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Our Covid-19 quarantine travel reads: Feature profiles of Athens, Thessaloniki, the Peloponnese & mainland Greece

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Kastoria city and lake photo from Issue 6 of Sky Express airlines Fly magazine

Kokkoras Bridge in Epirus Greece photo from Sky Express airlines Fly magazine Issue 6

These striking photos of the city of Kastoria in northern Greece and the historic Kokkoros Bridge in Epirus are from The White Issue of Fly, the magazine of Sky Express airline. The  picture-packed issue spotlights visit-worthy mainland Greece destinations that aren’t on typical tourist itineraries.

 

Armchair travels: Since we can’t take our scheduled spring trip to Greece because of Covid-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, we have been travelling there vicariously — by reading magazine and newspaper articles about destinations, hotels, attractions and a wide variety of aspects of Greek life and tourism. Armchair travel lacks the thrill and pleasure of actually going to Greece, of course, but it’s a heck of a lot better than brooding about the cancellation of our 2020 holiday plans while we’re cooped up in home quarantine.

On the positive side, our time catching up on articles published over the past six months has been well spent, introducing us to incredible places in Greece we weren’t too familiar with, and giving us ideas and inspiration for trips we hope to take once the pandemic has passed and Greece re-opens its borders to international visitors.

Since the articles and photo profiles could be interesting and helpful to readers dreaming about their own future trips to Greece, we will be sharing our “quarantine travel reads” in a series of  blog posts, beginning with this one.

Destinations and topics profiled in this instalment include:

♦ Thessaloniki and the Halkidiki peninsula;

♦ Athens

♦ the southern Peloponnese, including Costa Navarino, the Mani and Monemvasia; and

♦ Impressive towns, villages and scenic areas in mainland Greece

 

 

Upcoming blog posts will spotlight:

♦ stylish luxury hotels and hot dining spots in Athens, Crete, Mykonos, Paros, and Santorini;

♦ travel writer accounts of trips to Athens and various Greek Islands, including Evia, Milos, Paros and Symi;

♦ Cretan food and the Mediterranean diet;

♦ mini guides to Greek islands, and more.

 

Athens and the southern Peloponnese

 

Bloomberg News article on Greece travel destinations

Dimitsana, a mountain village in Arcadia, is among the places writer Nikos Chrysoloras recommends visiting in the southern Peloponnese

 

“…there will be so much Greek paradise for you when this viral outbreak is behind us” says Nikos Chrysoloras, whose article The Greece I long to visit isn’t on your average travel brochure was published by Bloomberg News on April 24.

Greece does indeed abound with places people would consider paradise, but Chrysoloras devotes his article to describing a travel itinerary that will let visitors experience the true essence of Greece first in Athens and its surrounding area, and secondly during a scenic road trip through the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

A must-see in the historical center of Athens, he says, is Monastiraki Square, which “epitomizes my country perhaps more than any island or beach.” He recommends two rooftop bars overlooking the square, from which visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the Parthenon and other historic monuments. “It’s the weight of millennia packed in the space of a single block,” Chrysoloras notes. He also recommends a day trip along the Athens Riviera and a visit to the clifftop Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, famous for its sensational sunset view, which he describes as “Greece, Profound.” He also suggests specific places to drink and dine, so visitors planning to spend time in the city would be wise to bookmark the article for easy reference once in Athens.

 

 

For the Peloponnese portion of his suggested roadtrip, Chrysoloras recommends starting off in the area around the Costa Navarino resort and the incredible Voidokilia beach (which I wrote about in my blog post A bucket list visit to Voidokilia), and then exploring the rugged Mani region. “It’s a mountainous terrain with stone-built villages and very narrow roads leading to pebbled beaches. This area is the land of the ancient Spartans, people as defiant as history suggests.” Again, Chrysoloras recommends places to stay, dine, hike, swim and enjoy a drink with a fabulous sunset view.

From Mani, the drive continues to the castle town of Monemvasia, whose “medieval alleys are full of mystery and wonder, like a set that Game of Thrones producers ought to have used.” On the way back to Athens from there, Chrysoloras urges a detour to Dimitsana — his mother’s home town — “one of the most characteristic specimens of the mountainous side of Greece. Surrounded by conifer trees, you can enjoy unspoiled traditional stone architecture and hike in the area’s beautiful forests and nearby villages.” Although worth a look nearby is Panagia, a now-deserted village where Chrysoloras recommends a taverna that serves outstanding traditional dishes. 

 

Please click on the link below to continue reading on page 2, where we discuss excellent magazine articles about Thessaloniki, noteworthy destinations in mainland Greece, and fascinating places to explore in Athens.

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Island and mainland marvels: Video views of 38 spellbinding sights and places in Greece

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In Greece Places, filmmaker Pawel Worsztynowicz captures splendid sights and scenery from 38 marvellous spots around the country 

 

Stunning sequel: He’s done it again! Last year, filmmaker Pawel Worsztynowicz created an impressive video showing more than two dozen amazing places in Greece he had visited during nearly a year of travels throughout the country.

We included that film — Greece story — The best places in Greece? — in a blog post spotlighting our favourite videos of Greece from 2019. Running just over 2 minutes, Greece Story wowed us with spectacular views of some glorious Greek sights and scenes we recognized from our own travels, along with other beautiful places we haven’t yet had the chance to see for ourselves.

Pawel told us he had shot more video and thousands of photos during his time in Greece, so we kept hoping he would produce another short film sometime soon. We didn’t have to wait long — he let us know in mid-April that he had just published a new video called Greece Places, which we were thrilled to watch  and share here.

Locations shown in the film include:

♦ the Parthenon and the Old Temple of Athens in Athens;

♦ sites in Attica region, the Peloponnese and Halidiki;

♦ Evia island;

♦ Crete;

♦ Skiathos and Skopelos in the Sporades chain of islands;

♦ Corfu and Zakynthos in the Ionian islands;

♦ Ios, Santorini and Thirasia in the Cyclades; and

♦ Kos, Rhodes and Symi in the Dodecanese islands

You can see more of Pawel’s wonderful photography on his social media pages — @behind_the_seas on Instagram, and Behind the Seas on Facebook.

 

The awe-striking autumn and winter scenery at Kastoria in Northern Greece

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Τα Χρώματα Του Φθινοπώρου Kastoria (The Autumn Colours of Kastoria) is a beautiful 4-minute film by Kastoria-based Studio Trasias

 

“Let me guess — I bet you are thinking you would rather be in Greece right now.”

That’s what a friend remarked when he saw me gazing wistfully out the windows at our gym as snow fell over downtown Toronto today — our second major winter storm in less than a week.  At daybreak, the neighbourhood had looked lovely under a blanket of wet snow, but morning rush hour traffic had turned the streets and sidewalks below us into a sloppy mess of puddles and dirty slush. Meanwhile, the snow on rooftops, trees and gardens had already lost its crisp white brilliance as a grimy film of brownish-grey dust from traffic, construction and air pollution started to settle on its surface.  My friend was right: I wasn’t looking forward to the wet slog home after my workout.

“Yes, I really do wish that I could be in Greece right now instead of here,” I replied. “I would much rather be in Kastoria when it’s snowy.”

Although my friend  has travelled to a few island and mainland destinations in Greece, he didn’t recognize Kastoria by name and wanted me to tell him more about it — as well as why I would be happy to travel there in off season.

 

I explained that Kastoria is a small city situated in northern Greece, nearly 600 kilometers northwest of Athens. Internationally famous for its centuries-old fur garment industry, the city is built on hillsides overlooking Lake Orestiada. One of the city’s top attractions is a pedestrian promenade that extends along the lake shore, offering panoramic views of the nearby Grammos and Vitsi mountains. I haven’t been to Kastoria myself yet (it’s on my bucket list), but I have seen plenty of photos and videos, and know I would enjoy strolling the lakeside path to see the beautiful fall colours or admire the snowy winter vistas.

“It would be so much prettier than here,” I said. “Kastoria looks like something you would see on a Christmas greeting card.”

“You must show me pictures of it sometime,” my friend said. I knew I had bookmarked several Kastoria videos I had watched on YouTube, so I promised that I would share my favourites here on the blog so that he — and any of my readers who also aren’t familiar with the city — could see how beautiful it is, and why it fascinates me so much.

On this page, you can watch two beautiful short films by Studios Trasias of Kastoria; one showing the city with fabulous fall foliage, and the other capturing Kastoria’s wonderful winter scenery. You can see several more short videos on page 2.

 

There’s nearly 4 minutes of beautiful winter scenery in ΚΑΣΤΟΡΙΑ ΜΑΓΙΚΗ ΟΜΟΡΦΙΑ (The Magic Beauty of Kastoria), another film by Studio Trasias 

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Crete clinches 4th place ranking on TripAdvisor list of the world’s top destinations for 2019

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Greece, Greek islands, Crete,Crete island, Crete Greece, Chania, Chania Crete, harbour, port,, Chania harbour,

Greece, Greek islands, Crete,Crete island, Crete Greece, Chania, Chania Crete, harbour, port, lighthouse, Chania lighthouse,

Views of the historic Venetian harbourfront and the iconic lighthouse at Chania, a perenially popular travel destination in northwestern Crete

 

Crete shines: Millions of travellers around the world have spoken, and their positive reviews, ratings and comments have landed Crete island in 4th place on the prestigious TripAdvisor listing of the Top 25 destinations in the world this year.

The 2019 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice awards were announced this week (on March 26), lauding London as the #1 destination in the world, followed by Paris, Rome, Crete, and Bali in Indonesia. Last year Crete placed fifth, behind Bali. 

TripAdvisor is the globe’s largest travel website, containing listings for more than 156,000 destinations. Each year it presents its Travelers’ Choice awards to top international destinations, honouring the places that are most popular with people who post reviews on the website.

A press release announcing this year’s winners quoted TripAdvisor’s VP of Global Communications, Desiree Fish, as saying: “The Travelers’ Choice awards for Destinations recognize major cities and islands that continue to deliver an outstanding experience and are beloved by our global community of travelers.”

The news release explained that award winners “were determined using an algorithm based on reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and experiences in destinations worldwide over a 12-month period. The methodology takes into account quality and volume of reviews to surface destinations that consistently deliver the best overall experience for travelers.”

Greece, Greek islands, Crete, southwest Crete, Loutro, Loutro village, village, mountains, coast, seaside

Loutro village in southwestern Crete

 

Greece, Greek islands, Crete, Crete island, Crete Greece, Paleochora, Paleochora Crete, coast, coastline, seaside, southwestern Crete, mountains, sea,

Looking along the spectacular southwestern coast of Crete from one of the many beaches near the town of Paleochora

 

Greece, Greek islands, Crete, Chania, street, lane, courtyard, taverna, restaurant,

A taverna courtyard in the heart of the historic old town area of Chania

 

Greece, Greek islands,Crete, Crete Greece, Crete island, beach,Greek beach,Greek island beach, Sweet Water Beach,Sweet Water Beach Crete,

Sweet Water Beach in southwestern Crete, between the villages of Chora Sfakion and Loutro

 

Greece, Greek islands, Crete, southwest Crete, Agia Roumeli, village, coast, mountains, Samaria Gorge,

A view of Agia Roumeli village, situated at the foot of the world-famous Samaria Gorge. Extending for 16 kilometers, the gorge is the longest in Europe and is one of Crete’s top tourist attractions.

 

We spent more than two weeks on Crete in late fall of 2017, and could easily see why it has been ranked among the world’s Top 5 travel destinations two years in a row — it truly delivers outstanding travel experiences. Crete has something to suit every traveller’s taste, style and budget: fascinating cities, towns and villages; vibrant resorts; breathtaking landscapes, stunning scenery and gorgeous beaches;  superb food and wine; significant historical sites and attractions; a diverse range of outdoor activities for all ages and lifestyles; myriad hotel and lodging options, and much more. 

Crete also claimed two spots in the list of the world’s Top 25 Beaches: Balos ranked #15, while Elafonissi took 21st place. Though both are situated in western Crete, the region in which we focussed our 2017 holiday travels, we never made it to either beach, so they remain on our bucket list of places to see. The island is blessed with a bounty of beautiful beaches, however, so visitors still have countless strands to choose from if they can’t get to Balos or Elafonissi.  (We saw many impressive beaches along the island’s southwestern coast.)

Greece in general fared well on other top rankings, particularly for hotels, where it won top honours in two categories. It nabbed the number 1 and 2 spots in the Top 25 all-inclusive hotel ranking, and it claimed the number 1 and 3 position on the awards list for the world’s Top 25 Small Hotels. Greece also achieved Top 25 rankings for best hotels, luxury hotels, best service, romantic hotels, family hotels, and bargain hotels.

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read that Greece received TripAdvisor recognition for the world’s top two all-inclusive hotels because, in TripAdvisor’s own travel forums, regular visitors to Greece routinely advise travellers to avoid all-inclusive properties, urging them to stay at hotel or self-catering accommodations instead. In essence, the forum commentators claim Greece simply doesn’t do all-inclusives very well, and visitors don’t experience Greece if they stay at an AI resort. With this year’s awards, however, it’s quite clear that all-inclusive resort guests disagree! 

Greece, Greek islands, Crete, Crete island, beach, Greek beach, Elafonissi beach Crete, Elafonisi beach Crete,

Famous for its brilliant turquoise waters and pink-hued sand, Elafonissi beach is seen in an image from the Best Travel Tips to Crete page of the Tourist Maker website.  Elafonissi ranked #21 on the TripAdvisor list of the Top 25 beaches in the world.

 

Balos Crete photo 02 by Antoine Nikolopoulos

Lagoons and sandy beach strips at Balos are seen in this photo shot by Antoine Nikolopoulos of Odyssey Art Photography. Balos ranked #15 on this year’s list of the world’s top beaches.

 

Please click on the link below to continue reading on page 2, where I have posted photos and rankings for the Greek hotels that placed in the world’s Top 25.

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