Greece has reopened its borders to visitors from certain countries and on May 14 will supposedly scrap its quarantine requirements for all travellers who can produce proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test result. This prompts me to look back at my 2014 trip to the mainland and islands as a taste of what’s on offer. I travelled mainly by ferry but most islands have airports – a few are international – for those who prefer to fly in.
The capital is a good place to start and, as one of the world’s oldest cities, it offers a wealth of history. Athens is a heady mix of sounds and colours and I like to stay in the old neighbourhood of Plaka in the centre of the city. It is lively but relatively calm with many of the streets closed to cars. It’s packed with restaurants, cafes and tourist shops. Commercial but pleasant, it still has a feeling of community and is not harmed by the commanding views of the Acropolis than can be viewed from many vantage points.
Possibly the best known of the Greek Islands and part of the Cyclades group, Mykonos has a reputation as the party island. This may be true after dark – and indeed there are plenty of bars, nightclubs and luxury hotels – but by day I have always found it peaceful, charming and cosmopolitan.
Mykonos town, or Chora, has a delightful waterfront and narrow, winding streets full of colourful houses, churches and cafes. There’s a lot to see and do in Mykonos, the beaches are great for swimming and the sunsets are legendary.
In and around the streets and cafes you may stumble upon Petros, the pelican mascot of Mykonos. The original Petros enjoyed fame on the island from 1958 until 1985, when he died. There have been several successors since then, but that should not detract from the novelty of seeing a large pelican in your favourite café.
Continue walking round the corner from the main waterfront and you will be in Little Venice, a name inspired by the precarious looking buildings with balconies overlooking the sea. From here you can also see the famous windmills.
Paros is located in the central Aegean Sea and is also part of the Cyclades island group. It lies to the west of the probably better-known island, Naxos. I stayed in the charming village of Naoussa (above), 11km from the port of Parikia. Historically Paros was known for its fine white marble, but in recent years it has become a refuge for tourists seeking peace and tranquillity. Ferries to Parikia depart from the mainland ports of Piraeus and Rafina, and from the other islands.
The first time I arrived at Santorini and looked up from the ferry at the imposing cliffs of this dramatic island, I wondered how I would get to the top. Luckily fleets of buses, cars and taxis do this trip regularly. Alternatively you can take the cable car or even a donkey, but the latter isn’t recommended. Most people head for Fira, the raffish capital of the island. I chose to stay at Imerovigli – featured in the title picture – about seven minutes north, where the views over the caldera are breathtaking, but where fog can sometimes block out those views. My favourite place is Oia – fog-free, beautiful and with drop-dead views around every corner.
Crete is the largest island in Greece, the fifth largest in the Mediterranean and one of my favourite places. From the bustling capital, Heraklion, travel out to see the Arkadi Monastery near the beautiful town of Rethymno, then on to Chania, also picturesque and the second largest city after Heraklion. The Chania region is dominated by the impressive White Mountains and Lefka Ori National Park, with its Samaria Gorge.
Rhodes is located in the Dodecanese group of islands and is famous for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The 110-feet-tall statue representing the sun god, Helios, was built in 280 BC and erected near the harbour. It commemorated the successful defence of Rhodes against a siege led by Macedonian ruler, Demetrius Poliorcetes. The sculptor was Chares of Lindos, the town pictured above which is well worth a visit.
Sadly, the Colossus was the shortest lived of the Seven Wonders, toppled by an earthquake after only 54 years. A not particularly impressive memorial now stands in its place. The old city of Rhodes (below) is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Much as I like ferries, the 20-hour ride from Rhodes back to Athens was a stretch too far so I took the plane. Here’s to the next time.
Photos: Judy Barford