The Beauty Of Greece: Under Your Own Steam

Despite a downturn in its economy, Greece happily remains one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Mediterranean. Its breathtaking beauty offers a mix of cultural and historical delights, mountain ranges, important archeological sites, sandy beaches and pristine islands. For the traveller wanting a single-destination trip to one of the Greek Islands, or a “cover-all-highlights” tour of mainland Greece, there are many inclusive packages available from a wide choice of tour operators. For the independent traveller who craves adventure, a self-drive holiday is the perfect answer: allowing more flexibility and extra opportunities for exploration than a structured itinerary provides. It is certainly one of the most exciting ways to explore Greece as you discover hidden gems rarely advertised in brochures and immerse yourself in local culture without fear of being hurried on to your next destination. An added bonus is that it can often prove to be the most cost-effective way of travelling.

Here’s just one sample of a mainland Greece self-drive route. This trip could be easily spread over one week, or longer if you prefer. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to visit every element of the itinerary and you can make your own adjustments. If you have your accommodation pre-booked, this is your only limitation. If you’re not travelling in high season, it’s easy to arrange your accommodation on a day by day basis upon arrival at each destination.

Classic Mainland Self-Drive Itinerary

Athens to Nafphlion (via the Corinth Canal and Ancient Corinth):

From Athens, head via the Corinth Canal to Ancient Corinth, which is bursting with archeological sites and fascinating museums. Continue through Argolis in the direction of Myceane, visiting the Palamidi Fortress, the Bourtzi Castle and the Epidaurus Theatre en route. Final destination today is Nafphlion, one of the most exquisite and sophisticated of Greece’s towns and the former Greek Capital. It boasts a blend of Venetian and Turkish architecture. During the weekends, it hosts an influx of Athenians looking to take a break from the city.

Nafphlion to Sparti:

Drive towards Sparti, home to the Byzantine City of Mystra. The Byzantine fortress is a breathtaking sight, nestled on a hill at the foot of Mount Taygetos, and can be seen all the way from Sparti. Enjoy beautiful churches and a convent – you can even climb to the top of the hill, but remember to carry lots of water!

Sparti to Olympia:

This route towards the home and the place where the Olympic Games originated is absolutely strewn with awe-inspiring natural landmarks. Olympia itself offers historical landmarks such as the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Zeus, the Hippodrome and the Stadium.

Olympia to Delphi:

This section of your trip will take you along beautiful coastal areas for most of the way to Delphi, an important archeological site and modern town perched on the terraces of Mount Parnassus.

Delphi to Athens:

Must-see destinations along the route back towards the city of Athens are the olive-producing town of Arachova at the foot of the mountain (it’s also a ski destination in winter), together with the little village of Galaxi.

What Else Do I Need To Know?

Of course, designing the perfect itinerary isn’t the only factor to consider when trying to create a memorable trip to Greece. Driving has its risks, particularly in a foreign country, and it’s vital to prepare yourself for what to expect. You will also need to ensure you have the correct paperwork and that there are no restrictions on your driving licence, for example. Check with your licence issuer and also get to know the rules and regulations of your destination. If you are a holder of a British or Northern Ireland Driving Licence, the current laws state that you can drive in any country of the European Union, Greece included. When you hire a car locally, most car hire companies will include some form of insurance, but you it is your responsibility to check whether this is suitable and that the excesses payable in the event of an accident are not too high. Your own policy from back home in the UK or Ireland may actually cover you more extensively than local policies whilst hiring a car in Greece.

Driving in Greece isn’t for the easily-afraid!

  • It’s imperative to your cool at all times and always drive defensively. Don’t over-react to impatient drivers.
  • Most main highways only have two lanes and on particularly busy roads, there will be lots of attempts at passing, even at points on the road you would deem unsafe. Be on your guard and expect the unexpected!
  • The average speed limit on country roads is 50 kph (30 mph). It is extremely unusual, however, for drivers to travel slower than 70 kph. The same goes for the larger highways.
  • Traffic control signs, such as a “Stop” sign, are generally ignored by Greek drivers. Try not to let this habit apply to you!
  • Seat-belts, when fitted, are compulsory to wear.
  • The minimum driving age is 18.
  • Many fuel service stations close as early at 7 pm.

Recommended Checklist

  • Full driving licence
  • Insurance certificate
  • Warning Triangle
  • Reflective vest
  • First Aid Kit
  • Torch & spare bulbs/batteries
  • A fire extinguisher
  • Headlamp converters
  • Spare lightbulbs for your car headlights
  • Money for motorway tolls (there are 2 in Greece)
  • The National Map of Greece by Michelin

Once your flights are booked, you’ve packed your rucksack and you’ve familiarised yourself with the route and golden rules of Greek driving, you are absolutely ready to hit the road for a trip of a lifetime!


Greek Cuisine: Modern, Fresh & Honouring Its Heritage

At this year’s Speciality Food Association’s 59th edition of the Fancy Food Show in New York, Greek yoghurt, the wondrous super-food with twice the protein of ordinary yoghurt, featured prominently, together with a huge array of supreme-quality regional foods. This proves once again that Greece’s quality produce remains at the forefront of influential food trends and continues to draw visitors from around the world.

For those not familiar with Greek food, it’s helpful to understand that the diverse cuisine on offer comes from centuries of living, cooking and eating – it’s quite simply a way of life! Although modern Greek cuisine is fresh and on trend, it also honours its history, utilising cooking methods and basic ingredients that have changed very little over time.

Organic At Its Very Best

Greek food has many health benefits – it derives from a farming nation that enjoys a beautiful climate, allowing organically-grown produce to be the norm, not the exception. Oils, nuts, fruits grains, vegetables, olives, wild herbs and organically-made cheeses are readily available and form the basis of the traditional Greek diet.

Another factor to consider is the geography of the land: fish and seafood are in abundance around most of the country, given that no part of the mainland is more than 150 km from the coast. Poultry, beef, pork and lamb are also plentiful, the latter being the traditionally served celebratory meal during holidays and festivals. Greece boasts a hilly terrain, perfect for vineyards, hence the country has become renowned for its wine and spirit produce, particularly Ouzo (an aniseed flavoured liqueur).

The cuisine has defiantly stood the test of time and continues to be celebrated worldwide, not only because of the clear health benefits as described, but because at its heart lies simplicity and tradition.

Here are some wonderfully easy recipes to try, if you would like to sample a little piece of Greece in your own home:

Tzatziki: The Traditional Dip

This easy to prepare and refreshing dip is perfect to serve with grilled meats and vegetables, but can also be served as a snack with toasted pitta bread strips or crudités. It takes approximately 20 minutes to prepare.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin if preferred)
  • 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
  • 2 finely-chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt, strained
  • 1 cup of soured cream
  • 2 diced cucumbers (skin removed)
  • 1 large pinch of chopped dill (dried or fresh)

Preparation:

In a large dish, combine the following ingredients: the extra virgin olive oil, garlic, white wine vinegar and seasoning. Using a hand-held whisk or fork, mix together the strained yoghurt with the cream in a separate mixing dish. Now carefully blend both mixtures together. Add the cucumber pieces and a pinch of dill. Chill for two hours before serving.

Chickpea Salad

This wonderfully healthy salad serves as a basic guideline, but you can add other elements to it if you wish. For instance, you may prefer to use a different herb instead of mint, or add some chopped chorizo sausage, for extra spice. It takes approximately 20 minutes to prepare, plus marination time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion
  • 1-2 deseeded red chillies, depending on how spicy you like it!
  • 4 or 5 ripe red tomatoes, depending on size
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 large tin of chickpeas, drained, or the equivalent of soaked and cooked chickpeas
  • 1 handful chopped fresh mint
  • 1 handful chopped basil
  • 100g feta cheese

Preparation:

Finely slice the red onion, the chillies and then the tomatoes. Combine them all together in a bowl. Add the juice of half of the lemon and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add salt and pepper, according to taste. Heat the chickpeas through in a saucepan and then add most of them to the mixture. Crush the remaining few to form a paste, then add these to the mixture too. This allows for a creamier consistency. Leave the entire mixture in the fridge for a while. Just before serving, arrange on a suitable serving dish and dress the salad with fresh mint and basil. Add the remaining juice from the lemon and crumble the feta cheese over the top.

Simple Greek Chicken

A lovely summer dish, perfect to serve with salad or bread at lunchtime, or as a supper with a vegetable selection. For the maximum depth of flavour, it is best to marinade the chicken in the fridge overnight.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh oregano
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 large chicken, chopped (or you can use chicken thighs or drumsticks)

Preparation:

In a shallow dish, mix together the oil, garlic, herbs and lemon juice. Add the chicken pieces, ensuring the marinade coats the chicken entirely. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat your grill to a high heat. Lightly oil the grill, or baking sheet if using that instead. Place the chicken on the grill and discard the remainder of the marinade. Grill the pieces for approximately 15 minutes per side, until the juices run clear. If cooking drumsticks, cook for only 10 minutes each side.

Sample Diversity For Yourself!

With your tastebuds fully satisfied, you may decide to embark on an adventure to discover authentic Greek delights for yourself. With visitors continuing to flock to Greece (over 17 million are expected by the end of 2013), you can be sure that the country remains safe and ever-welcoming! From the energy and history of Athens to the tranquility and idyllic coves of the Dodecanese Islands, from traditional tavernas to contemporary restaurants, you will certainly be seduced by the contradiction that is Greece. Whether you want to discover more about the majestic gods and mythical beasts of historical Greece, or relax in on a quiet beach with beautiful clear water lapping at your toes, you will find plenty to enrich and enrapture. According to Planet Cruise, the Mediterranean remains one of the most popular cruise destinations worldwide, so why not take to the seas and chill out on the decks of a sumptuous vessel as you have your every need catered for?

Greece and her islands offer much to explore and experience. So much so, like any other visitor to Greece, you will want to return again and again. Begin your journey at home with the simplicity of quality Greek superfoods and enliven your travel tastebuds at the same time!


Greece Travel: Highlights and Must-sees

 

Greece Travel At A GlanceGreece Travel At A Glance

Greece travel offers Kiwi travellers a myriad of natural wonders, ancient sites and architectural marvels.

The stark natural beauty and remnants of ancient civilisations have attracted visitors to Greece for centuries. Its pretty islands cast like precious stones across the Aegean Sea, together with the Greeks’ unsurpassed joie de vivre, combine to make Greece a truly unique destination with everlasting appeal.

In Athens see such classical ruins as the Parthenon and Acropolis. The Greek Isles beckon with Santorini and it’s violent volcanic history including the enormous volcanic eruption in 1450 BC, said to have destroyed legendary Atlantis.

Mykonos’ narrow streets, whitewashed houses, churches and a raging nightlife to Crete’s high mountains, long sandy beaches and fertile valleys, home to Europe’s first advanced civilisation, the Minoans, not to mention Rhodes with a virtual treasure trove of art and history.

Greece Travel - Greek Island HoppingGreek Island Hopping

Greek Island hopping is the best and easiest way to explore the Greek Islands. Try to visit the islands outside the height of the European summer, preferably May to early July or in September when you can avoid the swarming tourists and experience a more peaceful break.

Our pick of the many islands – and they all offer stunning scenery and have the warm Aegean Sea at their doorstep – would be Santorini, Naxos and Mykonos.

Each island has its own unique flavour: Santorini has the most beautiful sunsets backdropped by whitewashed villages and azure blue roofs; Naxos is characterized by its venetian town, many picturesque and wonderful mountainous villages, the fertile valleys, the long golden sandy beaches and the crystalline turquoise waters; Mykonos island is famous for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its exciting nightlife, its picturesque whitewashed houses and blue domed churches and magnificent sandy beaches; Thassos as the Green island and its crystal clear beaches.

When to go:
Between Apr-Sep. Outside of these months can be cold (extremely cool in the north) and wet in some areas. High season (Jul-Aug) is hot and humid. This is also the time when the winds can get up causing havoc to ferry schedules. From end of November to early April most tourist facilities go into hibernation – they are either closed or drastically reduced.

 


Greece Travel – Walking and Cycling Holidays

 

Greece Travel - Walking  Cycling HolidaysWalking Cycling Holidays in Greece

You get a very different view of things on a walking or cycling holiday, travelling at your own pace, there’s time to notice things you would miss from a car or coach. You get to know the place you’ve chosen intimately and absorb the sights, the scents, and the atmosphere, in a way that you never could on an ordinary holiday.

Headwater offer a selection of walking and cycling holidays throughout Greece and ‘Ancient and Classical Greece’ is proving a huge favourite. Roman castles, Byzantine churches, Ottoman palaces, world-famous classical sites unchanged over the centuries attract many tourists every year.

Some say there is a huge rise in interest in these types of holidays as Kiwis are active outdoor types who enjoy getting a little off the beaten track and exploring areas properly when they travel.

Accommodation on these tours is in small family-run hotels with particular charm – from converted castles, to working farms and stylish villas. Breakfast and most dinners are included, making the most of regional specialities, but lunch is up to you – often the experience of shopping in markets for interesting delicacies, local breads and olive oils is a highlight in itself.