Mindblowing monasteries in Meteora
Situated between Thessaloniki in the north and Athens in the south, the UNESCO Heritage Site of Meteora is a truly unique place to visit. Monolithic cliffs rise sharply above the villages below and on the apex of these plinths centuries-old monasteries sit majestically. At the height of its history there were 24 monasteries scattered across the valley, with all of them being inaccessible to outsiders. Today however, six remain – four for monks and two for nuns, and steps have been carved into the rock, making it possible for visitors to explore these beautiful old buildings and their devotion to the Orthodox Greek Church. If one of the monasteries seem familiar, it’s because the Monastery of the Holy Trinity was featured in the James Bond classic For Your Eyes Only with Roger Moore. Seeing the area on film and seeing the spectacular cliffs and monasteries rising over the green valley below for yourself are two vastly different experiences, and if you’re holidaying on the Greek mainland, this is really a must-visit destination.
A spot of history in Delphi
In Ancient Greece kings and emperors used to travel to the mythical place of Delphi to consult the Oracle on important decisions as well as to hear prophecies about their own fate and future. Legend has it that Zeus wanted to find the centre of the world and therefor sent two eagles from the most western and eastern parts of the world, and as their paths crossed over Delphi, it was thus determined that this was the navel of the known world.
The Oracle flourished during antiquity, but as the Greek and Roman empires declined, so did its cultural centres and in the first century BC, it was looted by warring tribes and destroyed by an earthquake. The ruins that are perched on the mountainside however survive to this day and a visit to this UNESCO Heritage Site can easily be made from wherever you’re staying on the southern mainland.
A different pace of life in Hydra
Although the island is just a few hours journey by sea from Athens, it feels like centuries away from the bustling metropolis. Motorised traffic is forbidden on the island, which means that the only ways to get around are either by donkey or sea taxi. The eponymous capital however is easily traversed on foot and from the harbour-front you’ll be able to navigate around the sights of the town. Visit the Hydra Museum and the city’s cathedral for an insight into the culture and history of the island, and then lounge on one of the sun-warmed rocks by the sea. Visiting Hydra is very much about experiencing a slower pace of life and throughout the island you will find quaint tavernas, from where you can enjoy the scenery and local charm, while sampling the local food and wine.
Island-hopping across the Aegean and Ionian Sea
Regardless of where you’re holidaying in Greece, you’ll always be near water, and as such one of the numerous islands that profuse the Ionian and Aegean Sea. Escaping the main islands or the resorts on the mainland for a day trip to one of the lesser-known islands will open up a whole other side of Greece to you. Most islands offer ferry-services to smaller places nearby that can be reached within a few hours, and once you’ve found your own Mediterranean gem, you’ll never want to leave again. We’ve already mentioned Hydra as a great escape from Athens, but if you’re holidaying further afield, here are some other suggestions for you. From Kos and Rhodes you can head to the romantic island of Symi or visit the butterfly-shaped Astypalea with its traditional sugary-white houses. See the spectacular white monasteries that have been built on the cliff-side on the island of Amorgos, which is reachable from Kos and Santorini, and if you find yourself in need of a tranquil escape while holidaying in the Ionian Sea, then visit the traditional villages on Lefkada which is located near more popular islands such as Zante and Kefalonia. The Greek islands are seemingly infinite in numbers and you can easily find your own escape by seeing where the local ferries go to. So start hopping!
A place for local holidaymakers in Nafplio
A coastal town that has been coveted by numerous different empires for centuries, Nafplio is today a charming place that seems to be frequented mainly by Greeks wanting to escape the busy life of the larger nearby cities such as Corinth and Athens. One a cliff above the quaint houses and narrow streets the magnificent Palamidi Castle sits. Built by the Venetians, finished by the Turks and then captured by the Greeks, today it offers amazing views over the city and the bay below. 999 Steps lead up to the fortification, but don’t worry, there is also a road and a parking lot next to the castle. After admiring the views from the walls and ramparts, you can return to the city for a light lunch or a great dinner. Along the harbour-front lots of cafés and restaurants light up the plazas and streets, and as you tuck into one of the sumptuous local dishes, you can gaze across the glistening sea and see the lit-up Bourtzi Fort in the middle of the bay. After dinner, stroll along the promenade and don’t forget to sample some of the Italian gelato which is a delicious remnant of the city’s Venetian past. Nafplio offers a perfect getaway from some of the more well-known destinations and will pleasantly surprise anyone holidaying in Greece.