Category: Winter sports

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

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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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Snow bus offers day trips from Athens to Kalavrita ski center

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Kalavrita Ski Center

Skiers, snowboarders and other snow sports enthusiasts can reach Kalavitra Ski Center (seen here in a photo from the resort’s Facebook page) …

 

Amphitrion Holidays snow bus service

… on day trips offered from Athens several times a week on the “Snow Bus,” seen here in a screenshot from the website for the special transport service operated by Amphitrion Holidays.

 

City to mountain service: Want to enjoy some snow sports activities in the great Greek outdoors during your trip to Athens this winter?  Consider spending a day on the slopes at Kalavrita Ski Center, which you can reach four days a week on a dedicated bus that leaves Athens early in the morning and returns to the city after the lifts close.

Operated by Amphitrion Holidays, the Snow Bus provides return service on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from more than a dozen passenger pick-up points in the northern and southern suburbs of Athens. Departures begin as early as 4:40 a.m., with the bus reaching Kalavrita Ski Center by 8:30 a.m. The Snow Bus leaves the resort around 4:30 in the afternoon (after the ski lifts have closed) to make the return trip to Athens.

Round-trip bus fares from Athens cost only €15.  A loyalty card is available for people planning multiple visits to the resort, and it provides discounts up to 20% on transport, ski lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons. Special prices for children and groups are available. See the Snow Bus website for full pricing information plus departure times and locations and an online booking form. (Note:  the website’s text content is in Greek, but you can  read it by using Google Translate or other programs.)

Please click here, or on the link below the photo and video that follow, to continue reading and see more pictures of Kalavrita Ski Center on page 2 of this post.

Kalavrita Ski Center

Many people picture golden sand beaches and turquoise seas when they think of Greece, but in winter the country’s snow-capped mountains are equally breathtaking. This image from the Kalavrita Ski Center Facebook page shows some of the beautiful alpine scenery at Mount Helmos. 

 

This video, published just this month by click photography video greece, shows impressive aerial views of the Kalavrita Ski Center

 

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Wild winter weather wallops Greece

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Skopelos Greece after snowfall

Photographer Costas Andreou captured this photo of Skopelos after a winter storm left the island covered in a blanket of white. On December 30, snow fell on Skopelos and the neighbouring islands of Skiathos and Alonissos.

 

Winter wonderlands: I was envious when a friend in Athens told me it was sunny and 17 degrees Celsius there on Christmas Day. But I didn’t feel jealous just a few days later when I logged into Facebook to find my news feed filled with reports and photos of wild winter at places all over Greece — including several islands.

Beginning this past Monday (December 29),  storm systems blasted many parts of Greece with a wide mix of severe weather conditions that included icy cold temperatures, gale-force winds, rain, sleet, and snow.

On Tuesday (December 30), friends in Athens posted pictures of snow-dusted mountains near the city, while numerous individuals and Facebook groups like Amazing Greece/Incroyable Grèce posted links to websites and Instagram pages featuring photos of snowy scenes on the islands of Skopelos and Crete, and such mainland locations as Attiki, Kastoria, Meteora, Florina, Tripoli and Arachova.

Online videos showed gale-force winds pummelling island coastlines and harbours with relentless tall waves, while photos showed pretty Christmas card scenes of snow-covered mountain villages in Crete.

 Tripoli Greece

This photo shows the city of Tripoli (in the Arcadia region of the Peloponnese) following a snowfall on December 28. It was posted on the Amazing Greece/Incroyable Grèce Facebook page.

 

 Ancient Theater of Epidaurus

This pic of snow at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus was circulated on numerous Facebook profiles and pages, including Amazing Greece/Incroyable Grèce 

 

A January 1 report on the Newsbomb website said fierce winds caused power outages at such diverse locations as the cities of Chania on Crete, Mytilini on the Northeast Aegean island of Lesvos, and Ioannina on the western Greece mainland. Heavy snow caused power failures and road closures at numerous spots on the mainland and in northern Greece, where temperatures plummeted to -10 Celsius and colder. A January 1 report on Protothema News also described how the New Year got off to a frigid and snowy start in many parts of Greece.

Some of the most-shared items on social media were reports and photos of snow and brutal winds at Skopelos, Skiathos and Alonissos in the Sporades island group. Many people seemed surprised that it snowed on Skopelos and Skiathos, which they’re familiar with from the hit movie Mamma Mia!, where many scenes were filmed.

 

Achliades beach on Skiatho

A dog plays on snow-dusted Achliades beach on Skiathos in a photo posted on the theseus.aegean Instagram feed.

 

Alonissos island

Another widely shared image was this shot of snow-covered fishing boats in a harbour at Alonissos island

 

 However, it’s not unusual for snow to fall in the Sporades, or for the mercury to plummet to bone-chilling temperatures on other Greek islands, too. This fact often comes as news to many people, like someone in the United States whose December 30 post on the TripAdvisor Santorini forum asked why the Bahamas are more popular in winter months than Greek Islands like Mykonos and Santorini. After several people explained that Greece doesn’t have a tropical climate, the poster replied: “I guess I got the wrong feeling from looking at the postcards and watching the History Channel as I had the impression that the “eternal summer” is the norm in the islands!!”

They aren’t alone in thinking that way — as I noted in my December 15 2013 post, Greece gets winter, too!, many friends and acquaintances of mine in North America think Greece is a balmy beach destination all year round, too.

Although winter is off-season for travel to many parts of Greece, especially smaller islands, the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki are year-round tourist destinations, as are many locations on the Greece mainland. And as a December 29 2014 CNN Travel article pointed out, winter is an excellent time to visit Greece for “romantic escapes,” “city breaks,” “dramatic scenery” and more.  “Falling temperatures sprinkle new magic on stone-built villages lost in deep forests and medieval castles built into that beautiful Greek coastline,” the CNN feature story says.

 

Ippokrateios Politeia in Attiki

The Amazing Greece Facebook page posted this photo showing a dog in the snow at Ippokrateios Politeia in Attiki on December 31 2014

 

sheep in snow on Crete

Michael Kokkinos posted this Facebook image of a long line of sheep trudging through deep snow near Psiloriti on Crete

 

 Should you be interested in taking an off-season holiday to Greece, be sure to read the article Top 5 winter destinations on VisitGreece, the official website of the Greek National Tourism Organisation. It provides information about visiting Mount Pelion, the Zagorochoria villages, Arcadia, Arachova and Karpenissi.

For information about skiing and snowboarding, the Discover Greece website offers advice on where to enjoy mountain ski holidays.

If you’d rather just view winter scenes in Greece, you can see more photos of snow on Skopelos on the Potami House photo blog and on the Skopelosnews blog, as well as on the Facebook page for photographer Costas Andreou. On Instagram, check out the theseus.aegean page to see several pictures of snow falling on Achladies beach on Skiathos. There’s a few photos and a couple of video clips of storm scenes elsewhere in Greece in a December 31 post on the Protothema News website, too. And for those of you who use Facebook, don’t miss the excellent photos in the album White…snowy vineyards all over Greece!, posted by New Wines of Greece.

Below is a Winter in Greece videoclip from VisitGreece.

Keep warm and enjoy!

 

 

Greece gets winter, too!

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Mykonos after a snowfall

Even the Greek Islands experience snowfalls on occasion, as this 2004 photo of Mykonos confirms. It’s one of several stunning Mykonos winter scenes that M. Koubaros has posted on the Panoramio.com photo sharing website.

 

 

Winter wonderland: “I’ll bet you wish you were in Greece right now!”

Actually, I wish I had collected $1 each time someone told me that this week — I’d have enough money to treat myself to a hearty meal of pastitsio or moussaka at one of my favourite restaurants in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood tonight.

Like many places in North America, we suffered through five days of miserably cold temperatures this past week, followed by a severe winter storm that dumped more than seven inches of snow on our downtown neighbourhood yesterday. Whenever friends and acquaintances saw me bundled up and shivering in the wintry weather, they inevitably asked if I’d rather be relaxing on a Greek Island beach instead.

But all were surprised to hear me say that Greece doesn’t bask in scorching hot temperatures and clear sunny skies every day — and especially not during December.

 

Greek Islands get cold weather in winter

They, like many people, have a misconception that Greece is a semi-tropical destination that draws sun- and sand-seeking vacationers to its magnificent beaches all 12 months of the year. But Greece is not like Hawaii. Most people are surprised when I tell them the travel season for most Greek Islands extends only from late April until early October, and they’re stunned when I say that Greece gets winter, too. Few of them  realize that islands like Mykonos and Santorini can experience bone-chilling cold temperatures or light snowfalls, and none knew that there are more than a dozen ski areas in the mountains of mainland Greece (of which Parnassos Ski Resort is the largest, boasting 23 trails and 13 lifts).

On December 11, for instance, the Mykonos Winter Facebook page reported that it was only 9 degrees on Mykonos — with gale-force winds reaching a brutal Force 9 on the Beaufort scale. Not a pleasant day to spend outside, by any means!

However, even though Greece does get cold weather during the winter, my friends are absolutely right — I would much rather be there. As I write this post, it’s overcast and 11 degrees below zero here in Toronto, compared to 12 degrees above zero under partly cloudy skies in Athens. And though a dinner of moussaka or pastitsio would certainly be a great way to warm up here tonight, a meal at an authentic Greek taverna in Greece would be so much better.

To give you an idea of what winter can be like in Greece, below are photos of snow scenes from Mykonos, Paros and Santorini plus one of the Parnassos Ski Resort, along with a brief videoclip entitled “Winter’s Beauty in Greece,” posted online by YouTube member TheAmazing Greece. You can view more winter scenes from Greece on the Amazing Greece Facebook page.

 

Snow on Paros

This view of snow on Agios Pantes on Paros was posted on the ΠΑΡΟΣ like Facebook page. Neither the date nor the photographer are identified, but a tiny watermark on the picture appears to read “Christos Skandalis Photography.”

 

 

Mykonos windmills

The famous Mykonos windmills are seen following a storm in 2004. This photo was posted on the Facebook page for Andriani’s Guest House.

 

 

This YouTube upload by Dimitris Koutsoukos displays a variety of photos that various Mykonos residents and others have captured over the years following snowfalls on the island.

 

 

Winter snow on Santorini island Greece

This photo shows a light dusting of snow around the town of Fira on Santorini island. It and three more winter scenes from Santorini were published in a post on the cassettes blog on February 22 2008.

 

 

Parnassos Ski Resort Greece

Snowboarding and skiing enthusiasts can enjoy winter at more than a dozen mountain resorts on mainland Greece. This photo of the Parnassos Ski Resort is from the Parnassos Ski & Snowboard group page on Facebook.

 

 

 This videoclip of winter scenes in Greece was posted online by YouTube member TheAmazing Greece