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Top Greece travel reads of 2019: Best articles, stories & profiles of Greek islands

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Tinos island as seen from a departing ferry

Chania harbourfront at sunset

Arkoi island ferry port

cliffs below Chora village on Folegandros island

Sarakiniko beach on Milos island

the western coast of Andros island IMG_1111

From the top: Tinos seen from a departing ferry; the Chania harbourfront at sunset; the small port pier at Arkoi; soaring cliffs beneath the whitewashed buildings of Chora village on Folegandros; rock formations at Sarakiniko beach on Milos; a mountain and beaches on the west coast of Andros. These are some of the places profiled in my favourite articles about Greek islands in 2019.

 

Magazine articles and newspaper stories about Greek Islands are the focus of this post, the latest instalment in my series of “best travel reads of 2019.”

The reports I have included in this list are the ones I liked the most last year because they me made wish I could rush right away to the island being discussed; taught me about interesting places, attractions and activities I wasn’t aware of previously; or provided thoughtful insights by exploring destinations from a unique and captivating perspective. Some are educational; some are inspirational; others are simply fascinating or fun to read.

 

Though they were published during 2019, all of the reports and profiles are worthwhile reads for anyone planning or thinking about a trip to one or more of the islands either this year or sometime in the near future.  They provide helpful practical information about intriguing things to see and do,  suggest areas to stay in or specific accommodations to consider, and offer ideas for discovering and experiencing the unique local character, history and features of each island. I have included links to the online source of the articles so readers can bookmark the ones that interest them for further reference.

The islands featured in my best articles round-up are:

♦ Amorgos, Andros,Folegandros, Ios, Kea, Milos, Paros, Santorini, Serifos, Syros and Tinos in the Cyclades;

♦ Ikaria in the eastern Aegean;

♦ Arki in the Dodecanese; and

♦ Crete

I’ve listed the articles in alphabetical order by island name so readers can easily scroll to a specific destination that interests them.

— Amorgos —

Screenshot of National Geographic article about Sister Irini on Amorgos

Screenshot of National Geographic article about Sister Irini on Amorgos

 

A highlight of our trip to Amorgos back in 2009 was a visit to the island’s best-known monument, the Chozoviotissa Monastery. Founded in the 11th Century, the whitewashed, fortress-like edifice clings to the face of a rugged cliff hundreds of meters above the sea. It is such an incredible sight, my first glimpse of the brilliant white building literally took my breath away.  I’m still so fascinated by Chozoviotissa that I get excited whenever I see photos of it on my Instagram feed, or find video views of it on YouTube.

While I’m certain we will pay it another visit next time we return to Amorgos, there’s a much newer monastery I’m equally keen to see. It didn’t exist when we travelled to the island, and I didn’t learn about it until I read Meet the tourist who became the only nun on Amorgos, a National Geographic piece published on January 17 2019. 

 

 

Written by Terri Steel, the article is an engaging story of transformation — a profile of a woman who decides to turn her life in a totally new direction while restoring a derelict church property into a lush garden “paradise” now known as Agios Georgios Valsamitis Monastery.

“She first came to the island as a young mother and wife 35 years ago; after her husband passed, she chose a new path. Her name is Sister Irini, now, and she remains Amorgos’s only nun,” Steel writes, noting that Sister Irini took her vows as a Greek Orthodox nun in 2011. 

“Seven years ago, Sister Irini began transforming a long-abandoned monastery into an oasis. Visitors come throughout the year to walk her bountiful garden lined with Byzantine frescoes, to hear her story, and to purchase her magnificent paintings of religious icons.”

Steel relates part of the sister’s story, outlines how the nun spends her days and speculates on how the “heavenly landscape” of Amorgos may have encouraged Sister Irini to pursue a simple, holy life there.

The article is illustrated with images of beautiful Amorgos sights and scenes captured by photographer Chiara Goia.

 

— Andros —

Screenshot of Conde Nast Traveller September 2019 article about Andros island

 

In 2019, prolific travel writer Rachel Howard penned two feature articles about Andros — one for Conde Nast Traveller magazine (top), the other for The Sunday Times newspaper (below).

 

Screenshot of Rachel Howard Sunday Times article about hiking on Andros island

 

Andros is a big island, and we knew we would barely scratch the surface when we spent six days there in late May of 2015, even though we split our stay between towns on opposite sides of the island. Last year, when I read two revelatory articles about Andros, it really hit home just how much we didn’t get to see or experience. I felt hugely disappointed when I realized we had missed some of the island’s best features.

Both stories were written by Rachel Howard, for different publications.

The first, Andros: Greece’s hidden hiking hotspot, was published January 27 2019 in The Sunday Times.   

Noting that Andros is a lush, mountainous isle, Howard observes that the “forested peaks are ribboned with streams and ravines careen down to wetlands teeming with wildlife. One third of it is a nature reserve, there are dozens of stone villages camouflaged in the hills and it has about 70 beaches, many of the best accessible only by boat or on foot. So it’s hardly surprising that Andros is carving out a niche as a year-round hiking destination.”

Hiking is what drew Howard to the island — she spent several days walking segments of the island’s 200-mile network of footpaths, many of which have been cleared and waymarked by the Andros Routes volunteer organization.

She describes trekking a circular route in Livadia, “a valley dotted with magnificent manor houses, where some of Greece’s most illustrious shipping families hole up for the summer,” gentler walks from the Ktima Lemonies guesthouse estate to the villages of Lamyra and Menites and to the island capital, Chora, and a 6-mile trail from the mountain village of Vourkoti to remote Achla beach. 

“Venture towards the highlands and you’ll stumble upon abandoned watermills, medieval watchtowers and cascading waterfalls. It’s easy to imagine Pan charging through the woods, but you’re more likely to meet a farmer threshing with an ox or frying sausages and potatoes in pork fat in an outdoor wood-fired oven,” Howard says.

 

Although we did some scenic walks during our own Andros visit, we didn’t get to explore any of the specific paths Howard talked about, or any of the trails marked and maintained by Andros Routes.  I’d love to get back to Andros to check some of them out, and perhaps attend one of the programs at Melisses guesthouse, located above Paleopolis Bay on the west coast of Andros.  Howard says bloggers and authors visit Melisses “to present cooking workshops and creative retreats such as illustration and travel photography, hosted by Allegra Pomilio, a glamorous Italian food stylist and a wonderful cook.” An Andros holiday with plenty of scenic walks and the opportunity to attend a creative retreat would be right up my alley.

Howard’s second article, Is this Greece’s undiscovered island? appeared in the September 2019 edition of Conde Nast Traveller magazine. Unlike the previous story, which focussed on island walks, this report is a more general overview of the island’s recent history as well as its top sights and leading attractions.

Howard notes that three Greek shipping dynasties — the Embiricos, Goulandris and Polemis families — put Andros on the map in the early 20th Century.  These wealthy families shared some of their largesse locally: They “paved the streets in marble, built imposing mansions and museums filled with billion-dollar art,” constructed the island’s first high school and hospital, and built a beautiful retirement home.

“Because the island’s shipping families used patronage as a show of power, Chora has an embarrassment of cultural riches. There’s an archaeological museum, a maritime museum, the Kaireios library with archives stretching back to the 16th century, and an open-air theatre where Pandelis Voulgaris, one of Greece’s most accomplished directors, stages the Andros International Festival, a summer-long celebration of the arts,” Howard notes.

Since  shipping was the island’s primary source of employment and income for so long, Andros didn’t have to begin  developing a local tourism industry until just a few decades ago. Tourist traffic is now picking up as more people learn of the island’s scenic hiking opportunities, and visit to see its lush natural greenery and “densely wooded hills and ravines” — features they won’t find on other islands in the Cyclades.

“Divided by four towering mountain ranges, the landscape is surprisingly varied and the weather can change around each bend. One moment it looks and feels like Tuscany, the next the Scottish Highlands. Watermills, dovecotes and watchtowers materialise in misty valleys,” Howard says. “Andros has plentiful springs and streams, waterfalls and wetlands. Every village has a communal marble washbasin fed by ice-cold mountain water. Venturing deeper into the mountains, carved fountains in village squares give way to waterfalls cascading through forests of chestnut, white poplar, oak and maple,” she adds.

If you have been to the Cyclades before but haven’t yet seen Andros, try adding it to your next island-hopping itinerary; you’ll find it’s a striking contrast from the arid brown landscapes dotted with whitewashed villages that are so characteristic of its neighbouring isles.

Please click on the link below to continue reading island profiles on page 2 of this post.

 

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Top Greece travel reads of 2019: Best island-hopping guides, articles and trip reports

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Cover of the May 2019 issue of The Sunday Times Travel Magazine

The May 2019 edition of The Sunday Times Travel Magazine featured a special Greek Islands travel guide, replete with gorgeous photos of dreamy destinations. I tell you more about the guide on page 2 of this post.

 

Athens is amazing, mainland Greece is marvellous, and the Peloponnese peninsula is pretty darned impressive. But for many people, it’s the Greek Islands that typically come to mind when talk turns to the subject of vacations in Greece.  Indeed, if you tell someone that you’re heading to the Hellenic Republic for a holiday, they’ll probably ask which islands you’re planning to visit. 

Since island hopping draws millions of tourists to Greece each year, many of whom are first-time visitors,  there’s tremendous demand for information about where to go, how to move between places, and what to see and do.  Likewise, there is a massive amount of Greece travel material available on newsstands and on the web. A simple Google search will produce links to articles and guides galore; thousands in fact, published by major magazines, newspapers, bloggers and social media influencers. One could easily spend weeks sifting through all the self-described “best” or “ultimate” island hopping guides, along with scores of feature stories trumpeting “hidden gems,”  “undiscovered islands,” or the newest trendy “paradise.”

I read hundreds of them in 2019, but found the vast majority disappointing and a waste of valuable reading time since they lacked originality and didn’t offer much useful  information. Most were simply puff pieces full of flowery descriptions and little else. Many were so similar, I’m sure the content was cribbed from quick online searches, then hastily rewritten and repackaged with stock photography. 

But several magazine and website guides stood out because they contain what I consider to be good, practical advice to help travellers pick the islands best suited to their personal travel preferences and lifestyles, and to plan how to get where they want to go.

Also noteworthy was a small selection of fascinating stories and engaging essays in which travel writers and even some high-profile authors recounted delightful and eye-opening personal experiences while visiting multiple islands.

 

This post spotlights the guides and stories that were my personal favourite reads during 2019. They’re the magazines I keep on my bookshelf, or the blog posts and website articles I have bookmarked on my computer, to keep close at hand for easy future reference. They include:

♦ A superb, detailed guide by The Mediterranean Traveller blog that promises — and delivers — “everything you need to know” about island-hopping;

♦ An excellent 26-page guide by The Sunday Times Travel Magazine

♦ General island profiles and trip suggestions in pieces published by the travel magazines Indagare, Afar and Lonely Planet

♦ An insightful 5-part report by a travel writer for The Guardian on his personal odyssey to explore six out-of-the-way islands;

♦ Reports by writers for the Boston Globe newspaper and Travel + Leisure magazine on trips that combined enormously-popular Santorini with visits to lesser-known and much-less-busy islands in the Cyclades; 

♦ An intriguing essay from Town and Country magazine in which a prominent author reflects on his  holiday travels to Spetses, Paros, Antiparos and Crete;

♦ Two separate stories on travelling by charter yacht or sailboat in the Ionian islands, from The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and World Traveller magazine;

♦ An account of a superyacht island-hopping tour of the Greek Riviera and several islands in the Argo-Saronic Gulf; and

♦ An article profiling small cruise ships with itineraries that include stops at several Greek islands.

Though they were published last year, these reports will still provide an excellent reference resource for travel in 2020 and the next several years. Even if you don’t need them to plan your own vacation, they’re all interesting and  fun reads that will quickly put you in a blissful Greek holiday state of mind.

 

— Best island hopping guide — 

Screenshot of The Mediterranean Traveller guide to Greek island hopping

 

It’s easy to make the decision to spend a vacation on one or more islands in Greece. The hard part is figuring out how to get to and from the island(s) you want to see. Many first-timers think it will be a breeze planning their itineraries, but quickly discover that the Greek Island ferry system isn’t as straightforward as they expected. In fact, it can be a rather daunting task to plan a multi-island holiday, particularly for ferry travel in off-season or low-season periods.

However, help is just a couple of quick clicks away, thanks to a superb guide published by The Mediterranean Traveller blog on February 5, 2019.

Aptly entitled Greek Island Hopping 101 — Everything You Need To Know, it’s the most comprehensive blog post I’ve seen on the subject, packed with tons of helpful tips, advice, information and links, and presented in a format that is super-easy to read and understand.  Topics include things travellers need to consider when initially planning their trip; flights versus ferries; an explanation of how the Greek ferry system works; ferry schedules and pricing; descriptions of the different island chains; deciding where to go and when is  best to visit; organized group tours, and plenty more. 

 

 

Please turn to page 2 to continue reading about the guides and articles that may help you determine which islands to visit, or give you inspiration for future holiday destinations.

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My favourite videos of Greece from 2019

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My Sifnos by Nikos Panou is my favourite video of 2019; it makes me smile and feel good every time I watch it. Panou deftly captures the essence of an amazing Greek holiday experience — the pure joy, wonder and exhilaration of exploring a beautiful destination (in this case, Sifnos island) and discovering the delights of its people, food, culture and atmosphere.

 

You know that December is drawing to a close when you see just about every media outlet — TV and radio shows, newspapers, magazines and websites — presenting lists and rankings of “the best” and the “top moments/ memories/ things/ whatever” of the year.  Seeing “best of 2019” features everywhere I looked inspired me to compile one myself this week while I was organizing the many hundreds of bookmarks I had accumulated on my web browser this year.

Rather than move links for my favourite videos into folders where I probably would forget all about them, I’m posting them here for my readers to enjoy (and to give me an easier way to find them for repeat viewing or future reference).

 

In Greece Story –The Best Places in Greece? Pawel Worsztynowicz captures striking aerial scenes from 28 beautiful places in Greece, including Athens, Sounion, Crete, Corfu, Meteora, Halkidiki, the Peloponnese, Skiathos, Skopelos, Symi, Santorini, Thirasia, Ios, Kos, Eubea, Rhodes and Zakynthos.  (Notes accompanying the video on YouTube provide a chronological list of locations shown.) Pawel compiled the film following nearly a year of travels across Greece, so you can just imagine the stories he can tell about the places he visited.

 

Out of the countless clips I have seen in the past 12 months, I have selected just over two dozen to highlight in this post. I liked these best of all either because they show sights and scenes familiar to me from our own past vacations, or because they depict destinations on my travel bucket list. All were released or published sometime during 2019, and none run longer than 10 minutes.

 

I have organized the clips into alphabetic order starting with the videos of Amorgos island, below, and continuing on page 2. Included are films of: 

♦ Andros

♦ Athens

♦ Corfu

♦ Crete

♦ Donoussa

♦ Hydra

♦ Ikaria

♦ Ios

♦ Karpathos

♦ Kavala

♦ Lesvos

♦ Meteora

♦ Milos

♦ Monemvasia

♦ Mykonos

♦ Patmos

♦ Samos

♦ Santorini

♦ Skopelos

♦ Syros

♦ Vatheia in the Peloponnese

I love The Island‘s dramatic cinematography, which superbly captures the mountain, coast and village scenery on Amorgos. This film by Igor Popović also contains excellent views of the incredible Chozoviotissa Monastery, built against the face of a cliff high above the sea.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Amazing Amorgos, Greece, a delightful and entertaining aerial film in which Joerg Daiber captures the island’s magnificent sights and scenery using time lapse and tilt shift photography techniques. 

 

This film by I Viaggi Di Michele is narrated in Italian; however, you don’t need to speak or understand the language to enjoy the beautiful Andros scenery. Sights and locations shown in the 11.5-minute video include Chora, the Tis Grias castle, Tis Grias to Pidima and Achla beaches,  the Tourlitis lighthouse, Korthi Bay, Batsi village, the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi and the Panachrantos Monastery, and the Pithara waterfalls. 

 

If there are any videos from 2019 that you enjoyed, but don’t see featured in this post, feel free to post their links in the comments section so other readers and I can check them out.

 

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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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