The word is out.
folegandros, greeceIn 2005 an article appeared in Conde Naste Traveler which called Folegandros 'Greece's most beautiful undiscovered island' or something close to that. This created a stampede of American travelers interested in combining Folegandros with the other islands they had heard of which were of course, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete and Rhodes. This led to a travel agency nightmare of trying to find ferry connections from these islands to Folegandros of which there were none (Mykonos), a few in the summer (Santorini), rarely (Crete) and none (Rhodes). Those travelers who had opted for the less touristy islands of Sifnos and Milos had it a little easier though those traveling in the non-summer months of any except July and August found even these connections unreliable. Nonetheless some travelers who were not talked out of it and kept searching found that a small, but very high-tech travel company on the island of Sifnos, Aegean Thesaurus Travel, was willing to take the time and use their resources to find a way for travelers to visit this unspoiled Cycladic island that has been called "an untouched piece of true Greece".
folegandros, greeceFolegandros has little in the way of package tourist amenities or major roads and those who come to the island looking for organized water-sports, discos and wild nightlife will be disappointed. But a lack of nightlife does not mean a lack of good restaurants and cafes for after all, on a quiet island, once you have walked through the hills in solitude, smelling the wild thyme, oregano and the array of colorful wildflowers in he spring, what better way to end the day than with a nice meal and some good wine? Like its neighbors Sifnos and Milos, Folegandros cuisine has not been gentrified yet.
Skiathos is the most popular of the Sporades, the islands to the east of Volos and north of Evia. Skiathos is blessed with beautiful beaches including Koukounaries rated the 7th best beach in the world. With abundant nightlife, especially in the summer, Skiathos is the Mykonos of the Sporades. Those who are searching for the island featured in Mamma Mia, may not find it in Skiathos, but still you probably won't leave disappointed. Skiathos is one of the most beautiful islands in Greece and its many fans are one reason finding a hotel in the months of July and August can be challenging despite it being one of the more difficult islands in Greece to reach.
Lovers of the ellusive 'real Greece' pretty much all agree that the island of Syros is a special place. The town of Hermoupolis is the capital of the Cyclades and one of the most architecturally facinating ports in the Mediterranean, a living museum with some of the most beautiful old buildings in Greece and is one of the most cosmopolitan towns in the Greek islands. Seaside villages like Kini offer low-key holidays on beautiful beaches without the lines of beach chairs and umbrellas, nor the throbbing endless disco beat you will find blasting at the over-exploited beaches on some of the more popular islands. Syros is a real Greek Island, fun to visit any time of the year.
With long sandy beaches, a balmy climate and monuments from various historical eras, Kos was among the first Aegean islands to attract visitors –during the 1930s, under Italian rule. Despite its touristic role, Kos is in fact one of the most fertile Greek islands, with rich volcanic soil and an adequate water supply from its single mountain range. Local melons have long been famous – old-timers as far away as the Cyclades remember the melon-peddlers from Kos – and they’re still sold at the roadside. Agriculture continues to co-exist with tourism, baled hay and grazing cattle (there are said to be almost as many cows as people – 18,000 – on Kos) found just behind beachfront hotel complexes. As a strategic border island with Turkey, a military presence is inevitable if usually not intrusive – though it’s quite possible to catch a glimpse of exercising tanks, cattle and hotel wings all at once.
Industrial-strength tourism began during the late 1970s, with the first mega-hotels set back from the turquoise sea. Within a decade Kos was a firm favourite with growing numbers of northern Europeans (especially Dutch and British), served by an ever-increasing number of bars, mediocre tavernas and trinket shops, though the island was large enough to absorb the traffic fairly gracefully. The hotels were pretty much monopolised by large tour companies, such that independent travellers found it almost impossible to get a room in summer for love or money.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly for the Koans (Kooi in Greek, or more disparagingly in their Kalymnian neighbours’ view, Kotes – which also means chickens) until, a few years after the millennium, a perfect storm devastated tourism here. The islanders committed themselves heavily to the all-inclusive model; independent tavernas, mostly the mediocre ones but also some good establishments, withered away and died. Then several major tour companies mounted an unofficial boycott of the island – either by dropping hotels outright or telling travellers who requested Kos that it was “full” on the desired dates, and sending customers elsewhere. Needless to say the hotels in question were not booked out, but increasingly empty, and locals who relied upon tourism for a living were desperate for answers and a solution. And finally – on top of all this – came the 2008 crash.
Kos was not the first island targetted in this way by large tour companies for a variety of reasons. Tour companies may tire of negotiating prices with the hotels every year, so a boycottt shows hotel owners who has the whip-hand and how dependent they are on overseas companies, and after a year of desperately scrounging for independent overseas and/or Greek bookings they are usually ready to agree to more favorable terms for the tour companies. A year “off” can also cause mass bankruptcies and overseas companies then buy coveted hotels from the banks for a song. Or perhaps a tour operator decides to maximize profits by steering customers towards places – Tunisia, Turkey, Thailand – where they pay less for hotels. People who are just looking for sea and sun will be happy anywhere that has a beach and a fast-food joint nearby, but this is rather shabby treatment for clients who had their heart set on going to Greece.
All this was bad news for the people of Kos, who built comfortable hotels with the expectation that they would stay full forever, but are now confronted by excess capacity. The stop-gap measure, especially at all-inclusive outfits, has been to accept just about any clientele at depressed prices – in particular Russians, who are considered rough trade and not popular locally. But it’s good news for the traveler who wants to enjoy a scenic Greek island during high season, as it’s currently a buyer’s market for some quality hotels (on B&B or half-board basis). Maybe this is a second chance for Kos, and indeed 2010 was reportedly a better-than-average year here, in contrast to most of Greece. Because of Kos’ association with Hippocrates and the birth of modern medicine (read on), the island is a popular venue for medical conventions, often off-season, and all multi-star hotels have ample conference facilities.
History of Kos
mosaic from Roman Villa Long, narrow Kos lies just off the Asia Minor coast, tied with Karpathos as the second largest in the Dodecanese group. The Minoans, attracted by the excellent harbour at the northeast tip, settled there during the 15th century BC. The “other” ancient town, Astypalaia in the southwest, was the birthplace (ca. 460 BC) of Hippocrates (Ippokratis in Greek), the father of systematic medicine (and purported author of the Hippocratic oath still taken by doctors today). Shortly after his death in about 370 BC the islanders built the Asklepion shrine, named for the god Asklepios, which also served as a therapeutic centre known throughout the Greek world, run in accordance with Hippocratic methods. In 366 BC the “capital” was moved from Astypalaia to the Minoan port, which despite repeated earthquakes flourished owing to its proximity to ancient Halikarnassos (now Bodrum) on the Anatolian coast just opposite. In 333 BC Kos was taken briefly by Alexander the Great, and then became semi-autonomous under the protection of the Egyptian Ptolemies, including Ptolemy II who was born here. By the late first century BC Kos was effectively (and prosperously) under Roman rule, and from this time – especially after the severe earthquake of 27 BC – date most of the ancient ruins on view. Christianity came early, in the person of St Paul, and there are three early Byzantine basilicas to be seen. In 1314 the crusading Knights of Saint John, based on Rhodes, began work on the large fortress which still guards the entrance of Kos harbor, using extensive masonry (especially from the Asklepion) dislodged by successive earthquakes. In 1523 the knights surrendered to the Ottoman Turks, who had taken Rhodes the previous year, and who settled in for nearly four more centuries until Italy seized the Dodecanese in 1912 as part of her larger war with the Ottomans focused on Libya. In 1933, another earthquake levelled most of the town and gave the Italians a pretext for some extensive archeology and urban renewal. Kos finally become part of Greece in 1948, which ironically accelerated emigration (mostly to Australia or Canada), and the depopulation of the half-dozen hill villages in favor of the coast.
The City of Kos
Castle built by the knights of Saint John at the entrance to the harbor in Kos The city of Kos spreads out in all directions from perfectly protected Mandráki harbour, with Bodrum (a major day-trip destination) just visible on the Asia Minor mainland. Despite its size the town feels low-density; thanks to the Italians it’s rigorously planned, executed in two phases either side of the 1933 quake. From 1926–29 and again from 1934–39 they endowed it with clusters of mock-Ottoman, Art Deco-ish and Rationalist style buildings to meet both the social and political needs of colonialism and fascism – including a large central square, today Platía Eleftherías, where crowds could be harangued from a speaker’s tribune. Large areas of archeological “park” were created by removing the rubble of collapsed houses to reveal ancient remains. Yet some care was taken to preserve or highlight the castle and the traditional quarters – the Muslim bazaar, and the old blacksmiths’ quarter of Haluvaziá just behind the port – which had survived the tremor. Residential, cantonment-style suburbs were laid out, particularly on the east, and today their original landscaping has matured, giving Kos the feel of a lush garden town.
The Castle of the Knights of Saint John (Tues–Sun 8am–6pm, shorter hours winter) with its double fortification dominates the harbor. The castle is linked by a bridge over its former moat (now Finikon Avenue) to the square where the so-called, very decrepit Plane Tree of Hippocrates stands. In legend the great healer taught under its boughs, though in fact this is unlikely as the tree is only about 700 years old. Flanking the plaza is the Loggia Mosque, from 1786; as at the contemporary Defterdar Mosque on Platía Eleftherías, rent from the shops on its ground floor goes to the vakuf or local Islamic benevolent foundation. Neither of these mosques is used much for worship by local Muslims, though the minaretless Atik Mosque in the Ottoman bazaar still functions normally.
Just south of the harbour lies the ancient agora (always open), excavated after the 1933 quake: no compelling sights other than foundations of a Hellenistic Aphrodite temple and re-erected Roman columns from a stoa, but a pleasant wander nonetheless. The other, more extensive archeological zone lies well inland beyond the Ottoman bazaar, featuring the Xystos or colonnade of a covered running track, and – viewable from a slight distance – mosaics of a boar hunt, gladiators and the nymph Europa. There are more floor mosaics – of a tiger, and assorted beasts attacking a goat and an antelope – in the Casa Romana (Tues–Sat 8am–7.30pm, Sun 1.30–7.30pm, Mon closed), a 3d-century AD Roman villa across the street, which finally re-opened in 2010 after a lengthy refit. Also refurbished recently was the contemporaneous Roman odeion adjacent – its undercroft now houses a well-done mini-museum (daily April–Oct 8am–8pm) on odeia in general, and this one in particular. The main, Italian-built archeological museum (Tues–Sun 8am–2.30pm) is up on Platía Eleftherías, containing Hellenistic and Roman statuary, as well as two more fine mosaics. Just opposite, beyond the Defterdar Mosque, is the covered Italian market from 1934; lately its produce stalls have been exiled in favour of tourist stalls peddling honey and herbs – no bargains here – but it’s still an atmospheric spot to stock up on gifts.
It doesn’t take much nous to work out that you’ll be ripped off at the few surviving cafés and restaurants facing Mandráki port; neither is the prevailing Euro-grub in the westerly district towards Lámbi much to write home about either. There are numerous, far better options inland or just back from the easterly beach along Vassiléos Georgíou. At Ambavris (supper only April–Oct), in the eponymous hamlet 500m south of the Casa Romana, go for their excellent-value pikilía (medley) of local dishes served in the courtyard of this lovely old house. An exception to the pattern in the western suburbs is Psaropoula at Avérof 17, the best spot for fish (year round). The island’s longest-running ouzerí is Pote tin Kyriaki (supper only, closed Sunday), hidden in the Ottoman old town at Pissándrou 9; there are starters like fennel pie and assorted sea food at very attractive prices, washed down by proprietress Stamatia’s potent tsípouro. A new entrant in the ouzerí sweepstakes is Fanos at Hálkonos 3, with more of a mainland flair in dishes such as spetzofáï (sausage and pepper stew) or khtipití (fermented cheese dip). For a bit more outlay, try Stadium at Vassiléos Georgíou 26, a chic generic-Mediterrean bistro working out of an old Italian villa (all year, indoor/outdoor seating), or another see-and-be-seen venue, H2O, at no. 7 of the same street, with a fusion menu, minimalist decor and seating on a deck over the water. Products of the local winery, Hatziemmanouil, are well worth trying, especially their red labels.
For light refreshment, Café Aenaos at the base of the Defterdar Mosque is a great people-watching spot, and brews kafé sti hóvoli (traditional Greek coffee made on hot sand). Right opposite Hippocrates’ plane tree, the Law Court Café huddles under Art Deco arches, doing coffees and cold drinks at very fair prices for the location.
Besides the mega-dance-venue Fashion Club on the west side of Mandráki, known for its light shows, nightlife in Kos city clusters in two areas. The “Pub Lanes” of Haluvaziá, especially Nafklírou, have a fairly forgettable selection of annually changing barákia with a largely Dutch clientele; the most durable, interesting and Greek club here is Hamam at the east end of things, installed in an old Turkish bath. Another, Greek-preferred nucleus of night- (and day-) life is Aktí Zouroúdi behind Lámbi beach 2km north of town, where Ammos by Heaven has two bars (1 poolside, 1 on the sand), tropical decor and chilled playlist, or Mylos further out, housed in an old mill, with a beach-café role by day and either live or DJd events after dark, until dawn.
For the more sedately inclined, there’s an excellent outdoor cinema (May–Sept), the Orfevs, on Fenarétis just in from Vassiléos Georgíou; during the cooler months screenings move to the indoor Orfevs on Platía Eleftherías. As everywhere in Greece, films are shown in the original language (usually English) with Greek subtitles. Both play host to the annual, early September International Health Film Festival (healthfilmfestival.gr), established in 2009, with a range of films of every length on themes including therapy, traditional healing, the disabled, and so forth.
The Ippokrateia Cultural Festival is held yearly from late July to late August, featuring music and dances events in the Knights’ castle, the odeion and the summer cinema.
The ruins of the Asklepion (summer 8am–6pm, winter 8.30am–2.30pm; closed Mon all year) lie 4km southwest of town on a series of terraces overlooking Kos and the Turkish coast. Hippocrates was the first healer adopting a rational approach to diagnosis, and the first – as witness his treatise Airs, Waters and Places – to lay stress on the importance of environment in therapy. In its day – which ended in 554 AD – the Asklepion was as much spa and teaching facility as religious sanctuary, and the site chosen had ample springs (which ran above ground until recently – you can still see fountain-niches and clay piping). The three terraces, connected by broad stairways, feature a Doric Temple of Asklepios on the top level, and a Roman Corinthian temple partly rebuilt by nationalistically minded Italian archeologists, but don’t get your hopes pitched too high – little else stands much above ground level, as the crusading Knights thoroughly scoured the site for ready-cut masonry.
The Asklepion is easy to reach by bicycle, fake train or (in cooler weather) on foot, passing through the partly ethnic-Turkish village of Platáni (aka Kermedés) with its active mosque and cluster of Anatolian-style tavernas at the central junction, of which Arap is the most consistent, famous and open much of the year. Opposite, superb ice cream is served at Paradosi. There were once nearly 3000 island Turks living here and in Kos town, but after the successive Cyprus crises of 1963–74 numbers dropped to under 1000. Between Platáni and town are the adjacent Muslim and Jewish cemeteries. The island’s 120 Jews were deported to their deaths at Auschwitz during summer 1944, and the only other trace of the long-running Jewish community is their wonderful Italian-era synagogue on Diákou near the “Pub Lanes”.
Besides Lámbi beach, more sand stretches east, then south, of the city in the area known somewhat imprecisely as Psalídi. Much of it is merely functional or monopolized by the resort hotels which concentrate here; good, meaty beaches with minimal wind scourging and easy public access only begin once past the Oceanis complx, up to the Ágios Fokás military watchpoint. Just past a final cluster of hotels at Ágios Fokás is the dirt-track turnoff for the seaside hot springs of Bros Thermá, one of the most popular destinations on Kos, especially at dusk or on moonlit evenings. Scalding water flows from the base of cliffs into a 4-foot-deep pool delimited by a ring of boulders which allows it to mix with seawater to a pleasant temperature. There have been recurring rumors, however, of the place being developed as a spa with regimentation and admission fee, so enjoy it au naturel while you can.
Around the Island of Kos
Mt Díkeos Villages
Forested, scenic Mt Díkeos, the ancient Oromedon looming west of town, relieves Kos from unrelenting flatness and supports the half-dozen Asfendioú villages, all now largely deserted but excellent examples of whitewashed traditional housing. Parish priest Father Kyriakos, at the Génnisi Theotókou church in Lagoúdi with its brilliant neo-Byzantine frescoes, claims that the mountain takes is modern name (“just, fair”) from its waters flowing usefully northwest towards the agricultural plain rather than pointlessly south into the sea. Ziá is the most touristed settlement, thanks to half a dozen coaches daily calling in for “sunset tours” (though the views from most of the Asfendioú region are spectacular). This has had a predictable effect on quality at the surviving tavernas (several have shut) but Oromedon can still be highly recommended, likewise the little secluded café Neromylos, converted from the last working watermill here – by the 1960s most of the water had been channelled down to fields and water-mains in the flatlands. Ziá also marks the start of the hike up to 846-metre Khristós peak with its pillbox chapel (August 6 festival) and 360° views over Turkey and the Dodecanese; allow 3 hours round trip, and best do this in spring or fall when temperatures are mild and the air clear. Nearby Evangelístria and Asómatos hamlets, the latter with a lovely church, have proven popular with second-home hunters but have no reliable tourist facilities. West of Lagoúdi, a side road leads up to Byzantine Paleó Pýli with its castle and medieval churches, of which the lowest one, Arhángelos, also has the most vivid frescoes. Modern Pýli is by contrast a thriving, modern place and boasts, in its Pigí district, perhaps the best rural taverna on Kos, Palea Pigi, where you can sample local dishes like pikhtí (brawn) and krassotýri (cheese marinated in wine) in the shade of a giant Indian fig. Just below is a wonderful, popular cistern-spring with several lion-headed spouts.
Besides Psalídi, Kos has plenty of attractive beaches on both its windier north and more protected south coasts. Most of them have some sort of water sports available, be it windsurfing, kayaking/canoeing, or jet-skiing (though I for one find it difficult to qualify the latter as a “sport”).
Closest to town on the north coast is Tingáki, which has historically had a big British clientele. Just inland to the east is the excellent Ambeli taverna, with more than a nod to local recipes and an excellent winelist (as you’d expect from a place called “Vineyard”). There are great views across the straits to the Bodrum peninsula and the little Greek islet of Psérimos. Marmári, the next resort west, has a preponderance of all-inclusive hotels aimed in the past at Germans; between the two is the salt marsh of Alykí, which retains water well into summer. This used to be a major stopover for flamingoes from December to April, but they haven’t appeared in some years – chalk it up to global climate change. Mastihári, southwest of Marmári, also has its share of new monster hotels at the outskirts but despite that is probably your best bet if showing up without a room reservation in summer – it’s Kos’ second port, with several daily ferries to Kálymnos (keyed to arrival times of domestic flights from Athens), and still retains some character of a “real” town. Good affordable accommodation can be found at the south end of the ridge above the unusually broad beach. Just inland from the ferry jetty, Makis is unbeatable for fish, while at the south end of the beach strip, Traditional House bakes its own bread and serves own-grown veggies.
From Marmári, roads lead south through Andimáhia – the largest inland village, next to the airport and near another Knights of St John castle sometimes used for summer concerts – to Kardámena, the island’s second-ranking, if rather downmarket, resort, famous for its Brit-pitched nightlife. Clubs, especially in these straitened times, come and go but here to stay apparently are the Downtown Club, a basement joint as good as its motto (“cheesy chart music”), the long-running Starlight Club at the outskirts, with theme nights and imported UK DJs, and The Rok, a beachside, 24-hour bar that’s a favorite fixture for watching the sunrise after a hard night’s clubbing. Don’t expect culinary distinction, or much comfort in lodging; Kardámena beach, however, is sandy and long. There are expensive excursion boats, leaving in the morning, for Níssyros island opposite; less publicised is the Nissyrians’ far cheaper shopping kaïki, which chugs away at mid-afternoon (though that means you intend to overnight on Níssyros).
On a clear day Níssyros is also prominent on the horizon seen from the sequence of miraculously undeveloped beaches west of Andimáhia. My favorite is “Magic” (officially Polémi), with a full-service taverna uphill, a nudist zone (“Exotic”) on the east, and no jet-skis – which rather blight “Sunny” (Psilós Gremmós) and Langádes further along, although their sand and juniper-backed scenery is superior. “Paradise” (Bubble Beach), so named for volcanic gas-vents in the shallows, is oversubscribed and overrated, though “Kamila”/Camel just beyond is much less visited.
Past these, an inconspicuous access road leads around a giant Club Med to the most romantically set of Kos’ three basilicas, Ágios Stéfanos – though recent years have seen some of its columns toppled and its famous mosaics covered in protective gravel. There’s good snorkelling – unusually for Kos – between the little beach below and swimmable-to Kastrí islet. Beyond sprawls Kamári, a resort hardest hit by the recent slump – plenty of abandoned building sites – and lacking much distinction other than excellent windsurfing opportunities.
The Wild West
The large village of Kéfalos, uphill from Kamári, dominates the far southwest of Kos. It’s kind of a nondescript place – the Knights couldn’t be bothered to build a proper castle to defend it – but the inevitable gateway to the wild terrain beyond. Just south are Panagía Palatianí, a strange Byzantine church built amidst the ruins of an ancient temple, and ancient Astypalaia, of which only a late Classical theatre with two rows of seats overlooking Kamári bay remains. A right fork in the paved onward road system leads to the rural chapel of Ágios Theológos, near a namesake taverna which ruthlessly exploits its monopoly and above a wave-bashed beach where boogie-boarding is practiced. The other branch of the paved road ends at Ágios Ioánnis Thymianós monastery, from where a dirt track heads off towards spectacular, sandy but unamenitied Hilandríou beach, tucked into a fold of precipitous Cape Kríkellos.
Kos International Film festival: First week of September
Kos International Health Film Festival Ippokratis is a 5 day festival for members of the International Health community, artists and the general audience to view, discuss and appreciate creative audiovisual works, on health and prevention. It is the only festival of its kind. The festival is a competition festival and will screen current production films on health issues, on human beings and on theme films from all over the world, which will compete for the prizes of the festival. The directors of the winning films will receive the Golden Ippokratis, the Silver Ippokratis and the Bronze Ippokratis respectfully. The films will be judged by international jury committees. There will be Special Tributes to health issues with well known feature films and documentaries by famous directors. For more information contact Lucia Rikaki at email@example.com or see the screening schedule for 2011
The Healing Springs of Edipsos
Athens can wear you down. I don't mean spending two or three days in Athens, visiting the Parthenon, shopping all day and going out to tavernas every night. I mean living in Athens, particularly in areas like Kypseli and Patission where the noise, the air pollution and general chaos can make someone question why he has chosen to make his life here. Take Andrea's aunts for example. Poppy and Amarandi are each pushing ninety years old and have been living in Athens almost all their lives. They live in Kypseli on a busy street where the cars, trucks and buses never stop.
Every spring when we arrive in Athens our first meal out is always with them at one of the two local tavernas they eat at, Bakaros which is only open for lunch and Spetsopolou which is only open for dinner. We ring the aunts' buzzer and walk up the stairs where they are waiting in front of their little apartment, both smiling happily but always looking older and more frail. I smile and kiss them but I am thinking to myself that I don't believe they will make it through the summer.
Then something amazing happens. They go to Edipsos for two weeks and when they return they are 20 years younger. What is Edipsos?" I wanted to know. What kind of magical place is it that these two old ladies would be tottering on the edge of death and come back rejuvenated? Andrea explained it simply. Its a European health spa in an area that is rich in hot mineral springs. When many older Greeks go to their family doctor for their check-up he will actually prescribe a trip to Edipsos and a certain number of baths. "Go and do 20 baths at Edipsos" he would tell the old aunts and off they would go.
I had an image in my mind of this mineral encrusted bath with a horde of old people in various stages of decrepitude clinging to the dirty stained marble sides. This did not really appeal to me as much as a beach full of Scandinavians in bikinis or a village full of discos and young people, which did not appeal to me either so Edipsos was sort of at the bottom of my list, though with an asterisk, since I am no fool and I know that someday I may get old and will probably need some sort of regeneration. But this summer my curiosity got the best of me and when my mother-in-law came to Greece with plans to go to Edipsos to pump some life into a body that suburban New Jersey had drained, I volunteered to drive her on our way to the Peloponisos, even though it was not on the way at all, in fact in the opposite direction.
Of course this made her so happy she kissed me which meant she was happy beyond measure.
And what I found made me feel like I had just discovered the secret to eternal life and I could not wait to share it.
With all the excitement about the release of the movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz it would have been easy for me as a well known reviewer of Greece to try to capitalize on the movie and do a website for the island. But those of you who are familiar with my work know that I have too much integrity and honesty to make a website for an island that I have never even visited, just because it has been popularized in a major motion picture and will soon be on everyone's list of places to go.
A Visit to the Greek island of Angistri, one of the prettiest of the nearby Saronic Gulf islands is just a short ferry boat trip from Athens and is one of those undiscovered secret favorite places you have probably read about
agistri greece Leave it to my friend Dorian to rain on my parade. Back when we were all American highschool students running wild in Athens during the military dictatorship we used to go to Aegina for special weekends. When I say special weekends I mean those times we wanted to do certain things with the knowlege that we would not have to return home at night where there might be an insomniatic parent waiting up with a cup of tea and the desire for a rare heart to heart talk. I think you know what I am trying to say here without me coming right out and saying we would go to Aegina for wild drug orgies or extended acid trips. We would go to Aegina, camp on the beach, drink lots of retsina and act like the kids in Lord of the Flies.
Dorian had a house in Aegina. It belonged to his grandfather. As far as I know he still has it but he never goes there anymore. Dorian was our Aegina expert and he would often talk of another relatively unknown island called Angistri. He would get a far-way look in his eyes as he spoke of its' white sandy beaches and quiet tavernas with fresh fish so cheap it was almost free. A small paradise so close to Athens that it had gone unnoticed by the travelers of the age, Angistri was like a secret hideaway to the few who knew about it. Dorian would laugh at us. "Ha ha. You think Aegina is nice? That is because you have never been to Angistri." Angistri became like Atlantis to us. A place that the old people (Dorian was a year ahead of us) spoke of in hushed tones in reverence to the good old days, kind of like how some of us talk about the sixties.
It took me 30 years but I finally went to Angistri. It was a hot day in June. Hotter than June is supposed to be, even in Athens. We had a couple days to kill before were were going to Lesvos or Sifnos, I forget which, and we wanted a nice day trip to the beach, without traffic. We thought about Aegina but I had just been there a couple weeks before to check out the village of Perdika.
Suddenly I remembered Dorian's fabled Angistri.
"Let's go to Angistri!!!" I practically shouted at Andrea. She agreed but not with the excitement that I tried to inject into her. For Andrea, Angistri had no Mythology. It was just a place near Athens she had heard of somewhere. Maybe she had passed it on some old boyfriend's yacht, or it came up at a dinner conversation about the best fish tavernas. But to her getting on a subway and a ferry was easier then sitting in traffic on the road to the beach. So just like that we grabbed our day-bags and our daughter Amarandi and went.
angistri island, greeceThere are afew choices of boats to Angistri. We took a small one near the Aegina ferries that was called the Manaras Express or something like that. It was not any faster than the ferries but we were in no hurry. Once we got out of Pireaus and out into the Aegean we were quite comfortable and happy. The boat stopped in Aegina an hour later and then it was another 20 minutes to Angistri.
If you have been suffering through this long introduction hoping that Angistri would be the paradise Dorian had made it seem so many years ago then you may find the rest of this a little disapointing. Angistri is....well it's a really nice island. There is a little harbor but it's not a harbor in the true sense of the word, like Aegina's harbor with fishing boats and guys mending their nets. It's more like a place to park the ferry boat. But it was... nice. The water was incredibly blue and really clean. Amazingly clean when you think about how close the island is to Athens.
angistri beachWe walked offthe small dock and into the town. Well it's not exactly a town. At least not right there at the dock. It's more like a community. It sort of reminded me of The Pines in Fire Island, but a bit more heterosexual. In fact it was very family oriented. There was a path that went along the shore past a couple restaurants and cafes to a sort of public beach which was very crowded. But again the water was really clean. The people on the beach were an assortment of Greek families, Eastern European's swimming in the sea for the first time, and middle aged Scandinavians and Germans squeezed into bathing suits that were not designed for sumo wrestlers. But the sea was nice so who cared?
agistri beachBut I try togo beyond nice when I can so I followed the little road around the peninsula and came out on the other side where a line of shops, restaurants and hotels (but a nice line), overlooked a long beach where there was not a soul swimming. This is where I swam and it was like heaven. I was amazed that the sea could be so beautiful so close to Athens, and for a few moments everything Dorian had said, so many years ago, seemed to ring with truth rather then exaggeration. This was indeed Paradise. Then my family found me. Amarandi was miserable. Not enough kids.(only a hundred or so). Andrea was pissed off too, sort of at me for bringing them here and probably for a lot of other stuff over the years that she was suddenly thinking about now. Being experienced in this situation I knew that the only cure was food so we sat at one of the small tavernas right by the public beach. That seemed to calm them both down and the crisis passed. The food was....you guessed it. Not spectacular but...nice.
After lunch I walked around for about 20 minutes looking for some stuff to photograph for this website but it's not the most photogenic place which may be the reason you won't find it in many of the Guidebooks. Not that it is ugly. There are some nice houses along the coast and some pretty little gardens in the back lanes. But there are no great photographic spots or scenes. You know, like an old fisherman mending his net, maybe a pelican chasing a tourist girl in a bikini or even a cat sitting next to an urn like you see in those Greece calanders in the Plaka. As nice as Angistri is, if you wanted to make a calander of the island to sell in the Plaka you would have to bring over a dozen models and have them pose naked in the sea right about where I was swimming.
OK. Dorian exagerated a little bit. Or maybe 30 years ago Angistri was wild and untamed. A place where wild goats and rabbits frolicked with naked tourist girls in the verdant hills. But for a day trip from Athens it's great. You won't find many places this close that are so nice to swim. And I only saw a very small part of it. I was in Skala. The other port is called Milos and for all I know that may be incredible. Eyewitness Travel Guide to Greece says the rest of the "hilly pine-clad island is largely unspoiled". But they didn't have any pictures of it and they have pictures of everything. Something that no guidebook mentions is that there is a lake there at Liminaria.
angistri catamaran boatAnyway thereare hotels on the island so you can stay for more than the afternoon. As a matter of fact many people spend their entire holidays here and it was because so many people were asking me about it that I finally made this page after sitting on these pictures for over 2 years. Apparently it is a popular gathering place for the kind of PhilHellenes who come back to spend their summers in Greece year after year.
Getting home was quicker. There is a Catamaran that is owned by the island and it gets back to Pireaus in about an hour with a stop in Aegina.
When we returned to Athens I couldn't wait to see Dorian. I was beaming with pride when I informed him we had just returned from Angistri.
"Angistri? Why? That's a horrible place."
He makes me really mad sometimes.
But it's not a horrible place and remember that just 30 years ago he was raving about it and making us feel insignificant because we had never been there. No it's not as beautiful as Sifnos (Dorian dislikes that island too). Not as charming as Hydra. Not as entertaining as Mykonos. Not as visualy spectacular as Santorini. Angistri is...well.....pretty darn nice.
Maybe not worth waiting 30 years for, but nice enough for a day trip from Athens.
Then after putting up this website I discovered a side to Angistri I did not even know existed. It is a place called the Agistri Club, reknown to Greeks and foreigners living in Athens as one of the best holiday hotels within striking distance of Athens. When people need a break and don't want to take a five or eight hour ferry ride to find a beautiful hotel on a clean beach they come here. The hotel has a devoted following of travelers who return year after year and apparently things can get pretty fun there from reports I have gotten.
Left from the harbour at Skala and just beyond the Agistri Club Hotel at Skliri is Halikiada beach, made famous in the early eighties as the site of the Adam and Eve naturist meeting, a testing ground for naturism in Greece. It remains now as then, inaccessible to all except the determined few who seek the best that nature offers.
A Day In Aegina
Ferry to Aegina There is nothing like a day trip to one of the nearby Saronic islands to help a father bond with his eight-year-old daughter after a year of computer work and grade school have kept us separated. Andrea had a meeting with a lawyer to go over the property rights to the land she might or might not inherit. To Amarandi and I this seemed like it would be boring as hell. She wanted to go to Poros where we had spent a week the previous summer but because it was early April and there was still a chill in the air, I assured her that the swimming pool at the Saga hotel would be closed, since I knew that was the only reason she wanted to go there. It was my idea to go to Aegina which was closer. We fed Andrea her coffee to get her going and put her in a taxi while we walked from the Attalos the 2 blocks to the Monastiraki metro station and got on the train to Pireaus.We arrived at the harbor and after spending the usual ten minutes it takes to cross the busy street that separates the Pireaus metro station from the ferryboats, we got on a ferry to the main town in Aegina that was leaving in just a few minutes. We went through the lounge which was full of cigarette smoke and the noise of video games and made our way to the top deck where it was sunny and warm. I was still a little tired and I wished I had bought my sleeping bag to spread out on the deck so I could take a little snooze on the way, but I had to be satisfied with sitting in a chair and watching the ferry pass by the cruise ships in the harbor and then the tankers and freighters anchored outside the harbor. Amarandi pulled out her book and happily read until we were close enough to see the houses on Aegina and the scenery became more interesting to her. Aegina is only about an hour and fifteen minutes from Pireaus on a regular ferry and half that on a flying dolphin hydrofoil so there is hardly enough time to get bored on the boat.
Horse-drawn carriage in Aegina, Greece The port of Aegina is a busy one with ferries, flying dolphins, cruise ships, catamarans and fishing boats sailing in and out, depositing people, cars and fish. We had picked a perfect day to visit. The sun was shining and the town was buzzing with people enjoying the day in the cafes, restaurants and ouzeries. Aegina is known for their small ouzeries and fish mezedes and there are a number of these places on the waterfront and on the back streets, easily recognizable by the small grills and the octopus cooking on them. Athenians come here to escape the city, drink ouzo, eat seafood and watch the fishing boats.
When we arrive the first thing Amarandi sees is the line of horse-drawn carriages and I can't think of a good enough reason to not take a little spin around the port and get a feel for the place. It enables me to get my bearings and it is great fun for Amarandi who sits in front with the driver. who points out the churches and the pistachio farms, the trees still leafless. We follow the coast and then circle back getting off where we started.
ancient ruins of Aegina and temple of Apollo with Aegina town in the background As you face the village and walk to your left there is a row of seafood restaurants along the waterfront, all with signs saying the special of the day is sea-urchin salad and each with a grill loaded with octopus. We continue to walk past the first beach and the small boatyard towards the area known as Coloni, named for the lone column that remains from the ancient temple of Apollo that stood on this site on a small hill overlooking the port. Aegina was a major power in the classical Greek times and for a period Athens main competitor. There is a small museum on the site that we went through in about 4 minutes, though someone with a deeper interest in antiquities than my daughter and I might be able to spend a longer time examining the ancient pottery that has been found in the area.
The archaeological site itself is fairly impressive and the view from the temple of the ferries coming and going from the port makes it a good spot to visit even if you have no interest in ancient Aegina.
Aegina town beach But it was from here that Amarandi spotted the beautiful beach on the far side and could not help but notice that there were indeed people swimming, and once she had made up her mind there was no way I could deter her. I tried telling her that these people were a local chapter of the Polar Bear Club and this early spring swim was a painful rite of passage and that they were most likely suffering severely. But this did not convince her and so we trudged back into town to find a shop that sold bathing suits and towels since we were completely unprepared.
After walking all the way through the back streets of the town and stopping into several shops with no success, we ended up on the opposite side near the cathedral. I took the opportunity of calling Andrea on my Greece-Travel Phone with the hopes that she could convince Amarandi that swimming was a foolhardy idea or even just putting her foot down and not permitting me to let her go swimming, enabling me to remain the 'good guy' for awhile. But when we told her our plan she thought that was a great idea, since she was in Athens and it was a couple degrees hotter there and she probably wished she could jump in too.
Aegina Fruit market boat We walked back along the dock, all the while Amarandi keeping her eyes open for a shop that might sell bathing suits and me trying to distract her by showing her things of interest. We stopped at the vegetable boats and Amarandi wanted to go on board but was reluctant to walk up the gangplank. So was I but not because I was afraid, but because I suddenly realized that the sun had been shining on my head for a couple hours and I needed a hat badly. Chances are that the same place that sold the bathing suits would also sell hats, so I joined Amarandi in the search.
Finally on one of the pedestrian market streets we found the store with postcards, t-shirts and they said bathing suits. Amarandi went with the girl to try some on while I tried on the only pair in the store that would possibly fit me since it really was too early for people to be buying bathing suits and their supplies were low. I also bought a baseball cap that said 'Hellas' on it that Andrea made me give away as soon as she saw it because it made me look like a tourist. (She said I could wear it in the states if I wanted to.) I also had to buy a large towel to dry off with after we came out of the freezing Aegean and of course a gym bag to carry the wet bathing suits and towels back to Athens. Amarandi found a bathing suit she liked and we paid the bill. This little swim was costing us $75.
Port of Aegina We made our way back along the quay and through the trees to the beach only to find that the Polar Bear Club had gone home to take hot showers and restore their circulation. Amarandi took off her pants to reveal that she had put her bathing suit on over her underwear. I had to explain that this was not the clear-thinking I had been trying to impart to her when I took the vow of parenthood. Why didn't she remove the underwear when she was in the dressing room? She did not know the answer to this question but it gave me the opportunity to teach her the technique of changing clothes while wrapped in a towel, which all Greek women are adept at. She mastered it quickly and ran into the sea up to her ankles before stopping and standing there waiting for me to make the next move. I stepped in and it felt OK, as water two inches deep that has been warmed by the sun all day would. But when I dived into the deeper water I had a near heart attack and it was all I could do to stay in the sea until I felt I had gotten my seventy-five dollars worth that I had spent on the equipment that had enabled me to take this little swim.
Grilling Octopus in Aegina I got out of the water after about a minute and a half and Amarandi followed. At $75 a minute our swim had cost us more than a ride on the Space shuttle. But at least we were cool and refreshed and ready for the next adventure of the day which was lunch. We found the first seaside taverna that had more Greeks than empty seats and foreigners and sat down. Amarandi wanted the Sea-urchin salad, imagining that it would be served the way I used to feed it to her when I dived down into the sea to catch them and cut them open on the rocks, feeding her the sweet eggs on the tip of my knife. But when I told her that this was most likely going to be some concoction where the eggs actually only make up a small percentage of the entire package, she lost interest. I encouraged her to experiment and if she didn't like it she would not have to eat it and she agreed, but when the waiter came they were out of it. I wondered if they really ever had it or was it a scheme to get us and other sea-urchin lovers into their restaurant. How many of the restaurants were in on it? Were there really sea-urchins available? Who dived into the freezing sea to collect them? We ordered the usual grilled Octopus, fried squid, a choriatiki salad even though the tomatoes were not really in season and a plate of marithes, the small friend fish that Amarandi eats the noses and tails off and leaves me the rest. I also had a small plate of marinated anchovies which were delicious and though I was tempted to have an ouzo with them since they go so well together, I decided that I would be a responsible father and not drink during lunch with my daughter.
Apollo Hotel in Aegina's Agia Marina After lunch we checked the boat schedules. There did not seem to be a problem getting back to Piraeus. There were boats or flying dolphins at least every hour. Amarandi wanted to take the flying dolphin or the catamaran that stops in Aegina on it's trip to and from Piraeus and the small island of Angistri. But I had a better idea. We took an old beat-up taxi across the island to the beach village of Agia Marina where there was another boat leaving in 5 minutes to Piraeus. The interior of the island was largely agricultural and mountainous with a couple villages along the way and the temple of Hephestus crowning a hill near Aegina town. When we got to Agia Marina we barely had time to take a couple pictures, watch some ducks mating and then get on the boat. As we left the island we passed the hotels of Agia Marina, sitting on rocks on the sea and then rounded the bend where we saw a beach approachable only from the sea which reminded me of the famous Lalaria beach in Skiathos. I realized that Agia Marina would be a great place to stay if you wanted to see Athens and not stay in the city. The high-speed takes less than a half hour to Pireaus and even the slower boat only takes an hour. There are a number of tavernas, a decent beach and what looked like great swimming off the rocks too.
Church in Aegina, Greece In fact the island of Aegina is really surprising considering it's proximity to Athens.The town is really quite traditional and while tourism is in evidence it is still largely Greek. Most of the ouzeries in the back streets have a Greek clientele and serve food that people like me love, but only the most adventurous tourists would be likely to try. There is a great covered fish market in town, a sort of junior version of the Agora in Athens. The fishing village of Perdika is another popular day visit place for Athenians and is full of nice little tavernas. I have written about at greektravel.com/lesson1 and on this page you can find step-by-step instructions on how to get to Aegina. The beaches around the island are decent, not great, but you can be in Angistri in 15 minutes and the beaches are better there. There are a number of hotels in the main town and at Agia Marina if you want to spend more than a day and in fact it is not a bad place to base yourself out of if you don't feel like staying in the city of Athens but still want to see the sites. You can get from the port of Aegina and be standing on the Acropolis in an hour. I recommend the Hotel Karyatides and the Voula Apartments. The owner, Sophia, is not only a terrific hostess but a great source of information on the island.
Port of island of Aegina Just 1 km out of the center of Aegina Town, one can find Water Park, a kid's paradise and one I was thankful was not open when we were there or I would never have gotten Amarandi home. The water slides range from the "Kamikaze", for the more daring riders, to the gentler "Twister" for the not so daring ones. There are a couple bars by the pools for parents who need to overcome the stress of watching their child go down a 50 foot water slide a hundred and fifty times in a row.
Aegina is known for it's nightlife and has several great restaurants and some live music clubs and a number of good bars. In the summer there are discos and plenty of action at the beaches.
Be sure to visit the Temple of Aphaia located on top of a mountain on the way to Agia Marina. Besides having a spectacular view and one of the most interesting little cafes below it, the temple is a very well preserved example of the Doric style and is the most important archaeological site in the Saronic islands. It was built in 480 BC when Aegina was at the height of its power and from it you can see the mainland from Athens all the way to Cape Sounion. You can get there by bus or taxi from Aegina town. The site is open every day except Monday. Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 8:00 - 18.30. Be sure to check out the furniture in the cafe too.
Another place of interest are the ruins of Paliohora east of Aegina town. This was the capital of the island in from the 9th til the 18th century when villages were located inland to be safe from pirates. Aegina was one of the unlucky towns because it was destroyed once by the pirate Barbarossa in 1537 and all the inhabitants were taken away as slaves. All that remains are a number of small churches in various states of restoration but it is an amazing place and well worth the visit. You can also stop at the Monastery of Agiou Nektarou with the enormous new church built recently. The monastery has the remains of Anastasios Kefalas, a hermit monk who died in 1920 and was the first orthodox saint of the 20th Century, canonized in 1961.
The island is famous for its pistachios which some people believe are the best in the world. You can decide for yourself. They are sold everywhere including at the Aegina Pistachio Cooperative stand right on the dock next to where you buy your tickets for the ferry boat. In fact I would suggest buying yourself a couple bags at least because you will eat one on the boat and then you will wish you had more to bring back home with you so you can show your friends how good pistachios can be. Or you can pick up the family-size bag.
The island is also known as the place where Nikos Kazantzakis wrote Zorba the Greek and any Zorba-file should make a journey to the island for that reason alone. Taxis and buses can take you all over the island.
Before you go be sure to drop a donation into the box for FAZA: The Friends of the Strays of Aegina and Angistri.This organization feeds all the stray dogs and cats and they have a little stand on the dock where not only can you donate your stray Euros but the stray dogs of the island can feed themselves.
Skópelos has always been my favourite Sporade since a first visit three decades ago. It’s the best all-rounder of this group that also includes Skiáthos, Alónissos and Skýros – forests and orchards not (yet) too burnt (unlike neighbouring Skiáthos), eminently scenic beaches (pebbly, sandy or both), some excellent tavernas in the harbour hóra (one of the most characterful island towns), plus a not overly packaged feel owing to the lack of an airport. Apparently the honchos in charge of filming Mamma Mia! thought so too, choosing Skópelos as the main shooting location during September 2007. Inevitably locals have cashed in on this with Mamma Mia! boat tours and such, but it’s hardly overpowering.
Hora, Skopelos, GreeceAs on all the Sporades, there is scant evidence of ancient times, so the beach-flopping sybarite can flop without missing enormous cultural edification aside from the main town, a few scattered villages and rural monasteries. Geologically, geographically and mentality-wise Skópelos and its neighbours are extensions of mainland Magnesia province and specifically Mt Pílion; musical tastes are firmly urban rather than Aegean, and medieval settlement from the Ionian islands (after Ottoman admiral Barbarossa slaughtered all the previous inhabitants in 1539) fostered a style of Italianate singing.
A distinctive feature of the countryside are prune-drying ovens, scattering next to orchard cottages with their beaked chimneys. Skópelos was once noted for its prune-plums, but the late-summer, labour-intensive, kneaded-by-hand drying process was uneconomical compared to the chemically assisted California product, so the industry largely died out by the 1980s.
For such a lush island, Skópelos has water problems (specifically an undrinkable, extraordinarily hard mains supply), aggravated by new villa complexes near Hóra. If you like to fill up canteens rather than waste money (and litter the landscape) with plastic mineral-water bottles, potable springs are at Metóhi near Evangelistrías convent, above Stáfylos beach and in the Karyá ravine en route to the Sendoúkia tombs.
HÓRA AND AROUND
skopelos, greeceHóra drapes itself over the westerly slope closing off a broad, north-facing bay, with a ruined Venetian castle up top; tiers of imposing, often slate-roofed mansions and churches – reputedly 123 of the latter, including frequent postcard star Panagítsa tou Pýrgou – reveal themselves to arriving boats rounding the headland. Away from the inevitable waterside commercial strip, the town is decidedly time-warped, with wonderfully idiosyncratic shops of a sort long vanished elsewhere in Greece. Domestic architecture, including some superb arcades and balconied facades, is largely unadulterated with tasteless monstrosities as on most other islands. For more on the local building style, see French Skopelo-phile Marc Held’s illustrated Skopelos: The Landscapes and Vernacular Architecture of an Aegean Island (sold locally).
The municipal car-park and KTEL area on the jetty was once the site of thriving, picturesque boatyards. The great Thessalian photographer Takis Tloupas and my humble self captured them in action as late as 1981, but like the prune industry they have since vanished; unlike Skiáthos, Skópelos no longer makes traditional boats on any scale.
Hóra has the best tavernas on the island, and it’s easy to avoid the tourist-traps with their photo-menus at mid-quay. As a general (if not infallible) rule, the best dining experiences are to be had on the far, northwest quay. Cheap but drinkable bulk or bottled wine hails from the Dimitra cooperative at Néa Anhíalos, while Apostolakis products mark a step up in quality. Englezos does the standards with an original twist; the menu changes seasonally but englezos.gr gives an idea of current offerings. The very last building on the quay is Kymata (aka Angelos), probably the oldest taverna in town and a shrine of magireftá dishes like lamb and vegetables in a phyllo crust and beets with their greens; one lunchtime here in 2007 I was treated to the spectacle of two old fishermen conversing in mantinádes (rhyming couplets), a practice which has largely died out away from Crete. The top seafood venue is Klimataria, next to the dimarhío, with affordable per-kilo prices for local, non-farmed fish. Inland, Gorgones is the only genuine ouzerí in town, with indoor/outdoor seating, fair prices and year-round operation.
Among after-hours options, one that stands out – and up – is unsigned Anatoli, at the very summit of the kástro, where veteran rebétika musician Yiorgos Xintaris performs (and sells a worthwhile CD) from late June to early September only, when his sons (who accompany him) return from university. Large parties should reserve on tel: 24240 22851.
On Mt Paloúki, flanking the bay on the east, stand three historic monasteries. Evangelistrías (daily 8am–1pm & 5–8pm), visible from town and founded in 1712 as an ecclesiastical academy by the Daponte family, is notable more for the katholikón’s architectural details than its two rather gormless nuns, bundled in here as young girls 60 years ago. Secluded Prodhrómou (same hours), occupied by a trio of more with-it sisters, was largely destroyed in the March 1965 earthquake which lashed the Sporades, but preserves fine icons. Sixteenth-century Metamórfosis, an Athonite dependency at the top of a verdant ravine, is being seasonally restored when its surly caretaker monk is about, a process hopefully leaving untouched a colourful dome upheld by four dark coral-rock columns.
In the opposite direction from Hóra, the Palio Karnagio taverna at small sand-and-pebble Glystéri cove – a Mamma Mia! location – is popular at weekends. A turning from the Glystéri road leads west via the lush Karyá valley, along the east flank of 681-metre Mount Dhélfi to the well-marked Sendoúkia, three cyst-type Hellenistic graves with their lids knocked askew by tomb-raiders. They’re a short hike away first on path, then a cairned cross-country route; the views over Alónissos and minor islets, especially at dusk, make the trip worthwhile.
ALPHONSE THE PHILHELLENE SPY
Foreign dropouts, well before the hippies of the 1960s, have a long history in Greece. Among the first was Austrian Alphonse, an ostensible fisherman who pottered around Skópelos in a little boat from 1937 to 1939, roistering in the cafés with the island fisherman – until one day after a storm, when his wooden boat was found smashed on a remote shore. But the fisher-persona and drowning/disappearance had all been staged; when the Germans took over as occupiers from the Italians in autumn 1943, the officer at the head of the column marching into town was none other than Alphonse. He repaid the islanders’ prior hospitality by ensuring that – unlike Skiáthos and Alónissos, where Nazi reprisals were severe – no harm befell Skópelos, despite the fact that a fair number of the local men had joined the resistance in the Píndos mountains. After the war, Alphonse returned to live out his days (until 1987) drinking with a different set of fishermen at Tríkeri on the tip of the Pílion peninsula.
SOUTH & WEST COAST BEACHES
Milia Beach, Skopelos, GreeceStáfylos, 4km from Hóra, is the closest proper beach, though small and crowded, with a single, merely adequate taverna at road’s end. Better to walk five minutes east over the headland to more scenic, sand-and-pea-gravel Velanió, 600m long with a nudist zone and a seasonal kantína.
Agnóndas, about 3km west, has a small beach but mostly serves as an alternate ferry port; among several tavernas, best is Pavlos, for seafood, unusual mezédes like tsitsírava (pickled terebinth shoots) and Apostolakis bulk wine. There’s better, white sand at Limnonári cove just to the west.
As the coastline bends to face west rather than south, the first substantial place is Pánormos bay, popular with yachts owing to its abundant, protected anchorage, somewhat less so with bathers owing to a steeply shelving, gravelly shore. Just around the corner, Miliá beach(photo) is superior, with two 400-metre arcs of tiny pebbles opposite Dhassía islet separated by a headland with a sometimes noisy beach bar at the south cove. Parking in season is impossible unless you patronize the single, fortunately good taverna with its private lot. Kastáni beach, immediately north with its own access drive, was a major Mamma Mia! location but despite this is far calmer, with a naturist zone and no amenities besides a kantína working out of a converted bus. There are more secluded beaches at Hóvolo, outside otherwise dreary Élios (Néo Klíma) village, built to rehouse victims of the 1965 quake, and Armenópetra, with the ship-shaped rock of the name just offshore.
THE FAR NORTHWEST
aheato village, skopelos, greeceThe island trunk road, have passed all the aforementioned beaches, climbs back to civilisation of sorts at Paleó Klíma, the village worst affected by the earthquake and abandoned thereafter, helped along by the junta declaring it unfit for habitation, closing the school and making it almost impossible to get a power hookup. The place was subsequently bought up and restored in variable taste by Greek and foreign outsiders, but it never really thrived in its new incarnation, and there’s currently no bakery, taverna or shop. The main attraction is the start of a wonderful 45-minute path, via Ágii Anárgyri hamlet (also bought up and restored) to Athéato (alias Mahallá-photo), the oldest settlement on Skópelos, barely glimpsing the sea in an attempt to be pirate-proof but with some fine vernacular architecture attracting more sensitive restoration. I almost purchased a house here in 1992; it’s still there, unsold, so the legal problems must have proven – as I then suspected – insurmountable.
Athéato lies just east of Glóssa, Skópelos’ second largest village, 26km from Hóra, with sweeping views across the straits to Évvia. It’s a countrified, ramshackle place stacked in terraces, with lush gardens between the houses. To Agnandi is the (overpriced) koultouriárika taverna, but most locals gravitate instead towards whole roast goat or lamb on a spit at To Steki tou Mastora at the town entrance by the church. A twisty road, and a much briefer cobbled path, lead down to the dozy port of Loutráki, which takes its name from some very ruined Roman baths nearby. There’s accommodation here if you need to catch an early ferry, but the tiny beach and three tavernas prove equally unmemorable.
Better beaches are found nearby on the north coast at Perivolioú, with rock overhangs for shade, and at Hondroyiórgis, both reached by dirt tracks. A separate, paved road leads to the local photo-op of Ágios Ioánnis Kastrí, a church perched atop a rock pinnacle conquered by steps; an equally steep path nearby leads down to a decent sandy cove.
RECOMMENDED WALKING MAPS AND GUIDES
Two commercial topographic maps cover Skópelos, both at 1:25,000 scale: one issued by Anavasi (anavasi.gr), the other by Terrain (terrainmaps.gr). The latter is much newer and likely to be better, as the Anavasi researcher didn’t cooperate with local guide Heather Parsons (tel 694 5249328, skopelos-walks.com), author of Skopelos Trails and leader of guided hikes in spring/autumn. She gets, unfortunately, very little support from locals, and the number of quality walking opportunities is steadily being reduced by thoughtless bulldozing of old cobbled trails and illegal fencing. An unflattering comparison with Alónissos, where EU money has been skilfully deployed by locals and foreigners working together to rehabilitate an extensive trail network.
While few Athens travel agencies work directly with the island of Skopelos, Dolphin Hellas does have a number of properties they cooperate with and with the difficult route you have to take to get to the island it is not a bad idea to work with a travel agent. You can visit their website at greecetravel.com/dolphinhellas
Among the hotels Skopelos Village is a luxury hotel, very well executed, and where Mamma Mia! crew stayed. Located midway between Skopelos town and Stafilos beach the Catagory A Hotel/Apartments Alkistis are air-conditioned and furnished to a high standard. Amenities include a superb swimming pool and bar. The B-Catagory Hotel AMALIA is on the sea, only 500 meters from the port of Skopelos. The B-Catagory Aperitton Hotel is a model of contemporary and traditional local architecture, 200 meters from the port and the town beach. Overlooking Skopelos bay, the B-Catagory Hotel Dionyssos offers a real taste of traditional architectual design. Just a few metres away from the sea in Neo Klima and surrounded by lush pine forests, Delphi Resort Hotel provides a peaceful sanctuary with personalised service and a large outdoor pool. Aegean Wave Hotel in Loutraki offers panoramic sea views from its lovely sun terrace. This charming hotel is just 200 metres from the sea and features free Wi-Fi. Situated on the hillside of Loutraki and overlooking the sea and the port, Hotel Selenunda offers spacious self-catering apartments with sea views, making it an ideal base for exploring Skopelos. Hovolo Apartments are situated on the coastal road in Neo Klima village in Scopelos, at a distance of about 130 metres from the beach. The popular beach of Hovolo is also within easy reach from the complex. The Hotel Denise is built in an ideal spot of the main village of Skopelos as it offers a panoramic view as well as an easy access though the peripheral road or through the picturesque narrow streets.
GETTING TO AND AROUND SKÓPELOS
There is no flat ground for an airport. Skiáthos has the closest one, but check connecting ferry or catamaran departures carefully or you risk being stranded, especially with evening arrivals.
Skópelos, surprisingly considering its modest size, has three ports: at Hóra, Loutráki and Agnóndas on the south coast, the latter used during northerly storms and potentially by the summer-only line to Thessaloníki. From the mainland, the principal departure ports are Vólos and Ágios Konstandínos. From each, a mix of conventional boats or jet ferries (taking cars) and hydrofoils (foot passengers only) plies 3 times daily in mid-summer, dropping to at most 2 daily in spring/autumn and about 5 weekly offseason. For Ágios departures, Alkyon Travel in central Athens provides a linking coach service a few hours before.
There are various car- and scooter-hire places in Hóra. KTEL buses from the main ferry quay ply the main longitudinal road to Glóssa and Loutráki several times daily, passing all the southwesterly beaches (or the side-tracks to them) en route. Taxis cluster next to the KTEL terminal. Except to Glystéri, taxi-boat services are absent, and be aware that day-trips advertised to the Sporades Natural Marine Park are a con – you’ll spend more than half of the advertised 8-hour duration in transit. Visit the marine park from Alónissos – much closer and they need the business more anyway.
Ios: Where Spring Break lasts all Summer....
There is no island in Greece like Ios. There is no place in the world like Ios! Some might tell you it is like Spring Break in Daytona Beach or Panama city or even Cancun but the reality is that those places are tame compared to Ios. Ios is an all out international party of college age people that lasts from June until the end of August on one of the most beautiful of the Greek islands.
Ios, Cyclades, Greece First impressions in Ios can be deceiving.... You arrive after a 7 hour boat trip from Athens to what looks like a typical port village, with cafes and restaurants lining the square. But the old Greeks who play tavli in the cafeneons are few and most of the people hanging out are young, tanned and healthy looking considering they have probably been partying until dawn every night. Because once the sun goes down, this quiet port and the typical cyladic looking village that overlooks it from the hill above, literally rocks all night long. Those innocent little white geometric houses open their doors to become discos, bars, rock clubs, boutiques, snack bars, cafes, restaurants and anything you need to cause or cure a hangover.
Ios, Greece Days on Ios are spent on the beach with Milopota being one of the longest and finest in Greece, packed with young people of every shape and color, from every country on the planet and perhaps some planets beyond. It's a time for swimming and meeting people in the cafes and restaurants that share the beach and for some it's the time to get an early start for the evenings festivities if not a little hair of the dog. There is a wide range of water sports including scuba diving, windsurfing and some of the more obnoxious variety like jet skis or being dragged behind a speedboat on a giant floating banana.
Ios, GreeceWhen the Greek sun begins to go down and the air begins to cool people make their way up the road to town, passing clubs and bars on the way. It may take a couple days to find the bar that suits you the best or you may find they all suit you. You may find that none of them suit you but you don't really care because you are happy to be there. Many people begin their evening by watching the sunset from the Ios club, listening to classical music, a tradition at least since I was first there in 1973. Once the sun has set it becomes a disco and you can remain there and wait til the new crowds arrive or you can have your choice of several dozen other night spots. The main square in the upper village, so peaceful in the day is so full of young people at night that you can barely get from one side to the other. There are Irish pubs, jazz bars, rock clubs, slammer bars, discos and believe it or not even a bar that plays Greek music. As for restaurants you will find all your typical Greek fare and some places that are not so Greek and not even fare. There is a Mexican restaurant, Italian, Indian, and a Greek Taverna called Christos, with fresh fish caught with their own boat.
Around the island of Ios there are other beaches including Manganari which can be reached by small boat or by bus. Rooms can be rented there as well. Other beaches on Ios include Valmas beach, a ten minute walk, Psathi beach across the island and Kolitzani which is almost in town.
Though reknown worldwide as the party capital and with a reputation that has lasted decades, Ios is also popular with older people too. Whether these are the same travelers who came here twenty years ago and are reliving their youth or sharing it with their families ("Look honey those are the steps where Daddy passed out on ouzo for the first time and woke up stark naked with his clothes nowhere to be found.") can only be acertained by asking each person individually. ("Old man. What was it like here in the seventies?") But don't be afraid to approach them. They will be happy to share those stories that they can remember. I know I am.
Ios, Greece The worst part of Ios is trying to leave. I know that when our holiday was coming to a close it took us several trips to the port before we found the strength and courage to get on the ferry back to Athens and even then we would have jumped off except for a hippy couple who had jumped on and blocked our escape as the boat was leaving the dock. But you can also leave for other islands since Santorini is an hour away and Mykonos two.
There are rooms to rent but in July and August you may want to book in advance so you don't spend all your time unsuccessfully looking for one. There are campsites too including the famous Far-Out camping which is sort of the cultural center of the island, with a bar that is open 24 hours a day, two swimming pools, a restaurant, basketball courts, volley ball and watersports. It's like a college town without the college (or the town).
Speaking from experience, I am old and grey now, but my time in Ios I will never forget. I made wonderful friends. I had great girlfriends from all different countries. I drank more then I ever thought capable and I was amazed at how quickly a serious hangover can disappear when one has the clear blue Aegean sea to nurse you.
If you are of college age and you had fun on springbreak, or you didn't... go to Ios. Guaranteed to blow you away. You may never be the same.
"The island revolves in cubistic planes, one of walls and windows, one of rocks and goats, one of stiffblown trees and shrubs and so on. Yonder, where the mainland curves like a whip, lie the wild lemon groves and there in the spring young and old go mad from the fragrance of sap and blossom. You enter the harbor of Poros swaying and swirling, a gentle idiot tossed about admidst masts and nets in a world which only the painter knows. To sail slowly through the streets of Poros is to recapture the joy of passing through the neck of the womb. It is a joy too deep almost to be remembered."
Introduction to Paros Guide
Paros, Greek islands, Greece, Cyclades In Lonely Planet's Greece Guide they call Paros a sort of 'poor man's Mykonos'. Its an island for people who crave style but can't afford it. I am sure the inhabitants of the island just loved reading that. It seems in the Cyclades there is an attitude of 'why them and not us' concerning Mykonos and all the wealthy people its popularity has created. The rumor is that anyone who owns property on Mykonos is a millionaire. The people of Paros take pride in their island, as do the inhabitants of every island, and many of them feel that they deserve to be the next Mykonos. They deserve to be rich, because in natural beauty Paros is at least as rich as Mykonos, and in culture maybe richer. But Paros is better off as Paros then as the next Mykonos. In Paros you have the island for every man. Rich and poor, from the most culturally aware to the most hedonistic bimbos and jocks, from hippy to computer nerd and from foreigners to Greeks, they all come to Paros in the summertime. Why? Well for one reason just about every ferry stops here. For another reason, once people stop here some people do not want to leave. There are plenty of beautiful beaches of all different sizes and shapes. There are all sorts of water activities from kayaking to windsurfing and sailing. There are yoga classes, Zen Meditation, dancing lessons and horseback riding on the beaches and hills. There are hotels of every category, from luxury villas to simple rooms. There are great restaurants and plenty of nightlife including bars that may make you feel like you never left Daytona Beach. And there are hordes of people to interact with. Paros is 'the real thing' as they say. Not that it is the mythological 'real Greece' that sentimentalists like me come looking for but is in deep hibernation during the summer months. Paros, in my opinion is like the old fisherman in the picture, the merging of Greece and the west. Its an island that says to the tourists "You want Greece? We'll give you Greece". Paros is Greece like Cancun is Mexico. Paros is Greece in the present tense. Paros is the Greek island reality. Love it or leave it. From traditional island life to Internet cafes, Paros has it all.
It may not be the Greece you are looking for but there's a good chance you will have as much fun as you could have had in Mykonos and you will still be able to afford to buy some gifts for your family and friends without using the credit card you were saving for emergencies.
The island of Rhodes in southeastern Greece has the longest summer of any of the Greek Islands and a tourist season that starts before April and ends sometime in November. The most popular of the Dodecanese Islands and one of the most popular of all the Greek islands, Rhodes is a multifaceted place, almost like a small country, with a history that has stirred romantics for centuries. It also has some of the best beaches, archaeological sites, restaurants and nightlife in Greece.
Santorini is the most popular island in Greece for a number of reasons. First of all it is visually spectacular, on the same scale as for example the Grand Canyon. There are not many places in the world where you can sit at a cafe, restaurant or your hotel balcony, suspended on the rim of a massive sea-filled volcano, active too. To make it more interesting the view is west which means spectacular sunsets. For this reason many honeymooners choose Santorini because there is nowhere on earth that is more romantic.
Santorini is also believed by some to be the site of Atlantis. Whether or not this is true will have to wait for future proof but the island is loaded with ancient archaeolgical sites including Akrotiri, Greece's answer to Pompei, an ancient village that was preserved by lava, now uncovered. The Archaeology Museum is rich in finds from the island.
Santorini is famous for its black sand beaches as well as several others. Hotels of all catagories and prices, hostels and camping make Santorini and island for all ages and all budgets. With a busy airport, several ferries and highspeeds a day from Pireaus, and a major stopping point for cruise ships Santorini is a busy island but big enough to handle the traffic. For many travelers it is the one essential island.
If you are looking for that perfect Greek island with a balance of beautiful beaches, nightlife, white Cycladic villages, low-impact tourism and maybe the best food in the Cyclades, then look no further than Sifnos, where I have been coming for over thirty years.
For half a century the Greek Island of Mykonos has been a Mecca for tourists and adventure seekers. It has been visited by just about every celebrity, sports figure, political leader, archaeologist, professor, college student, house-wife, fashion model, writer, musician, famous chef, architect and designer in the world and it is not an exaggeration to say there is something on Mykonos for everybody. Great beaches, fine restaurants, beautiful hotels, amazing bars and clubs and the widest assortment of people that you will find anywhere. Mykonos is fun for everyone.
A Quick Tour of Crete, Greece
Though Chania is a modern city the interior is a labyrinth of old Venetian houses that you can wander around with only an occasional reminder of the twentieth century. The port is actually in Souda Bay, but there are buses and taxis available to take you right into the city. The bus will leave you at the market place near the old town. There are hotels all over the city but the ones overlooking the old harbor are probably where you want to be even if the nightlife below can get a little noisy. If you don't see yourself as being one of the people making the noise then you may want to find a quieter place further back or ask your travel agent what she suggests. Check out the Hotel Ammos on the beach, just 4 kilometers outside of town. You can actually walk into Chania in 45 minutes going from beach to beach (the owner Nikos does this every day for exercise)
As for what to do in Chania it's a case of passing the day until the sun goes down and the lights of the cafes, restaurants and bars around the harbor come on and life begins. Like most harbor towns the expensive cafes have taken the best spots on the waterfront and the cheaper and more traditional restaurants are on the fringes and the back streets. There are also some interesting non-traditional restaurants scattered around the old town which you will come across in your wanderings. Most of the bars, discos and nightclubs are located in the inner harbor. For traditional Greek music in a traditional Greek setting try the Café Kriti at 22 Kalergon, the next street up parallel to the inner harbor. See Chania Restaurants by Nikos Tsepetis
The beaches are to the west and being close to the city they are usually if not crowded, well populated. Anyway, for adventurous travelers to be in Crete without a car is like being in Manhattan without a wallet. Your days should be spent exploring the island. If you came to lay out on the beach and watch people you should be at Elounda beach or Ag Nik. For some excursions in Chania and around western Crete read Nikos Tsepetis Chania Crete Excursions which includes secluded beaches, traditional villages, spectacular gorges and places to visit and to avoid.
Another option for a port of arrival is the city of Rethymnon which is a mixture of high end tourist resorts and a traditional inner harbor of old buildings. Most of the tourist activity and nightlife is located on the road behind the town beach, but some of the best beaches on the island are a short distance away to the west where development is not as advanced as it is toward Heraklion. There are long stretches of sand and you may find yourself alone, but be aware that there can be strong currents and there are no lifeguards.
The Arkadiou Monastery between Rethymnon and Iraklion is a 5th century holy site that became a symbol of Cretan resistance on November 9th 1866 when hundreds of refugees and revolutionaries chose death over surrender to the Turks and blew themselves to pieces with the gunpowder that was being stored there by the Cretan Revolutionaries. The monastery was rebuilt again and is well worth the visit.
The Samarian Gorge and Southwestern Crete
Crete, Greece, Samarian gorge To go to Crete without going through the gorge would be a missed opportunity for an incredible experience, providing you are physically strong enough to walk downhill for 15 kilometers. This part of the trip to Crete should be done before renting a car unless you are prepared to walk 15 kilometers back uphill to retrieve it. There are buses from Chania to Omalos and to give yourself plenty of time I suggest taking the first one. When you get to Omalos find the Xiloskala, or Wooden Staircase and begin your journey down. Eventually you reach a stream and begin your trek towards the sea, passing on your way the deserted village of Sammaria and a variety of wildflowers and terrains. The gorge ends at the village of Agia Roumeli where there are restaurants, cafes and a boat that will take you to Chora Sfakion where you can find a room and spend the night or catch a bus back to Chania or Rethymnon. There are also less frequent boats from Agia Roumeli to Souyia and Paleo Hora.
It is the general consensus that Chora Sfakion is the best place to stay on the southern coast of Crete. In the summer there are plenty of tourists here, that is to say if you are looking for a place where you will be one of a handful of foreigners then you won't find it here. But the town has retained it's Greek character and most of the foreigners who go there and promote it have helped to keep it that way. There are good restaurants with authentic Greek and Cretan food and a balance of tourist activities to go with the traditional activities. The area around Chora Sfakion is some of the most beautiful in Crete due to the inaccessibility of the area in the past. Now getting here is easy and fun.
The west coast of Crete is along with the southeast coast the least developed coastline on the island. From Kasteli on there are plenty of deserted beaches and the small island of Ellafonisi which you can walk to. Of course as usually happens to any magical ‘undiscovered' spot on the island, the giant multinational hotel conglomerates have bought up all the land and are making plans to destroy it.
The island of Gavdos off the coast of Paleochora is your best bet for escaping the throngs during the summer months. This does not mean you will be alone there, but chances are anyone you see will be a lot like you. There is something funny about an island full of people seeking solitude. There is not much there besides a few beaches, tavernas and rooms and it's inaccessibility makes it unlikely to be developed. There are rooms for rent which can be arranged from Paleochora. There is lots more info on the Gorge and Sfakia on my Chania Page
Plakias, Agia Galini and Matala
crete, greece, plakias These coastal villages have a lot in common. At one time they were remote villages with beautiful beaches, inexpensive rooms and small tavernas. Now they are built up with hotels, tour buses arriving by the minute, tourist shops and wild nightlife. But this is the case with lots of places in Greece and particularly Crete and if you are here in the summer you may as well enjoy it. Anyway we are not all traveling monks and recluses looking for olive groves on empty beaches where we can contemplate the success and failures of our lives. Some of us like to party at night and lay out on the beach and watch girls and guys in their bathing suits by day and these beaches are perfectly suitable. Plakias is 2 kilometers of tanned (and often lobster red), young,(and old) bodies. Matala is a coved beach with the hippy caves made famous by life magazine in the late sixties and thus changed forever. In the winter of 1973 I stayed in these caves until one day we were awakened by policemen led by priests who evicted us because they are actually mausoleums. In fact several of the caves had skeletons in the carved out beds we were sleeping in. Agia Galini is a full blown tourist resort however there are three good reasons to recommend going there. The sun is usually shining there, the people are nice, and I can't remember the third. That being said, any of these places is fine during the off-season and being the southernmost part of Greece, they can be a little warmer in the winter. In fact I swam on New Years day in Matala in 1974. When I emerged from the water, Germans dressed in winter overcoats, scarves and hats gathered around to have their picture taken with me.
The town center of Agios Nikolaos is a bottomless lake, which is actually not a lake because it is connected to the sea and is not bottomless because it does not go all the way to the other side of the earth. But it is deep enough for the retreating Germans to dump all their tanks during WW2, and nobody has seen them since. Now the descendants of those same Germans can frolic in the sea and in the pubs with the descendants of the British people they fought, while being served by the descendants of the farmers who defended their land with muskets against those tanks at the bottom of the bottomless lake. Indeed ‘Ag Nik' as the British tourists call it, is an interesting town, somewhat less so in the summer when it is so packed with tourists that the local buses can barely get through the streets. Nearby is the Elounda Beach, one of the most well known and successful resorts in the country and from what I have been told is not bad as resorts go. There are enough sandy coves and beaches along the coast so you can get away from the crowds if you want though you probably won't find solitude unless you head inland.
UPDATE! Things have changed since my last visit and in fact maybe since the last guidebook you read was updated. Here's what is happening in Agios Nikolaos now in the words of one foreigner who lives there:
Number one, the only people who call it ag.nik are the ones who were here in the old days. Nobody calls it that anymore. It is generally shortened to "Agios". There are now only four or five bars which are dedicated to the tourist market. Only three of which are likely to re-open next season. The local authority, sick of the unruly behaviour of the 18-30's decided to discourage the companies concerned and the hotels and apartment owners refused to take bookings. The bulk of the bars in the town are now dedicated to the local population of Greek teenagers, the result of the "baby boom" which accompanied the years of successful tourism and the area which used to be known as "Soho" because of all the British bars now has only one British owned bar out of a total of six. ( there used to be 10!) Night clubs,(3) are totally geared to Greek music, mainly techno. The last time I was in a night club here it had 4 staff and 3 customers and that was in August. Overall, the resort is now more likely to attract couples, young and older, and is a far cry from the popular image which is still being banded about by guide books, etc. which were written ten or fifteen years ago and never updated. (Perhaps because nobody ever came back) The description has put off the people who would enjoy the town and gives a false impression to those who want to party all night. The young people find nothing of the Ibiza style of holiday and only one bar really provides that sort of atmosphere. Most pay extra to go and stay in Malia after their first night in Agios. I speak as someone who has lived here for 6 years and been coming here for 10. I intend to send a similar update to all of the main holiday companies which send clients to Crete because everyone seems to be getting a false impression of what is, after all, a beautiful place for a holiday.
Thank you for your interest, and I hope that you can do something to update the information on the site, which is quite superb and a great source of information.
Your Man in Agios Nikolaos
So there you have it. Ag Nikolaos is not the tourist-infested destination to be avoided it once was.
Walk With Donkeys!
walk with donkeys, crete, greece30 minutes south of Agios Nikoalos and 15 minutes from Irepetra is the Walk With Donkeys Farm. Its a sort of old age home for donkeys who have gotten too old to be useful as work animals or whose owners did not need them anymore. They have given the donkeys a home in return for some lighter labor, like walks in the forest carrying children instead of bags of cement and bricks. They have a large family of happy donkeys and offer a number of different walks for children and adults or you can just come and visit them. When I was a child and my father told us we were moving to Greece and my brothers and sister were skeptical he promised that he would buy us a donkey. It worked and though he never did get us a donkey we ended up being quite happy in Greece. If you are coming to Greece with your children a trip to the donkey farm might be just the carrot you need. For more information you can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at walkwithdonkeys.com
Between Agios Nikolaos and Iraklion is the famous Malia which represents everything I dislike about the tourist industry in Greece. Once a small coastal village with an interesting Minoan archeological site, it is now an overwhelming, chaotic collection of tourist shops, supermarkets, fast food restaurants, moped rental and travel agencies where you can't walk down the street without being accosted by someone trying to get your attention so they can drag you into their restaurant. The once quiet beach is now packed with tourists who could not give a damn where they are as long as it is sunny and there is a beach and a pub nearby. There are plenty of pubs. Discos too, and they compete with each other by playing their music loudly to draw customers in. You have to wonder how anyone gets any sleep, but generally these people did not come for sleep. Nor did they come for Greece. They come because someone told them to come or because everyone else does, and the package tours rake in the pounds and shillings. Unfortunately this is what many of the coastal towns in Crete aspire to and even as far as Palekastro farmers have begun planting apartment buildings in their fields for the anticipated hordes. But before anyone accuses me of being unsympathetic to the needs of the people of Malia to make a living (well, get rich actually), or for the common people to have a place where they can go and spend their holidays unhindered by local culture and customs I have to admit that Malia does serve a purpose, much in the same way that prisons do by getting hoodlums off the streets. Working class people with simple needs should have a place in Greece to call their own. Not everybody cares about tradition or is enamoured with the culture of Crete. Some people just want to get hot, wet and drunk. They want to go to a foreign land that is not too foreign and they want it to be cheap. Places like Malia are perfect for them, but if you are reading this it probably is not for you.
Sitia and Eastern Crete
The main road that runs between Agia Nikolaos and Sitia is one of the most dramatic in Crete, winding through olive groves on the steep sides of mountains where around every bend is a spectacular view. Sitia with a population of 8500 people, is the easternmost city on Crete and perhaps the least developed. Sitia has been inhabited since the Minoan period. At Petra, to the east of the town, a section of ancient settlement has been excavated. There is a waterfront with restaurants and cafes, a large public beach, and an archeological museum which holds many of the findings from Palekastro. Above the city is a Venetian castle where they have concerts, in fact we were lucky enough to see Ross Daley, an Irishman who single-handedly has popularized traditional Cretan music, on one of his rare visits to the far end of the island. There is a weekly boat that goes to Karpathos and Rhodes and returns to stop in Santorini, Ios, Sikinos, Folegandros, Milos and Sifnos before going back to Pireaus in case you are interested in a long and scenic return. Outside the city is one of the wonders of nature, a beach that attracts plastic from all over the Aegean. By some miracle of sea currents, this tiny beach seems to be Mecca for every bit of plastic that has been tossed or blown into the sea and though they try to clean it up continuously, it is a losing battle. On the bright side though, it is a beautiful site at sunset when the light reflects off every piece of plastic and engulfs the beach in a prism of beautiful colors like sparkling jewels. Recently the headlands next to the beach have been bought and developed into a large resort community and one must assume they have a plan to challenge nature and restore the beach to all it's pristine glory. I for one will be disappointed at the loss of the plastic beach but I suppose there are benefits to having clean seas.
In the small mountain town of Agios Stefanos above the coastal town of Makriyialos, a unique place worth visiting is the Sasteria Observatory run by Belgian astronomist Filip Feys and his artist partner Chantel Debrabande. With Astronomy and Art Workshops in the day and star and planet-gazing at night through 4 state-of-the-art telescopes in the clear southern Crete skies they even organize nature walks in the surrounding hills and mountains every Wednesday. Every Sunday, the artistic activities are combined with a Cretan inspired lunch in the villages of Agios Stéfanos. At night you will see the sky as never before and even be able to take photos. In the day you can see aspects of the sun you never knew existed. For those who are staying in Ag Nikolaos, Irapetra a trip to the observatory is a wonderful diversion from the typical holiday activities.
Palekastro and Vai
The town of Palekastro or PK as the archeologists call it, is an agricultural town which has opened it's arms to embrace the mass tourism which has not quite arrived yet. There are plenty of working class tavernas in the central part of town and plenty of working class people to fill them at night. The town is slowly being built up as apartment buildings and hotels have sprung from the ruins of the traditional stone family dwellings which have been allowed to collapse in favor of commerce. Still it's not a bad place to stay. There are some nice beaches, miles of olive groves, hills and mountains and a wind that while some might call it maddening, I found it entertaining as it made it's way through every crack and orifice in our hotel to create a symphony of whistles and banging. There are a couple nice tavernas by the old customs house on the beach and there you can find many of the archeologists from the Minoan site nearby, mostly Americans and British.
The beach at Vai is very commercial with tour buses from all over the island, fast food, tavernas and corn on the cob sold in the massive parking lot. But Vai deserves the attention. Not only is it one of the nicest beaches in Greece, but it is also the only natural palm tree forest in Europe. Or at least that is what the guidebooks said and I had no reason to disbelieve them until I got an e-mail from Raul who told me that his town of Elche in Spain has over half a million palm trees! They have also won a world Heritage pride because of their palm tree forests. So that just goes to show you that you can't trust everything you read in a guidebook. So let's just say that Vai is the only palm tree forest in Southeastern Europe. There are also a couple huge pelicans that wander around terrorizing sunbathers by jumping on their backs as they sleep or sunbathe in the rented beach chairs.
Further north are the small beaches of Itanos where there are some classical ruins and a retired professor who lives in a hut and entertains dignitaries with grilled fish and raki. The day we were there we just missed Constantine Mitsotakis, the former Prime Minister.
Nearby is the Toplou Monastery with it's high walls and beautiful gardens, worth a visit, especially if you are interested in Byzantine icons. The icon of The Theotokos the Immaculate is one of the most holy in all of Greece and some of the works of the well known iconographer Ioannis Kornaros are on display. The monastery also took part in the uprising of 1866 and in the resistance against the German occupation when a wireless transmitter was placed here.
The eastern most tip of Crete, the beach town of Kato Zakto is at the bottom of an enormous gorge and the journey from upper Zakro will test your courage while it amazes you. The mountain road is suspended above the sea and as exciting as the ride is, the village is a welcome sight. The gorge is known as the ‘Valley of the Dead' and contains ancient tombs and an impressive Minoan site. There are tavernas along the beach with fresh fish and there are rooms to rent though they can get scarce in the mid summer. Beyond Zakro the pavement ends but if you are adventurous don't let that stop you. There are some amazing secluded beaches and tiny isolated tavernas that you can have all to yourself where the food is inexpensive and excellent.
Iraklion: Crete's Capital
Iraklion is Crete's main city and has a population of over 120,000. Most people arrive here and base themselves in one of the hotels within or on the outskirts of the city. There is an international airport and an enormous harbor full of ferries and cruise ships and the Palace of Knossos is one of the few places that visitors to Crete have ever really heard of if they were paying attention in ancient history class. The city is built on the side of a hill overlooking the port and it's a climb to the center of town with a fully loaded backpack. Mercifully there are taxis below and the bus station is also in the port area where you can leave your bags and wander around in the town above until you know where you are going.
Like most cities there are local buses, traffic lights, plenty of cars and trucks, hotels, shops, restaurants, fast food and a terrific central market in the center of town. The square of Elefteriou Venizelou is a pedestrian area full of cafes and restaurants and if you wander through the tiny back streets that are mostly closed to automobile traffic you will come across some interesting shops. In the restored Venetian church of Agios Markos they hold concerts in the summertime. The archeological museum is the best on Crete and contains Minoan relics from all over the island. There is a huge fortress in the harbor built by Venetians that protected the town from invasion. Throughout the city there are examples of Venetian architecture and it is a pleasure to explore, especially in the off-season when the temperatures are cooler and they crowds have dwindled. Keep in mind if you are coming here in the summer that Iraklion is not a quaint little island town. It is a city. With traffic and blaring horns and concrete. You may be happier staying on the beach outside of town. Or if the only reason you are staying in Iraklion is to visit Knossos, which will take you all of two hours, you may be happier staying in Chania or Rethymnon and visiting Iraklion on a day trip or on your way to or from the ferry or the airport. For those planning to combine Crete and Santorini the schedules change every year but usually the only daily connection to Santorini is from Iraklion and only in the summer.
Nikos Kazantzakis: Greece's Greatest Modern Writer
A very special place for me is the grave of the writer Nikos Kazantzakis who wrote among other things Zorba the Greek, The Last temptation of Christ, Freedom or Death, Report to Greco and the Modern Sequel to the Odyssey. He has also written numerous travel books and philosophical works. Colin Wilson wrote that if Kazantzakis were Russian he would be considered one of the world's greatest writers. Well he wrote that in the early sixties when few people knew of him and since then Kazantzakis has become one of the world's greatest writers by the millions of people who have read his books in translation. If you have not read it already, Zorba makes wonderful complimentary reading for your visit to Crete. Kazantzakis grave is on the south wall of the city.
His epitaph is "I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free"
Though a national hero, Kazantzakis was excommunicated by the Greek church which is why his grave is on the wall and not in a cemetery.
Knossos: Ancient Minoan Crete
The Palace of Knossos, discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in 1894, is a few kilometers south of Iraklion and easily accessible by bus or taxi, but should be seen as early as possible in the summer, or visited in the off-season. The ruins are extensive and fascinating and should be enjoyed at a time when you are not suffering from the heat or trampled by the crowds since it is one of the busiest sites in Greece and the single most important reason that tourists come to Iraklion, if not all of Crete. Among the ruins, beautiful frescos and giant pithoi are the remains of the world's first flush toilet. Knossos is one of the few archaeological sites that has been restored in the Art Deco and Art Nouveau style due to the restoration of the frescoes by Piet de Jong. In many guidebooks de Jong's restoration work is said to be "not without controversy" but few mention what that controversy is. The restoration of the frescoes brought to light the question of how much is a true representation of the ancient artist (sculpturer, architect etc) and how much is the imagination of the person doing the restoration and his culture and age. When ancient sites, frescoes and art that are in scattered fragments are reassembled, there is plenty of room for personal interpretation based on how much remains of the original work. Archaeology is a new and evolving science and it may take awhile before they get it totally right and people are still wrestling with this question. Regardless, Knossos is certainly worth a visit, in fact if you visit Crete without going there your friends who have gone to Crete may look at you strangely.
The Best Way to See Crete
Crete is a big island that can appeal to a variety of people in different ways. I don't discourage anyone from going there whether you are a sun-worshiping party animal or a cultural minded, eco tourist looking for the land of Zorba. But if you are the latter my advice is this: Visit Crete in the off-season if possible. Base yourself in Chania for starters and explore the interior of the island, the mountain villages and the fields and hillsides which are alive with wildflowers in the spring. You will need at least a week here, just exploring the area around Chania. If possible, book yourself or have your travel agent book you in different towns around the island. You can even base yourself in the resort areas without running with the crowds, if it is near a part of the island you want to see. There are several guidebooks for sale on the island including a guide to the Monasteries which I recommend. Take your meals at the small tavernas in villages away from the tourists and get to know the people who are Crete's finest asset. The fancy resorts are a modern phenomenon. Who knows if they are the trend or will wind up as relics like the ruins at Knossos? The point is they have been imposed upon the island by external forces who saw Crete as a paradise on earth, well worth the exploitation. I don't condemn this because the nature of tourism is commerce and who am I to judge the needs of the package tourists or the Cretan people who prosper from the flow of dollars, pounds and Deutch-marks. If sun, sea, beer and companionship is what you have come to Greece for then you will find the resorts very satisfying as some of these giant companies have created a new Greece, grafting Caribbean tourist culture with the famous Hellenic hospitality. But if you are looking for the magic head for the hills. You'll find the people where the tourists aren't. As for the beaches, the island is big and somewhere there is a secluded little cove with your name on it.
Helpful Services and Information for Crete
Crete, Greece, Greek islands Golf in Crete
Crete is home to a spectacular 18-Hole Golf course! If you have always wanted to visit Greece but your husband won't go on vacation anywhere he can't play golf then come to Crete.
See Crete Golf Club
Lefteris Nikiforakis Taxi Tours of Crete offers a one day tour and a 4 hour tour for people arriving on cruise ships who want to make the most of their time on the island. He also does custom trips and transfers to and from the port to hotels, the airport and anywhere on the island. This is a great way to see the island if you don't want to rent a car or be with a group of people. If you share the cost between 3 or 4 people it is a bargain if you compare it to the cost of a bus tour. See greecetravel.com/crete/taxitours
Dolphin Hellas Travel offers individual hotels to Crete or packages in combination with Athens or other islands. See their web-site at greecetravel.com/dolphinhellas
Fantasy Travel in Athens is an excellent agency and they have some great prices for hotels in Crete as well as itineraries that combine Crete with other islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and others. Prompt, efficient and highly recommended. See fantasytravelofgreece.com
Hotels in Crete: See the Crete Hotels section for suggested hotels and booking information
Getting to Crete: See the Flights and Ferries to Crete section