You can find just about every experience for every traveller in Greece. Ancient history seeps out of every pore while rugged landscapes, beautiful olive groves, grand monuments, sacred islands, lively towns and crystal waters are all bathed in a light that makes even hardened photographers swoon.
As with most of the Mediterranean region, spring and autumn are the best times to visit Greece; specifically May, June, September and October. The islands tourist infrastructure including ferry services slow down dramatically over the winter with some of the smaller islands closing completely! The summer can get exceedingly hot with temperatures soaring above 40oC.
The underground in Athens is very efficient but I didn’t have much time this last visit so I decide on a cab. Costas, my driver, speaks great English and has been driving in Athens for 20 years. He whisks me right up to the entrance of the Acropolis so I don’t have to walk from the coach park, arranges a time to meet again and I start the climb up to the Parthenon. My attempts to take photos without people in them are only partially successful and after an hour or so I need to go in search of something cool to drink. Costas finds me and we whizz down some very narrow little streets sending people scrambling for the curb, depositing me right in the middle of the Plaka followed a little later on by the changing of the guard. It is so archaic and full of pomp and ceremony that I can’t help myself – I just love it! I am then whistled past the Presidential Palace, the Olympic stadium for the first modern Olympics and back to Piraeus with time to spare. Costas is a genius. Perched at the top of a steep cliff, Santorini is picture perfect. Arriving by sea you can clamber aboard a cable car or a donkey for the trek to the top. The cable car is very steep and waggles about a bit but safely transports me to the top and I disembark right in the town with narrow little walking alleys bursting with shops selling jewellery, t-shirts, bags, ornaments and donkeys…lots of donkeys. Eventually I decide to walk back down the donkey path. It’s extremely hot, the steps are wide and uneven and the pungent aroma of donkey poo surrounds every step. In Mykonos I walk leisurely and blissfully around the bay and meander through little white alleys with cafes shaded by huge purple bougainvillea. I find a cafe on the waterfront as the sun sets, eat grilled haloumi, tomato and squid and feel completely at peace with the world. Kate
Language Greek but English is spoken in most tourist areas.
Why we love it The Greek Islands speak for themselves with dramatic landscapes, glorious history and a vibrant local life surrounded by the glistening Mediterranean Sea. Athens has its own chaotic charm with the Acropolis lording it over the city, the bright jumble of the Plaka and the archaic changing of the guard combining to make any visit to the city an unforgettable one.
Weather Famous for its hot summer weather, the best time to visit Greece is May – September although it can get very hot indeed during Jul – Aug, the height of summer. Remember many of the hotels and restaurants on the islands close over the winter making travel away from the mainland a little more problematical.
Social customs & quirks The family is the basis for the social structure in Greece and as a general rule Greeks are warm and hospitable. Meeting someone for the first time requires a firm handshake, direct eye contact and a smile. If you are invited to a local home, arriving half an hour late is considered punctual! Do compliment the house and bring a small gift for the hostess. If you offer to help prepare the meal or tidy up afterwards, you may be refused but the gesture is always welcome.
Festivals & events The Greeks are the absolute masters of festivals and events with a myriad of possibilities all through the year. Wine, horse racing, ancient dance, water festivals and brass bands through to classical music, rock and blues can be enjoyed across the country. Apokrias or Carnival Season lasts for two weeks in February and religious festivals including Christmas, Lent and Easter are all widely observed.
I am pleased to say that we have been extremely happy with every aspect of the experience. The agents and hotel staff could not have looked after us any better. Every aspect of our travel was organised and it all flowed so effortlessly.
The tour of Athens totally exceeded our expectations. The tour consisted of our personal guide, Katherine and a driver. Katherine was extremely capable in her role and had a wonderful personality that made the morning so interesting and informative on Greek history and the current economic crisis.
We couldn't be more pleased with the experiences we have enjoyed.