Category: In the news (page 1 of 17)

All ferries to and from Mykonos now docking at the New Port

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This photo from one of our Mykonos holidays shows four charter yachts docked at the island’s Old Port at Mykonos Town (foreground), and a cruise ship berthed at the New Port in Tourlos, nearly 2 kilometers away by road.

 

Ferry straightforward: Where does my ferry arrive at  / depart from on Mykonos?

That question has vexed visitors for years, since the island has two ports — the original one at the Mykonos Town harbour (commonly called the Old Port) and a newer, substantially larger facility in the island’s Tourlos district (regularly referred to as the New Port, of course).

The standard answer used to sound simple enough: ferries that carry passengers and vehicles sail to and from the New Port, while smaller ferries that just carry passengers operate from the Old Port.  But since most travellers didn’t have a clue if the ship they were booked on carried vehicles or not, that advice wasn’t always helpful. Not surprisingly, many people missed their ferries because they arrived at the wrong port and didn’t have enough time to get to the right departure point.

Thankfully, the reign of ferry port confusion could soon be history:  As of Saturday April 6 2019, all ferry traffic to and from the island will use the New Port only.

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I shot these photos of travellers queuing to board passenger-only catamaran ferries at the Old Port in Mykonos Town several years ago. As of April 6 2019, the Old Port will no longer handle ferry traffic.

 

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One of my Mykonos holiday photos of the New Port at Tourlos.  All ferry ships will now arrive at and depart from this harbour.

 

I learned about this development from Mykonos news websites, but the reports were all in Greek and Google Translate offered an awkward translation. To make certain I wasn’t misinterpreting what I had read, I contacted the top ferry booking agency on Mykonos, Sea & Sky Travel, to confirm if the news was accurate. 

“Yes, it’s true. All the boats, including the small passengers ones , will be leaving from the new port from now on,” a Sea & Sky representative told me.

 

The news reports said the change was implemented by the Mykonos port authority, upon request by the Greek government ministry responsible for shipping and marine regulation, to eliminate confusion and help prevent passengers from missing their ferries.

It’s a welcome change, but I think some confusion may persist for awhile. For one thing, many repeat visitors have travelled to and from Mykonos on passenger-only catamarans that operated in and out of the Old Port. If they don’t hear the news, their travel plans could get screwed up if they head to the Old Port, out of habit, when leaving the island. For another, many first-time visitors won’t be aware of the change, or may have read outdated posts on the TripAdvisor travel forums, or other online travel sites, that describe the old distinction between the two Mykonos ports. Hopefully word will get out and fewer people will miss ferries this year. 

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This Google image shows the Mykonos New Port (top) and the Old Port at Mykonos Town (bottom), a 2 kilometer walk or drive apart. Also shown are the main pick-up and drop-off points for the Mykonos SeaBus, an inexpensive water taxi service that operates between the two ports.

 

Which leaves the next most popular question about ferry travel to Mykonos: How do I get from the port to my accommodations?

For a list of transport options, please click on the link below to continue reading on page 2 of this post, and to view photos of things visitors will see if they travel along the coastal road between Tourlos and Mykonos Town.

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2

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

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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.”

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Loutro village in southwestern Crete

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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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! 

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Famous for its brilliant turquoise waters and pink-hued sand, Elafonissi beach is seen in an image from the Elafonissi page on the Cretico Blog.  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.

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2

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Lonely Planet profiles NE Aegean plus 4 ‘secret,’ timeless islands

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Lonely Planet magazine

Greece gets front-cover prominence on the cover of the Lonely Planet newsstand issue for May 2018

 

The secret’s out: I had a strong hunch I might find something interesting to read about Greece when I walked into the magazine department at my local bookstore yesterday.  When I turned into the travel section, my premonition instantly proved accurate — standing at eye level on the front shelf was the latest edition of Lonely Planet, its cover graced with a photo of a blue-roofed Greek Orthodox church illustrating its “Secret Greece” feature story. 

In another pleasant delight, I realized I had seen that very same church in person — on Astypalea, during our island hopping holiday in 2009.

Astypalea is one of seven islands featured in Lonely Planet’s May issue and, in another curious coincidence, the article about it recommends staying in the very accommodations where we spent several nights: Fildisi Boutique Hotel

The magazine highlights two other islands we have been to — Hydra and Sifnos — and, in yet another surprising stroke of serendipity, spotlights four more that I had been seriously considering for our upcoming vacation: Lesvos, Chios, Ikaria and Kythera. (We have already made plans to spend our time in and within sight of the Peloponnese, but Lonely Planet suddenly has me wondering if I may have made a mistake.)

 

 

The main focus of the magazine’s Great Escape cover feature is the Northeast Aegean group of Greek islands; specifically, Lesvos, Chios and Ikaria. Stepping ashore on these particular isles “introduces olive farmers and wild honey, hidden villages and untouched beaches, and perhaps the secret to long life,” the feature story introduction says.

Reading the Lesvos profile quickly made me crave Greek cuisine, though I should have expected that given the article’s headline: “Savour the many flavours of Greece on Lesvos, from olive oil to ouzo and orange wine.”

The second feature story invites readers to “discover a centuries-old tradition of mastic cultivation and the fortress-like villages that grew rich from it” in southern Chios.

The third main article introduces Ikaria, one of the world’s unique Blue Zone locations where residents “enjoy longer lives than anyone else in Europe.”

One-page mini profiles for Astypalea, Kythera, Sifnos and Hydra appear in the magazine’s “Secret Greece” feature as examples that, “even in the well-known Greek island groups,” visitors can find “the odd place that’s little changed over the decades.” Each profile includes short thumbnail descriptions for “Why am I going?”, “Where should I stay?”, “What am I eating?”, and “What am I drinking?”

The island articles are all good reads, and just might entice you to consider the Northeast Aegean for a future trip to Greece, especially if you haven’t considered that region of the country before. (They probably will make you feel peckish for Greek food and beverages, too.)

See if you can find a copy of the magazine at your local newsstand before it sells out.

 

Planning to drive while visiting Greece? Don’t leave home without an IDP

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car on the coast of Crete

Want to drive around Greece so you can enjoy the spectacular scenery, like this amazing vista near Paleochora on the southwestern coast Crete? Be sure to carry a valid International Driving Permit (IDP), or you could get hit with a fine up to €1,000 if you’re stopped by police and can’t produce one for inspection. 

 

Pack your permit!: If you don’t live in the EU and you plan to rent a vehicle during your holiday in Greece, make sure you obtain a valid International Driving Permit (IDP) before you leave your home country. You could face hefty fines if you’re stopped by police and can’t produce an IDP while driving anywhere in the country.

Greece has long required tourists from non-EU countries to carry IDPs when they drive, but many vehicle rental agencies haven’t demanded to see the document before handing over the keys, requiring tourists to show only the official driver’s licence issued by their home state, province or district. I have never been asked if I had an IDP, and when I have offered to show it while signing car hire paperwork, rental agency staff have told me they don’t need to see it. However, If I were to be stopped by police for any reason, I could be penalized with a fine for not having an IDP, and if I were involved in an accident, my vehicle insurance coverage could be declared void because of my failure to possess an IDP.

New Greek transportation rules now put the onus on both foreign drivers and vehicle rental agencies to ensure compliance with the IDP law — or each party could face potentially steep penalties for violations.

 

 

 

According to media reports,  including a May 14 2018 newsbrief on ekatherimini.com and a May 15 2018 report on Greek Travel Pages Headlines, motorists from non-EU countries now must have a valid IDP in their possession in order to rent a vehicle and drive, or they could be fined up to €1,000 if stopped by police.  The rental agency could be hit with a similar fine plus face an additional, stiffer penalty  — the vehicle could be seized by authorities. Groups representing rental agencies throughout Greece have protested the new measure and have called on the government to reconsider the legislation.

IDPs are issued in the United States by the American Automobile Association (AAA),  in Australia by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), in Canada by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), and in other countries by authorized motoring groups and clubs. They can be obtained by mail, or during a visit to a local auto association office, but must be obtained before the driver leaves their home country.  Passport-style photos are required for the permit, but if applicants don’t bring any the IDP issuing office can usually take photos on the spot. They will of course charge a fee for taking the photos, as well as for issuing the IDP. The last time I obtained an IDP, it took less than 10 minutes for my photo to be taken and my permit to be validated and issued.

Why is an IDP necessary in the first place?

The Australian Automobile Association explains the main reason in this succinct note on its website: “IDPs are a special permit for tourists, authorised by a United Nations Treaty for the purpose of allowing motorists to drive internationally without further tests or applications provided their domestic drivers licence is valid. An IDP is proof that you hold a valid drivers licence in your home country at the date of issue of the IDP and should be carried with your domestic drivers licence.”

 

Mykonos ATV riders

Four young ladies ride ATVs past a whitewashed church on Mykonos. New rules banning 50cc ATVs from paved roads have sparked outrage from vehicle rental agencies on the island, but apparently have been suspended so the federal transportation ministry can further study the matter and consult with stakeholders.

 

Another new Greek transport regulation would apply to rentals of ATVs, or quads, as they are often called.

In many popular Greek destinations, two kinds of ATV have typically been available for rent: 50cc vehicles, which could be rented only if the driver had a valid driver’s licence, and 150cc models, which could be rented only by drivers who possessed a valid motorcycle licence. Under new rules that were being put in place for this season, 50cc ATVs cannot be driven on asphalt or paved roadways, so that essentially means the vast majority of tourists won’t be able to rent them to get to the beaches and other places they would most like to visit. 

 

 

The rule outraged rental agencies, particularly on Mykonos, where ATV fleets consist mainly of 50cc vehicles. Dozens of companies and individuals rent thousands of ATVs on Mykonos, and face the prospect of losing the vast majority of their business — and income — if the new law is enforced. The IDP requirement will make the situation even worse, since most tourists don’t have IDPs (in fact, many aren’t even aware that they’re supposed to have one if they want to drive overseas.)

The association representing Mykonos ATV owners and rental agencies has complained to the transport ministry, and has staged a number of protests over the new legislation, to try to convince the government to reconsider and overturn the new rules because of the detrimental impact they will have on tourism.  Since the association hasn’t received an official response, its members conducted a blockade at the Mykonos New Port on Wednesday May 16 to call attention to the issue. 

In reports on social media, the ATV owners’ association announced it had called an end to the port blockade after transport ministry officials announced that rules regarding the controversial ATV ban will be suspended so the government can meet with stakeholders to discuss their concerns and consider the issue further. 

I will update this post if or when further information about the driving regulations becomes available.

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