Frommer's Athens and the Greek Islands

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The recent economic crisis in Greece has, paradoxically enough, created better conditions for tourism. The Greeks are painfully aware that tourism is their best-functioning remaining industry. They value the visitor as never before, treat them with a warmth and courtesy that exceeds what you’ll find in other parts of Europe. And more people are therefore coming here in unprecedented numbers.

To bring the current message of Greek tourism to a reading public, we've called upon the research and writing talents of one of America's foremost travel journalists. Stephen Brewer has been writing travel guides for almost three decades. As an editor and writer, he has focused not just on the Frommer guides but on European coverage for such magazines as Esquire, Connoisseur and Geo.

In Frommer's Athens and the Greek Islands, he brings tremendous insight into how to best approach and understand both the famed and lesser-known (but still fascinating) historic sights of Athens and the adjoining Peloponnese, as well as the recreational resorts and life of the enchanting Greek islands.

The book contains:
-Helpful maps, including a handy pull-out map
-Exact pricing so there’s never any ugly surprises
-Opinionated reviews of historic sights and other attractions, hotels, restaurants,

List price: $24.99

Your Price: $19.99

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1 THE BEST OF ATHENS & THE GREEK ISLANDS

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The Best of Athens & the Greek Islands

The Acropolis, the theater at Epidaurus, the palace at Knossos—Greece’s ancient wonders are legendary, enough in themselves to lure you to Athens and environs. Equally compelling is all that blue sky, that warm blue sea, and natural beauty that at times can seem almost mystical, as it does when looking into Santorini’s caldera. But there’s also so much else: The beaches, some of the world’s most hedonistic places to stay, simple tavernas where a meal on the terrace can seem like the feast of a lifetime. Just the experience of sitting, watching, and taking it all in can be profound. To help you enjoy your time in Greece to the fullest, here’s what we consider to be the best of the best.

The best greek travel experiences

Enjoy a taverna meal under the stars: You can experience this pleasure anywhere in Greece, of course—maybe on an island with the sea in view, or in the countryside, with the scent of pine in the air, or even in busy, noisy Athens. The food is usually simple but fresh and delicious, the pace is almost always easygoing, and the spectacle of life buzzing around you is endlessly entertaining, like being in the theater. See “Where to Eat” sections throughout chapters 4 through 9.

 

2 GREECE IN CONTEXT

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Greece in Context

While most Greeks are besotted with all that is new—a common greeting is Ti nea? (What’s new?)—most are also fiercely proud of those longtime attractions that enthrall visitors: Greece’s mind-boggling physical beauty and its glorious past. Certainly, for most of us, to leave Greece without seeing Athens’s Acropolis or Delphi, the most beautiful ancient site in all Greece, would be, as Aeschylus himself might have said, tragic. As for Greece’s physical beauty, a trip into the Peloponnese or to Santorini or just about any other island will have you spouting clichés. Palamas, the poet who wrote the words to the Olympic Hymn, was reduced to saying of his homeland, “Here, sky is everywhere.”

Of course, Palamas was right: The Greek sky, the Greek light, the Greek sea all deserve their fame. This is especially obvious on the islands. Greece has anywhere from 1,200 to about 6,000 islands (the count depends on what you call an island, an islet, or a large rock). In any event, almost all of the approximately 200 inhabited islands are ready and waiting to welcome visitors. On the islands and on the mainland, throughout the countryside, picture-postcard scenes are around every corner. Shepherds still urge flocks of goats and sheep along mountain slopes, and fishermen still mend nets by their caiques.

 

3 SUGGESTED GREECE ITINERARIES

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Suggested Greece Itineraries

T raveling in Greece is ever so enjoyable, but even the most ardent Hellenophile will admit that the experience can be unpredictable at times. Weather, strikes, inconvenient schedules—the best-laid plans can easily go astray. But with some advance planning, good luck, and a willingness to be flexible, you can see what you set out to visit in Greece, and unexpected sights and unanticipated delights will most likely be part of the package, too. So, that said, here are some ideal ways to see the best of Athens and the islands. These routes rely on buses, cars, ships, and planes, and they are geared to summer travel, when it’s much easier to move from island to island than it is off season. And now, as you set off for Greece, Kalo taxidi! (Have a good trip!)

Athens & the Islands in 1 Week

One week? That’s almost a sacrilege in this country where siga, siga (slowly, slowly) is a well-meaning mantra to enjoy life at a reasonable pace. So, even though you have only a week to explore one of the richest, most intriguing places on earth, do slow down a bit when you can and appreciate everything that’s unfolding around you.

 

4 ATHENS

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Athens

T his is Athens: Exciting, exasperating, worldly, and oh so hot. Home to gods, goddesses, and some of the history’s greatest philosophers and athletes, Athens is an ancient city with a modern edge. Glorious ancient monuments are a backdrop for the city’s greatest resource, 4 million Athenians—cosmopolitan, hedonistic, and forward-thinking, despite their nation’s gravely uncertain economic future.

As you explore Athens, try to make the city your own. See the Acropolis, explore the Agora, visit ancient temples and Byzantine churches. Most of all, take a siga, siga (slowly, slowly) approach. Walk streets lined with neoclassical mansions; take in the scents; linger in courtyard gardens and on rooftop terraces. For cool respite head to the National Gardens, and for gorgeous sunsets perch on the peak of Lycabettus hill. Check out stalls laden with fresh fruit, nuts, and mounds of Aegean seafood in the 19th-century glass-and-steel Central Market. Discover the urban chic of Gazi, Pyssri, and other once-neglected downtown neighborhoods. You’ll find that Athens is beautiful and gritty, ancient and modern, sultry and restless, frustrating yet seductive, and most of all—like the sight of the Acropolis looming above it all—rather unforgettable.

 

5 AROUND ATHENS

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Around Athens

Fire up the imagination and get ready for some time travel. To the south of Athens in the Peloponnese, and to the west at Delphi, you’ll be visiting some of the most legendary sites of Greek history and myth. These places are more than just piles of old stones: They’re the haunts of superheroes, villains, willful gods and naughty goddesses, all brought to life by Homer and ancient playwrights. King Agamemnon launched the Trojan War from his palace at stony Mycenae; centuries later, Saint Paul preached at Corinth, where vast ruins are all that remains of one of the largest, most cosmopolitan cities in the ancient world. Emperors and the elite came from all over the Mediterranean world to consult the oracle at Delphi, maybe the most beautiful and mysterious of all ancient sites. Athletes traveled from as far away as the Black Sea to complete in the games at Olympia, far more raucous than the modern-day events to which the pine-scented ancient site has lent its name. Visiting these sites brings the thrill of stepping back through the millennia and reliving the great epics of western civilization.

 

6 THE CYCLADES

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The Cyclades

Whether it’s the experience of sailing into Santorini’s volcanic caldera, getting a glimpse of the windmills lining stark hilltops on Mykonos, or seeing the ancient temple doorway that looms over the port on Naxos, your first sightings of the Cyclades will likely make quite an impression. Even the commonplace seems spectacular in this archipelago of 24 inhabited islands and hundreds of islets floating southeast of the mainland. From afar, dazzling white villages of the islands’ distinctive cubical houses look like stacks of sugar cubes or a dusting of snow. Rising out of all that glaring white are the brilliant blue domes of chapels and churches. Memorable moments will keep coming as you travel through the rugged, often barren Cyclades, so named—from the ancient Greek word for circle—because the islands encircle Delos, the birthplace of the god Apollo and one of ancient Greece’s most sacred religious sanctuaries.

Mykonos

Small, dry, and barren, Mykonos is one of the least naturally attractive of the Cyclades. But it’s a testament to the island’s charms that Mykonos is now among the most famous of all the Greek isles. Attractions include beautiful Mykonos Town, better known as Hora, and a south coast full of sandy beaches, but this small hunk of rock in the middle of the Aegean is maybe most famous for people-watching. Ever since Jackie O. and other celebs started stepping ashore from their yachts in the 1960s, Mykonos has been a place to see and be seen. You may love the scene or want to flee from it on the next boat, but do stick around for a bit, because in one way or another Mykonos tends to work its sybaritic spells eventually on even the most resistant visitors.

 

7 CRETE

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Crete

The birthplace of Zeus, the cradle of Minoan civilization, the site of Zorba’s feats—Crete is steeped in at least 5,000 years of myth, history, and culture. Greece’s largest island is 257km (159 miles) long and 60km (37 miles) at its widest; it sometimes feels more like a separate country, with wildly diverse landscapes. You can go from the remote sandy beaches of the south coast to the snowy heights of the White Mountains to the Venetian harbors of the island’s port cities in a day. The Minoan palaces, Venetian Rethymnon and Chania, the precipitous Samaria Gorge, luxury beach resorts—if ever an island could claim to be loaded with sheer variety it’s Crete. Maybe the greatest offerings, however, are the many simple pleasures on hand. The spectacular mountains that form the island’s spine are laced with trails for hikers and peaks for climbers. Wildflowers and flowering bushes bedeck the landscapes, and the island is home to many species of birds. Crete’s terrain can be rugged and raw, its ancient sites austere, and its inland villages geared to the rigors of rural life. But for those looking for scenic beauty and glimpses of the long-ago past, with a dash of exoticism thrown in, Crete never fails to deliver.

 

8 THE DODECANESE

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The Dodecanese

H ugging the coast of Asia Minor, in the eastern Aegean far from the Greek mainland, the Dodecanese islands are frontier lands, lying at the crossroads of East and West. Over the ages, they have been conquered and settled time and again—by Romans, medieval knights, Ottomans, Venetians, and early-20th-century Italians—who left behind them such landmarks as the ruins of the Askepleion on Kos and the Street of the Knights in Rhodes. These days the islands are invaded every summer by sun worshippers, drawn by beaches that in many cases are among the most spectacular in Greece.

The name means the Twelve Islands (although the archipelago actually consists of 32 islands); each island has its own personality and its own natural beauty. Patmos and Symi are dry and arid in summer, while the interiors of Rhodes and Kos remain fertile and forested. Likewise, Patmos and Symi are relatively quiet, relaxed getaway-from-it-all islands, while Rhodes and Kos are the more popular and brasher siblings.

 

9 THE SPORADES

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The Sporades

As everyone knows, this archipelago of 24 islands came to be when a god threw stones randomly in the sea. (You did know that, didn’t you?) True or not, it’s a poetical way to describe these widely scattered little outcroppings across the Aegean Sea, off the northeast coast of the mainland. While most of the islets are uninhabited, four islands have captured attention since ancient times: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos, and Skyros. Skiathos has the bounty of beaches—among them Lalaria, where sea cliffs amplify a soft incessant rumble of white marble stones rolling in the surf, and Koukounaries, where a perfect crescent is backed by sandy-floored pine groves. Skopelos has so many churches it’s said that islanders count churches, not sheep, to induce sleep, and its capital, Skopelos Town, is one of the most appealing towns in Greece. You’ll want to wake up early to explore its rugged coastline and mountainous interior. Forested Alonissos, surrounded by pristine waters, is not only a pleasant place to get away from it all but is also the gateway to the National Marine Park of Alonissos Northern Sporades. On Skyros, hilltop Hora, clinging to a rock high above the coastal plain, is so spectacular that it alone makes the effort to reach the remote island worthwhile. Indeed, all of this rugged island seems like something out of this world, adrift on its own away from the other Sporades and the rest of Greece.

 

10 PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO GREECE

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Planning Your Trip to GREECE

News and images coming out of Greece over the past few years have been unsettling, at best. The country’s finances, economy, government, and society all appear to be in turmoil. And yet, you’ll notice that tourism numbers remain high—in fact, there’s been a significant increase—and for a very good reason. A visit to Greece should be an occasion for sheer enjoyment, even exultation. All it takes is a bit of planning to make the visit all the smoother and more pleasant.

This chapter provides planning tools and other resources to help you get around and get the most out of your time in Greece. First and foremost, it’s important to keep in mind that while Athens goes full-tilt 12 months a year, the time slot for enjoying island life is relatively short, from May to mid-October. Obviously, you can visit the islands outside of those times. Crete, especially, with its big cities of Iraklion and Chania, gets some wintertime visitors. But for the most part, islands are geared to warm weather, and most hotels and restaurants close up tight from fall to late spring.

 

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