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Kefallonia > the island of contrasts July 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Ionian.
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Kefallonia is the largest of the Ionian islands and is called the island of contrasts.

The Ionian Islands are a sprinkling of jewels in the Ionian Sea. They are a wonderful mix of steep, verdant hills, magnificent sandy beaches, coves, bays and inlets and picture-book villages, all surrounded by incredible azure and emerald water.

Kefallonia is the largest of the islands with beautiful villages highlighted by old mansions, humble farmhouses side-by-side with Roman, Venetian and Byzantine ruins and the 1628 metre Ainos Mountain. The north and west have a ragged and beautiful coastline while the south and east have large, sandy beaches. Beautiful, mild Mediterranean weather makes it perfect to visit most of the year.

It has endured a long and unstable history and has been inhabited since 50,000 BC, the Neolithic period, with evidence of that at the cave of Drakena, near the village of Poros. It has been dominated by Turks and Venetians, French and Russians and pirates and was seized by the English in the 19th century. The influence of these conquerors is evident in the beautiful Venetian castles of St George and Assos.

Mussolini’s troops invaded the island during WWII and its people were subjected to Nazi occupation.

Keffalonia’s capital is Argostoli with a population of 7500, and is where the sea rushes into subterranean tunnels which form a rare geological phenomenon. The water reappears at Lake Melissani, a semi-underground body of clear turquoise and indigo.

Close by is the Cave of Drongarati, which has beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. It has fantastic acoustics and caves are open to the public.

Another favourite spot to visit is Karavomylos where there are springs of sea water which has travelled underground from the area of Katavothres, near Argostoli, 35 kms away. Kefallonia is one of the few places where the rare turtle kareta-kareta lays its eggs.

Argostoli is very lively, particularly in summer, with plenty of action around its main square, but there is little in the way of nightlife. It is a modern town with entertainment and shopping, but has managed to maintain its charm. An early morning walk on the waterfront is the perfect way to begin the day.

Every town and village on the island were completely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake hit in 1953. The only area spared was the village of Fiskardo so it retains the old architecture.

Low and mid-season are the best times to visit. There are excellent opportunities for cheap accommodation and home-stays are particularly popular. Denis’s Place is pension accommodation at Fiskardo in northern Kefallonia and apart from offering beautiful landscape, is most comfortable. The port is old fashioned and quaint and has pretty pastel-coloured, Venetian-style houses to complete the postcard.

Scooters are the way to get around the island and they can be hired from several places.

Locals are friendly and easy-going and welcome visitors to their little part of paradise.

Cost
Denis’s Apartments start at around €55 a double a night.

Olympic Airways flies from Athens to Argostoli, Kefallonia.

More information

Denis’s Place
Fiskardo
Ph: 26740 41303

Ionian Plaza Hotel
Vallianou Square
Argostoli 28100
Ph: 26710 25581
Fax: 26710 25585

Scooteraki
Agia Efimia
Kefalonia
Ph: 26740 62003

The Way To Go Guide Books
www.kefaloniathwaytogo.com
waytogo@otenet.gr

Greece > salty and sexy! July 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece.
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Q: Ultimate travel experience?

A: Greece! Because it’s salty and sexy.


 

Island passage > islands lie in the Aegean Sea July 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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There is nothing like cruising and hopping around the Greek islands.. bring it on!

The islands of Greece are made up of six groups: Cyclades, Dodecanese, Ionian Islands, Northeast Aegean Islands, Sporades and Saronic Gulf Islands. The most well-known group would be the Cyclades, and within that group the more popular islands are Ios and Santorini.

Ios has a reputation of being a “party island” with a very active nightlife. There are many nightclubs, discos and bars on the island, most of which cater to those 25 or under. The capital, Ios Town, is two kilometres inland from the port of Gialos. The most popular beach is Milopotas Beach and is a long, curving stretch of sand where water sports, especially windsurfing, are popular. Koumbara Beach is a 20-minute walk west of Gialos and is less crowded and mainly a nudist beach. Accommodation-wise, the best tip for Ios is to go to the Community Tourist Office where English speaking staff will advise you where the good value-for-money places are.

Santorini, also known as Thira, is known for its scenery, dark volcanic beaches and wines. It is regarded as one of the most spectacular of all the Greek Islands. Santorini has two main beaches, Perissa and Kamari. Perissa is more popular with students and has two youth hostels, camping areas and a casual nightlife. Kamari Beach is more popular with the well-to-do tourists. There are three ports in Santorini: Ia, Skala Fira and Ormos Athinios. Athinios is the main port where there are buses that meet all the ferries to take passengers to Fira, the capital. The port of Ia on the north west side of the island is full of Greek character- the buildings are white with blue roofs. At the south-western tip of Santorini is Akrotiri where there are remains from the civilisation that was destroyed in 1550 BC. This is a popular archaeological site which has just undergone extensive excavations.

The island of Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese Islands which take their name from the group of 12 main islands that are the most distant of the Aegean islands. Hippocrates, “the father of medicine” came from this region. Rhodes has many villages, which are nestled in the foothills of its mountains. The heart of Rhodes City is the old town of Rhodes and is enclosed within massive walls. The old town is a mixture of Byzantine, Turkish and Latin architecture. There are various monuments around the island like the Acropolis of Lindos, which is perched atop a 116-metre high rock, the remains of the 20-columned Hellenistic stoa (200 BC), the Byzantine Church of Agios Ioannis and the Temple to Athena.

Escape to some beautiful islands of Greece > Sporades & Meteora July 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Greece Mainland.
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Green Islands > The Green Islands are in the Aegean Sea north of Athens

The Sporades are commonly known as “The Green Islands” because much of their land is filled with thick pine forests. Four main islands make up the Sporades: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos and Skiros. All the islands are well connected by bus and ferry.

Skiathos is the busiest of the 4 islands in the Sporades and is especially popular with tourists. The beaches are what make Skiathos stand out. There are about 60 beaches on the island and most of the best ones are along the southern end. One beach that is particularly popular in high season is “Banana Beach” which is where people can sun bake in the nude.

The city of Skiathos is still a working port and this island is well-known for its seafood. The foreshore is lined with outdoor cafes and restaurants; the oldest and one of the best is Taverna Stamatis. This is where the locals come to eat and the lobster salad is supposed to be the favoured dish. Skiathos also has quite an active nightlife with the night clubs and discos open until about 4 am.

A 45 minute hydrofoil trip from Skiathos is Skopelos. This island is bigger, more rugged and more traditionally Greek than Skiathos. Like all of the Green Islands, this island is also heavily pine-forested and the inland is more agricultural where olives, plums, pears and almonds are grown. The two main towns on this island are Glossa and Skopelos and are said to be the prettiest in the Sporades. The bays and beaches are also beautiful and most of the beaches have sun beds, umbrellas and some water sports. The beach at a town called Stafylos is a pebbly beach rather than sand, so the water is especially clear.

There are almost 400 churches on the island of Skopelos, with 123 churches in Skopelos Town alone. The two nunneries, Evangelistria and Timios Prodomos, are popular tourist attractions. Evangelistria was built in the 14th century and has been a nunnery for the last 100 years.

There are more Greek monasteries on the mainland in the area of Meteora. You can book day trips from the Green Islands to Meteora locally, or if you would prefer to overnight in Meteora and book the trip package from Athens. The monasteries here are perched atop massive rock formations that were formed by shifts in the earth millions of years ago. The Greek Orthodox monks devised an elaborate system of ladders and nets to build these structures because the inaccessibility of the rocks made them an ideal hideaway. The first was built in the 12th century and by the end of the 16th century there were 32 monasteries providing peace and safety for hundreds of monks and refugees. Many of them were destroyed during the Greek War of Independence and World War II, and today only 6 remain. Over the last 50 years there have been stairs and a pulley system constructed to provide access for tourists. There is a strict dress code enforced while visiting the monasteries– women must wear skirts below their knees and men must wear long trousers and arms must be covered.

The nearest town to Meteora is Kalambaka situated on the foothills of Meteora and on the left side of river Penios. Kalambaka has been inhabited since the ancient times, while on its place the ancient city of Aeginio existed. In the medieval era Kalambaka was named Stagoi Trikkis.

Zagoria > the most picture perfect Greek countryside villages July 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland.
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Imagine a leisurely walk through one of the most picture perfect Greek countryside villages.

Greece has so much to offer the traveller. History, culture, beauty, rugged mountains, pretty villages and a myriad of islands sprinkled around the Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean Seas.

Get your backpack ready and go on a self-guided walking tour of the remote area of Zagoria where evidence of human existence goes back more than 40,000 years BC. The area forms part of the expansive Pindus Mountain Range which starts in central Greece and spills into the Balkans.

There are 46 villages in the region and they remained autonomous in Turkish times and their own culture flourished. Houses are built of slate from surrounding mountains and winding, cobbled streets give a storybook appearance. Sadly, many villages are depopulated, often with only a handful of elderly people remaining. Some however, such as Papingo, Monodendri and Tsepelovo, are beginning to thrive on the new-found tourism. It should be said that even though the area is attracting many visitors, it is totally unspoilt.

Zagoria, a Slavic word meaning “behind the mountains” is a World Heritage site and part of the Greek National Park system. Most villages have remained unchanged for centuries and those which look different are the result of rebuilding after being burnt in WWII and having been rebuilt before preservations laws were introduced.

People are attracted to Zagoria for several reasons — the architecture of its stone and wood buildings, the arched stone bridges, village churches with beautiful wood carvings and the surrounding Vikos-Aoös National Park. It is all beautifully untamed and remote.

The area is thick with forests of hornbeam, maple, willow, fir, pine, cedar and oak and is home to bears, wolves, wild boar, cats and goats and rare Rissos quadrupeds. There are rivers, streams and waterfalls and the exciting geography has an amazing diversity. Semi-nomadic Vlach and Sarakatsani shepherds tend their sheep and goats, taking them to high grazing grounds in summer and in the valleys in cooler times.

Most walkers like to pay a pilgrimage to the 15th century Moni Agias Paraskevis monastery. While it is no longer formally used, visitors are welcome to make a blessing. Apart from its religious significance, it gives excellent views of the Vikos Canyon, the world’s steepest.

The Vikos Gorge begins at the village of Monodendri and is well-trekked and does not require any special expertise. But it does take around seven-and-a-half hours to reach one of the twin villages so good walking boots are highly recommended! Klima Spring provides the only drinkable water along the way, so take plenty with you.

The moonlike landscape around the Dragon Lakes, high in the mountains, offers an interesting contrast to the gorge’s sedimentary rock walls which are tinted orange-pink due to the rusted iron deposits.

Spring brings a burst of colourful wildflowers, butterflies silently add their colour in summer and autumn foliage adds its own beauty as winter looms.

Just past Metamorfosi you will see a sign to Kipi. It is worth the 8km diversion to see the superb high-arched bridges, thought to be Turkish and built for packhorse caravans.

As you can imagine, transport is thin on the ground, but it is quite the norm to hitch a ride in a passing vehicle.

Pension and hotel accommodation is available. George Papaevangelou’s Hotel is in Papigo Village and Pension Monodendri is run by Marios Daskalodoulos. George and Marios speak very good English and are most helpful with their information — usually given over cups of real Greek coffee.

Location
An hour’s flight north-west of Athens.

Cost
George’s Place (Hotel Papaevangelou) starts at around €80 a double a night.
Mario’s Pension (Pension Monodendri) starts at around €40 a double a night. 

More information

Hellenic Tourism Organisation www.gnto.gr

George Papaevangelou’s Hotel
Papigo Village
Ph: 26530 41135
Fax: 26530 41988

Marios Daskalodoulos
Pension Monodendri
Main Road, Monodendri Village
Ph: 26530 71300
Fax: 26530 71410

Greek Island Hopping > Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini July 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Your Destination > The Aegean Sea

Most adventures in the Greek Islands begin at the busy port of Piraeus. One of the Mediterranean’s busiest ports since classical times, it was linked with Athens by defensive walls. Now the two have melded and most people go to Piraeus just to catch a ferry or hydrofoil.

Usually, after visiting the must-see places of Athens, people are ready for some water and sun and head to one of the 169 inhabited islands amongst the 1400 sprinkled in the sea. There are islands for everyone — those wanting to escape, those wanting to explore the remains of old civilizations and those just wanting to enjoy the sand, sea, tavernas and Greek food while revelling in some of the 300 sunny days a year.

You should arrange your itinerary before leaving your country. Some travel companies offer island-hopping pass which makes it more easy. Just turn up and board your ferry. Usually an eight-night pass includes accommodation, breakfast and your choice of three islands.

First stop is Mykonos in the Cyclades group. It’s perhaps the best known and most expensive of the islands, with pretty villages and traditional Greek culture. Once a peaceful fishing port, it became popular almost overnight after a visit by Aristotle and Jackie Onassis.

Mykonos’ best known church, Panagia Paraportiani, is actually four little churches forming one beautiful, white, asymmetrical building. Its multifaceted structure is a magnet for photographers and a wonderful place for great views of the sunset.

The island has five museums. The archaeological museum has pottery from Delos and some grave stelae (upright slabs bearing inscriptions) and jewellery from Delos necropolis. There is a Trojan war scene in relief and a statue of Heracles.

The Aegean Maritime Museum has a marvellous collection of nautical paraphernalia from all over the Aegean, including models of ancient vessels. Lena’s House is a 19th-century, middle-class Mykonian house, complete with furnishings. The folklore museum is in an 18th-century sea captain’s house, featuring a large collection of memorabilia, and there is also a windmill museum.

Next stop Naxos, the largest and most fertile of the Cycladic islands lying almost at the centre of the Aegean. Legend has it that Ariadne was abandoned there by Theseus, but she was soon in the arms of Dionysos, the god of wine and ecstasy. Ever since, Naxian wine has been recommended as the cure for a broken heart. Meadows run down to vast beaches, cliffs sink into the sea and there are rocky mountains, fertile valleys and many springs and streams. The coastline is abrupt on the south side and sheltered to the west, with many inlets and sandy beaches.

Due to its abundance of fresh water, Naxos is self-sufficient and produces premium quality fruit and vegetables. Their olives, grapes, figs, citrus, corn and potatoes make their way to tables across the world.

The important Byzantine centre boasts around 500 churches and monasteries, many with interesting frescoes. Some of the early Christian basilicas were originally ancient temples.

Hora, the main port, stands on a natural amphitheatre on a hillside. As you walk to the Venetian castle, the beauty of the narrow winding lanes and old stone houses is striking. North of the port is the unfinished Temple of Apollo, the handsome god of light and beauty. It is the island’s most famous landmark. Construction began in 522BC and its beautiful marble doorway proudly stands six metres high and three and a half metres wide. Building stopped when war broke out between Naxos and Samos and was never resumed.

Windsurfing is an extremely popular water sport and Flisvos Sport Club at Aghios Georgios is one of the most popular operators. The Alkyoni Beach Hotel has 40 units, beautiful gardens and is a few steps from the beach. It is in the traditional style of Cycladic architecture and guests enjoy cocktails around the pool. The taverna serves good, home made meals.

Residents of the tiny mountain village of Apiranthos are descendants of refugees who fled Crete to escape Turkish repression. The enchanting place has held tightly to its traditions and its buildings, streets and domestic walls are built of brilliant white Naxos marble. Taverna Lefteris features good Greek cooking and homemade sweets.

Santorini is the southernmost island of the Cycladic group and is regarded by many as the most spectacular of all. It was the site of the world’s biggest volcanic eruption, leaving a crater, or caldera, with high cliffs which is one of the world’s most dramatic geological sights. Archaeologists believe it was responsible for wiping out the entire Minoan civilisation. It has also been an inspiration to painters, writers, poets and mystics. Sparkling white houses with blue window shutters line the crater.

Santorini has a 3500-year tradition of vineyard cultivation and around 850 growers tend vines which cover around one third of the island. At SantoWines you can taste wines with biscuits and cheese and olives while taking in a spectacular sunset.

The best way to get around the islands is by moped, or scooter. They are available for hire everywhere, but always check the brakes before you take off and be extra careful, as the roads aren’t very well maintained.

Paros island > Crossroad of the Aegean July 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Sail away to Paros from the very same port where Alcibiades set out with 100 Athenian triremes on the illfated Sicilian campaign in 415 BCE.

On the 3-5 hour voyage to Paros, spend some time reading Greek Archaeology. On approaching Delos, a vast treasure of antiquities, get to learn about the island’s natives Apollon and Artemis.

Then Paros! Seeing it for the first time is an unearthly vision of gently contoured brown hills crowned by little white churches and highlighted by the interplay of white and blue in the harbor city of Paroikia. You will be caught up in a very busy, pretty island town replete with good food and friendly people.

Imagine brilliant white buildings against crystal clear water shading to ultramarine!

The approach to Paros is through Paroikia with its ruined Venetian castle and fragrance of geraniums and basil. The entire island has a rich archaic and classical heritage replete with antiquities that range from Neolithic to Byzantine times. Ruminate about life in modern, air-conditioned rooms with private entrances newly created in the Cycladic style.

The Aegean Village Hotel is situated in an ancient lemon orchard, an oasis of green and calm in the center of the town, 3 minutes walk to the main port. You’ll gather on your own verandah for evening deliberations about a visit to ancient Parian marble quarries, the marble of the Acropolis.

You’ll visit colorful Lefkes (literal translation ‘white village’). Both a traditional village and the old capital of the island, it is located high in the central mountains with beautiful views of the sea. It’s traditional architecture shows influences from the Russian and Byzantine. Arts and handicrafts abound from basketry, embroidery, weaving to ceramics, wood and metal work and ancient potting methods. While in Paros, you may take trips to fabled Delos and Naxos, where Theseus left Ariadne in the lurch. And of course, the local cuisine is excellent.