Category: East Aegean Islands (page 2 of 10)

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

Share

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. 

 

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2

Pages: 1 2

Wind and waves lash Mykonos, Samos & Dodecanese islands

Share

Pthagoras sculpture on Samos photographed by Manolis Marg

Samos island resident Manolis Marg captured this striking image of surf spraying the Pythagoras sculpture on the seafront at Pythagorion

 

Winter wallop: Just before this weekend, I was jealously viewing photos of sunny Greek island beach and village scenes that local residents and business operators had been sharing on social media. Weather reports showing temperatures in the mid to high teens (Celsius) made me even more envious. Until today. When I logged into my blog’s Facebook page this afternoon, the photos and posts in my news feed were telling a completely different story — severe winds and heavy rain were lashing many of the Aegean islands as a ferocious winter storm surged across Greece.

Despite the gale-force winds, some hardy residents of Agathonisi, Samos and Rhodes ventured outdoors to capture dramatic photos of waves and stormy skies at their respective islands.

 

Waves damaged the seafront at Ornos beach on Mykonos

On Mykonos, a local restaurant owner stayed inside his vehicle to shoot photos of flooded roads, wave debris on the Ornos bay seafront, and boats that had been ripped from their moorings and tossed ashore. 

The winds were so strong– exceeding force 8 and 9 on the Beaufort scale — that they prevented flights by Aegean Airlines and Ryanair from landing on Rhodes, the Greek news website The Rodiaki reported. Rough seas forced the cancellation of shipping and ferry services to many islands as well.

And this was just the beginning of even worse weather expected nationwide for the next several days.  In a separate report, The Rodiaki said many parts of Greece can expect cold to freezing temperatures by Monday, along with continuing strong winds, while some regions of the mainland can expect snowfalls. 

 

Winter storms struck Greece same time last year

Coincidentally, it’s almost exactly one year ago that brutal winter weather struck Greece, dumping snow on some of the Cyclades islands (see my Snow scenes from the Cyclades post for winter storm photos from islands including Andros, Tinos, Naxos, Milos and Paros).

But, as always, the islanders aren’t letting bad weather get them down.  On its Facebook page, Super Paradise beach observed: “No winter lasts forever. Mykonos awaits.” And the Mykonos Palace Hotel posted this quote from W.R. Alger: “After every ‪‎storm the sun‬ will smile; for every problem there is a solution, and the soul’s indefeasible duty is to be of good cheer.” Good points indeed — there’s only 154 more days until summer!

Please click here or on the link beneath the next picture to turn to page 2 of this post, where you can view storm photos from Samos, Mykonos, Agathonisi and Rhodes.

 

Flooded road at Ornos Mykonos

A flooded road in the Ornos beach area of Mykonos is seen in this photograph shot by Sikiniotis Lefteris, who owns the Apaggio restaurant at Ornos. Several more of his photos, showing wave damage on the Ornos bay seashore, can be seen on page 2 of this post. 

 

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2

Pages: 1 2

The Giola lagoon on Thassos

Share

Giola lagoon on Thassos island photo from Panoramio member Papadakis Ioannis

Panoramio member Papadakisioannis snapped this shot of visitors enjoying the Giola lagoon and the terraced seashore surrounding it

 

Last week I published a post profiling popular Greek Island swimming spots that don’t have sandy beaches. Here’s another one — the Giola lagoon on Thassos — which is arguably far more spectacular but also much more difficult to reach.

Carved into the southeast coast of Thassos, several kilometers from the village of Astris, Giola is a natural pool approximately 20 meters long and over 15 meters wide. It’s enclosed by rock terraces that rise up to 8 meters high, creating convenient platforms from which visitors can jump and dive into the crystal-clear water, which is regularly refreshed by waves from the sea.

A Huffington Post Travel article called Giola “epically beautiful and crazy cool to swim in,” while Condé Nast Traveller magazine from the U.K. hailed Giola as one of the “best swimming pools in the world.”

Although it’s a visually stunning place to sunbathe and swim, Giola is a bit off the beaten path and not quite so easy to reach. But getting there is all part of the fun. You can find directions to the lagoon, complete with photos showing parts of the driving route and the hiking path to the coast, in FeelGreece.com’s Giola listing, as well as in the Let’s Find Giola post from the Discover Thassos travel website.

Below is a Google Maps image showing the lagoon’s location, followed by photos offering views of Giola from several different perspectives.

To see more excellent photos of Giola, click here to view a gallery of nine excellent Giola photos posted by Galeria Foto member moxxu.

 

Giola lagoon location shown on Google map of Thassos

This Google image shows the Giola lagoon location on Thassos, an island in the Northeast Aegean Sea.  Giola is situated at a  secluded seaside spot around 4 km from Astris village. You can drive most of the way, but then you’ll have to hike a trail to reach the coast.

 

Aerial view of Giola lagoon on Thassos

An aerial view of Giola lagoon. This image is from the website for the Potos Hotel located at Potos, about 16 km from the lagoon. You can see two more excellent photos of Giola on the hotel’s website.

 

 Giola lagoon on Thassos image 2_1 from Alternatrips.com

This photo of the lagoon is from the Greece travel website Alternatrips.gr

 

Giola lagoon on Thassos island photo from abeachaday.com

The A Beach A Day web guide for beach lovers published this photograph of swimmers enjoying the lagoon. Even though Giola is refreshed by waves from the sea, its waters apparently are much warmer than the sea.

 

 Seaview photo of Giola lagoon by Flickr member Ivonka

This unique seaview photo of the Giola lagoon is by Flickr member Ivonka. It shows the terraced flat rocks surrounding the pool on the seashore — perfect for sunbathing.

 

Giola lagoon on Thassos photo by Flickr member Chrysanthle Ak

Flickr member Chrysanthie Ak posted this image of a sizeable group of people enjoying the lagoon both in the water and from the adjacent rocks

 

Giola lagoon on Thassos photo by Flickr member Remus Pereni

This image by Flickr member Remus Pereni shows people on the narrow rock ledge that separates the lagoon from the Northeast Aegean Sea

The postcard conundrum

Share

postcard racks on Santorini

Browsing postcard racks at a souvenir shop in Oia village on Santorini

 

Travel tradition: Call me old-fashioned, but I still send postcards to family and friends when we’re vacationing in Greece. I’m talking paper postcards with handwritten messages, stamped and posted at letter collection boxes in Athens or villages on whatever island we happen to visit.  The real deal that recipients can actually hold in their hands, not a fleeting e-card or email greeting that will momentarily flash on their smartphones or computer screens!

For me, sending postcards is a fun part of our Greece travel experience — especially since I write the messages and address the cards while enjoying a glass of wine on our hotel room balcony or at a taverna with a wonderful view.

postcards pay here sign But picking the right card for each particular person on my list can be a bit daunting since the array of postcard choices is so extensive. At some souvenir stands in Athens and on a few of the islands we have visited, the selection has been simply staggering — rack after rack after rack, all packed with dozens if not even hundreds of appealing postcards.

What to choose? Scenes of beaches, mountains, landscapes, churches or villages? Images of monuments, ruins, antiquities or museum artefacts? Photos of cute cats, dogs or donkeys? Pictures of old folks in traditional garb or physically well-endowed young adults clad in skimpy bikinis or Speedos … or wearing nothing at all? (There’s usually even a few “naughty” cards with pictures of ancient pottery bearing images of two or more adults engaged in explicit sex acts.) I usually wind up purchasing more cards than I need, and bring the leftovers home as personal souvenirs.

Santorini postcardsWhat I particularly like about postcard shopping in Greece is the careful way most of the souvenir shop staff handle the cards I’ve decided to buy. They always insert the cards (and any stamps I purchase) inside either a small paper bag or a clear plastic sleeve, so the cards won’t get scuffed or bent before I have a chance to write and post them. It’s touching how some of the shopkeepers appear so grateful and proud that a visitor will be sending postcard pictures of Greece to people around the world.

The only downside to picking postcards is that I inevitably find pictures of spectacular places that I didn’t know about, or didn’t have time to see. But that just means there will always be new sites and attractions to explore on a return visit.

Kokkari postcard shop

This postcard shop in Kokkari village on Samos had the best selection I’ve seen anywhere. Besides the cards displayed outside, the shop had hundreds more to choose from inside!

 

Kokkari postcard shop

Some of the cards displayed outside the Kokkari souvenir shop.

 

Archetype souvenir shop Mykonos

A cat snoozes beneath a postcard display at the Archetype souvenir shop near the Paraportiani church in Mykonos Town

 Archetype Souvenir Shop

Night view of the Archetype souvenir shop in Mykonos Town

 

postcard racks in Mykonos Town

Postcard racks in a narrow lane in Mykonos Town

  Naxos postcards

Postcard display outside a shop on the Naxos Town waterfront

 

postcards in Oia

Postcard racks outside a souvenir shop in Oia village on Santorini

 

Mykonos postcards

Postcards on display in Mykonos Town

 

Mykonos postcards

Postcards at a Mykonos souvenir stand

 

Naxos postcards

A postcard and bookmark display at a shop in Naxos Town

5 Greek Island gems

Share

Guest post by Katrina Hinrichsen

Depending on how you judge the minimum size of an island, there are between 1,200 to 6,000 individual Greek islands. Together they make up one of the most stunning and popular destinations in the entire world. They are frequented by everyone from casual travellers to celebrities to perhaps, even, the gods as well! With so many islands to choose from, how will you decide which ones are the best to visit?

I have selected a handful of Greek island gems that will promise an amazing and unique range of views and activities for you to  to discover and enjoy.

 

Gaios, Paxos Island

Gaios Town on Paxos island

 Harbour view of Gaios Town on Paxos. This photo, by Bogdan Giuşcă, appears on the Wikipedia entry for the Paxi group of islands in the Ionian Sea

 

If you’re on the hunt for a truly relaxing holiday, Paxos is one of your best bets! The island has a charming collection of small bays, lush green hills and lovely beaches. The star attraction, however may be the port area near the capital town Gaios, as it is one of the best looking settings in the whole of Greece! Why not hire a boat ride and sunbathe on the deck or take in the sights of the handsome town? You could travel from the port to Gaios and visit the Water Planet dive centre, where an experienced instructor will help you learn how to scuba dive and explore some of the island’s underwater caves. The centre has an excellent rating; you can have a look at the positive reviews here.

Paxos is also home to a number of cultural traditions, including its annual summer ‘Water and Oil’ festival which celebrates folk music. In addition to tapping your toes to some music, people attending the festival will also get to enjoy the custom dishes of potatoes, olives, onions, water and wine. If you like the sound of wine, (and who doesn’t!) then we recommend a visit to the island Antipaxos, Paxos’ neighbour. There you will be able to sample some of the best local wine, all in front of beautiful scenery and the glimmering blue sea.

Interesting fact: Paxos Island was said to be a love sanctuary for the god of the Sea, Poseidon, and his lover, Nereid Amphitrite. Sounds like the perfect place to go for a romantic holiday!

 

Chios Island

Pyrgi village on Chios

A street in Pyrgi village on Chios island is captured in this image by Flickr member Pétille. You can view 37 more excellent photos of the island in Pétille’s Île de Chios album on Flickr.

 

The kidney-shaped island of Chios is special because it is the only setting in the whole world where mastic trees grow! The trees are used for their fragrant ivory-coloured resin, which is used as a spice. Pyrgi is the biggest village on the island, and was built way back in the Middle Ages. The architecture in the village is worth noting – the surfaces of the buildings have geometric patterns artistically scratched onto them by plasterers. In Mesta, a village close to Pyrgi, the stone buildings are positioned so near each other that it is challenging to walk around them, and in fact the locals say that the easiest way to travel about is to climb over the roofs!

Chios Island is a fantastic destination for photographers, journalists, or just interested vacationers to discover somewhere unique among the Greek Islands and wider area. Plus, the inhabitants of the island are warm and personable, so if you’re lucky you could be treated to the local wine, created with grapes and distilled figs.

Interesting fact: Although it is now prized for growing mastic, in Antiquity it was known as Ophioussa (‘snake island’) and Pityoussa (‘pine-tree’ island).

 

Faliraki, Rhodes Island

Anthony Quinn Bay

Anthony Quinn Bay near Falraki on Rhodes. This photo, by Karelj, originally appeared in the article 5 places to see before they disappear on the Italian-language travel blog JOHO Journey Horizons

 

Some people may already be familiar with Faliraki, as it can be found on one of the biggest Dodecanese Islands: Rhodes. It is renowned for its long stretch of award-winning sandy beaches. What you may not know, however, is that Faliraki also hosts Europe’s largest water park! This attraction will get the children (and the children at heart) very excited! The fantastic water park has many exhilarating slides and pools for the whole family to enjoy. Can you imagine a lovelier way to cool off from the scorching sun? The tickets cost just over 20 euros for an adult, so your wallet will feel pretty chilled too. If you want to avoid climbing a steep hill to get to the park, I recommend taking a bus or taxi there.

If you are looking for a water activity that is a bit more relaxing, then Anthony Quinn bay in Faliraki is the place for you. It promises exquisite views and beautiful scenery, with pristine waters and charming fish to swim around with. It is a fantastic place to go snorkelling, as the seawater should be warm too.

If you would prefer to stick to dry land from time to time, then Faliraki is also unique among the Greek Islands in what it has to offer. Visitors will be able to appreciate astonishing views of the sparkling seas and stars at its Hipparchos Oservatory and Astronomy Café-bar. This is really one not to miss! Click here to look up where you can stay in the village.

Interesting fact: Anthony Quinn bay was once the backdrop for a number of shots from the movie Guns of Navarone in 1961. Definitely a place that film fans will want to visit!

 

Skiathos Island

Skiathos sunrise

Panoramio member Drosoula P captured this beautiful sunrise from a vantage point at Vasilias beach on Skiathos

 

Skiathos is home to over 60 of the most gorgeous beaches within the Mediterranean, yet it is still not particularly well-known out of the throng of Greek Islands. This just means that you fortunate travellers will be able to enjoy more of Skiathos to yourself! Mandraki Elias beach is a true utopia, cherished dually as one of the most stunning yet serene beaches of the region. If you fancy kicking back with a cocktail or two, you will be happy to hear that this beach has one of the best bars on the island, and is surrounded by magnificent cliffs of orange sandstone. To get there you can also take a wander through the delightful pine woods.

Another superb, though admittedly more crowded beach is Koukonaries. It is very popular with families as it offers an amazing array of water sports activities. Our favourite sailing trips are with the company Sail the Day as they deliver an enchanting experience on the waters, with expert captains that have a good sense of humour! The exotic island also offers horse-riding, parasailing, trekking and mountain-biking for all you adrenalin junkies!

Interesting fact: In winter the population is around 4,000 people, but in the summer it can amount to 70,000!

 

Chora, Patmos Island

Holy Monastery of Saint John a

The imposing Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian towers above the mansions of Chora village on Patmos

 

Patmos Island proposes a different experience to the others in Greece as it is much more of a spiritual haven. The Greek Parliament has called it a ‘Holy Island’ as it is said to be where Saint John composed the Book of Revelation. In the capital Chora you can stopover at the historical museums, churches and monastery to learn more.

The sacred village of Chora is a divine setting for happy snapping, as it has maze-like alleys and charismatic whitewash buildings. Plus, because the village sits at the tallest peak of Patmos, you will be able to admire unbelievable views of the surrounds. As the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it also has a wonderfully tranquil air. Nature fans will appreciate the volcanic soils, clean beaches and sheer cliffs too.

Interesting fact: Patmos Island used to be used by the Romans as a destination of exile because of its steep landscape.

 

Katrina Hinrichsen is passionate about travel and writing about her experiences. In the last two years she has been to at least 12 European countries, and has spent a lot of time in the past in Asia. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and contributes to professional and personal blogs on Travel, the Arts, Lifestyle and more.

Older posts Newer posts