Read an Excerpt
By John S. Bowman Sherry Marker Heidi Sarna
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-2456-9
Chapter OneThe Best of Greece
Greece is, of course, the land of ancient sites and architectural treasures-the Acropolis in Athens, the amphitheater of Epidaurus, and the reconstructed palace at Knossos being among the best known. But Greece is much more: it offers age-old spectacular natural sights, for instance-from Santorini's caldera to the gray pinnacles of rock of the Meteora-and modern diversions ranging from elegant museums to luxury resorts. It can be bewildering to plan your trip with so many options vying for your attention. Take us along and we'll do the work for you. We've traveled the country extensively and chosen the very best that Greece has to offer. We've explored the archaeological sites, visited the museums, inspected the hotels, reviewed the tavernas and ouzeries, and scoped out the beaches. Here's what we consider to be the best of the best.
1 The Best Travel Experiences
Making Haste Slowly: Give yourself time to sit in a seaside taverna and watch the fishing boats come and go. If you're visiting Greece in the spring, take the time to smell the flowers: the fields are covered with poppies and daisies. Even in Athens, you'll see hardy species growing through the cracks in concrete sidewalks-or better yet, visit Athens's ancient agora, which will be carpeted in a dazzling variety of wildflowers. See chapter 6.
Island-Hopping in theCyclades: Though the Cyclades are bound by unmistakable family resemblance, each island has its own unique personality. Distances between islands are small, making travel by ferry pleasant and logistically straightforward (at least in principle). If you are traveling off season, when you do not need to have hotel reservations, your vacation will be much less stressful if you don't plan too much in advance and allow yourself to "go with the flow"-a tactful way of suggesting that you be prepared for the unexpected in island boat schedules! See chapter 10.
Leaving the Beaten Path: Persist against your body's and mind's signals that "this may be pushing too far," leave the main routes and major attractions behind, and make your own discoveries of landscape, villages, or activities. For instance, seek out some obscure church or monastery such as Moni Ayios Nikolaos outside Metsovo-to be rewarded by a moving encounter with the church and its caretaker.
Exploring the Naturalists' Greece: There is a Greece beyond the columns and cafes-a land of rugged terrain and wildflowers and birds and other natural forms and phenomena. Sign up to join a special tour (see chapter 2) or go it alone with one of the several beautifully illustrated handbooks available, such as Oleg Polunin's Flowers of Greece and the Balkans (Oxford Univ. Press) or Birds of Europe (McGraw-Hill), by Bertel Bruun and Arthur Singer. And don't forget your binoculars!
Sunrise, Sunset: Get up a little earlier than usual and see the sun rise (preferably out of the Aegean, illuminating the islands) and then watch it sink over the mountains (anywhere in Greece, but try not to miss the sunsets that make the Ionian Sea change from the deepest blue to a fiery red.)
2 The Best of Ancient Greece
The Acropolis (Athens): No matter how many photographs you've seen, nothing can prepare you for watching the light turn the marble of the buildings, still standing after thousands of years, from honey to rose to deep red to stark white. If the crowds get you down, remember how crowded the Acropolis was during religious festivals in antiquity. See p. 176.
Nemea (Peloponnese): This gem of a site has it all: a beautifully restored stadium, a handsome museum, and picnic tables with a view of the romantic Doric temple with its three long-standing columns-and several newly restored and re-erected ones. If you're lucky, you may see Nemea's archaeologists at work lovingly reconstructing and re-erecting more columns from the temple's north facade in their ambitious restoration project. See p. 261.
Olympia (Peloponnese) and Delphi (Central Greece): Try to visit both Olympia, where the Olympic Games began, and Delphi, home of the Delphic Oracle. That's the only way you'll be able to decide whether you think Olympia, with its massive temples and shady groves of trees, or Delphi, perched on mountain slopes overlooking olive trees and the sea, is the most beautiful ancient site in Greece. See chapters 8 and 12.
Palace of Knossos (Crete): A seemingly unending maze of rooms and levels and stairways and corridors and frescoed walls- the Minoan Palace of Knossos. It can be packed at peak hours, but it still exerts its power if you enter into the spirit of the labyrinth, where King Minos ruled over the richest and most powerful of Minoan cities and, according to legend, his daughter Ariadne helped Theseus kill the Minotaur and escape. See p. 300.
Delos (Cyclades): This tiny isle just 3.2km (2 miles) offshore of Mykonos, was considered by the ancient Greeks to be both the geographical and spiritual center of the Cyclades; many considered this the holiest sanctuary in all Greece. The extensive remains here testify to the island's former splendor. From Mount Kinthos (really just a hill, but the island's highest point), you can see many of the Cyclades most days and the whole archipelago on a very clear day. The 3 hours allotted by excursion boats from Mykonos or Tinos are hardly sufficient to explore this vast archaeological treasure. See chapter 10.
Vergina (Northern Greece): In the brilliantly designed museum here, you can peek into what may have been the tomb of Alexander the Great's father, Philip of Macedon; nearby there are more than 300 burial mounds that stretch for miles across the Macedonian plain. See chapter 16.
Messene (Peloponnese): This sprawling 4th century B.C. site has the best-preserved ancient fortification walls in Greece, an enormous Sanctuary of Asklepios and a stadium-and views of almost all Messene and Laconia from the summit of Mount Ithomi. See p. 282.
3 The Best of Byzantine & Medieval Greece
Mistra (Peloponnese): This Byzantine ghost town has streets lined with the remains of homes both humble and palatial, as well as some of the most beautiful churches in all Greece. If you have the energy, climb to the top of the defense walls for the superb view over the plain of Sparta. Try to visit in the spring, when Mistra is carpeted with wildflowers. See chapter 8.
Church of Panayia Kera (Kritsa, Crete): If Byzantine art sometimes seems a bit stilted and remote, this striking chapel in the foothills of eastern Crete will reward you with its unexpected intimacy. The 14th-and 15th-century frescoes not only are stunning, but also depict all the familiar Biblical stories. See chapter 9.
The Churches of Thessaloniki (Northern Greece): Thessaloniki's Byzantine churches are the finest not just in Greece, but in the entire world. From the tiny Osios David to the towering Ayios Dimitrios, these churches boast mosaics and frescoes that give you an astonishing glimpse of the artistic grandeur of the mighty Byzantine empire. See chapter 16.
Nea Moni (Hios, Northeastern Aegean): Once home to 1,000 monks, this 12th-century monastery high in the interior mountains of Hios is now quietly inhabited by one elderly but sprightly nun and two friendly monks-try to catch one of the excellent tours sometimes offered by the monks. The mosaics in the cathedral dome are works of extraordinary power and beauty; even in the half-obscurity of the nave they radiate a brilliant gold. Check out the small museum, and take some time to explore the extensive monastery grounds. See chapter 17.
Monemvassia (Peloponnese): Long-called "The Gibralter of Greece," this rocky promontory crowned by a medieval citadel and church has only one real street (just wide enough for two donkeys to pass each other), no cars, cobbled lanes, beautifully restored stone houses (some of which are now hotels), and views that stretch forever over the sea. See chapter 8.
A Clutch of Castles: Acrocorinth, Argos, Nafplion, Methoni, and Korone (Peloponnese): Some of these castles have ancient foundations, all were added onto by the Franks, Venetians, Byzantines, Turks-and several were used as fortresses as recently as World War II. See chapter 8. A Profusion of Byzantine Churches in the Cyclades: The fertile countryside of the island of Naxos is dotted with well-preserved Byzantine chapels, Parikia, the capital of Paros, has the Byzantine era cathedral of Panayia Ekatondapiliani, and Santorini boasts the 11th/12th century church of the Panagia in the hamlet of Gonias Episkopi. See chapter 10.
4 The Best Beaches
Nafplion (Peloponnese): After a vigorous and tiring day of sightseeing, this small municipal beach can seem like the best in Greece. Handy changing rooms and showers make this a great place for a quick break between exploring the ruins at Mycenae and heading off to take in a play at Epidaurus. See chapter 8.
Plaka (Naxos, Cyclades): Naxos has the longest stretches of sea sand in the Cyclades, and Plaka is the most beautiful and pristine beach on the island. A 4.8km (3-mile) stretch of mostly undeveloped shoreline, you could easily imagine yourself here as Robinson Crusoe in his island isolation (bending the plot somewhat to include a few sunbathing Fridays). If you need abundant amenities and a more active social scene, you can always head north to Ayia Anna or Ayios Prokopios. See chapter 10.
Paradise (Mykonos, Cyclades): Paradise is the quintessential party beach, known for wild revelry that continues through the night. An extensive complex built on the beach includes a bar, taverna, changing rooms, and souvenir shops. This is a place to see and be seen, a place to show off muscles laboriously acquired during the long winter months. See chapter 10.
Grammata (Siros, Cyclades): The small beach is enclosed by a lush oasis of palm trees at the outlet of a natural spring, sheltered and hidden by a rocky promontory extending into the bay. The beach is only accessible on foot or by boat, so it's rarely crowded. See chapter 10.
Lalaria Beach (Skiathos, Sporades): This gleaming white pebble beach boasts vivid aquamarine water and white limestone cliffs, with natural arches cut into them by the elements. Lalaria is not nearly as popular nor accessible as Skiathos's famous Koukounaries, which is one of the reasons why it's still gorgeous and pristine. See chapter 13.
Megalo Seitani (Samos, Northeastern Aegean): Megalo Seitani and its neighbor, Micro Seitani, are situated on the mountainous and remote northwest coast of Samos. There aren't any roads to this part of the island, so the only way to reach the beaches is a short boat ride or a rather long (and beautiful) hike. You won't regret taking the trouble, since both beaches are superb: Micro Seitani's crescent of pebbles in a rocky cove, and Megalo Seitani's expanse of pristine sand. See chapter 17.
Vroulidia (Hios, Northeastern Aegean): White sand, a cliff-rimmed cove, and a remote location at the southern tip of the island of Hios combine to make this one of the most exquisite small beaches in the Northeastern Aegean. The rocky coast conceals many cove beaches similar to this one, and it's rare for them to become crowded. See chapter 17.
Finikounda (Peloponnese): This long stretch of sand is one of the best beaches in the Peloponnese. The little fishing village is now a resort town, with lots of places to stay and to eat. See chapter 8.
5 The Best Scenic Villages & Towns
Monemvassia and Nafplion (Peloponnese): Everyone says it, and for once, everyone is right: Nafplion is the loveliest town in the Peloponnese, and Monemvassia is the region's most spectacular village. Thanks to the speedy hydrofoils (Flying Dolphins), you can visit both spots and decide for yourself which has the best cafes, castles, and sunsets. See chapter 8.
Chania (Crete): Radiating from its handsome harbor and backdropped by the White Mountains, Chania has managed to hold on to much of its Venetian-Renaissance and later Turkish heritage. This allows you to wander the old town's narrow lanes, filled with a heady mix of colorful local culture, yet still enjoy its charming hotels, excellent restaurants, interesting shops, and swinging nightspots. See chapter 9.
Hora (Folegandros, Cyclades): In this town huddled at the edge of a cliff, one square spills into the next, its green and blue paving slates outlined in brilliant white. On a steep hill overlooking the town is the looming form of Panayia, the church that holds an icon of the Virgin which is paraded through the streets of Hora with great ceremony and revelry each Easter Sunday. Mercifully free of vehicular traffic, Hora is one of the most beautiful and least spoiled villages in the Cyclades. See chapter 10.
Yialos (Simi, Dodecanese): The entirety of Yialos, the main port of the tiny, rugged island of Simi, has been declared a protected architectural treasure, and for good reason. This pristine port with its extraordinary array of neoclassical mansions is a large part of why Simi is known as "the jewel of the odecanese." See chapter 11.
Skopelos Town (Skopelos, Sporades): The amazingly well preserved Skopelos, a traditional whitewashed island port town, is adorned everywhere with pots of flowering plants. It offers some fairly sophisticated diversions, several excellent restaurants, some good hotels, and lots of shopping. See chapter 13.
Metsovo (Western Greece): Steep slopes, ever-green conifers, stone houses with slate and slanted roofs, stolid villagers in traditional clothing speaking a Latin-based language-if this is Thursday, you must be in Switzerland. But no, it's Metsovo, in Epirus.
Excerpted from Frommer's Greece by John S. Bowman Sherry Marker Heidi Sarna Excerpted by permission.
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