Category: Attica (page 1 of 2)

Experience Greece’s glorious off-season sights & scenery with winter walks and drives

Greece on foot walking tour photo 01

A light layer of snow on the ground didn’t deter participants in a Greece on Foot walking tour from enjoying the awe-inspiring mountain and valley scenery in the Arcadia region of the Peloponnese on January 24 …

 

Greece on foot walking tour photo 02

… nor did cold temperatures just two days later, when walkers got to trek through vibrant green olive groves like this one under brilliant sunny skies. (Photos provided courtesy of Greece on Foot tours.)

 

Winter wonders: Take a winter vacation in Greece? Sure! Why not?

The seething  crowds of summer tourists have long since disappeared, as have the scorching temperatures and the startling high prices of peak season. There’s no waiting in long queues for seats on buses or in restaurants, and no jostling with mobs of organized excursion groups or gaggles of selfie-snapping sightseers at monuments and museums. Hiking paths are almost deserted, and roads aren’t clogged with tour coaches. The magnificent historic and natural scenery remains glorious despite the drastic change in seasons, the legendary Greek hospitality continues unabated, and the food is superb as always.

Of course, winter is the wrong time to visit if your primary holiday preferences are swimming and water sports, lounging on beaches, or all-night-long dancing and carousing at bars, clubs and beaches on Mykonos, Ios or any of the other legendary Greek “party islands.” 

But you’ll still find dynamic nightlife in Athens and Thessaloniki, cities which abound in world-class dining, shopping, entertainment and cultural activities all year round. And if you’re a winter sports enthusiast, you can challenge your alpine mountaineering or snow kiting skills on Crete, or go snowboarding and downhill skiing at Kalavrita or one of several other major resorts on the Greek mainland.

Mountaineering in Crete

Two alpine mountaineers ascend the steep snow-covered peak of Mt Dikti on Crete, in this image shared on Facebook in late January by Festivalaki: Cretan festival of Arts & Culture. The organization’s Facebook post said mountaineering in Crete offers “a wonderful experience combining alpine terrain with breathless views of both the Libyan & Aegean sea.”

 

Vouliagmeni beach photo by John de Castelberg

A beach near the Vouliagmeni beach suburb of Athens is seen in this December 29 2015 photo by John de Castelberg.  Most tourists might find the sea too chilly for a winter dip, but the scenic beach- and café-lined coast of the Athenian Riviera is pleasant to visit throughout the off season.

 

 

Main tourist season is April to October

For people like me and my partner, who couldn’t bear either the blistering heat and sun or the heaving hordes of tourists in midsummer, winter could well be one of the best times to visit Greece. So why, then, have we travelled there only in spring or fall?

That’s a question we have been pondering a lot lately. We used to believe it was better to travel during the regular tourist season, which generally starts in late April and winds down by the end of October (particularly on the islands). In fact, most of our Greek holidays have been fairly early in the season, typically sometime between mid-May and early June. But we have gone twice in the autumn — we went island hopping in the Cyclades in late September 2007, and we explored Naxos and Athens during the first half of October 2013.

What we like about our spring trips in particular is the palpable local excitement and anticipation for the new travel season and approaching summer period, an atmosphere we find invigorating and refreshing after our long winter hibernation at home in Canada. Also, the weather is usually perfect for some of our favourite holiday activities — hiking and walking, and dining outdoors (especially near the sea). We weren’t keen to visit Greece during the off-season because we were worried we might not enjoy it as much with colder temperatures, inclement weather and few tourists around. 

Samos flamingo photo by Nikolaos Housas

Winter shouldn’t keep us away from Greece — it didn’t stop this pretty pink flamingo and a dozen of its feathered friends from visiting the Alyki wetland reserve on Samos island for several days at the end of January 2016.  Local photographer Nikolaos Housas captured this splendid image on January 27 and shared it on the Samos Island public group page on Facebook. 

 

Social media show the winter appeal of Greece

But recently we’ve really been warming up to the idea of a winter getaway to Greece.  What changed our minds? In two words: social media.

With their photos on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter (some of which I will share with you on page 2 of this post), friends, acquaintances and dozens of people we don’t even know have shown us that Greece can be just as delightful and charming in winter as it is during spring, summer or fall. In fact, they have demonstrated that it’s a terrific time to see the country’s wonderful sights and scenery either on foot or by driving around, and it can often even be comfortable to eat outdoors, or at least sit outside with a coffee to people watch and enjoy the scenery.  What’s more, colourful Carnival celebrations held each February and March in scores of villages and towns provide traditional festive fun and excitement we wouldn’t find in spring.

Haroula taverna at Marpissa on Paros

We thought we would miss eating outdoors if we took an off-season trip to Greece. But occasional mild weather means outdoor dining can be possible even in winter, as this photo posted by the Parosweb Facebook page attests. Taken on January 21 2016, the picture shows a table laden with delectable dishes of home-cooked Greek cuisine in the courtyard at Haroula’s Taverna in Marpissa village on Paros.

 

A place to escape our usual winter blahs

Of course there can be gloomy days with rain, cold temperatures, gale-force winds and even snowstorms, as I have reported in posts on December 31 2015, January 17 2016, and January 23 2016. But we get unpredictable and occasionally severe weather conditions at home, too. Yet we continue to drag ourselves through our  December and January doldrums, and the brutal February blahs, daydreaming about Greece and counting the days until we can go back.  Why not just battle the blahs by getting a winter fix of Greece instead?  With luck we might encounter pleasantly mild weather conditions, as you’ll see in many of the photos below. At worst, it will feel almost like winter back home — but at least we will be passing the time enjoying the off-season beauty in our favourite travel destination. We’re already looking into the possibility of doing exactly that next December or January.

Please click here or on the link below the following picture to turn to page 2 and see some of the photos that have convinced us we’re long overdue for an off-season trip to Greece. Fingers crossed that we’ll be posting our own winter pictures at this time next year. 

Athens winter night view photo by Wendy Gilops

Athens is a bustling year-round travel destination, as evidenced by the throngs of people strolling past historic monuments in the center of Athens, just below the illuminated Acropolis and Parthenon (upper right). Wendy Gilops captured this scene on December 27 2015. 

 

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Heed the siren’s call for standout seafood & Greek food at Rafina

Seirines restaurant at Rafina

Street view of Seirines (Sirens) restaurant on the harbourfront strip near the port of Rafina. (This photo, from the Seirines Facebook page, was originally posted on TripAdvisor with a 5-star rating by reviewer erythnul.)

 

Tempting tastes: If you find yourself feeling hungry while waiting for a ferry at Rafina port, or after arriving there on one, I recommend making your way directly to Seirines restaurant for a meal. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you enjoy fresh seafood.

Friends took us there for lunch last May when we had several hours to pass before catching a late afternoon ferry to Andros. They had assured us that Seirines would be a great spot to enjoy the first meal of our holiday after arriving in Greece on a long overnight flight from Canada, and they were absolutely right — it was perfect. With a harbour-view table on the taverna’s open-air terrace, and a nice variety of delicious seafood and Greek dishes, we could not have asked for a better “welcome back” to Greece.

The tremendously satisfying lunch and waterfront setting got our vacation off to a great start, and in retrospect may have been an omen of good food to follow  — over the next 16 days, we enjoyed the best dining of all our trips to Greece since 2004.

 

Our selection of dishes included feta, white fish roe dip (a richer and much less salty version of the pinkish-coloured taramasalata typically found on taverna menus), calamari, toasted bread, grilled calamari, grilled sardines, vegetable croquettes, and ouzo (for those of you who love ouzo or tsipouro, take note that Seirines is an ouzotsipouradiko, offering an extensive selection of the two spirits).

The dishes provided more than enough food for the four of us, and we barely managed to clear all the plates. Everything was good, but for me the fish roe dip and sardines were exceptional.  Although our friends picked up the tab and wouldn’t let me see the bill, they said the price for our lunch had been very reasonable. We will definitely go back to Seirines if any of our future travels take us through Rafina.

Seirines restaurant rAFINA

Seirines photo of platters with a selection of seafood and Greek food delights

 

But you don’t have to take only my word that Seirines is an ideal choice for dining near the port.  Check out the rave review that the New York City-based food blog Fritos and Foie Gras gave the restaurant in its photo-illustrated post, The Fish Lunch of My Dreams at Seirines, Rafina. (With its comments like “it’s impossible not to love this restaurant,” and “I would come back here in a heartbeat if I could,” you’ll see I have good company in highly recommending the restaurant. Be sure to click on the photos in the review to get a better look at the scrumptious dishes the writer enjoyed, including tzatziki, a country salad, a smoked and cured fish plate, and souvlaki-style shrimp.)

If you need more convincing, read the Seirines review in the article CB on the road: Eating in Rafina, which the international city dining blog Culinary Backstreets published less than two weeks before we discovered the restaurant.

You can read additional reviews on TripAdvisor, where Seirines is ranked as the #1 restaurant in Rafina.

Google Street View image of Seirines restaurant at Rafina Greece

This Google Street View image shows the close proximity of Seirines (left) to the Rafina ferry docks

The enchanting beauty of Athens

Athens is a gorgeous 5-minute promotional video produced by Visit Greece, the website of the Greek National Tourism Organisation. With its fabulous high-definition and time-lapse photography showcasing top attractions and historic monuments in Greece’s capital city and points beyond, such as spectacular Cape Sounion and beautiful beaches on the Athens Riviera, it’s one of the best Athens videos I’ve ever seen.  Click the arrow on the image above to start the film and take “an enchanting trip around the beauties of Athens.” 

 

 

Thanks for more than 3 million views of our Greece photos!

Screenshot of the mygreecetravelblog page on Flickr

This is a screenshot of the MyGreeceTravelBlog photostream on Flickr, which contains more than 23,000 of our photos of Greece

 

Thanks in large measure to readers of this blog, the MyGreeceTravelBlog photo collection on Flickr reached a major milestone this week, surpassing the 3,000,000-view mark.

I have posted 23,000 images on Flickr to date and still have at least 10,000 more pictures from Greece to upload, if I can ever find the time. (I’m certain that number will rise substantially after our next visit to Greece later this spring.)

A few surprises were in store when I checked Flickr’s viewing statistics for the photos this week.

The individual photo with the all-time most views was a picture of Agios Prokopios beach on Naxos. But I doubt it was popular because the beach is so beautiful — I suspect some nudists wading in the water were of more interest than the golden sand and turquoise water! (If you want to view the image and won’t be offended seeing several middle-aged and older tourists displaying some skin, click here.)

 

Syros photos were the most popular

I also was amazed that our set of 18 albums from last year’s trip to Syros was the most popular individual collection on our Flickr page. I had been expecting that our Mykonos collection would be the most viewed, but people seemed to prefer looking at pics of Syros. (You can access the Syros photos by clicking here.) Mykonos did claim the #2 spot, though.

So far, there are album collections for 13 islands — Amorgos, Astipalea, Crete, Folegandros, Ios, Milos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Patmos, Samos, Santorini, and Syros — plus one set with photos of many (but not all) of the hotels we have stayed at during our Greek holidays. More collections, including one for Athens, are in the works.  Click here to access the main Flickr page showing cover pages for all of the album collections.

Thanks very much for viewing the photos, and please feel free to comment on any of them at any time.

 Kini beach on Syros

Our photo sets of Syros had the most views of any collection on our Flickr page. They included shots of Kini (above), our favourite beach resort on Syros.

Our best food & drink experiences of 2013

 Greek salad and Mythos beer

A Mythos beer and Greek salad … part of our afternoon “snack” at Paradiso Taverna during one of our Naxos beach walks in October 2013

 

 

Good eats: In my recent post Our best hotel experiences of 2013, I described the various places we stayed at in Mykonos, Ios, Naxos and Glyfada during our two trips to Greece last year. Today it’s time to talk about the food we ate while we were there.

We love to eat, and one of the reasons we keep going back to Greece is that we immensely enjoy the food there, whether it’s traditional Greek cooking, salads or vegetarian fare, grilled meats or fish, seafood or international cuisine.

We eat well on our holidays, and we always come home wishing we could recreate some of the most memorable meals in our own kitchen. We try, but the recipes either never turn out right or we simply can’t replicate the wonderful tastes and flavours we enjoyed so much in Greece. And, of course, that’s largely because we can’t possibly reproduce the unique charm and character or the extraordinary locations of the places where we had dinners or drinks — or even just a cup of coffee.

Last year, we had remarkable meals or drinks at dozens of different restaurants, bars and cafés. Individual dishes at certain places were outstanding, while in other instances it was the physical premises or scenic location of a particular restaurant that gave us a dining experience we won’t soon forget.

Below are descriptions of the restaurants, bars meals and drinks that impressed us the most — our best food and drink experiences of 2013.

 

 

Best beach taverna

Nikolas Taverna on Mykonos and Paradiso Taverna on Naxos (Tie)

 

Paradiso Taverna Naxos

Paradiso Taverna has over a dozen tables grouped around a tree on Maragas beach on Naxos. This is one of the most-photographed sights on the island, and this scene has even been featured on Naxos postcards.

 

 

Nikolas Taverna Mykonos

Nikolas Taverna also has tables on the sand, in this case at little Agia Anna beach between Platis Gialos and Paraga on Mykonos. The trees shade the tables part of the day, but there are more seats on the sheltered outdoor terrace (left) for people who don’t want to sit in the sun.

 

 

One of the things we like most about Greece, and especially its islands, is the opportunity to have a “Shirley Valentine” moment — that is, enjoy a drink or meal right next to the sea, at a table either on a sandy beach or on a terrace mere inches from the water. It’s something we can never do at home, where strict government liquor laws and rigid municipal licensing regulations require restaurants serving alcohol to keep their dining areas enclosed by fences or waist-high barriers — and well away from the water’s edge.

So we’re thrilled when we find tavernas that have open seating close to the water — especially if those tables offer views of marvellous scenery or striking sunsets. And if the restaurant kitchens happen to serve delicious food, too, we will feel like we’re in paradise.

 

Superb food and good service

Two remarkable places that we have particularly enjoyed on past vacations are Nikolas Taverna at Agia Anna/Paraga on Mykonos, and Paradiso Taverna at Maragas beach on Naxos. Both have provided consistently good service and superb food, as well as exquisite settings, and both lived up to our high expectations for more of the same when we paid them repeat visits during our holidays in 2013.

The family-run Nikolas Taverna is situated on a small, quiet strand between Platis Gialos and Paraga, two of the most popular beaches on Mykonos. Our favourite place to sit is at one of the tables on the sand, under the row of trees in front of the restaurant. There are nice views toward Platis Gialos, and the setting is profoundly serene and relaxed … it’s a pleasant spot to mellow out while enjoying the fabulous home-cooked Greek cuisine or fresh seafood.

Paradiso Taverna is situated at Maragas, in between two of the most popular beaches on Naxos — Plaka and Agia Anna. Paradiso has a large, tree-sheltered dining terrace in front of the restaurant building, and more tables directly across the road, under a distinctive, eye-catching tree right on the beach. Both spots offer excellent views of the beach, sea and nearby Paros island, and both are good places to watch a sunset, too. The food is as delicious as the scenery.

If you get the chance to visit either Nikolas or Paradiso for a meal, don’t just order off the printed menu — take a few minutes to go inside the kitchen to see the various vegetable, meat and seafood dishes that have been specially prepared for that day. Everything will look appealing, so don’t be surprised if you have trouble deciding what to order!

 

 

Two new beach tavernas we discovered

 

Mikri Vigla Taverna

 Mikri Vigla Taverna at Parthenos beach on Naxos

 

 

Honourable mention goes to two beach tavernas we discovered for the first time in 2013 and hope to revisit in the near future.

We stopped into Mikri Vigla Taverna just for a cold drink and a snack while mountain biking down the southwest coast of Naxos on October 6. We ordered only a Greek salad since we weren’t very hungry, but when we saw the food in the kitchen — as well as what people at the tables next to ours were being served — we regretted that we didn’t have bigger appetites. Everything looked tasty, portions appeared to be quite generous, and all the customers kept commenting on how good their meals were. It was the last day the taverna was open for the season, and the staff kept apologizing for having only a “small” selection of items to choose from. However, we were impressed with the large number of dishes that actually were available — we would have been spoiled for choice had we wanted a more substantial meal.

On October 14, we went to Aperanto Galazio with two friends from the Athens area. The restaurant is located on the beach at Varkiza, a town on the Athens Riviera. We sat on the shaded outdoor dining terrace just steps from the sand, enjoying the beach and sea views while we dined on eight delicious items, including taramosalata (a fish roe dip), Greek salad, stuffed tomatoes, zucchini fritters, calamari, fried potatoes and red and white wine. The food was excellent, the service was great, and the total price was a very pleasant surprise: just €35. We had been expecting the lunch to cost considerably more given the substantial amount of food we had ordered.

 

Aperanto Galazio taverna Varkiza

Aperanto Galazio restaurant at Varkiza beach on the Athens Riviera

 

Please click on the link below to see dozens more photos and restaurant reviews on page 2 of this post.

 

 

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Athens Riviera coves offer secluded spots to swim, sunbathe & savor the Saronic Gulf scenery

A quiet cove on the Apollo coast of Greece, southeast of Athens

One of many coves along the scenic Apollo coast, southeast of Athens, where locals and visitors can enjoy sun, sea and serenity

 

 

Beach alternatives: You don’t have to travel to an island to enjoy beautiful beaches and coastal swimming spots in Greece — you can find them in spades on the mainland, including the scenic Saronic Gulf coast a short drive from Athens.

Popularly known as the Apollo Coast and the Athens Riviera, the more than 70-kilometer-long stretch of seafront between Piraeus and Cape Sounion boasts scores of beaches and swimming spots, with an extensive variety of public and private beach facilities catering to all tastes, budgets and lifestyles.  Many are easy to reach from Athens either by car, by the city’s tram system, or by public bus.

And for those who prefer to avoid busy organized beaches, there are plenty of secluded coves and inlets offering places to swim or suntan in peace and quiet — or even in nothing at all.

When we visited Athens last year, we noticed that many beach clubs and public strands along the Apollo Coast were packed with people. We could only imagine how crowded they must get during the summer when practically everyone in the city would head to the seaside to beat the heat.

Both in May and again during our return trip to Greece in October, friends who live in Athens took us for drives along the Apollo Coast, stopping to show us some of the popular beach areas including public strands to which admission was free, as well as several private clubs that charge entry fees of around 5 or 7 Euros and up per person.

 

Apollo Coast  of Greece

A peninsula on the Apollo Coast just a short drive south of Vouliagmeni. The rocky shoreline is popular with sunbathers and swimmers — especially nudists — who want to avoid the crowded public and private beaches along the Athens Riviera.

 

 

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Pics of the day: The Poseidon temple at Sounion

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion Greece

Two of the 15 columns that remain at the Temple of Poseidon monument (below) at Cape Sounion, a peninsula 70 kilometers southeast of Athens. There originally were 42 columns in the temple, which was built around 440 B.C.

 

 

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion Greece

 

 

All eyes on tonight’s ‘super moon’ above Greece

Anthony Ayiomamitis full moon photograph

Anthony Ayiomamitis captured this gorgeous photo of a golden full moon rising above the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Greece on May 5 2012. It’s the featured photo on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website.

 

Moon event: You can be sure that a lot of people in Greece will keep looking skyward tonight as the biggest full moon of 2013 rises on its dramatic pass across the sky.

According to the Astronomy Picture of the Day website, the exact full phase of the moon will occur at 11:32 UT, shortly before the moon reaches perigee — the closest point to Earth in the lunar orbit.

Since this Full Perigee Moon will be the biggest and closest full moon of the year, restaurants, bars and clubs across Greece will be celebrating the big occasion with a variety of events, from quiet viewings over cocktails to special dinner menus and even some all-night-long dance parties with world-renowned DJs entertaining.

 

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Pic of the day: Sunset frappes in Kavouri

Lasithi Cafe on the seaside in Kavouri southeast of Athens

Customers enjoy ice cold frappes at the seaside Café Lasithi in Kavouri as the setting sun casts a golden glow on the scenic Apollo Coast in East Attica, south of Athens. Kavouri is the area immediately north of Vouliagmeni.

 

Lasithi Cafe in Kavouri

Greece celebrating European Music Day on Friday with free concerts at 28 city & island locations

Paros Park Poster

A European Music Day promotional poster for evening events taking place June 21 at the Paros Park near Naoussa on Paros island. Paros is one of 28 Greek cities and islands hosting concerts and activities for the annual event.

 

 

Solstice songfest: Greece will face the music Friday as more than 28 different city and island locations across the country celebrate European Music Day with over 200 free music events and performances in public venues.

More than 2,000 professional and amateur musicians will take to the stage in streets, squares, parks theaters and transportation stations throughout the country to perform a wide variety of music genres, including classical, folk, jazz, rock and hip hop.

Participating locations include Agios Dimitrios (Attica), Agrinio, Athina, Amaliada, Filipiada, Didimoticho, Edessa, Domokos, Drama, Iraklio (Crete), Thessaloniki, Kavala, Kallithea (Attica), Komotini, Kithira, Kos, Moschato-Tavros (Attica), Larisa, Livadia, Naxos, Xanthi, Paros, Preveza, Salamina, Santorini, Serres, Veria and Volos.

 

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Greece holiday pic of the day

ancient amphitheatre at Thorikos

The oval-shaped amphitheatre at Thorikos, northeast of Lavrio on the Attica peninsula, dates to the 6th Century B.C. It’s the oldest theatre in Greece.

 

 

Shopping for the freshest fish in Attica? Visit the Varkiza fishing port, and follow the seagulls!

fishing boat near Varkiza

Seagulls swarm above and around the fishing boat “Poyla” as it makes its way back to harbour in the bay near Varkiza on the Athens-Sounion highway

 

Bay watch: If you happen to get hungry while sightseeing on the Attica peninsula southeast of Athens, here’s a tip for finding the freshest seafood on the Saronic coast: drive to the port at Varkiza and watch for the seagulls. I can guarantee they will guide you to the best catch of the day — before it’s even off the boat!

Last month, I was among a group of travellers that took a road trip down the peninsula to visit Cape Sounion and other scenic and historic points of interest. While driving back to Athens in late afternoon, we stopped  for coffee at a seaside café next to the fishing harbour and marina at Varkiza (just off Leoforos Poseidonos, the Athens-Sounion Route 91 highway). An eagle-eyed member of our group suddenly pointed out to sea and shouted: “Look at all the seagulls!” I had to use the telephoto zoom on my camera to see what she was referring to — a flock of dozens of seagulls flying above and around a fishing boat in the bay. (The boat was aptly named “Poyla,” which is Greek for “bird.”) I’ve seen seagulls follow fishing boats before, but I’ve never seen so many birds doing it at one time.

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